Agreed Facts on the Impact of Climate Change from the Shadwell 3 Trial
March 24, 2022 by Zoe Blackler
IN THE INNER LONDON
FURTHER AGREED FACTS
THE IMPACT OF CLIMATE CHANGE
- Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution the combustion of fossil fuels such as
coal, crude oil (and its derivatives) and fossil gas has been the principal driver of
increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. Atmospheric carbon dioxide
concentrations are now higher than they have been in at least 2 million years. The
climate change driven by these increasing greenhouse gas concentrations is having
profound impacts on the natural world that supports our economies and wellbeing.
- Some ecosystems around the world are already in a state of collapse. Ecosystems such
as rainforests, coral reefs and sea ice are particularly vulnerable to climate change,
and will likely be wiped off the face of the Earth if global temperatures are not
stabilised. The loss of such ecosystems would not only drive the extinction of
thousands of species, it would also undermine the generation of ecosystem services
(such as the provision of food, medicine, and materials, crop pollination, flood
regulation, and so on) that humanity depends on for wellbeing, economic production,
and, ultimately, survival.
- So far, the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations has caused an increase in the
average global surface temperature of 1.09°C above pre-industrial temperatures, and
this is already having extreme and unprecedented impacts on weather systems,
ecosystems and people around the world. Extreme weather-related events such as
floods, droughts and hurricanes have been increasing over the last two decades,
particularly in the Global South and especially in south Asia: overall, in the two decades from 2000-2020, over 7000 “major disaster events” were recorded, between them claiming 1.23 million lives, affecting 4.2 billion people, and causing £2.3 trillion in economic losses. Over recent years such disasters have increasingly also affected countries in the Global North.
- Such is the seriousness of the climate crisis that over 13,000 scientists have declared
‘clearly and unequivocally’ that the Earth faces a climate emergency. The word
‘emergency’ denotes a serious and urgent situation that requires our urgent attention.
While we are already suffering significant and dangerous climate change, the extent
of future impacts is not pre-determined but will be decided largely by decisions taken
by human societies now and in the next few years. The severity of future impacts
depends on how quickly we stop emitting greenhouse gasses by, in particular, how
quickly we fully decarbonise the global economy.
- The temperature at the end of this century will very likely rise to between 1.4°C and
4.4°C above pre-industrial levels (though potentially as high as 5.7°C). Signatories to
the Paris Agreement have committed to trying to keep planetary heating below 1.5°C,
however in all but the highest emissions scenarios this target will be reached during
the 2030s: in the highest emissions scenario, we will pass the target as early as 2027.
These predictions of future temperature increases are based on the assumption that
temperature increases will remain steady, however this assumption is widely recognised as overly conservative because of the existence of feedback loops within the planetary system. Feedback loops are processes which, once started, serve to reinforce the effects of climate change – for example, the melting of sea ice reduces reflection and increases absorption of solar energy and thus increases ocean heating; the melting of permafrost releases huge quantities of methane into the atmosphere; and climate-driven increases in wildfires destroy forests and other carbon sinks, thus increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. Multiple potential feedback loops have been identified, each of which may be sufficient (if critical thresholds are surpassed) to push the Earth system past ‘tipping points’, beyond which further climate change can neither be stopped nor reversed.
- Much of South America, North Africa, the Middle East, India and Southeast Asia
(places which are currently home to 3.5 billion people) will be too hot for humans to
live in within the next 50 years under a high emissions scenario, while many of the
world’s major cities will need to be relocated or otherwise adapted within similar timeframes, due to sea level rise. This includes London, and in particular the City of London. In October 2021, the chair of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group, Sir David King, warned that London will have to be replaced as the UK capital if climate change is not rapidly addressed, because it will not be possible to defend it from sea level rise and flooding.
- The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, (a United Nations body
established in 1988 to assess the science related to climate change) estimated that to
have a 66% chance of avoiding heating of 1.5°C, global emissions would have to be
reduced by 45% by 2030, and reach net zero by 2050. However, instead of falling,
emissions have continued to grow in the following three years, despite a brief dip due
to the Covid-19 pandemic.
- The fossil fuel industry is the principal driver of climate change. The government
currently provides subsidies of £10.5 billion per annum to the fossil fuel industry.
- The fossil fuel industry, depends on the financial services and insurance industries
which fund and guarantee its operations, and both these industries are headquartered
in the City of London. Climate funders headquartered in the City include Barclays
Bank and Standard Chartered, which in 2021 have provided £4.1 billion and £3.2
billion respectively in funding for new fossil fuel projects.
- Climate change is a clear and imminent threat to human civilisation. It has become
increasingly widely recognised that immediate substantial action needs to be taken in
order to stabilise the climate at a temperature in which we can avoid massive and
widespread loss of life.