Extinction Rebellion Heats Up UK Climate Ambition (or Rhetoric)

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Spurred by David Attenborough’s global warming documentaryExtinction Rebellion protests, and homilies by teen activist Greta Thunberg, the United Kingdom became the first nation on Earth to declare a “climate change emergency.” (Reuters, May 1) Thurnberg tweeted: “Historic and very hopeful news. Now other nations must follow. And words must turn into immediate action.”

Her wish was the government’s command—sort of. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC), an “independent, statutory body” established by the 2008 Climate Change Act, recommended a new emissions target for the UK: net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. (BBC News May 2) The proposed target is more stringent than the government’s current goal to reduce emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by mid-century.

Policies recommended by the CCC include: turn down household thermostats to 66°F during winter, limit the growth of air travel, ban the sale of non-electric vehicles by 2030, and cut per capita meat consumption by 20 percent.

However, UK climate campaigners also had some disappointments this week. On May 1, the High Court in London on rejected claims by Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and Plan B Earth that the government unlawfully ignored the UK’s Paris Agreement commitments when it approved plans to add a third runway to Heathrow Airport. The Court ruled that, although duly ratified, the Paris pact has not been “implemented by statute” and, thus, “has no effect in domestic law.” (Financial Times, May 1)

The UK government’s climate finance strategy, a plan to mobilize billions of pounds for climate-related investment, was supposed to be published this spring. Publication may be delayed until July “because of wrangling over how ambitious it should be.” (Bloomberg, April 26)