Sir David King: Urgent focus needed on climate ‘restoration’
The UK Government's former chief scientific advisor Sir David King has called for a $150 carbon price to be implemented globally and for the UK Government to focus on a net-zero emissions policy for 2045 to start to "repair and restore" the climate.
Sir David King, who was the Government’s Special Representative for Climate Change from September 2013 until March 2017, warned that “time is no longer on our side” as he urged businesses and policymakers to realign decarbonisation processes with strategies that pushed towards net-zero emissions that the restoration of the planet and its climate.
Speaking at the Clean Growth Innovation Summit – hosted by Innovate UK’s Knowledge Transfer Network as part of Green GB Week – King claimed that policy and business action was critical in averting the severe climate threats facing humanity in the near future.
“This is the most serious challenge humanity has ever had to face up to,” King said. “Time is no longer on our side. What we continue to do, what we do that is new, and what we plan to do over the next 10 to 12 years will determine the future of humanity for the next 10,000.
“We need to think about climate restoration and climate repair. It’s certainly critically important to have deep and rapid emissions reductions, but there’s too much in the atmosphere today.”
King was previously the Government’s chief scientific advisor from 2000 to 2007 and has been vocal in the past on the need to mobilise funds to spur clean growth. At the Summit, King was reflecting on the warnings of the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which notes the adverse climate impacts of failing to limit global warming to 1.5C.
Specifically, a half-degree increase on the 1.5C target would lead to sea-level rises affecting 10 million more people by 2100, while heat-related deaths and forest fires would become far more common.
In order to reach the 1.5C ambition, carbon emissions would need to be reduced by 45% by 2030 – compared with a 20% cut under the 2C pathway – before reaching zero emissions by 2050, compared with 2075 for 2C. This would require carbon prices that are three to four times higher than for a 2C target.
Reports have suggested that European carbon prices could hit €55 (£48) per tonne to align the bloc’s emissions targets with the Paris Agreement. However, King stated that a global price of $150 (£113) per tonne would be needed to combat climate change. This is more than four times the UK’s current carbon price of £24 per tonne, which was responsible for almost 75% of the decline in coal generation since it was introduced in April 2013.
King also joined the growing list of experts and policy leaders calling of the UK Government to enshrine a net-zero carbon goal into law. Earlier this week, it was announced that the UK Government is seeking advice from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) on what that type of policy would look like.
However, King noted the importance of business and policymakers alike striving to move beyond decarbonisation by researching and funding technologies that would start removing emissions from the atmosphere.
“It will be challenging to meet net-zero,” King added. “As we move forward, we have to take on the concept of switching out fossil fuels entirely, but it is critically important to research removing emissions from the atmosphere in order to meet net-zero emissions. Nobody said it was going to be cheap, but I’m saying it is going to be necessary.”
King noted that between 10 to 15 times the amount of global emissions emitted in 2017 would need to be removed from the atmosphere and stored in carbon sinks in order to restore the climate. He also announced his intentions to create a proposal for a “Global Institute of Climate Repair” to help realise this necessity.