Defence statement by Sir David King in support of five Extinction Rebellion defendants
January 31, 2020 by Zoe Blackler
“A temperature rise of 4.0 degrees C would give rise to unmanageable risks, and yet this is the most likely outcome by 2100 unless appropriate global action is taken.”
“Lives would be saved if the UK Government were to bring forward the net zero emissions target, based on a full risk analysis alongside a full procedural analysis to achieve the target, and to take a clear leadership role on the international scene leading to COP26 in Glasgow, November this year.”
“Climate change represents the greatest threat that humanity, as a whole, has ever had to to manage. We are all involved and we need to work together with urgency to generate the pathways to a safer world”
QUALIFICATIONS, EXPERIENCE & ACCREDITATION
1. I was 1920 Professor of Physical Chemistry, University of Cambridge, 1988-2000, and Head of the Chemistry Department, 1993-2000.
2. I served as Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government, 2000-2007, and as the Foreign Secretary’s Permanent Special Representative on Climate Change, 2013- 2017.
3. My awards for work on Science and on Climate Change include 23 Honorary degrees, Fellowship of the Royal Society, KB and Officier de la Legion d’Honneur (awarded by Government of France).
I make this statement in respect of the trial of Claudia Fisher and others.
COMMENTS ON THE CURRENT UNDERSTANDING OF THE RISKS OF CLIMATE CHANGE
4. My comments on the current understanding are based on the extensive publications of the scientific community working on climate change around the world, represented by the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and subsequent publications. They are also based on the work I led while working in the British Government, particularly the work in 2014/15 based on the FCO, with the Governments of India and China on climate change risks. This used fresh analyses made by actuaries from the re-insurance sector in the City of London, and is available on the FCO website as “Climate Change: a Risk Analysis’. The Foresight work I led, while I was CSA, on Flood and Coastal Defences for the UK in the light of the expectations of rising sea levels (2003) is also very pertinent.
5. The impacts of climate change can very simply be summarised as: rising average global temperatures; rising average sea levels; and changes in weather patterns. But the risks have to be analysed on the basis of extreme weather events of rising severity and frequency. For example, with rising average sea levels, when there are storms at sea the flood waters surge further inland.
Cities on coastal areas are more under threat from flooding, and those at the mouths of large rivers, such as Calcutta, New York and London are particularly under threat since storms at sea also impact on land. These cities are then under attack both from ocean storms and also from land-based river flooding. Calcutta will probably be the first major city that will be unliveable due to frequent severe flooding.
6. Other challenges from rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns include: a greater frequency of forest fires; the flooding of croplands by seawater, causing salination and very substantially reduced productivity; heat stress and excess deaths of people in more extreme heat waves, and so on. Crop failure can occur simply from rising temperatures: for example, the current low risk of a rice crop failure in China in a single year rises to alarmingly high levels if the baseline temperature increases by more than one degree Centigrade above the present.
The severity and frequency of all such events is rising and must be expected to continue to rise. The analyses of the IPCC show that even an average temperature rise from 1.5 to 2.0 degrees C above pre-industrial levels would severely impact on human well-being, worldwide. A temperature rise of 4.0 degrees C would give rise to unmanageable risks, and yet this is the most likely outcome by 2100 unless appropriate global action is taken.
CURRENT GLOBAL CLIMATE ACTIONS ON MANAGING CLIMATE CHANGE RISKS
7. There has to date been only one agreement achieved under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was initiated in 1988. This was in December 2015 at the meeting in Paris, where 197 nations agreed on essentially three courses of action to limit emissions of greenhouse gases, in particular CO2 formed by fossil fuel burning and deforestation.
First, to control atmospheric emissions to keep global average temperature increases to less than 2 degrees and if at all possible to no more than 1.5 degrees C above the pre-industrial level. Second, to accept the voluntary commitments from each country on emissions reduction. And third, to review the latter commitments in 2020 so that the sum of all global actions on reducing emissions, nation-by-nation, could be matched to the 1.5 degree C target.
