As countries continue to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is not surprising that climate change has slipped from the news cycle. It is easy to forget that we live in a climate emergency.
But we do. And 2020 looks like it will be a record breaker. Wildfires ripped through Australia at the beginning of the year, the strongest storm ever recorded in the Bay of Bengal, Amphan, hit India and Bangladesh last month. The cyclone brought winds speeds of 185km/h (115mph) and waves as high as 15ft. Millions of people were affected with homes and livelihoods destroyed.
In Europe, often overlooked when we consider climate change, scientists are warning that global warming will bring greater variability to the weather. A recent study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, found that not only will temperatures increase but that the weather will become more erratic, too.
One of the scientists involved in the study, Dr Talia Tamarin-Brodsky, a researcher in Meteorology at the University of Reading, near London, said: “In Europe, there will be more days in summer that are noticeably hotter or colder than the new average as temperatures vary more.”
Europe is already seeing changing weather. Yesterday, the UK Met Office said they were “astounded” that the country had just recorded record sunshine levels. Sunshine in the period from March to the end of May smashed the previous record by a “staggering” amount.
What makes this even more astonishing is it comes after the country experiences record rainfall in February. As the BBC reports the Met Office say they are “amazed at the sudden switch from extreme wet to extreme dry – it is not ‘British’ weather.”
Professor Liz Bentley, chief executive of the Royal Meteorological Society, told the BBC: “It’s unprecedented to see such a swing from one extreme to the other in such a short space of time. That’s what concerns me. We don’t see these things normally happening with our seasons.”
For decades scientists have predicted that this would happen. The old weather patterns are breaking down. We are witnessing more extremes. It is further evidence that we have to act now in tackling climate change and not waste the post-COVID-19 opportunity to implement radical structural change towards a clean energy future.
As Christiana Figueres, the ex-head of the UN climate change secretariat that achieved the Paris agreement in 2015, wrote in the Guardian yesterday: “COVID-19 has given us the chance to build a low-carbon future.”
She adds: “Crises are a moment of rupture and change. In the midst of the pandemic, we face a choice between recovering the carbon-intensive global economy that has set us on the path towards environmental breakdown, or accelerating the transition towards a future that prioritizes the health of people and planet.”
As if on cue, the Financial Times is reporting that “Almost 200 companies” have called on British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson to “launch a green economic recovery plan, insisting that future corporate bailouts should take account of the UK’s net zero climate target.”
“We must use the recovery to accelerate the transition to net zero,” the corporate leaders told Johnson. “Efforts to rescue and repair the economy in response to the current crisis can and should be aligned with the UK’s legislated target of net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.”
There will be many who rightly argue that this is no way ambitious enough, so we need to keep the pressure up. There will be those who also rightly contend that some of the signatories to this letter, such as BP or the boss of London Heathrow airport, who are just trying to window dress green words around a business-as-usual scenario.
But just as the weather is rapidly changing so too is the business status quo. More and more companies do not want to go back. They want a just transition moving forward. We have to make sure now that politicians meet rising corporate and political pressure. There can be no Big Oil bailout. Any post-COVID-19 economic recovery plan has to make central a managed transition away from fossil fuels to a cleaner, more sustainable, more just, future.
For more on the details of how to do this read the blog and scientific paper by my ex-colleague, Greg Muttitt.