The global average temperature for July 2023 was the highest ever recorded and July 3rd was the world’s hottest day on record. We’ve seen scenes of wildfires raging across much of southern Europe, people suffering searing temperatures in south-west USA, southern India and western China, flash floods in South Korea, Japan and eastern USA. These are all directly related to global warming, which is causing weather systems to become more extreme. And as the planet continues to warm, so these problems will intensify.
The Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, in a press conference on 27 July warned that:
Climate change is here. It is terrifying. And it is just the beginning. The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived. The air is unbreathable. The heat is unbearable. And the level of fossil-fuel profits and climate inaction is unacceptable. Leaders must lead. No more hesitancy. No more excuses. No more waiting for others to move first. There is simply no more time for that.
The environmental, human, social and economic impact of global warming is huge, but concentrated on just part of the world’s population. For many, a more variable climate is at worst an inconvenience – at least in the short term. But it is the short term that politicians are most concerned about when seeking to win the next election.
Tackling climate change requires action to reduce carbon emissions now, even though the effects take many years. But one person’s emissions make only a minuscule contribution to global warming. So why not be selfish and carry on driving, flying off on holiday, using a gas boiler and eating large amounts of red meat? This is what many people want to do and governments know it. Many people do not like green policies as they involve sacrifice. Examples include higher fuel prices and restrictions on what you can do. So, despite the visions of fires, floods and destruction, governments are wary about raising fuel taxes, airport duties and charges to use old high-emission cars in cities; wary about raising taxes generally to provide subsidies for sustainable power generation; wary about banning new oil and gas fields that would reduce reliance on imported fuel.
Because the external costs of carbon emissions are so high and global, government action is required to change behaviour. Education can help and scenes of devastation from around the world may change the hearts and minds or some people. Also, the prospect of profits from cleaner and more fuel-efficient technology can help to spur innovation and investment. But to meet net zero targets still requires policies that are unpopular with many people who might be inconvenienced or have to pay higher petrol, energy and food prices, especially at a time when budgets are being squeezed by inflation.
Part of the problem is a distributional one. The people most affected by the cost-of-living crisis and higher interest rates are those on lower incomes and with higher debts. Politicians know that it will be hard to win the votes of such people if they are faced with higher green taxes. As elections approach, politicians are likely to backtrack on many environmental commitments to appeal to such people.
This is beginning to happen in the UK, with the government declaring that it is on the side of the motorist. Indeed, Rishi Sunak has just announced that the government will authorise more than 100 new licenses for new oil and gas wells in the North Sea. This is despite the United Nations, various other international bodies, climate scientists and charities calling for a halt to all licensing and funding of new oil and gas development from new and existing fields. The government argues that increased North Sea production would reduce the reliance on imported oil.
- ‘Era of global boiling has arrived,’ UN chief warns
- ‘There’s going to be no prosperity at all on a dead planet’, says WWF
- Greta Thunberg: Heatwaves start of “escalating existential crisis”
Channel 4 News, Ayshah Tull (27/7/23)
Channel 4 News, Kate Norgrove (29/7/23)
Channel 4 News, Amelia Jenne (28/7/23)
- July 2023 the Hottest Ever Month on Record, Likely Warmest in ‘Tens of Thousands of Years’
- Climate threat ‘existential’ says Biden, as world faces hottest July
- UN chief says Earth in ‘era of global boiling’, calls for radical action
- Why it’s time to prepare for the worst on climate change
- The planet heats, the world economy cools – the real global recession is ecological
- Climate change will reshape global supply chains — it can reduce welfare on Earth by 20%: Ivan Rudick
- Rishi Sunak defends granting new North Sea oil and gas licences
- The oil industry has succumbed to a dangerous new climate denialism
- Dismay as Rishi Sunak vows to ‘max out’ UK fossil fuel reserves
- What are the Conservatives’ green policies – and what could be scrapped
- Rishi Sunak signals he is ready to soften UK green policies
- Green campaigners fear UK policy backlash after ULEZ keeps Uxbridge Tory
- Climate policy and economic inequality
- The untapped potential of education in the battle against climate change
The Wire, Aathira Perinchery (28/7/23)
BBC News, Heather Sharp and Emma Owen (27/7/23)
Financial Times, Robert Pindyck (6/7/23)
The Guardian, Larry Elliott (9/7/23)
The Economic Times (India), Srijana Mitra Das (30/6/23)
BBC News (31/7/23)
The Conversation, Adi Imsirovic (31/7/23)
The Guardian, Severin Carrell, Peter Walker and Helena Horton (31/7/23)
Sky News, Jennifer Scott (31/7/23)
Financial Times, George Parker and Lucy Fisher (24/7/23)
Politico, Charlie Cooper and Bethany Dawson (23/7/23)
VoxEU, Diego Känzig (25/6/23)
VoxEU, Noam Angrist, Kevin Winseck, Harry Anthony Patrinos and Joshua Graff Zivin (14/7/23)
- In what sense is the environment a ‘public good’? How is the concept of externalities relevant in analysing the private decisions made about the use of a public good?
- How may game theory be used to help understand the difficulties in reaching international agreement about climate change policies?
- What is meant by ‘net zero’? Is carbon capture and storage an acceptable alternative to cutting carbon emissions?
- In what ways could policies to tackle climate change be designed to reduce income inequality rather than increase it?
- What are the arguments for and against banning (a) petrol and diesel cars; (b) gas boilers; (c) fossil-fuel power stations? How much notice should be given if such bans are to be introduced?
- What is meant by ‘nudge theory’? In what ways could people be nudged into making greener decisions?
- What are the arguments for and against granting new licences for North Sea oil and gas drilling? Explain where you feel the balance of the arguments lies.