‘Global boiling has arrived’ – Hottest day on record
Hannah Fraser discusses the national and global attitudes to fossil fuels in the face of our rapidly changing climate, and how our lives will change as the planet warms.
The 6th of July 2023 was the hottest day ever recorded, with global average temperatures reaching 17.08°C. Despite this — and the disastrous consequences rising temperatures are already having for our planet — many governments in the global North are continuing to support new oil and gas extraction projects. With every new licence granted, the commitments made at COP26 become more difficult to fulfil.
In 2021, the International Energy Agency made it clear that if we were to achieve net zero by 2050, there could be no more investment in fossil fuels. Two years and two COP summits later, the UK government has just committed to granting hundreds of new oil and gas licences for North Sea extraction projects in the name of energy security. These licenses, combined with projects approved in the last two years, will release the equivalent CO2 emissions of 14 million cars.
If we were to achieve net zero by 2050, there could be no more investment in fossil fuels.
In protest against the UK government’s renewed commitment to climate-wrecking fossil fuels, four members of Greenpeace scaled Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Yorkshire mansion on 4th August and covered it in reams of ‘oil-black’ fabric. Areeba Hamid, co-executive director of Greenpeace described the action as a ‘proportionate response to a disastrous decision’ by the prime minister.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, existing fossil fuel projects are already enough to surpass the target of 1.5°C agreed upon at COP26. The cleantech industry presents an effective way to make the transition to green energy. By supporting cleantech companies around the world, governments can benefit from innovative products and services but also aid the transition to renewables by helping to fund training schemes for people looking to secure jobs in evolving net zero industries.
Across the world, many countries are reverting back to the surety of fossil fuels: ‘At least 50.4 gigawatts of new coal power was approved across China in the first six months of 2023’. As China is so prominent in the renewable energies industry for its innovation and new technologies, this renewed dedication to fossil fuels is disappointing. Scientists are blaming climate change for recent torrential flooding in China which submerged parts of Beijing and a whole town in Hebei Province, killing 21 people.
In the USA, ‘Across the Southwest, 36 counties each had their warmest July on record while an additional 63 counties ranked in the top-10 warmest for the month.’ This resulted in flash floods in Kentucky and Illinois, wildfires in Alaska and extensive drought. Despite all of this, the US government has approved the controversial Willow Project for fossil fuel extraction in Alaska, which is expected to produce ‘more than 600 million barrels of crude over 30 years.’
The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that the extreme weather events in July are a sign that ‘global boiling has arrived.’ As temperatures increase, the number of climate refugees will increase with them. According to figures published by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the number of environmental migrants could range from 25 million to 1 billion by 2050. Rising sea levels will force whole communities and even whole nations to relocate – causing unprecedented social, economic and cultural turmoil. It is therefore incumbent upon those nations less vulnerable to the effects of climate change to prepare for the inevitable humanitarian crisis to come setting up the necessary legal pathways for climate refugees to be able to resettle and live their lives in safety.
In the UK, we need new and improved infrastructure designed to withstand the increasingly heavy rainfall and the subsequent flooding we experience every year, after which thousands of people lose everything. The Chinese government’s decision to divert flood water away from Beijing and into Hebei Province is representative of the impossible decisions those in power must make to protect lives and the economy. By preparing flood plans and better infrastructure, we may stand a chance at limiting the fallout of these extreme weather events.
United action and protest are powerful tools in the fight against global warming. The Rosebank oil field would release ‘more CO2 pollution than the combined annual emissions of all 28 lowest-income countries in the world’ if approved by the UK regulator. The unrelenting hard work and dedication of those involved in the ‘StopRosebank’ campaign have resulted in the decision being delayed until after the UK government summer recess, meaning there is hope that their message is being heard.
Our own Student Guild President, Emma de Saram, recently made an appearance on Sky News as a representative for Just Stop Oil. In response to calls by host Mark Austin to protest China’s increased use of fossil fuels, as opposed to the UK’s, Emma responded ‘But I’m not in China, I’m a resident in this country and that’s why I am protesting about our government not doing enough.’ We cannot expect to make any international progress when we are not living up to our obligations.
Greenpeace regularly takes legal action against the UK government for its environment-wrecking policies and each time it demonstrates that the government can, and must be, held to account for its decisions. In South Wales, local residents and activists have been protesting to stop the continued mining at Ffos-y-Fran, the UK’s largest opencast mine after the mining permit for the site expired in September 2022. Now organisations The Good Law Project and Coal Action Network have announced that they intend to take legal action. The Welsh government is yet to comment.
As temperatures increase and extreme weather events become the norm, we must not forget our collective responsibility to each other and our planet. By educating ourselves about climate change and supporting campaigns to protect the environment from further damage, we can contribute to a safer and greener future for us all.