We can't say we weren't warned

, 16 August 2021
We can't say we weren't warned
Stedham Common © Nigel Symington

Henri Brocklebank

Director of Conservation Policy & Evidence

Last Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a new climate report. The assessment reviewed a staggering 14,000 scientific papers, with 78,000 review comments responded to. 

It’s taken a week for me to be able to write a blog about the report. I’m sure like me, those of you that have read about it, or looked through its contents have waves of a range of emotions and reactions. For me they tumble between anger, frustration, despondency and more. As a parent, my concerns automatically go the future that my child will live in, the poisoned chalice, passed on by our generation and those that come before us.

I have been in touch with our Sussex Wildlife Trust President, Dr Tony Whitbread, about the report. Co-incidentally and ironically, the next day, whilst I was looking through some Sussex Wildlife Trust archive material, I found a presentation Tony did, on behalf of Sussex Wildlife Trust, in the 1990s. The talk was handwritten on acetate*, discussing the climate crisis – 25 years ago.  We are now living in the future that his notes warned about. The acetates themselves cannot be recycled – but sadly much of the text can. This week Tony directed me to this quote, aptly from a politician, Sir Winston Churchill:

 “The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”.

So, all of us, from individuals, charities, communities, businesses, local/national Government, and more, have to get stuck into this now. 

The time of smooth transition (where the societal changes that we need won’t impact our lives much) is over – we had ample warnings for over 30 years but (collectively) did next to nothing. The time of disruptive change is upon us, the changes that we will need to make will impact us all, and to varying degrees, disrupt our business as usual paradigm – effective change will be disruptive. And this is a narrow window, pretty soon we will be in the realm of catastrophic climatic change. 

So I will bring this home to Sussex Wildlife Trust. Firstly, I am very pleased to say that we are making good progress on our own net zero plans. We know our emissions, as do all of the Trusts in our nationwide movement. We are currently working up the detail of our carbon reduction plan – aiming for net zero by 2030 or before. We know that many of our supporters will be going through exactly the same process for their own businesses and operations, and we will share what we can in our own journey to net zero – both the successes and the challenges. If our work can support or encourage others, then we are delighted.

We are also aware that as the November 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference - COP 26 approaches, many of us will be focussed on what our global leaders will be putting on the table. How ambitious are the commitments? What does this mean for us here in Sussex?  We are planning a series of Webinars ‘For Nature’s Sake’ in the run up to COP26. We will be inviting a range of speakers to unpack some of the impacts of our changing climate, on Sussex specifically, and to look more closely at the role of nature. We will follow it up with a final webinar – post COP26, inviting our speakers back to share their opinions on the outcomes of COP26. We really hope this will be an informative set of online events for our supporters and an opportunity to ask questions too. When the dates are set we will share these through social media and our members' enewsletters.

We know that the climate and ecological crises are the same crisis. This is re-enforced continually in Monday’s report. From an ecological perspective, the unpredictability of the future is as bad as the extreme events (driving habitat loss and localised species extinctions). Against an unpredictable-future we must revitalise ecological resilience in order to survive. Sussex Wildlife Trust is all about building ecological resilience for nature’s sake and for ours. Our supporters know that at sea we are deeply involved in the restoration of the Sussex Kelp, 96% lost since the 1980s. In a conversation with Sir David King of the Centre of Climate Repair in Cambridge last week, we heard that restocking of our oceans sits alongside all our climate actions as a priority. The Sussex Kelp Restoration Project is our local response to this, and we will do everything we can to ensure that is contributing to ecosystems and climate solutions. Meanwhile on our rivers we have been creating new habitats and linkages through natural flood management. This is good for nature and good for our communities as nature plays its role in water quality and reducing the floodpeaks down-stream. (See Sussex Flow Initiative for more details). More than ever we see our own nature reserves as core areas in the developing Nature Recovery Networks of Sussex – areas from which biodiversity and bio-abundance can spread. These actions to deliver ecological resilience can also deliver community resilience – people working together for a common goal – critical for all of us going forward, from, schools, to parish wildlife groups to communities of free-divers.

