How do we avoid catastrophe?

Acting on the climate and environmental emergency
The issues

The environmental emergency

Tackling the climate emergency has become the focus of recovery efforts around the world.

Global greenhouse gas emissions must be nearly halved by 2030 in order to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels.

However, climate change is just one part a wider environmental emergency being driven by economic systems around the world.

The planet also faces major challenges with depleted soil quality, water shortages, and mass species extinction.

These crises are expected to pose a greater threat to health, society and the economy than the Covid-19 pandemic.

Environmental justice

The impacts of the environmental emergency fall unequally between countries and across communities. Often the people who contributed the least to environmental destruction are most harmed by the consequences. This makes environmental issues inseparable from wider questions of fairness and inequality.

The idea of a just transition has become central to the cause of environmental justice. This means ensuring the process of reducing environmental damage also provides jobs and opportunities for those working in environmentally-destructive sectors and their communities.

Wealthy countries could support poorer countries to reduce their environmental impact and compensate them for the environmental damage that they have experienced as a result of past exploitation of resources.

Rapid and sustained action needed

Rapid and sustained action is now needed if we are to avoid the very worst outcomes of the environmental emergency. Carbon emissions, including those of the UK, are not falling rapidly enough and sufficient action is not being taken to tackle other environmental destruction.

The UK aims to be a world leader and has committed to net zero emissions by 2050, offsetting any remaining emissions. Some still consider this deadline too far away. 

The COP26 UN climate talks will be hosted by the UK in 2021. These crucial talks will determine whether countries' climate plans will keep the world on track to limit heating to 1.5 degrees celsius. Wealthier nations must also agree on how to unlock more financial support for poorer countries. More green investment is needed as investors continue to fund polluting industries.


Natural climate solutions

Natural climate solutions, such as planting trees and restoring wetlands, are increasingly popular with governments, campaigners and businesses. If carried out properly they can absorb large amounts of carbon and address wider environmental destruction, such as biodiversity loss. 

These programmes should not be seen as a way for polluting industries to avoid changing their behaviour. Natural solutions are instead seen as something to be implemented alongside wider emissions cuts and other actions to repair the environment, not instead of them.

Green tax reform

Burning fossil fuels can have economic, environmental and social costs. It is widely considered fair and efficient to require energy users to bear some of these costs. 

Carbon and other environmental taxes also encourage more efficient use of energy and resources, reducing environmental impact. Under the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme, carbon emissions from the power and industrial sectors are effectively taxed, though not at a very high rate. 

Petrol and diesel are taxed more highly, but these taxes have been frozen in the UK in recent years. Aircraft fuel is not taxed at all. There is a strong case for a more comprehensive system of carbon taxation. 

Taxes on consumption are regressive, with poorer consumers tending to pay more as a proportion of their income. Carbon and environmental taxes need to be carefully designed to ensure that they are perceived as fair.

Navigate the debate

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