On the basis of the commitments made in 2015 we are on course to a 3-4 degree C rise by the end of the century, and more after that. The meeting in 2020 will be in Glasgow, under the Presidency of the UK.
8. At the present time the expectation for meeting these commitments in Glasgow is very low. While the Governments of the UK, the EU, China, India and most other states are committed to action, the position of the USA, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Australia is such that real action will be unlikely to take place, particularly in the absence of strong leadership from a leading Head of Government. If action could have been taken to put us all on a pathway to deep and rapid emissions reduction earlier, such as at Copenhagen in 2009, the pathway to a manageable world would have been considerably easier than it is today. The IPCC report in 2018 gives us now 10 years to put all the actions necessary in place to reach a manageable future for us all.
9. The British Government has for some time played the role of global leader for action on climate change, with Blair’s Government putting Climate Change at the top of the agenda for the Heads of G8 Government at the Gleneagles G8 Meeting in 2005, which was followed up at the subsequent three meetings of the G8. In 2008 all-party agreement was reached in the House of Commons for the actions required to reduce UK emissions down by 80% by 2050. This included the creation of a Climate Change Committee of Parliament to oversee and give detailed advice on the process. To date we have achieved a decrease of about 45%. In 2018 the Prime Minister Theresa May declared a commitment to reduce British emissions to ‘Net Zero’ by 2050, leading the world, and followed by a significant number of countries making similar commitments.
10. However, despite the success of the 2015 UNFCC agreement, there has been very little progress on the international scale. Emissions of Carbon Dioxide are rising faster than before 2015. Emissions of Methane are rising much faster than before.
11. For the first time in elections since the all-Party agreement in 2008, climate change was discussed in the run-up to the recent election, with parties committing to net zero emissions by between 2030 and 2050, competitively. There is today a much greater political interest in the issue of climate change than since the early part of this century. It is important to understand why this is. It is also important to understand whether or not the public is aware of the level of challenge represented by climate change.
12. I am on record saying that I am afraid. The reason is because the actions in place and the commitments made to date do not match up to the level of seriousness of the implications for the future of humanity.
THE INFLUENCE OF VOCAL PUBLIC CONCERN
13. There are many reasons why there is more awareness of the challenges of climate change today. The first is the number of extreme weather events around the world which have had a severe impact and attracted global attention: forest fires in California, Portugal and Australia; hurricanes in unusual places, such as New York and Mozambique (and the most severe on record, in the Philippines); or floods – in the UK, Bangladesh, Dubai, Venice, Calcutta, etc.
14. Second, and as important, increased awareness has arisen from vocal public concern – and the actions inspired by it. For example, in the last two years or so, Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager has inspired school children to take action, and she has spoken at the UN and other significant venues. Without the element of protest, her voice would not be heard through mainstream channels in global debates about the proper response to the threats of climate change. She is now one of the people who could be said to be setting the agenda, and prompting political parties and organisations to consider their position. Thus, in some ways, the protest of young people has led to an important international debate taking place with a greater sense of urgency
15. Extinction Rebellion is playing a similarly important role in the UK and elsewhere. The attention of news media and the pressure of ‘ordinary voices’ raises the visibility of the issue of climate change. It is hard to see how the global temperature rise is to be limited, on average, to 1.5 degree in the very narrow timeframe still available unless it becomes a matter of real urgency within the spheres of national and global politics.
16. Lives would be saved if the UK Government were to bring forward the net zero emissions target, based on a full risk analysis alongside a full procedural analysis to achieve the target, and to take a clear leadership role on the international scene leading to COP26 in Glasgow, November this year. Climate change represents the greatest threat that humanity, as a whole, has ever had to to manage. We are all involved and we need to work together with urgency to generate the pathways to a safer world.
Statement submitted by Sir David King, former chief scientific advisor to the UK government, on the 28th January 2020 at City of London Magistrates Court in support of five Extinction Rebellion protesters charged with aggravated trespass during an action at London City Airport.