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We answer your most common climate change questions

Our Head of Climate Change, Gareth Redmond-King, answers some of your burning questions about climate change.

What can I do to help?

Cutting our own emissions helps. You can fly less and drive less – transport is a huge source of emissions. Eat less meat and waste less food. Switch to a renewable energy tariff & insulate your home – you’ll use less energy, and it’ll be cleaner! By doing lots of smaller actions that cut your carbon footprint it can add up as more of us do the right thing.

But even more powerful – politicians act on issues they know voters care about, and not enough of our MPs hear from enough of us about how important this is to us. So, make your voice heard so that businesses and politicians know you care about this and you demand that they take action.

Can we realistically save the world from climate change?

Yes, but only if we all act now, and act fast. Keeping warming to 1.5° is still possible – but it needs international co-operation to make deep, fast cuts to greenhouse gas emissions. It’s urgent!

What will happen if climate change carries on? What will the world look like in 100 years if nothing is done?

Hard to say. But if we do nothing and there’s no improvement then all the climate effects we see now get worse – more extreme weather, with all the harm that does; more pressure on animals and plants that can’t adapt; water scarcity; further loss of sea ice and melting of the ice caps and glaciers.  And by then, if we’ve done nothing, then we’ll definitely be on track for 2º and more of warming, with all the really serious impacts we know that carries. A very depressing thought…

How would you advise we go about educating ourselves further on climate change?

There’s so much good stuff out there to use to learn about climate change.  Websites like Carbon Brief give lots of in depth analysis and helpful explainers about some of the basic concepts, and Business Green has some great writing about climate change and energy.  The Guardian has really good coverage of climate change and associated environmental issues, as does National Geographic.  I loved Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything – it’s a passionate polemic about the causes and what we need to do. There’ll be some good stuff about climate change and its impacts in Our Planet on Netflix – launching on April 5th – which WWF worked on.  And there are some fantastic experts on social media who will keep you up to date – follow Michael Mann, Kate Marvel, Katherine Hayhoe and Ed Hawkins on Twitter.

Does vegetarianism have an important positive effect on climate change?

Yes. 60% of mammals on Earth are livestock and 70% of birds are chicken/poultry. Farming livestock uses huge amounts of land (which causes loss of carbon-storing forests) to graze and feed them, and livestock – particularly cattle – emit methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas. Eating less/no meat helps.

How does plastic pollution affect climate change?

Plastic pollution mostly damages marine animals and seabirds who eat it or become trapped in it. But, plastic is made with oil – accounting for about 8% of global oil use, projected to rise over coming years. And recent studies show that, as certain plastics – particularly those that we use to make drinks bottles – sit around, breaking down over time, they do start to emit some of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change.  So it is linked, not least because our plastic consumption drives demand for fossil fuel companies to keep ‘exploring’ for and extracting oil.

What is a Climate Emergency?

Politically, to declare a 'Climate Emergency' is an acknowledgement of this crisis. It would mean immediately prioritising action across government to end support for fossil fuels, invest in the clean economy and restore nature at home and abroad.

We are already witnessing the devastating impacts of climate change, from life-threatening wildfires and Arctic ice melt, to intense hurricanes and floods. If emissions continue to rise at current rates, we’ve only around a decade before 1.5°C of warming is inevitable and we face climate breakdown.

You're calling on government to declare a climate emergency, so what specifically do you want them to do immediately?

The normal way that government deals with a crisis or emergency is to convene ‘COBRA’ - the civil contingencies committee in the Cabinet Office.  It is chaired by the relevant Secretary of State - or the Prime Minister - and brings together senior officials and Ministers from all of the relevant departments and public services necessary to respond to and address the crisis. For medium term pressures or emergencies, it might establish a semi-permanent operation or taskforce - such as it has recently set up to manage the impacts of a no-deal Brexit.  And for longer-term problems, it might re-organise the machinery of government to establish a new department and a new role around the Cabinet table.

Going into crisis mode means escalating the issue to the top of the priority list for every part of government. And it creates a senior co-ordinating mechanism accounting to the most senior level in government on a frequent and regular basis.

What’s wrong with what the UK is doing at the moment?

  • The UK has the biggest fossil fuel subsidies in the EU, spending €12bn (£10.5bn) a year supporting dirty fossil fuels, as well as allowing companies to begin fracking for new sources of gas which we do not need.
  • Government is failing to back onshore wind and solar - these are the cheapest forms of electricity generation (not just the cheapest renewables).
  • Policies to reduce emissions aren’t working in key areas. From 2013 – 2017, in 15 out of 18 areas, government policy failed to deliver expected results, from housing to transport to agriculture (according to the Committee on Climate Change).
  • We’re not on track to hit our current targets for reducing emissions by 2030 - let alone the higher targets we need to end the UK’s domestic contribution to climate change.
  • Our houses are inefficient and waste energy - costing homeowners money on excessive energy bills, as well as causing climate change emissions - yet the government has no policies or funding in place to meet their own targets to improve efficiency.
  • Despite the improving technology and reducing costs of electric vehicles, the government doesn’t plan to end sales of petrol and diesel cars until 2040. Bringing that date forward by 10 years would cover over half the UK’s emissions reduction gap up to 2032 as well as cutting air pollution by about 30%.
  • The UK plans to expand Heathrow Airport with a third runway, adding to an already growing problem of aviation emissions.