The Lib Dems now have the most comprehensive plan to tackle climate change of any party in Europe.

For me, Monday was one of the most uplifting days in politics for years. Conference overwhelmingly passed the motion connected to Policy Paper 139, “Tackling the Climate Emergency”. This commits the party to a policy of eliminating all greenhouse gas emissions from the UK economy by 2045 (or compensating for any residual emissions with additional carbon removal – what is known at “Net-Zero emissions”). It was great to see Jo Swinson then put our environmental policies at the heart of her leader’s speech the following day. Duncan Brack’s summation of Monday’s debate is also well worth a watch. He deserves huge credit for chairing our working group on climate change. 

Committing to a target of net zero emissions by 2045 would bring the UK into line with its commitments under the Paris Agreement and the international aim to hold average global temperature rises to under 1.5 degrees. Both the British government and the European Commission are currently looking at a net zero target by 2050, which is unlikely to be enough. An amendment tabled by the Green Liberal Democrats to shift the target to 2040 attracted support but didn’t carry. Opinions vary on this point, but the paper and motion are clear: ‘the precise target date for achieving net zero is less important than urgent action to set the economy on the path’. Tough interim targets did pass (to cut emissions by 75 per cent by 2030 and 93 per cent by 2040). 

But what is also hugely important is that our pathways – radical though they are – are science-based and backed-up with practical policies to make them a reality. We have worked out the nuts and bolts as well as the big vision. I highly recommend a glance at Policy Paper 139 for those interested in seeing what we are proposing in detail and who didn’t get a chance to read the full motion on Monday (or attend the debate). Its recommendations are connected to figures presented in an independent report (which I co-authored) and which was published at conference in 2017. That report contains the sector-by-sector emissions reductions pathways. It goes into detail on the technology, infrastructure and policy support required. The Guardian has hailed it as a ‘radical agenda for tackling [the] climate emergency’. 

Liberals are interested in the “little stories” as much as the “grand narratives”. And these reports provide both. As people all over the world join their children on climate strike this Friday, we should be proud that our party has just signed up to the most ambitious and credible programme of decarbonisation of any party in Europe. It is fine for Labour to consider a net-zero emissions target by 2030 – but you can bet your socks that they won’t dare publish how they plan to meet that target in practical terms. They can’t. 

By contrast, as our leader in the Lords, Dick Newby, put it to me after the motion was carried, ‘a new Lib Dem government could just take this into the Cabinet Secretary and say: “that’s it; that’s the plan. We start immediately”’. Now let’s sell it to voters.




* Edward Robinson is a member of the Liberal Democrats in Europe.

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  • James Clarke 19th Sep '19 - 11:42am

    Leb dem s no you are now the right wing you thefts vote stealing low life’s who give you the right to take my vote so can I take yours didn’t think so the right wing is here.

  • David Becket 19th Sep '19 - 11:54am

    This was a first class debate with a result that puts us in the lead in fighting Climate Change. Not a word in the media, yet this is a key part of our stop Brexit dividend. We can use social media to get the message over to younger voters, but with a Lib Dem hostile press it will be difficult to reach the bulk of the electorate. A Guardian article claimed we had no other policies, that indicates the size of the mountain we have to climb

  • John Marriott 19th Sep '19 - 12:04pm

    There is little point if the major polluter nations in the world don’t play ball.

  • How can electricity supplies be maintained without burning fossil fuel?

    Unless you can answer this with realistic proposals it is just a meaningless gesture. Magical technologies like battery storage, carbon capture and 100% renewable are wishful thinking on an industrial scale.

    Objectives should be challenging but realistic and achievable.

  • @Peter. Can I politely suggest you read the policy paper. Basically we will get electricity from tidal, wind – both off shore and on land – solar and where possible hydro. The battery storage issue is also being resolved.

  • Mick, thank you for your reply. Unfortunately, the policy document is full of optimistic motherhood statements, inaccuracies and wishful thinking, hence my comment.

    There has been no serious attempt to cost this ambition but is is clear that the cost will be several trillions.

    Keeping the lights on by importing electricity from our neighbours is also ambitious if they are undertaking similar exercises.

