Monday, 27 October 2008

Climate Change: the cost of inaction

This is a guest post by Simon Brammer, UK Programme Manager for the Ashden Awards.

Yesterday, I attended a conference in Edinburgh, Climate Change: the cost of inaction. Preparing to adapt our ways and manage Scotland's climate risk.

On my way up to Scotland I sat next to a Dentist who asked me where I was going and why. He believes climate change doesn’t exist; “It’s a government conspiracy to raise more tax” - and that climate change had happened before and the earth survived then. Indeed, he is right, if you go far enough back that is – it’s just that this time we, with many other diverse species that inhabit this plant, might not, like the dinosaurs, survive this time. No matter how I presented my argument, and whatever tactics I used, he was not convinced. His argument was that any potential challenges to his freedoms – freedom to fly, freedom to drive, freedom to use energy (I pay for it), freedom to consume as much as I like – were not acceptable. I arrived feeling rather de-skilled and de-flated.

However, the conference bucked me up. The main focus was on adaptation – how Scotland was to prepare for the inevitable changes of warming thus far – but as a couple of the speakers powerfully stated – it is a foolish argument to spend just on adaptation and not to put resources into mitigation.

Scotland has already taken the lead and announced 80% greenhouse gas emissions cut by 2050 in its own climate change strategy and Ed Milliband announced, last week, that the rest of the UK would follow suit. This is a good start and might just provide the leadership the rest of the world needs to get our strategies right in the ever decreasing window of opportunity that we have.

However, setting targets is one thing, meeting them is another, especially when they are so far away (2050) and that we are likely to see many more administrations in and out of political office before we get there. Clearly, we need key milestones in helping us meet them. What we also need, as demonstrated by my dentist friend, are huge changes in attitudes and subsequently behaviour if we are to meet this problem head on. Conference speakers argued that a systemic change of how we influence people and organisations (based on our evolving knowledge of social marketing) is essential. More thought on how we change behaviour and how we set good quality legislation is also needed. And, perhaps most immediately important, how we engage in a dialogue about the economic benefits of creating thousands of new green jobs in order to adapt and mitigate to climate change – rather than lose sight of the issues in this economic gloom.

At Ashden we want to play our part and we’re working hard to encourage policy and decision makers in local, regional and national government to engage with our successful award winning practitioners – to learn from their lessons and benefits from their insight – and of course, for energy practitioners to understand the pressures government faces in delivering against the targets set. That way, we might achieve the means to deliver against those targets based on practical examples of what we know already works. Perhaps I’ll invite my new dental friend along next time.

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