Fundamental shift needed to meet UK climate targets

The UK has set itself some of the toughest carbon reduction targets in the world, but we must make fundamental changes if those aspirations are going to be anything more than hot air.

Paul Maryan, of consultancy Hyder, spoke at Sustainable Business – the Event about the need for something beyond step-by-step progress, arguing that in this case, slow and steady won’t win the race.

Reflecting on the COP15 climate talks in Copenhagen last year, he acknowledged that it had been ‘a bit of a damp squib’ but questioned whether we had set our hopes to high and asked whether it was ever realistic to expect almost 200 countries to sit down and agree a binding deal with any sense of urgency.

He claimed that there had been some very good outcomes from the talks, such as the US and China facing up to the issues and agreeing to become more involved in tackling their own emissions.

Back on British soil, he said, we’re beginning to see quite a lot of activity but there was still a sense that we haven’t quite realised what we’ve signed ourselves up to.

“[We have the] most stringent targets in terms of binding CO2 targets, the actual size of the target we have to face is very high,” he said.

“Cutting by 50% or 80% is a huge, huge task.”

He compared society’s moving towards sustainability to biological evolution.

There were those whose view was that evolution happened very slowly but over a very long period whilst there were others who thought that nothing much happened for long periods, then there were brief spurts of extremely rapid change, brought on by pressing environmental changes like those from asteroid impacts or increased levels of seismic activity.

“What we’re now finding of course is that in truth, both of those come into play,” he said.

“If you think about the way that people have looked at saving CO2 in the UK what’s happening is that we’re doing some things that are quite gradual and quite small really.

“But if we’re going to get to our targets we really need to think about what happens next.”

In order to speed things along, he said, Government should be looking to do those things that nobody else was doing, rather than doing the things that are already been done, but doing them a little better.

“What we really need to look at is how we can break ourselves out of this steady incremental change and have a fundamental shift,” he said.

“Across the whole piste there needs to be a great effort on that paradigm shift.”

His full presentation can be viewed below.

Sam Bond

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