Holyrood 350 is a response to the recognition that we have to reduce CO2 concentrations from the current 400ppm (it was 387ppm in 2009) to 350ppm, in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. Since international negotiations currently seek to set a ceiling of 450ppm, while carbon emissions continue to rise rapidly, Holyrood 350 is seeking to persuade the Scottish Government and MSPs of all parties to introduce legislation and take practical and critical action to fulfil and surpass our comitment to reducing our carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, and so set an example for the rest of the world to follow.
“Climate change is for real. We have just a small window of opportunity and it is closing rather rapidly.” Rajendra Pachauri (Chair, IPCC)
The time for setting future targets is passed; we have to take radical action now, if we are to leave our children a world that is still inhabitable. Climate Change is the consequence of an economic system built on the necessity for endless economic growth on a planet which has finite resources. Tackling the causes of climate change requires us to fundamentally re-orientate our economic system so that it meets the needs of current and future generations in a way which enhances the flourishing and well-being of people and ecosystems everywhere. We will create a fairer, healthier and happier society — as well as a society with a future — by using our fair share of natural resources, and so living in an energy healthy not energy obese society.
Unless we reduce our CO2 concentrations from the current 400ppm to below 350ppm, it is highly unlikely that we will avoid catastrophic, runaway climate change. If we proceed on our current path of allowing emissions to rise and simply negotiating for reductions sometime in the future, then humanity will soon no longer be able to control runaway climate change as the planet’s own feedback mechanisms kick in, says NASA scientist Jim Hansen. In 2008, Jim Hansen wrote that:
“If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm. The largest uncertainty in the target arises from possible changes of non-CO2 forcings. An initial 350 ppm CO2 target may be achievable by phasing out coal use except where CO2 is captured and adopting agricultural and forestry practices that sequester carbon. If the present overshoot of this target CO2 is not brief, there is a possibility of seeding irreversible catastrophic effects.”
In an interview for The Guardian, Hansen explained that core samples from the bottom of the ocean allow CO2 levels to be tracked millions of years ago. They show that when the world began to glaciate at the start of the Ice Age about 35m years ago, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere stood at about 450ppm. Hansen says that
If you leave us at 450ppm for long enough it will probably melt all the ice — that’s a sea rise of 75 metres. What we have found is that the target we have all been aiming for is a disaster — a guaranteed disaster.
Hansen was himself one of the architects of a 450ppm target. The reason for his reassessment is that the “slow feedback” mechanisms are only now becoming fully understood. They amplify the rise in temperature caused by increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases. Ice and snow reflect sunlight but when they melt, they leave exposed ground which absorbs more heat. As ice sheets recede, the warming effect is compounded. Satellite technology available over the past three years has shown that the ice sheets are melting much faster than expected, with Greenland and west Antarctica both losing mass. The good news, he said, is that reserves of fossil fuels have been exaggerated, so an alternative source of energy will have to be rapidly put in place in any case.
Jonathan Porritt — speaking in Edinburgh on 14th May 2008 alongside Richard Lochhead, John Swinney and John Elvidge — spoke about the recent calculations done at Mauna Loa in Hawaii which:
…revealed that for 2007 those concentrations had now reached 387 parts per million. It may not sound like much of an increase on 382 parts per million, but the sting in the tail of this particular information was that in fact the concentration of CO2 is accelerating. We used to assume an average of slightly less than two parts per million build up in the atmosphere, now there scientists are telling us we must assume at least 2.15 and possibly 2.2 parts per million per annum.
Porritt went on to say:
Now that just reminds us that this is a real time exercise that we’re involved in here. The planet is immensely dynamic, it is not a static system which we just look out on and think we can manage slightly better in terms of where it is now. We all know that what we’re seeing in terms of a change in climate today is a consequence of the emissions we put into the atmosphere 30 or 40 years ago. So that is bound to affect the way in which we think about how we now manage these issues in the future.
Why Current ‘Solutions’ cannot Succeed:
Mark Lynas’s recent article in the Guardian was titled ‘Climate Chaos is inevitable: We can only avert oblivion’. In it he shows how when the Stockholm Network asked the Met Office’s Hadley Centre to run three alternative visions of the future through their modelling system, all three led to well over 2°C rises (2°C being the tipping point after which feedback loops are expected to kick in too severely to be restrained).
The scenarios and rises are:
- AGREE & IGNORE — the current approach in which international negotiations lead to weak target setting which countries then effectively ignore — leading to rises of 4.85°C;
- KYOTO PLUS — successful binding international negotiations with targets countries keep to — rises of 3.31°C; and
- A radical STEP CHANGE market approach to severely restrict companies using fossil fuels in the first place — rises of 2.89°C.
Mark Lynas concludes that: no political scenario we could envisage will now keep the world below the danger threshold of two degrees.
If he is right, then surely we need to create a dramatically different political scenario? Creating a radically different political scenario will involve:
- ensuring carbon is given a price and that corporations subsidies and externalities are removed so that low-carbon, locally-based, small-scale economic activities becomes cost competitive. It involves
- ensuring our democratically elected government acts to shift rapidly from fossil fuel and other polluting energy sources to renewable energy, from building infrastructure which encourages high-emissions to building infrastructure to enable a zero-carbon society, from being at the mercy of international finance run simply for short-term profit to enabling the growth of the real economy that ensures our well-being. It involves
- working from the ground up to build resilient zero-carbon communities which can wean us off our dependence on oil and create the space for vibrant local decision making, economies and communities.
