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.

Climate restoration

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.

Matt Mace

Comments (3)

  1. C. Alvin Scott says:

    What is the point in enshrining anything in Law this Tory Government just ignores the Law. Clean Air act 2010 and three LOST Court cases later and still not doing anything real.

    Professor King you simply appear to have sold yourself to the worst UK Government in modern time.

    Why are you not promoting Hydrogen and saying this is party politics at its worst. Claire Perry "Bring on Fracking —Shell CEO at Paris interview "well yes fracking gas is nearly as bad as coal when leaks are taken into account".

    Sorry Sir David you are a scientist and I am an amateur in this field, but I can arrive at a Hydrogen Combustion Internal Steam Turbine (generator) concept and I can also link with a US company which has designed a Low voltage Hydrogen production system which clearly can be adapted to an On Board the EV On Demand from the engine fuel production system.

    The biggest upset is the likes of Politicians who listen to your advice and that you are not conversant with innovation. Yes it may well be outside your daily, but if you place yourself as the Advisor to the Government and the People then you need to get outside your comfort zone.

    Check University of Nottingham R&D Profs Gulcan or Tim

  2. Ken Pollock says:

    I find it very sad that someone who used to be the UK’s Chief Scientist should now be promoting this sort of action on such flawed evidence.
    There is no sign of the climate needing to be "restored" whatever that might mean. The IPCC itself does not see any trend towards worse weather as the globe apparently heats up.
    A 1 degree rise since 1860 has resulted in nothing but good for mankind across the globe, and yet a further 0.5 degree rise is supposed to spell disaster. This is incredible and merely indicates that the climate scientists have failed to convince governments, and hence they need to ratchet up the rhetoric in the hope of scaring us into action – action that will make living conditions for billions across the planet much worse, condemning them to live without the sort of economic development we in the West enjoy.
    Meanwhile, most people go on living and most governments go on governing as if none of this is true, for which we can be truly thankful.

  3. Ken Pollock says:

    C Alvin Scott: just read your comments. Let’s ignore the party politics and stick to science and engineering. Hydrogen may have many uses but it is not a source of energy, it is a means of moving it around – like electricity!
    Whatever you do to it to make it a fuel for mobility, you will get less energy out than you put in to make it in the first place – by liberating it from water or methane. We have no experience in the universe as we know it of a violation of this second law of thermodynamics.
    So promote it by all means, but don’t pretend it is an alternative to solar, wind, or fracking. Even Sir John Armitt got caught out that way recently – and he leads the National Infrastructure Commission…

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