Even if your commute has been undisturbed by their antics, most of us will have heard about recent antics of Extinction Rebellion (XR). Indeed, since Monday of this week, several thousand “uncooperative crusties” – as the Prime Minister has termed them – have been clogging up our nation’s streets, demanding more government action on climate change.
One of their key demands is to bring forward the net zero carbon emissions target from 2050 to 2025. Their target has been rightly dismissed by virtually every reasonably minded person involved in the environmental policy debate – achieving it would be prohibitively expensive and require a total reworking of both our political and economic systems in the space of just five years.
But there are other reasons to be apprehensive about the efficacy of such targets. Even if in three decades’ time the UK boasts a squeaky-clean economy, this will only lower global emissions by perhaps one or two per cent. Currently, the UK’s emissions are about 4% of what China produces in a year. While it’s right that we do our best, there really is a limit to how far UK emissions reductions can address what is, after all, global warming.
Meanwhile, though international pledges like the Paris Agreement might get headlines, they are poorly enforced, America remains sceptical, and there is continuing discord between rich and poor countries about who should shoulder the burden of adjustment.
With this in mind, one might be left feeling despondent. On one of the biggest issues facing the world, the UK has a seemingly marginal role to play – if any at all.
But this is a false analysis, and there is a way to square the circle. It is capitalism, and the technology it so readily develops, which will save the world. If the UK leads in creating new inventions over the coming decades, it can reduce its emissions at home, while helping other countries do the same.
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