How low (carbon) can we go?
During this month’s Live Earth concerts (remember them?), Al Gore was asking for pledges to reduce carbon emissions by 90% in an unspecified timeframe. This matches George Monbiot’s target in Heat: for a 90% reduction by 2030. And the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) has published “zerocarbonbritain” – a blueprint for a 100% reduction by 2027. These targets make the UK Government’s climate change target to reduce carbon emissions to 60% of 1990 levels by 2050 rather pedestrian, but the big question is, can it be done?
The gurus above claim to show that it is technically feasible to meet these targets, but the big question is whether it is feasible on a practical basis. For example the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission has estimated that 85% of buildings in 2050 currently exist – so even if the 15% of new build homes are completely carbon neutral, the vast majority won’t be. When we moved into our ‘Victorian Villa’ in 2000, it had holes in the walls, no insulation in some roofs, precious little in the rest and terrible single glazing. We’ve fixed most of these since and put a solar hot water panel on the roof to boot, but we’re still a long way from being low carbon, never mind carbon neutral.
CAT addresses this issue using Tradable Emissions Quotas for individuals (you get a set amount you can emit and after that you have to buy more TEQs from someone with lower emissions). This would incentivise consumers to improve their carbon footprint by addressing their homes, transport etc. While the Government have been looking into quotas recently, it is debatable whether the public is ready to accept them (cf the fuss over bin collections during this year’s local elections). So while sustainability is certainly feasible, there is a huge amount work to do to make it practical.