As Sussex Wildlife Trust celebrates its 60th birthday this year, we will be launching our new strategy, embedding higher ambitions for nature and people in Sussex. We already work with a huge range of individuals, communities and organisations in Sussex who share our ambitions, we know there will be many allies in ‘upping our game’. We want to ensure, not just nature’s recovery, but also that we enable nature to provide some of the solutions to our global and local problems. This is all about healthy, functioning ecosystems, on land, and critically, at sea as well.  At last adaptation and the recognition of legacy emissions and locked in climate change is being taken seriously. This really needs to translate into practical, deliverable resilience measures at national and local levels. It’s about investing in local climate preparedness and not just early warning systems. We are certainly ready to play our part.

Nationally the Wildlife Trusts Director of Climate Action, Kathryn Brown has summarised the IPCC report, and I will leave you with her headline information. 

Top headlines are:

·        It is indisputable that human activity is causing climate change, with profound effects for the biosphere. However, impacts have grown more quickly than predicted

·        The planet is warming quickly, with consequences everywhere; increased extreme heat, heavy rainfall, drought, and conditions conducive to wildfire

·        1.5C is largely inevitable by 2040 or sooner

·        But, IF the world manages to achieve global net zero by 2050, it is ‘extremely likely’ that global temperature increase can be limited to below 2C, with a temporary overshoot of no more than 0.1C

·        Some further changes over centuries are now irreversible including further melting of global ice sheets and warming/acidifying of the ocean; but reaching global net zero by 2050 could slow these changes, though it won’t stop them

·        Strong call for joint action on climate change and biodiversity loss

 Cross-cutting key messages:

 ·        Very urgent reductions in Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) are needed

·        Every ton of CO2e adds to warming; so every bit of warming avoided matters, even if/when we go past 1.5C - there is a near linear relationship between increased GHGs and increased global temperature

·        Governments need to make Net Zero a core part of their commitments to the Paris Agreement (via their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)), including a pointed reference to restoring natural habitats and cutting methane emissions

·        The IPCC are calling for joint action on climate and biodiversity loss, with recognition that climate change will have systemic effects on nature and is already doing so, and that restoring nature will help in turn to address climate change

·        It is critical that Governments invest in adaptation alongside mitigation, including much more investment in early warning systems

·        Further impacts are inevitable, and in some cases, this is true for centuries to come (i.e. sea level rise)

·        COP26 will be the best chance to get agreement to the action that is needed

Further detail:

 ·        Unprecedented conditions: Current CO2 concentrations are the highest in last 2 million years, sea level rise fastest for 3,000 years, sea ice lowest for 1,000 years, glacier retreat unprecedented for last 2,000 years

·        We’re experiencing more frequent and intense extremes of heat on land and sea, heavy rainfall and drought globally. Conditions that promote the spread of wildfire are increasing globally and the oceans are warming and becoming more acidic.

·        If action to reduce GHGs remain at today’s effort, 2C will be passed by 2050 and we are heading for 3C or more by 2100. Every additional 0.5C of warming will lead to increasingly severe impacts.  Eg extreme rainfall intensifies by 7% for every 1C of warming

·        There is no going back for some changes now locked in, including changes to the cryosphere and oceans. Global ocean temperature will rise by between 2-8x as much as it has already. Greenland ice melt will continue for thousands of years, so sea level rise will keep increasing. BUT these changes can be slowed down with rapid emissions reductions.

·        Other processes can be stopped with urgent emissions reductions including glacier loss.

·        The IPCC have published an interactive global atlas to show observations and projections of change for different global regions

“We can’t undo the mistakes of the past, but this generation can still put things right”

Inger Andersen (UNEP Exec Director)

  * For younger readers, acetate is what we used for presentations before PowerPoint, projecting light through transparent sheets of plastic with handwritten text on

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