Chair's Letter to MP
Dear Mr Mayhew MP
I am a local doctor, co-founder of CHAIN ( Climate Hope Action in Norfolk ) and a mother. I am writing to ask that you put your support behind efforts to ensure that the recovery package from the pandemic should focus on ensuring we build back differently to accelerate the shift to a sustainable economy.
This would include making measurable progress on further reducing emissions with a clear plan to achieve net zero well ahead of the current target of 2050 which is based on the IPCC report 2018 and gives us only a 50% chance of remaining below dangerous levels of heating.
If this crisis has shown us anything it is that we are still at the mercy of nature. It has also shown us that nature can recover when allowed to thrive and, for many people, has offered reflective space to review what is really important to us - our health and time with our loved ones.
The world is already too hot and we are rapidly having to remember that we are reliant on nature for the basics of life - the air we breathe, water, food and a live-able temperature. As a doctor I am particularly concerned about the potential health implications. The Lancet commission report on Climate Change and Human Health is the only medical publication in which I have seen the word ’catastrophic’ (findings summarized below) .
Overview of Where we are and What Needs to be Achieved
- To avoid catastrophic consequences for humanity and the natural world we must stay below 1.5 degrees of warming (IPCC 1.5 degrees report 2018) . We have already heated the earth by 1.1 degrees so we have very little time left to act.
- Since the Paris agreement was signed 4 years ago emissions have increased, not reduced. Current national commitments would (based on conservative predictions) raise global temperature by 3.2 deg this century, with a range of uncertainty encompassing much higher figures.
- Historically the IPCC’s predictions have fallen short of observed changes overtime. This means a 4-degree rise is a likely prospect within the lifetime of my children. This level of global heating was described by The Head of the UK’s Tyndall centre as incompatible with an organized global community, beyond ‘adaptation’, devastating to the majority of ecosystems with a high probability of not being stable (due to positive feedback in the Earth’s systems).
- Biodiversity is vital for human survival and we have already breached that Planetary boundary ( Stockholm Centre, J Rockstrom). Since 1970 we have lost 60% of vertebrate wildlife and we are now told we are facing an insect ‘apocalypse’. The need to restore and protect is urgent.
To avoid chaos and destruction (outlined below) within our lifetimes and certainly within that of young people alive today the latest Emissions Gap report from the UN states we must:
- Close the gap between national commitments and what is required to avoid dangerous change. There is no room for obfuscation or delay. We are negotiating with physics not Brussels and physics doesn’t compromise or grant extensions. In the words of Winston Churchill during the Second World War - “It is no use saying, 'We are doing our best.' You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.”
- reduce global emissions by more than half by 2030. This requires 7.6% reduction globally every year for the next 10 years
- This may still be technically possible but requires political commitment and ambition for system wide transformation at a rate never previously seen in peacetime.
I have included further information below. I apologize for the length of this but I have summarized as far as I can without losing important points. Ideally I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to discuss this.
Many thanks for your time in reading this
Dr Hayley Pinto
Appendices: short summaries of
1 - Health Impacts
2 - Ice Loss and Sea Level Rise
3 - positive feedback
4- Specific Risks to Norfolk
5- Emission and Net Zero, Greenhouse gases vs Aerosols
6- Solutions - How can we achieve this?
1- Health Impacts of Climate Change (short summary)
Air Quality - Globally 7 million+ premature deaths per year , ~40,000+ in the UK alone. These stark figures fail to touch the sides of the huge implications for non-fatal sequelae including chronic respiratory and cardiac disease, increased incidence of stroke and dementia, negative impacts on foetal development with long term implications for intellectual ability and motor coordination ( Every Breath We Take report - Royal College of Physicians 2016)
Heatwaves - responsible for an estimated death toll during the 2003 European heat wave of 30-70,000. Many of the elderly admitted to hospital with heat stroke will have long term consequences including loss of mobility and cognitive decline leading to increased care needs. Heat waves have also been shown to increase rates of suicide, violent crime and need for inpatient admission in those with chronic mental health conditions.
Extreme weather events - Increasing loss of life from the direct impacts and then the longer terms sequelae, including but not limited to, increases in respiratory and cardiac disease, infections, strokes, exposure to toxins and a significant increase in mental health problems such as post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and increases in psychotic symptoms and the need for inpatient care. At the time of the extreme events this is often coupled with breakdown in transport, communications systems, electricity and water supplies and access to health systems, which quickly become overwhelmed. Long term the increased frequency of these events causes financial and insurance challenges for many people and contributes to long term mental health morbidity.
Threats to food and water security due to a combination of drought, heat, fires and flooding. The World Banks High and Dry report predicts 2/3 reduction in water availability in cities by 2050 vs 2015. The Head of the UK Environment Agency (Sir James Bevan) has warned that within 25 years England will not have enough water to meet demand. AS a semi-arid county Norfolk can expect to feel the sharp end of this.
The last time the world was 1 degree warmer than the pre-industrial age ( as it is now) the bread basket of America - the Midwest - was desert. The dust bowl of the ‘30s showed how vulnerable the topsoil there is to degradation and loss. The risk of a global breadbasket failure in the next few decades is large. In the UK we import over half our food. The escalating use of food banks demonstrates that we already have a large population unable to afford food even at current prices.
Spread of vector borne diseases such as mosquito borne malaria, dengue, Zika (and many others) and tick borne disease such as Lymes disease - a particular risk in Norfolk
Displacement of people and exacerbation of conflict due to climate related changes particularly drought, storms, heat and sea level rise is already underway with the UN estimating ~ 20 million climate refugees per year so far, forecasting up to 1 billion by the end of the century. This is difficult to contemplate calmly
2 -Ice loss and Sea Level Rise - The glaciers which supply fresh water to millions of people and agricultural land are shrinking. The Ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica are melting faster ~ 30 times than the IPCC report stated (the IPCC only looks at data which is 2 years old). One meter is almost certainly the minimum sea level rise we can now expect this century threatening many major global cities including London. Indonesia has already made the decision to move its entire capital off the coast.
