Climate change special, April 2006

What is the Big Ask?


Houses of Parliament

Help stop climate change by supporting The Big Ask Campaign Picture: Friends of the Earth.

The biggest question facing our generation is whether we have the political will to take simple actions to protect people and wildlife from dangerous climate change. Emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main climate change gas, are rising but the technologies, and policies, needed to reduce them are well known and they work. Using them would allow us to achieve reductions of around three per cent every year for the next 40 years.

Friends of the Earth wants new laws in place that make year-on-year reductions a legal requirement. If we do this, the UK will encourage the rest of the world to follow and ensure a far better future for future generations and the environment on which we all depend.

The change needed

Scientists believe that we need carbon dioxide emissions to start falling within the next 10 to 15 years in order for world temperatures to rise by no more than 2°C. Our Government is committed to reducing its carbon emissions by 20 per cent by 2010 and 60 per cent by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels).

During this Labour Government’s first two terms carbon emissions have risen by about 3 per cent, despite the Prime Minister and Chief Scientist stressing the importance of tackling climate change. This is a disgrace.

Why we need a Climate Change Bill

Friends of the Earth members holding a Big Ask campaign banner

Join us in telling the government to do more to stop climate change by supporting the Big Ask Campaign Photo: Lyndsay Maiden, Cardiff Friends of the Earth.

All the major political parties support a cut in climate change gases, and all the party leaders have spoken of the need for action. So why do emissions keep rising?

There are three political obstacles to action:

  • Ballot box thinking. Politicians are reluctant to take long-term decisions if it might threaten their election chances. A new law would make them do this.
  • Global teamwork. Solving climate change requires global action. The world’s leaders aren’t used to this. The UK needs to show leadership.
  • Resisting change. Groups with a vested interest in polluting activities, such as the oil and motor industries, resist change. Particularly if they think other countries are not taking the issue seriously. The Government needs to tackle this.

The politicians have a choice over how to make cuts in carbon emissions: either take a gradual slope down from current levels now, or leap off a cliff later.

Tackling climate change

A change in Government policy would make the greatest difference in cutting the UK’s carbon emissions. They can:

  • Introduce new laws and taxes to encourage cleaner technologies
  • Clean up inefficient, polluting industries including dirty power stations
  • Force car manufacturers to make more efficient cars
  • Make fossil fuel companies switch to renewable fuels
  • Force energy companies to focus on saving energy (rather than making money by selling more energy)
  • Invest in more fuel-efficient travel options
  • Plan for more energy-efficient homes

Global carbon levels increase again

Antarctic mountains and ice

Antarctic wilderness at risk from climate change

The latest data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on the levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) shows a significant rise in the concentration of CO2 found in samples of air taken from all over the world.

The research by climate scientists shows that CO2 levels are now 381 parts per million (ppm), 100ppm above the pre-industrial average. In 2005 there was a rise of 2.6ppm, one of the largest increases on record.

This confirms a worrying trend that in recent years have, on average, recorded double the rate of increase from just 30 years ago.

Climate change consensus grows

The report will forecast that a doubling of climate change gas concentrations would raise global temperatures by 2 – 4.5°C. The last IPCC report said that the rise could be as little as 1.5°C.

Climate scientists say there is uncertainty about the speed and scope of future change. They expect a doubling of CO2 levels from pre-industrial levels by the middle of this century, but they are really worried because we are seeing major disruptions despite having increased CO2 levels by just 30 per cent.