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Lifting the lid on the wider benefits of climate action

2017 needs to be the year where the positive, and the personal, case for tackling climate change comes to the fore, writes CCC Chief Executive, Matthew Bell.

There is emerging evidence about the economic and wider benefits that come from tackling climate change, alongside the avoidance of future damage. Some of the benefits include new jobs and better health. We need to improve our understanding of these benefits because they are likely to provide an even stronger reason for action, distinct from those that are often advanced. First, let’s deal quickly with the reasons commonly put forward against action to tackle climate change.

The first relates to the scientific evidence about the links between human activity, greenhouse gas emissions and the associated impacts – on global temperatures, on our oceans and on other aspects of the urban and natural environment. Arguments that question the existence of those links are becoming less and less credible, and those who peddle them, ever-more marginal.

The other two arguments merit closer attention. Perhaps the most concerning is that “we”, namely the UK, are too small to make a difference. The UK, so the argument goes, only produces around 1% of global emissions and so what “we” do really has no impact. This is not an argument, it is a logical dead-end.

Every country is small in relation to global emissions. The USA, China, India, indeed every country on Earth, can argue that if others do nothing their actions have no significant impact. That is precisely the reason why climate change requires global cooperation. To argue that “we” are too small to play our part is nonsense. Every country can and must act to reduce emissions, in line with the scientific evidence, whilst supporting continued economic growth and financial stability.

That brings us to the third and, in 2017, the most important argument: that there are no benefits to be had from tackling climate change. Put differently, climate action is nothing but a cost – to citizens, to Government, and to business. This too is untrue.

To date many, including the CCC, have set out the evidence that explains why investing in climate action today – both in terms of mitigation and adaptation – provides an essential form of insurance for the future. We have to bear some of these costs if we are to properly protect ourselves from the dangers of climate change impacts. We already know that the risk of significant future damage (to health, to the economy, to our natural environment, to our food supply) as a result of rising average global temperatures is high. If we do not insure ourselves by taking action now, it will be far more expensive to deal with the consequences as they unfold.

Alongside the security of having a climate change ‘insurance policy’, there are emerging personal, financial and economic benefits of action to tackle climate change. Entirely new industries – and extensions of current industries – are already developing, bringing jobs, income and opportunities for people right across the UK. This includes both the manufacturing and service sectors. The size of these opportunities, and the speed with which they are emerging, are still uncertain. The CCC has commissioned new research to better understand the extent of these new opportunities.

Of course, action to tackle climate change does not happen in a vacuum. Action takes place within the wider political context. Future opportunities may be affected by political decisions, and the wider rhetoric around those decisions. This year, action to reduce emissions and prepare for the impacts of a warming world are likely to be influenced by political developments including Brexit, the Trump presidency and elections in Germany, France and elsewhere.

The Committee on Climate Change will continue to assess the facts, independent of the politics and the wider rhetoric. We will continue to share the hard evidence with politicians and with the British public more widely. We will also be clear where political decisions improve, or reduce, the opportunities that arise from tackling climate change. The first milestone will be the publication of the Government’s forthcoming Emissions Reduction Plan and our assessment of it.

In 2017, above all, we will continue to separate rhetoric and fact, and be transparent about when and where they overlap.