Our melting planet

Government feels the heat of climate change

Climate change: Government feels the heat as temperatures rise

Perhaps it’s the plethora of terrifying scientific figures and statistics, coupled with the multiple dire predictions of doom, that have for so long led many to close their eyes to the grim reality of melting ice caps and global warming. But a single fresh statistic, not confined to the ice caps or polar regions, but covering the surface of the entire planet, is chilling enough to make even the most sceptical sit up and take note.

The staggering new statistic reveals that a total of 28 trillion tons of ice has disappeared from the surface of the earth since 1994. The discovery was made by scientists based at Leeds and Edinburgh universities and University College London, who analysed satellite surveys of the planet’s poles, mountains and glaciers to measure how much ice coverage has been lost through global heating triggered by rising greenhouse gas emissions.

“28 trillion tons of ice has disappeared from the surface of the earth since 1994”

In simple terms, the findings are bad news, as bad as the worst-case scenario predictions previously outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Covid-19 has produced a major, if temporary, cut in carbon emissions, as economic activity across the globe has ground to a halt or gone online.

And with public opinion shifting, following disasters such as the Australian forest fires, abnormal wildfires in California and major flooding in numerous parts of the world, climate change activists, backed by many economists, scientists and health experts, are claiming that now is the moment – and a unique opportunity – to at last put the world on course to halt global heating.

Trillions of dollars are being spent worldwide to combat coronavirus, with some governments including green measures such as electric vehicles, public transport and energy efficiency in their recovery plans. But there are demands for more radical measures, such as airline bailouts being conditional on lowering emissions, a complete halt to all fossil fuel investments and subsidies, and the establishment of annual, binding carbon budgets based on the best science. Having committed to cutting its carbon output to net zero, the UK is seen to be lagging behind some nations, with its own Committee on Climate Change warning that current measures are far from adequate to meet legal goals.

What our surveys show

Coronavirus continues to dominate the headlines, but with worldwide extreme weather events accelerating in frequency and often severity, climate change is seen as a matter of serious and increasing concern, particularly for the young. Significantly, though, there is growing disquiet amongst all age groups. A majority (66%) believe there is enough evidence now to prove that the climate crisis is already upon us, with the young once again most concerned, but with mounting anxiety too amongst the older age groups.

A majority want the government to take more action to tackle the climate crisis, with 54% believing that radical action is urgently needed. This increasing weight of feeling and concern could perhaps drive governments to be braver and more ambitious in tackling the climate crisis, as there appears to be a commonly held view that politicians have not yet caught up with public opinion on the issue. There are many out there willing to bring them up to speed.


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