3- Positive Feedback Loops
The Earth system contains positive feedback loops, triggered by global heating, which can change the atmosphere rapidly with massive release of greenhouse gases beyond the capacity of current technology to control. . The arctic sea ice and northern permafrost regions (which release methane) are also melting far faster than anticipated. We are losing forests all over the world to wildfires. The oceans are warming (they have absorbed 90% of global heating - warmer oceans can hold less CO2) and acidifying, resulting in reductions in populations of plankton and kelp which not only draw down carbon (like terrestrial plants) but also produce 50-70% of atmospheric oxygen. Recent data from NOAA and studies coming out of the arctic regions suggest these feedback cycles are already in motion. It will now require herculean efforts to avoid catastrophic global changes which threaten widespread extinction.
4- Specific Risks to Norfolk
- Water supply - We are a semi-arid region and the aquifers are depleting. Given the high likelihood of further heat waves and droughts and the increasing population we need to be acting now to ensure water supplies are conserved and protected
- Flooding and more extreme coastal surges due to increased intensity of storms and sea level rise threatening human life, properties, our beaches and the Broads.
- Risk to health from heatwaves and poor air quality in towns
- Risk to food supplies in the event of crop failure in large farming areas we import from.
5- Emission and Net Zero, Greenhouse gases (GHG) vs Aerosols
It is vital to understand that when we talk about emission reductions we are talking about how much more we are putting in. Reductions in emissions does not take GHG out of the atmosphere, it simply reduces the extra added year on year. Due to the half-life of gases in the atmosphere historical emissions will continue to heat the earth for decades if not centuries to come. We can only start to stabilize once we reach net zero globally and then hope to repair the damage by achieving net negative emissions.
Air pollution contains both GHG and aerosols. Just like the arctic ice, aerosols have some albedo effect. This means they reflect some of the suns energy out of the earth atmosphere. As we clean up our air the aerosols are lost more rapidly than the GHGs, potentially increasing global heating by 0.5-0.8 degrees.
6- Solutions - How Can we Achieve This?
There is no single silver bullet. We need to makes changes in all areas of life including:
Energy - rapid transition to renewable sources including wind, solar, wave, tidal, waste to energy etc supported by flexible smart grids and various energy storage mechanisms including batteries, hydro-pumps, hydrogen etc. AT the same time we need to reduce energy demand by retrofitting old building stock, moving to lower power industrial processes, etc. How this can be achieved has been mapped out by the Zero-Carbon Britain reports.
Transport - whilst the UK has made some progress with energy production our transport emission continue to rise. We cannot achieve our goals simply by electrifying the transport fleet so a major overhaul of our public transport system is required to make it a better alternative to private cars for most people. To achieve this it has to be cheap, clean, reliable with greatly enhanced spatial and temporal coverage. We must also encourage active transport by building cycle and walking networks and ensure new housing is planned with active transport links to services and employment.
Buildings and cities - legislate for all new buildings to be zero carbon, retrofit old building stock and redesign our cities to exclude cars, freeing up space for active transport, leisure, bringing nature back in and urban agriculture.
Agriculture and Diet - support the population to shift to a diet lower in meat and dairy ( in line with the Lancet Planetary Health Diet 2019) and farmers to make a rapid shift to regenerative forms of agriculture shown to restore soils, support biodiversity and draw down carbon whilst producing more nutritious crops sufficient to feed the global population.
Support Nature to Thrive and Draw Down Carbon -
Forests - A study in Science July 2019 showed that 900 million hectares of land is currently available for reforesting which, when mature could absorb ~ 70% of the excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. We must also restore existing forests, peat land and coastal regions. This process will be supported by the shift away from livestock, which use 70% of agricultural land and is the primary driver of deforestation.
Oceans - are a huge potential carbon sink, produce over half of our oxygen and are the primary produce of protein for over a billion people. In properly protected areas biodiversity increases by over 400%. Currently only around 5% of the ocean is protected. We need to scale that up, reduce industrial fishing and tackle plastic and agricultural pollution. Possible technologies like marine permaculture which uses wave power to draw up nutrient rich cooler water has potential to protect coral reefs, seed new kelp forests and restore biodiversity to a level which supports marine agriculture and fishing.
Refrigerants - replace HFCs which are over a thousand times more potent as green house gases than CO2
Economics - currently we subsidize polluting industries such as fossil fuels and air travel far more than green technologies. If this changed we could free up money to support the transition to a sustainable economy. Other tools include: a meaningful carbon tax ( +/- dividend); local currencies like the Bristol pound which help support local businesses and local economies, green bonds, green investment banks etc. The Million Climate Jobs report amongst other has shown that a sustainable transition can boost the economy and provide more jobs that business as usual. This transition will end some industries and change many aspects of our way or life. To ensure public support and avoid the impacts seen during the 1980’s in the coal areas governments must support a just transition with re-training and support for those areas and groups of people most affected. Done well this could also help to address many aspects of social inequality (which damages everyone - see The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson)
International Action - The UK is due to host the COP meeting next year. To encourage global ambition we must show our own commitment with immediate steps already taken and a clear plan for action, If the developing world follows our path using fossil fuels to lift them out of poverty the endeavor to save a habitable planet for all will fail. To save ourselves we must help them leapfrog old technology. A sustainable global economy has strong synergies with sustainable development goals if implemented well.