The Holyrood 350 campaign is part of the broader international 350 campaign which is seeking to inspire governments and people to make the changes that will enable survival of our species.
Holyrood 350 Solution
The Holyrood 350 campaign is calling for the Scottish Government to set an example for the rest of the world to follow by introducing immediate measures to dramatically reduce and ultimately stop carbon being extracted from the ground to pass through the economy into the atmosphere. We propose the Scottish Government takes immediate steps to:
- Price Carbon Out of the Economy — Introduce a scheme within 12 months which will ensure that high-carbon products, modes of transport, etc. are fast replaced by low-carbon ones. The necessary rapid rise in the cost of high-carbon options would be accompanied by the rapid development and shift to low-carbon ones. There are various systems for achieving this (e.g. Cap and Share, Tradable Energy Quotas, etc.) all of which are based on giving each person the right to the same amount of emissions which are reduced year on year, so reducing our collective emissions to a level which can be absorbed by the biomass. The form such systems take can also enable us to solve a range of other problems generated by living in a socially unequal and energy wasteful society, e.g. through ensuring polluters are penalised, and those using less carbon (especially the poor) benefit.
- Switch from Carbon Hungry to Energy Healthy Infrastructure — An immediate end to the construction of infrastructure which is accelerating our carbon use and accelerating climate change, including the immediate end of motorway building, airport expansion, and out of town shopping centres. A rapid transformation in energy production, construction and in transport infrastructure, including rolling out effective mass insulation and energy conservation schemes, public and community benefit renewable energy schemes, and exponentially expanding (and electrifying) public transport. To move to being an energy healthy society by 2028 we also need to rapidly ‘power down’ and ‘power up’ by:
- ‘Powering down’ from using carbon based and polluting energy sources, and from being energy obese (reducing energy use by 50% by 2028) and
- ‘Powering up’ by rapidly expanding renewables (tidal at 11%, wind at 50%, CHP and hydro providing the rest, by 2028).
This transition will happen anyway as oil, gas and coal run out, but needs to be done now in order that the carbon from the remaining fossil fuels are not released into the atmosphere. How this energy transformation can technically be carried out by 2028 is outlined in the Centre for Alternative Technology’s widely acclaimed Zero Carbon Report.
- Establish The Green New Deal — Recognise the underlying cause of the ‘triple crunch’ of the credit-fuelled financial crisis, accelerating climate change and soaring energy prices. Begin the process of re-regulating the financial sector which has been legally obliged to pursue the highest returns for shareholders without thought to how this can destroy the social, economic and environmental fabric. As a first step, push for the transnational financiers and corporations to become transparent in their dealings so that they become accountable for the impacts they are having, and ensure they are accountable through paying tax rather than using tax havens to avoid contributing their fair share to paying for the transformation we collectively and urgently need to undertake. Push internationally for tax havens and their secretive dealings to be stopped, and in the meantime push for legislation to make any agreements reached in such jurisdictions lack any legal status here. Begin building a new alliance between politicians, environmentalists, industry, agriculture, and unions to put the interests of the real economy ahead of those of footloose finance in order to make massive investment in renewable energy and wider environmental transformation, leading to the creation of an employment rich, secure and environmentally healthy society. The programmes and policies required to begin this process are detailed in The Green New Deal (new economics foundation, Larry Elliott, Caroline Lucas et al 21 July 2008).
- Support Community Building Localisation — A dramatic increase in the Scottish Government’s excellent support for communities seeking to make the transition from an oil dependent economy to a local one: evident in the wave of Transition Town, Going Carbon Neutral, etc, initiatives. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act should be expanded to extend support to urban communities to also have the first right (and support) to buy important community land and buildings when they come on the market. This expansion must not be at the expense of existing support for rural communities to do likewise, but can enable urban communities to rebuild themselves, partly through learning from the experience of rural community initiatives.As the previous three actions are taken to stop the extraction of carbon, a level playing field will emerge in which food, energy and the things we need and want are produced far closer to home, with decisions increasingly being made at a local level; enabling us to re-establish healthy local economies and communities.In place of large corporations producing cheap and shoddy goods through exploiting cheap labour and engaging in practices (including long distance transportation) which damage the environment, in place of our fuelling those aspects of the economy in China and the rest of the Majority World which enable those with power in such countries to further exploit those pushed off their land and denied their rights, we will come to rely on establishing healthy local economies here, which will enable healthy economies there.
The three previous steps create the grounds for this fourth step which ultimately depends on people being willing to rebuild their communities as sustainable, healthy, resilient and desirable places to be through relocalising their economy. Without this last step, we cannot stop the devastating extraction of carbon, nor demonstrate to the world how to get back below 350ppm and so stay below the danger threshold of 2°C.
