As millions of people shared in the wonder of Blue Planet II this past weekend it is clear that behind their vast beauty our oceans are in serious trouble. Nothing showed this more to me than the plight of a walrus trying to find an ice floe for her young pup. This is a story about the impact that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are having on the earth and all things that inhabit it.
It is also a story about how we eat, how we move and how we plan to live in the future.
But before we get into this story let’s consider the numbers. The World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) latest Greenhouse Gas Bulletin reveals that atmospheric concentrations of CO2 are the highest level they’ve been for more than three million years. And it’s getting worse – with 2016 seeing the largest year-on-year increase in 150 years. The UN Environment Programme’s Emissions Gap Report 2017 out this week is also clear – global CO2 emissions from energy and industry have remained stable since 2014, but overall greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise slowly.
These reports highlight the very problem that is putting our blue planet at risk – continued high-levels of human-made emissions leading to climate change and ocean acidification. This is being felt in our oceans – as they warm we see impacts such as more extreme weather patterns, coral bleaching and mortality, and rising sea-levels.
Everything we do has the potential to play a part in this. From driving our cars, to turning up our heating or to deciding to buy vegetables not grown in the UK. These choices can lead to more greenhouse gas emissions, which leads to more heat being trapped by the atmosphere, which results in higher global temperatures and then to consequential climate-change-related impacts. It is a vicious cycle but it is one I believe we can end.
In the UK we are making progress but there is still much more to do. That’s why the UK Government urgently needs to honour our commitments and show bold leadership at the upcoming international climate change talks in Bonn (COP23). Next week when Fiji assumes the Presidency of COP23 it will be the first time that a small island developing country will lead the talks. The world’s environment ministers will meet to progress the rules for the international commitments made two years ago in Paris and to agree plans to assess the emissions gap and how this leads to more ambition to cut emissions further and faster. Recognising that there is no solution to global climate change without action on the world’s oceans, the Fijian COP Presidency will have particular focus on healthy oceans and climate within their Oceans Pathway.
There are actions we can take now – such as rapidly phasing out the use of fossil fuels (coal faster but also oil and gas) and replacing these with 100 per cent clean renewable energy (such as solar and wind) by mid-century. There is also great potential to cut emissions by using less energy and improving energy efficiency, while encouraging people to eat less meat, change the way we travel and improving waste management and recycling. Introducing and incentivising the use of electric vehicles coupled with the government banning the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030 will help fast-track the move to a low-carbon economy; the government have committed to this phase out by 2040 – but this needs to be done sooner with Scotland leading the way here.
If we don’t act now, we will be the last generation to experience our blue planet in all its wonder.