The four most effective things you can do

From Dirk Campbell

OK, we’re combating plastic, we’re protesting on climate change and species extinction, we’re signing every online petition that comes into our email inbox and we’re donating to Greenpeace. But are you still wondering whether you’re doing enough personally? Feeling guilty about shopping in supermarkets, turning on the central heating or flying off on holiday? John Simpson, Radio 4’s world affairs editor, recently reported on an optimistic message from Christiana Figueres, UK-based Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. See how you check out with the four things she suggests you do personally. (Note she doesn’t mention abolishing Lewes Bonfire.) See christianafigueres.com for her TED talk on optimism and the Paris Accord.  

Today Programme, Radio 4, 7.41am Saturday November 3rd 2018:

Justin Webb It’s been a depressing week for those who care about the environment. More and more figures are coming out about the way in which human beings are destroying the wildlife that we share the planet with, about the destruction of forests and the continuing fall in levels of biodiversity. In Brazil, home to the world’s greatest forests, the man who was elected president this week is said to have joked about paving over the Amazon completely. And yet the picture is not necessarily as dark as we instinctively seem to believe, as John Simpson reports.

John Simpson Last Monday in Oxford I bumped into the mother of one of my 12-year-old son’s best school friends. She’s an environmental scientist at the university, and has spent a lot of her life studying and living in the Amazonian rainforest, so she was deeply depressed at the news that Jair Bolsanaro was going to be Brazil’s new president. She was just going to a lecture at the Sheldonian to be given by one of the biggest figures in international environmental politics, Christiana Figueres. ‘Maybe she’ll cheer me up,’ said Cecile doubtfully. Well, she did. Christiana Figueres is a bundle of highly articulate energy, a force of nature. Costa Rican by origin, American and British educated, based in London. Six months after the world’s nations failed to agree on a legally binding climate treaty in Copenhagen, she was made Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. And she whipped everyone into shape to such an extent that in December 2015, 195 countries joined the Paris Agreement, the first ever legally binding global climate deal, which comes into force in 2020. (Now, of course, it’s only 194 countries, because President Trump has decided to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement.) In Oxford, Christiana Figueres electrified her packed audience. Looking up at the galleries where the students were mostly sitting, she told them the future of the world was being decided in front of their eyes.

 

Christiana Figueres

Christiana Figueres ‘You will witness the full impact of climate change. And how much impact you’re going to witness is being determined now. That is why we’re at a moment in history that has never been as important or as profoundly influential in determining the quality of life over the next 100 years.’

John Simpson Her audience was visibly stirred. Just in the last few years, she said, scientists had realised it would be catastrophic if global warming went higher than 1.5° Celsius. We’ll need to cut global emissions by half between now and 2030, and keep on for decades after that. And we have to stop deforestation and the destruction of the natural world. Even so, despite all the problems, Figueres maintained there was real hope. Coal, the worst factor in global warming, was starting to be phased out almost everywhere. China and India were building some coal-fired power stations but not near cities because of the health implications. Coal plants everywhere were finding it hard to get insurance and many banks were refusing to back them. Demand for oil is dropping fast as electrification gains ground. Tesla, the electric car company, was founded in 2013. By last year its market value had outstripped that of Ford. Eight of the world’s main car makers are now committed to making electric cars. India has set 2030 as the year it’ll stop allowing internal combustion engines to be made and China will soon announce its own target date for that. 12% of the world’s electricity is now from renewable sources and that proportion is shooting up. By now, her ideas and her optimism were tumbling out.

Christiana Figueres ‘By bringing in the new economy of the 21st century we’re tackling climate change, we’re tackling air pollution, we’re improving health, we’re improving transportation because we’re not just moving towards electrified transportation we’re moving towards shared and driverless and we’re making cities much more livable.’

John Simpson What could we as individuals do? someone asked. Four things, Figueres answered. And they were tough. Stop eating meat every day of the week. Use public transport whenever you can. Make sure your pensions and banks aren’t investing in high carbon assets. And, lastly, vote. If you aren’t doing these things, she said, you’re committing a crime. That took her audience back a bit. But the basic message was: it won’t necessarily be easy to save the planet but it can be done. Afterwards I met up again with Cecile, the academic and mother of my son’s friend. ‘How do you feel after that?’ I asked her. ‘Fantastic,’ she said. ‘Now I know what I’ve got to do.’