We must not let irresponsible deniers delay urgent action on climate change

The motivating factor for many climate sceptical bloggers and columnists is often an ideological dislike of government intervention - but the route to lower energy bills requires exactly that.

By Mike Childs, head of policy, research and science at Friends of the Earth

The response this week by the usual clique of sceptics and deniers to new research suggesting the short-term rate of global warming might be less than previously thought was as predictable as it was misleading.

Matt Ridley, one of the most vociferous, told Times readers (£) that there was a “strong possibility that climate change will be slow and harmless” and that there is “little doubt that the damage being done by climate change policies currently exceeds the damage being done by climate change, and will for several decades yet”.

But, Mr Ridley’s climate complacency is completely misguided.

Professor Miles Allen, one of the authors of the Nature Geoscience study, pointed out in the Guardian that although their estimate on the rate of warming was 30 per cent lower than average climate models used by the UN’s climate panel, “this is hardly a game changer: At face value our new findings mean that the changes we had previously expected between now and 2050 might take until 2065 to materialise instead”.

But then again, he said, they might not. “No one places their faith in any single climate model, and no one has done so for 20 years.”

We may not be certain of the speed, but we do know we’re on the fast track to easily exceed a two degree rise in temperatures above pre-industrial levels – and could even be on course to a catastrophic increase of four degrees.

As another of the authors, Piers Forster from Leeds University, said, the study “has an effect but not a massive effect on projections. We still need to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions very significantly to keep below two degrees”.

Our planet is currently around one degree warmer than pre-industrial levels and we are already witnessing the devastating impacts from more extreme weather.

Over recent years our television screens have beamed into our homes a steady flow of devastating floods, storms, droughts and landslides from across the planet. Furthermore, with the knock-on effect of rising food costs we’re all paying the price – especially the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

It isn’t the Matt Ridleys of this world who are suffering most from climate change. It’s the poorest in society, especially those from developing countries, who stand to lose most from reduced efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The rich and wealthy will be able to insulate themselves from the worst impacts over coming years. They can afford higher food prices and insure their properties and possessions.

Climate sceptics often like to appear as the champions of cash-strapped consumers against higher energy prices, but the reality is that households across the country are paying an increasingly high cost for our nation’s fossil fuel dependency. This week the government’s independent advisor, the Committee on Climate Change, reported that “investment in a portfolio of low-carbon technologies could save consumers £25-45 billion, rising to £100 billion with higher gas and carbon prices”.

The motivating factor for many climate sceptical bloggers and columnists is often an ideological dislike of government intervention – but the route to lower energy bills requires exactly that.

Affordable energy needs a massive ramping up of government-funded energy efficiency programmes. It needs government financial support to drive down costs of low carbon technologies. And it requires government action to curb the profits of the big six energy firms.

This month another study was published. It showed that 97 per cent of peer-reviewed scientific academic papers concurred that climate change was human-made.

We may not yet know exactly how sensitive the climate is to greenhouse gases but we cannot ignore the overwhelming evidence on the need for rapid government action to slash emissions.

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