Happy bank holiday weekend, everyone! Below is the second half of my interview with Tony Grayling, Head of Climate Change and Sustainability at the Environment Agency:
Have the Environment Agency got a clear plan for cultural change?
The EA is a regulator and adviser of other organisations, primarily industry, commercial organisations and public sector organisations. We deal in institutional change, not individuals, so we aim for cultural programme changes directed at public changes. We implement policy rather than create it. We deliver a carbon plan and aim to achieve an emission reduction plan, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 34% (c.f. 1990 level) by 2020. The UK is on track, because of the global economic downturn and we’ve also done quite a lot towards the target. However, we’re not on track for 2050 for 80% reduction. There are long lead times, e.g. for electricity reduction, so we need to act now not to lock ourselves into a high carbon future.
West Antarctic Ice Sheet highlighted in red - picture credit: EJ Steig/NASA
How can the government integrate climate change challenges with other environmental issues such as sustainability?
We need to see all as a seamless whole as the environment is indivisible. Dealing with greenhouse gas emissions is only one aspect of protecting the environment that we all enjoy. Environmental solutions can contribute to each other. A good policy framework, fiscal incentives and behavioural signals will mean that people don’t have to think about making the right choices so much. For example, make it part of the normal course of behaviour for people to buy energy efficient bulbs. So it comes down to packaging the whole system; that public policy promotes the common good.
Can you tell me about some climate change research coming out of Antarctica?
We’re keeping a close eye on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Greenland Ice Sheet. The prospect of their melting and disintegrating into the oceans is frightening because this would add many metres to the sea level. Many populated parts of the world would be underwater. This process would take time, but as the average global surface temperature rises, we creep towards the point of no return beyond which it’s impossible to reverse the melting of the ice caps. We urgently need to respond to the accelerating rate of climate change and adapt our behaviour domestically and internationally.