A weather forecast we daren’t ignore
It is an old axiom of politics that people do not necessarily engage with an issue until they feel it has some personal impact on their lives. Thanks to the UK Climate Projections 2009 report released by environment secretary Hilary Benn last week, that impact is now clearly laid out.
The result of 12 years research by Met Office scientists, the report suggests that summer temperatures in London could regularly reach 40C by 2080 and that wildfires, blistering summers, storm surges and crop failures could become common events across southern Britain. In the North, meanwhile, there is a serious risk that winter rainfall could increase dramatically, with devastating consequences.
There are caveats, naturally, about the uncertainties involved in any long-term weather forecasts. But it would be a mistake not to try to get the most accurate possible picture of our meteorological fate. Without that, we will be exposed to major loss of life from heatwaves, flooding and fire. The report is a welcome source of potential guidance over the siting of new flood defences, changes in farming practices and the need for the health service to prepare for the impact of soaring temperatures.
But there is another factor involved. The report provides a range of scenarios and stresses that the worst can be prevented if carbon emissions are minimised. We still have a chance to control our destinies.
The key here lies with the development of ways to generate energy cleanly. And of these, the technology with the most promise is the one that will allow us to continue to burn coal, the world’s most abundant fossil fuel, without generating carbon dioxide. That point was stressed by E.On chief Paul Golby last week. He argued that carbon capture and storage (CCS) schemes, in which carbon is removed from coal and buried below ground, may prove to be the most important of all forms of clean energy generation. He is right and the government apparently agrees, hence its recent praiseworthy decision to support CCS development.
Coal is a filthy fuel. But the world needs to balance economic vitality and environmental security. To understand what will happen should we fail with CCS, we need look no further than last week’s projections report.