  • Roland Postle 19th Sep '19 - 4:04pm

    Very nice. Hearing the headlines I worried a bit that the 2045 target might not appear very ambitious compared to the Tories supposed (yet laughable) commitment to 2050, not to mention Labour or XR’s fantasy targets. However the sheer breadth of practical policy here and the interim targets are very encouraging. It’ll be important to get that impression over to the voters in a way that’s simple yet still contrasts dramatically with what’s currently happening.

  • The climate emergency enthusiasts here will be aware that climate models are used to predict the future warming of the planet depending on assumptions concerning future atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. The models are iterative calculations involving climate parameters and attempt to simulate how our climate will evolve decades into the future.

    These predictions are the basis of the UN and IPCC policies and pronouncements on climate change which are then adopted by governments, activists and scientists around the world.

    A new recently published paper shows that the models do not have the resolution (computing power) to model cloud effects. Clouds can increase warming for example by preventing heat loss at night. They can also produce cooling by reflecting sunlight back to space. The cloud effects can be very large compared with the effect of carbon dioxide. All of this has been known for decades but the new paper demonstrates that the resulting uncertainty means that all the models are incapable of making predictions that are meaningful. They cannot reliably predict air temperatures at all, even for next year. The entire UN and IPCC scenario is in ruins but it is my guess that it will take months if not years for the realisation to take effect.

  • @Peter – so what is it you are arguing for?
    Personally, I suggest your evidence shows that we need to invest more in the science, such as the role of SF6, a gas that is not mentioned in Policy Paper 139.
    However, the evidence also suggests that it would be reckless verging on stupidity (but hey we are living in the age of stupid) to ignore what the imperfect models are telling us.

    @John Marriott – The storm clouds are approaching, are you suggesting that the UK stands a better chance of weathering the storm by continuing to dance – because that is what everyone else is doing, or do what is sensible and go and batten things down?

  • I suppose I am in a minority on the issue of climate change. I cannot see why we should isolate climate from a consideration of all the effects that mankind has had upon our planet. The atmosphere has been altered, yes. So have the oceans, with the focus of attention recently being on plastic. But we have continued to pour assorted chemicals into them. We are radically altering the ecosystems in them.
    As of course we are on land. We are changing the ecosystems by farming in ways that we know will have a profound effect. We know that many species are disappearing.
    We have even started to spread our litter to space, including an ambition to see what
    ecosystems exist on Mars, and presumably destroy them too.
    My opinion is that we need to involve all of humanity in taking control of what we are doing to our environment. This must mean moving beyond the sort of political systems which were used in the Roman Empire, and finding of involving everyone in decisions which affect us all.
    It as a start giving up killing people to get our own way, and starting talking to one another.
    The chances look slim to me.

  • @Tom Harney – I suspect a major reason for the focus on climate change is that to address the challenges it raises requires consideration of other activities and working across (man made) borders.

    The biggest challenge beyond climate change is going to be population reduction: if 3bn at 1970 levels of consumption was judged to be unsustainable then 7.7bn at 2019 levels of consumption is extinction…

  • Tom, it is a mixed bag. The scientific facts do not support the current alarmism about a climate emergency. The weather is not extreme. High energy hurricanes have been decreasing slightly in frequency over several decades. Sea level rise is not accelerating. The planet continues to warm up from the Little Ice Age. However, the fake news about the climate is out of control and is causing real damage, especially to the mental health of some of our children.

    There are more serious problems that are being starved of resources such as the irresponsible use of plastics in our throw away society, over-use of antibiotics, destruction of habitats and deforestation globally.

    At the same time, massive improvements have been made. We can feed the massive growing population despite all the fears that this would not be possible. Nevertheless, the growing population continues to cause many of the problems of mass consumerism. Diseases are being defeated, pollution is in decline. I remember when rubbish was tipped into the sea, at least direct landfill is an improvement on that.

  • Richard Underhill 20th Sep '19 - 1:24pm

    This week we went to a local meeting about planning and were told by an independent consultant that the issue is affecting councils all over the southeast (presumably not including Greater London) because of intense central government pressure.
    I asked about levels of air quality being illegal and was told this is not a planning issue.

