As I said in my last post, my brother and I have been debating climate change through the unexpected medium of Facebook. First he asked about science; next he commented that, “A million people giving up meat to appease Mother Gaia will do nothing to offset the effect of a billion people giving up subsistence farming, and building cities and heavy industry.”
Phew, I thought. This question's not about science, but about my day-to-day work: low carbon development. I reckon I can answer this one.
First off, it's true that a small action by a minority in developed countries won't make the huge difference we need. And it's also true that developing countries have to be part of the solution too – one of the main things we’re pushing for this week at Copenhagen.
If we're to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius – widely accepted as the most we can allow before things get truly dangerous – then, with the world's population set to rise to nine billion by 2050, each person needs to emit no more than two tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. Even if developed countries reduce their emissions to zero, developing countries will still have to limit theirs to 2.5 tonnes per person to ensure we hit that stay under that limit.
But at the same time, developing countries need to be able to develop and reduce poverty. Developed countries had the chance to do that – and, through developing in an industrial way, emitted the greenhouse gases that have got us to where we are today.
So the key is assisting developing countries to avoid the same kind of high emission development – to avoid getting locked in to high carbon technologies and energy supplies – and instead to develop in a low carbon way.
That means, for example, developing and adopting low carbon technologies, increasing energy efficiency, and building low carbon mass transport systems and buildings. And there are real opportunities in this for economies to grow: increased efficiency means savings; new green industries mean new jobs and innovation. (In fact, check out my colleague Shan’s latest blog on the low carbon development opportunities for India). The UK government works on programmes to assist developing countries in exactly these kinds of ways, such as the Climate Technology Fund and the catchily titled Scaling-up Renewable Energy Program.
So where does that leave developed countries, and is it worth individuals making an effort to reduce their emissions, as I'm doing through eating less meat? I'll turn to that in the third of this series of blogs.