In summary: there is no way we are going to be able to pull back from the brink and — in the process — develop the localised economies needed for fulfilling low carbon lifestyles unless:
- There is clear legislation in place to ensure a level playing field for all, so that individuals, companies and public bodies are able to act to dramatically reduce their emissions to the level necessary. Unless
- There is a clear programme to change energy use, infrastructure, and the materials we use, from carbon-based to carbon-neutral. Unless
- There is swift legislation to curb the ability of finance and the profit motive to exploit and damage, rather than serve society. Unless
- There is dramatically increased support for communities to make the transition.
If government says such a programme cannot be embarked on within 12 months, we request an opportunity for immediate dialogue with the Scottish Government.
The Immediate Side Effects/ Benefits of this Approach:
Moving to a localised economy involves rebuilding community resilience and can involve us — almost inadvertently — tackling a range of other social problems which at the moment seem to be growing and intractable. Take an example given by Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation. He writes that:
Cuba demonstrated it is possible to feed a population under extreme economic stress with very few fossil fuel, but there were other surprises too. As calorie intake fell by more than one third, of necessity the proportion of physically active adults more than doubled and obesity halved. Between 1997–2002, deaths attributed to diabetes halved, coronary heart disease fell by 35 percent, and strokes and other causes by around one fifth. The approach was dubbed the ‘anti-model’ because it was both highly managed and led by communities, it focused on meeting domestic needs rather than exports, was largely organic and built on the success of small farms.
The extraordinary fact is that although climate chaos threatens our species with extinction, preventing climate chaos requires us to tackle the same forces that are causing the destruction of the environment and of other people’s lives right now. The prospect of climate change can either paralyse us into inaction or radicalise us into taking action. If we act, we can build a far better world; if we don’t, then our species will become extinct — there is nothing to lose in taking rational radical action now.
Note 1. CARBON TRADING SYSTEMS: to Price Carbon Out of the Economy:
‘Cap and Share’ which requires those bringing carbon emitting fuels into the economy — the carbon extractors — to buy the rights to selling those fuels by purchasing credits from the population. Their costs are then embedded in the far higher price of carbon based products, and individuals can afford these costs because they have sold their personal carbon credit to those companies. Those who use beyond their fair share will then be penalised by the increased cost, while producers will be motivated to produce carbon-low alternatives.
‘Personal Carbon Trading’ (as advocated by the Environmental Audit Committee of the House of Commons in May 2008) ‘Domestic Tradable Quotas’/ ‘Tradable Energy Quotas’ (as advocated by the Scottish Green Party) are different names for essentially the same idea: each of us would have an equal, free carbon allowance every year. When we pay our home energy bills, or buy fuel or travel tickets, we would pay using ‘carbon points’ from our allowance, as well as money. We would each have a carbon card (like a bank card), with the points stored on it, to make this work. People who use more than their fair share of carbon could buy extra points from those who have spare to sell. In this way, polluters are penalised, the rest of society benefits and the total amount of carbon produced is controlled. If the size of the allowance is reduced year by year, this becomes a pathway to a fairer, lower carbon future. The process of going carbon-neutral is accompanied by a process which rewards those living low-carbon lifestyles. At the moment this would reward the 80% of the population responsible for below average emissions. The wealthiest (globally and nationally) are responsible for the vast bulk of emissions through the amount of goods/flights/etc. they use.
The Contraction part concentrates on the total amount of Carbon being put into the atmosphere. This lays down an annual fall of global emissions — how great that fall would be would depend on the final level of atmospheric carbon considered safe.
The Convergence part lays down how the entitlements to emit carbon are distributed between the countries of the world. Initially these entitlements would reflect current emissions to reflect the difficulty in making the transition. However these initial entitlements will converge towards equal per capita emissions across the planet. The year when entitlements reach equality would be subject to negotiation. Once convergence has been reached then all countries entitlements would continue to fall, that is to say contract.
Contraction & Convergence is the underlying international approach H35O — along with most others — support. In a sense Holyrood 350 is advocating unilateral contraction and convergence within Scotland in order to show that this is possible and inspire others to follow our example.
The Holyrood 350 campaign is the initiative of people
who are actively working across Scotland to dramatically reduce their
communities carbon footprints, and who call on the Holyrood Government
to take urgently these steps to enable Scotland as a whole to do likewise
and chart a path for other countries to follow.
- Justin Kenrick of PEDAL, Portobello Transition Town
- John Riley of Carbon Neutral Biggar
- Jonathan Dawson of Findhorn Eco-Village, Forres
- Mike Small of the Fife Diet
- Nick Wilding of Towards Transition Falkland
- Rachel Nunn of Going Carbon Neutral Stirling
- Eva Schonveld of PEDAL, Portobello Transition Town
- Andy Ross of Carbon Reduction Action Group, Glasgow
- Lucy Conway of the Isle of Eigg
- Alan Drever, Sleat Community Trust, Isle of Skye
Launched at ‘The Big Tent — Scotland’s Festival of Stewardship’, Falkland,
Fife on 27th July 2008:
justinkenrick <at> yahoo <dot> co <dot> uk, 24th July 2008
H35O — Holyrood 350 — Launched at The Big Tent, Falkland, Fife 27th July 2008