  • Neil Sandison 20th Sep '19 - 4:24pm

    We should echo Jos words “or sooner” .The technologies involved adapt and move forward at a rapid rate every 5 to 7 years .unlke the old technologies which can take 20 to 25 years to improve any arbutary date is meaningless . We shouldnt ignore methane it just doesnt all come out of either end of a cow much is generated from ols land fill sites lets not play climate bingo .so lets be innovative .

  • Nom de Plume 20th Sep '19 - 5:07pm

    @ Peter

    You need to read that paper more closely. It could also mean that the IPCC estimation underestimates the rate of global warming. It is a serious accusation that the UN and the IPCC has not been accurately representing the errors in their models. The IPCC should respond to this accusation.

    The key disclaimer is given at the start of the discussion:

    “To be kept in view throughout what follows is that the physics of climate is neither surveyed nor addressed; nor is the terrestrial climate itself in any way modeled. Rather, the focus is strictly on the behavior and reliability of climate models alone, and on physical error analysis.”

    It does not deny that global warming is occuring or the role of carbon dioxide in the process. Retreating glaciers, acidifying oceans, disappearing coral reefs,increased frequency of droughts and floods. Increased ocean temperatures will mean higher energy hurricanes. This is the physics.
    Some interesting information:

    Perhaps our children should be even more concerned.

  • @Peter, yes, it will be expensive, but the costs of doing nothing will be worse. I’d also argue that we’ve got an artificial idea of how much things should cost because we didn’t previously pay a price that equated to the real costs. It’s a bit like having spent years living at home, paying £10 a week board to our parents, then being shocked to discover that we need to spend more when we finally leave home. We’ve been plundering the earth’s larder for far too long.

    To my ears, cries of ‘but it will cost too much’ if we want loads of electricity without causing irreparable damage to the planet is akin to those who were worried that it would cost too much if we stopped sending children down mines.

    I’d like to echo the sentiment that it’s right that we opted to commit to a plan that is both ambitious and implementable. It would have been very easy to get into a “my dad’s bigger than your dad” battle of increasingly unrealistic target dates, but we’re a party that prides ourselves in being evidence-based, and while dropping it in exchange for wishful thinking might make for an easier slogan, it’s not going to do anything to stop the climate emergency.

  • You are right, the paper does not address the rights or wrongs of the climate change assumptions, it accepts the theories without question. The main use of the models is to start with values for climate parameters such as CO2 level, water vapour, clouds, etc then calculate how these evolve in an iterative way (say monthly intervals) over time to predict the temperature of the atmosphere at the end of the run, say 100 years.

    The paper calculates how the uncertainty in the result builds up as the model progresses. The uncertainties in some aspects, particularly cloud cover, are so large that the predictive skill of the models is zero. Even after the first iteration the result is meaningless. This is because the “noise, ignorance, uncertainty” in some of the factors is so large that it swamps the size of the tiny CO2/temperature warming signal. In other words, the models are not predicting temperatures correctly, they cannot predict temperatures correctly because the results are meaningless.

    I suppose another way of explaining it is that clouds have a huge effect compared with CO2 but we can’t model them. The models are already so complex that they need super computers and the grid sizes are far too large to simulate clouds.

    The meaning of all of this is that the models are not fit for purpose yet a huge amount of money and politics has been spent on the basis of their output.

    Climate science is a young and very complex discipline. It did not exist until 5 decades ago. There are indications that climate scientists are unaware of concepts like uncertainty which are well known in chemistry and other disciplines. The author of the paper is a chemist who is concerned with similar calculations all the time.

  • @Fiona – “The costs of doing nothing will be worse.”

    We know that it will cost at least £1trillion to achieve net zero and given the number of new fossil fuel power stations coming on line every week in other countries our impact will be negligible.

    We also have decades of reliable statistics on hurricanes, sea level, floods, droughts, and other environmental metrics and none are getting worse, though given all the fake news I know that my claim is astonishing.

    What evidence do you have that doing nothing will be worse?

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