“Blah blah blah” – fill the policy gap

“Blah blah blah” – fill the policy gap

“Blah blah blah.” So said Greta Thunberg at the Youth4Climate Summit in Milan recently, in an effort to stir leaders into action at the UN Climate Conference COP 26 later this month. Eloquently put? I will leave that for you to decide. Basically, Greta was calling for the leaders of each country in the world to go beyond climate change promises and follow through by implementing policies and management that deliver the scale and pace of change in carbon emissions that is required.

Churchill Fellow Duncan Vaughan
Duncan in Massachusetts as part of his Fellowship in 2017, which explored marine planning Download 'Duncan Vaughan_Blog.jpg'
"We can all play our part in reducing our carbon footprint, but it is hard to achieve this at scale." - Duncan Vaughan, Fellow

The UN states that emissions are on track to rise by 16% by 2030, rather than fall by half – which has been identified as the outcome required to keep global heating under the internationally agreed limit of 1.5°C. We are nowhere near this goal and are worryingly moving in the wrong direction. We can all play our part in reducing our carbon footprint, but it is hard to achieve this at scale.

In the past two weeks I have been asking difficult questions of myself because of Greta and the Insulate Britain protests. Why? Well, seven years ago my wife Kate and I bought a decrepit house: unlike those on Grand Designs, we didn’t have money or an architect, but we did our best to breathe new life into the building. True to TV stereotype, six months into the renovation Kate became pregnant and our 18-month renovation plan became laughable.

Now, like any other parent, I worry about my son Rohan and the world of which he and his peers are to be the future custodians. As we ripped apart and rebuilt the house, we considered heat pumps: but at the time these were at least £8,000, which we didn’t have, so we went with a gas boiler, and likewise the cost of solar panels meant they too were beyond our reach. Yet this was the time to fit them – the scaffolding was up, and the floors dug out. In essence we have ‘baked in’ our future emissions.

We truly want to do the right thing, yet even if the government were to magic up some money to retrofit heat pumps, solar panels and insulation, I am not sure that I can face tearing the house apart again. Instead, not tearing the house apart needs to become untenable. Climate change is real and is hitting individuals and communities throughout the globe, with many of those impacted living in countries and communities that have contributed least to the current crisis.

Although we are experiencing some effects of climate change in the UK, such as warmer and wetter weather, it is not biting us hard yet. It needs to, but in a different way. Effective policy that drives the scale and the pace of change required will need to be transformatory, resulting in changes to our behaviour by removing perverse subsidies that stymie change, and using incentives to pull us, and taxation to push us, into action. The trade-offs required to maintain the lifestyles we have become accustomed to need to be transparent – yes, you can fly and take a holiday in the sun, but that means potentially an additional carbon tax.

This morning I was mulling over what to write about, as I bobbed about on my surfboard watching the sun rise over Scolt Head Island on the North Norfolk coast. When I look out to sea, I can see two offshore windfarms in the distance silently generating green electricity – a key part of the solution to the climate and biodiversity emergencies we all face. I reflected on my Fellowship, which looked at how marine planning could be used to improve the management of our seas to drive environmental recovery. I say recovery, because globally our seas are vitally important to us, yet they are in poor shape, and every day the pressures on them increase.

The true value of our seas is not yet recognised in decision-making. Yet that is starting to change. Over the past 20 years, there has been a drive towards the sustainable use of our natural resources, but we are at an inflection point – we need to make trade-offs in how we use our seas in the future and prioritise their use. The answer may be that sustainable use means we don’t use the ocean for things we currently do, or we use it in a different way.

Transformatory policy, where we are all impacted financially or through restrictions in what and how we do things, is needed – yet will be difficult and unpopular. Nobody races to do these things, yet that is what is required, and it is required at a global level. There is no more time for blah blah blah.


The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.


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