Jem van Tyn
April 4, 2018
Policy Paper: The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
The global climate is changing, and that’s a fact. According to NASA, the average global temperature has risen by more than 2 degrees fahrenheit since the late 1990s. This may not seem like that big of a change, the temperature often fluctuates by many times that amount over the course of one day, but this is not the way the globe works. According to NASA, this fluctuation in the average temperature of the world has been mirrored by an increase in the temperature of the world’s oceans by 0.37 degrees fahrenheit since 1960. This temperature increase has resulted in the oceans becoming less dense, and expanding.
This combined with the rapidly accelerated melting of the polar ice caps has led to the rising of sea levels. The sea level around the world has risen by 8 inches in the last century, and the rate of height increase has doubled in recent years (NASA). This may not seem like much, but according to Leonardo DiCaprio in Before the Flood, it made 5 islands go completely under water in 2015, and 6 more in 2016. At this rate, the rising sea level will force millions of people to move further inland. Rising temperatures also make the weather patterns more sporadic and extreme. It will also cause great swaths of land near the equator go completely dry, forcing further displacement of people, as well as start wars over water resources.
So why is the planet heating up? According to Johannes Friedrich from the World Resources Institute, ever since the industrial revolution, humans have been emitting vast amounts of greenhouse gases (GHGs), such as Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Methane (CH4). These GHGs, as well as many others in smaller quantities add to what is called the Greenhouse Effect. Heat from the sun travels through the earth’s atmosphere and some of it is absorbed by the sea or land. The rest of it is reflected back upwards, towards space. The Greenhouse Effect is when the GHGs trapped in the atmosphere reflect that heat back down again, not letting it escape. The more GHGs there are in the atmosphere, the less heat can escape, and therefore the more the earth heats up. According to World Resource Institute, the current rate of CO2 emissions globally is more than 10 times what it was in 1960, around 31 billion tons of CO2 being put into our atmosphere annually. Climate change will create strife world wide, from desertification and loss of farming land in the inland countries around the equator, to more frequent and harmful tropical storms along coastal areas, it will displace countless people. The United Nations needs to act now to stop our temperature to increase beyond the point of no return. This is when the world no longer resists the change in temperature, and instead keeps heating itself up even faster (DiCaprio).
Climate change will affect everybody, and the UK is no acception. The noticeable effects of climate change have not been very prominent in the UK as of yet, mostly because the ocean surrounding the country acts as a cushion, making it hard for the temperature of the country to change very rapidly. Even so, there has been a 2 degree fahrenheit increase in average temperature since 1950 (NOAA).
Aside from the geographical consequences that climate change will have on the United Kingdom, there is the matter of refugees. Even though the UK will not be hit exceptionally hard, other places will. Low coastal areas will go completely under water, as well as be vulnerable to the ever more frequent hurricanes. Sporadic changes in the precipitation levels in places by drainages will leave those people having to deal with rapidly changing water levels, and more frequent flash flooding. Inland areas will be hit hard by desertification, specifically by the equator. All of these affects will displace people from their homes and force them to settle in the less affected regions of the world. The United Kingdom, being one of those places, will be forced to take on more and more refugees from other places. This is not ideal for the UK, given that most of its population is already very densely packed around a few cities. This influx of new people seeking shelter will put vast economical and geographical restraints on the country.
Historically, Britain was a huge emitter of GHGs very early on in the industrial revolution, emitting more GHGs than other countries (WRI). Today, however, that has changed. The total emissions of the country is 18th in the world (Green Climate Fund), and according to Wikipedia, the UK makes one 15th of the emissions of the US, and less than one 23rd of the emissions of China. Also, the emissions per capita have fallen to 18th world wide. The UK has compensated for their emissions, both in the past and in the present. The UK has contributed 1211 million dollars to the Green Climate Fund, the third highest donation in the world.
Another way that the United Kingdom is addressing climate change, is through their carbon reduction plans. The UK has signed, either as an individual country or as part of the EU, several resolutions on counteracting climate change. Through the Kyoto Protocol, the UK agreed to reduce their carbon emissions by 20% by 2030. That number has nearly been met by the EU as a whole, but that arrangement was not a perfect solution, given that it used carbon credits as a way to offset carbon emissions. The new NDC (Nationally Determined Contribution) of the United Kingdom under the Paris Accord is 40% by 2030. This is a completely feasible goal, the EU claims in their NDC. They will meet this goal through a “climate and energy framework, both in the emissions trading sector and in the non-traded sector” (EU NDC).
