Why we need to reduce global warming greenhouse gases rapidly: Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland's position.

13 Nov 2018


Global warming of 1°C since the Industrial Revolution is already causing extreme weather changes around the world. A rise above 1.5°C would have devastating consequences. Current global greenhouse-gas-emission trajectories put us on track for over 3°C increase by 2100. Yet we still have time to stay within safe limits – if we step up action now. We must change the way we use and generate energy, change our diets and share the Earth’s limited resources more fairly. We must also be ready to withstand some of the impacts of climate change.

Facts about global warming greenhouse gases

  1. Just 2°C of global warming could drive 20-30% of plants and animals to extinction and reduce the amount of food we can get from crops by as much as 2% per decade.
  2. Each degree of global warming will lead to more extreme weather, including flash floods and heat waves. In the UK, 5 million homes are already at risk of flooding.
  3. Global emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases need to peak and start declining as soon as possible. To make the UK’s contribution to greenhouse-gas reduction fair, we need to cut our emissions to net zero by around 2045.
  4. Doubling the size of the UK’s forests can take carbon dioxide out of the air. It will help offset areas where reducing emissions to zero is very hard (e.g. agriculture).
  5. Transport is now the UK’s biggest source of greenhouse gases.

The problems with greenhouse gases

The Earth’s temperature is increasing faster than is natural. This is largely the result of our burning of coal, oil and gas - fossil fuels. So far, we’ve seen a 1°C increase since the Industrial Revolution – enough to cause extreme weather across the world and harm people and wildlife.

Any increase over 1.5° will have disastrous consequences worldwide. Based on how we live now, more than 3°of global warming is likely by the end of the century — unless we step up action immediately.

It is the poorest and most vulnerable people who will suffer most. Women, children and the elderly are particularly at risk. Africa will be most affected, even if we help African nations adapt.

It’s still possible to avoid warming above 1.5°

Friends of the Earth has produced a pathway on how the UK can play its part by moving to ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions. Read the full net-zero report [PDF].

Doing so would require a much faster transition to electric cars than the government is currently envisaging. It would also require householders to be provided with grants to insulate homes and fit low carbon heating. These actions will not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions but will also lead to less air pollution and eradicate fuel poverty.

However, many politicians, particularly in countries such as the UK, seem determined to promote continued use of fossil fuels by increasing oil production and fracking for gas. All governments need to take far greater action on climate change, and fast.

Things we can do to reduce greenhouse gases

The change needed is vast, but it is achievable and will lead to many other benefits, like less air pollution and more jobs. Taking action now is also cheaper – the later we leave it, the more it will cost.

We need to:

Keep fossil fuels in the ground. We need to leave 80% of our coal, oil and gas deposits alone if we want to prevent warming above 1.5 degrees.

Switch to electric vehicles faster. Electric cars are much cleaner and over their lifetime comparable or even cheaper in cost than petrol or diesel cars. The UK government has set a date of 2040 for saying all new cars should be low carbon. This should be brought forwards to 2030.

Be energy-efficient citizens. We need to reduce global energy use by around 50%. The government should provide householders with grants to fit insulation and low carbon heating. A local authority area-by-area programme would be the most efficient and cost effective way of doing this.

Use renewables to power the world. The UK is leading the way in off-shore wind and almost 1 million people have solar panels on their roofs. But we're using more and more electricity to power transport and heating – so we need to rapidly increase the amount of renewable energy we produce. We need an eightfold increase in renewable energy production over coming decades.

Double the area of forests in the UK. Trees suck carbon dioxide out of the air. In the UK we don’t have enough of them. Doubling the area of forests in the UK would help address climate change and also be a boon for nature.

Change our diets. Meat production results in extremely high greenhouse gas emissions. In the UK we need to reduce our meat intake by 50-75% to help reduce greenhouse emissions. Less meat production globally would allow a significant increase in the amount of forests. This would be a boon for biodiversity – and forests also take carbon out of the air.

Empower women. Gender equality, secondary education for all girls, and sexual and reproductive rights for women are fundamental rights; absent in too many parts of the world. They are necessary so that women can fully contribute to tackling climate change and adapting to it, including in politics and policy. They would also enable women to use family planning and to choose to have smaller families if they want. Smaller families helps constrain population growth and future carbon emissions.

Create an equal world. The 1 billion wealthiest people in the world consume most of the world’s resources. If we are to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all 8 billion people on our planet, we need to share our resources more fairly.

Adapt to existing climate change. Some increase in climate temperatures and extreme weather is unavoidable. The UK and other developed countries need to help poorer countries to adapt and cope with these changes, as well as adapt themselves.

All these changes will lead to a better world. But they will only happen if people everywhere put more pressure on politicians, businesses and investors. We must also curtail the influence of the fossil fuel industry and others lobbying against action.

Friends of the Earth's pathway to 'net zero' emissions [PDF].

Policy positions
Climate change