We need solutions, and we need them now. The climate will not fix itself, and since we, the human race, has caused this problem, it is our duty to fix it. We have been constantly putting GHGs into our atmosphere, but ever since the Industrial Revolution, the numbers have gone off the charts (NASA). The world goes through cycles of lower and higher GHG levels, but it has now spiked way above what it has ever done before, almost to an irreparable point. Solving Climate Change will not be a walk in the park, but it is certainly not impossible. In 2015, the Paris Accord broke ground for a more aggressive approach to climate change. It was a platform for countries to give a definitive percentage that they would decrease their GHG emissions by by 2030. This is a huge improvement over anything that has been done previously, with 195 countries having signed it as of February 2018. Many countries have pledged large cuts in their GHG emissions, such as the UK with a proposed 40% decrease in emissions (EU NDC). This is certainly a big step in the right direction, but it will not be all that is needed to reverse the effects of Climate Change.
The first thing that all participating states should consider is the most effective way to cut carbon emissions. Without a doubt, that would be renewable energy. More renewable electricity means less coal power plants, meaning less CO2 being emitted on a daily basis. Currently, the biggest emitters of GHGs are developing nations. It is not cheap to go renewable when your biggest concern is building an economy in which people have access to reliable electricity. This is why the UN should use the funds from the Green Climate Fund as an incentive for developing countries to go green. The amount of money a country would get as a grant for going renewable would be dependent on a couple of factors. The first is the GDP per capita of the country, to ensure that the most funds are going to the countries that do not have the GDP to fund an extensive renewable program by themselves. The second factor is the amount of energy that they plan to generate renewable, and specifically how much carbon would go into the atmosphere if that energy was not generated renewably.
That incentive program cannot happen without money. The Green Climate Fund currently does not have the means to provide sufficient grants for going green, and so the numbers need to be bolstered. The United Kingdom is proposing that each member state in the United Nations contributes a further sum of money based on their previous contribution, as well as that country’s GDP and GDP per capita.
These steps must be taken to ensure that developing countries are on track to go completely renewable with as little extra hassle as possible. However, developing countries are not the only ones emitting GHGs. This is why the UK is encouraging all member states to implement a carbon tax. This is taxation on a person’s emissions (Duncan Clark, the Guardian). This system would make it so that renewable resources no longer were an extra expense, but actually saved you money. A carbon tax such as this could also provide that state with ample funds to cover their contribution to the Green Climate Fund.
The last step in saving our planet, is actually one that has already been taken. The Paris Accord is a crucial step towards a renewable and sustainable future on this planet, and so the United Kingdom encourages any country that has yet to commit to this resolution, to do so. The UK also strongly believes that each country should consider if their current NDC is the best they can offer in the way of reducing emissions. It is time for humankind to take responsibility for the damage we have done to our earth.
Clark, Duncan. “What Is a Carbon Price and Why Do We Need One?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 16 July 2012, www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/jul/16/carbon-price-tax-cap.
Climate Watch. “Climate Watch.” Climate Watch - Data for Climate Action, www.climatewatchdata.org/countries/GBR.
DiCaprio, Leonardo. Before the Flood. Appian Way Productions, 2016, www.netflix.com/title/80141928.
Friedrich, Johannes, and Thomas Damassa. “The History of Carbon Dioxide Emissions.” The History of Carbon Dioxide Emissions, 21 May 2014, www.wri.org/blog/2014/05/history-carbon-dioxide-emissions.
Green Climate Fund. “Resource Mobilization.” Green Climate Fund, www.greenclimate.fund/how-we-work/resource-mobilization#states.
NASA. “Climate Change Evidence: How Do We Know?” NASA, NASA, 4 Apr. 2018, climate.nasa.gov/evidence/.
NOAA. “National Centers for Environmental Information.” National Climatic Data Center, www.ncdc.noaa.gov/.
United Nations. “United Nations NDC's.” All NDCs, ww4.unfccc.int/ndcregistry/Pages/All.aspx.