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Planners need to be at the forefront of the battle to tackle climate change

Power station emissions

The IPCC report into the potentially devastating impacts of climate change stresses the need for immediate action. Martin Baxter argues that planners have a vital role to play in helping communities adapt

Climate scientists from around the world set out stark consequences from climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels is a wake-up call.

Put simply, time is fast running out to have a realistic chance of limiting climate change to 1.5°C. The differences between 1.5°C and 2°C are stark in terms of impacts on society and the environment; warming beyond this is potentially catastrophic.

So what does this mean for the UK, and for planning in particular?

Action needs to be taken across the board to deliver deep and rapid reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The UK’s legally binding emissions reduction target of 80 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050 simply won’t be enough if we’re to take our fair share of GHG emissions reduction to align with 1.5°C.

"Our entire energy system needs to be decarbonised. This means driving down energy consumption through efficiency measures"

While good progress has been made regarding GHG emissions from electricity generation, particularly with the phasing out of coal, our entire energy system needs to be decarbonised. This means driving down energy consumption through efficiency measures; transformation of our transport system through electric vehicles powered by renewables; renewable heat and power for homes and businesses; and tackling emissions from land use and land use change.

Even if we’re able to substantially cut GHG emissions to align with 1.5°C, we will still need to adapt to climate change that’s already locked in to our global system. In the UK we’re likely to see hotter and drier summers, warmer and wetter winters, and more extreme weather events such as intense rainfall and extreme heat and drought. Rising sea levels will increase the threat to low-lying communities.  

While the potential impacts of climate change are significant, dealing with them provides prospects. Planners in particular have a vital role to play in helping to shape the way communities and our urban areas respond and develop to meet the changes.

However, we don’t have the luxury of time to take a pathway to a low-carbon future; we need to move rapidly to ‘net zero’ emissions. The challenge of facing up to global climate change can appear daunting. Yet planners are faced with a unique and significant opportunity to create the conditions and development framework to deliver ‘net zero’ emissions and to ensure that communities are resilient to climate impacts.

What could be more inspiring and professionally satisfying than helping to enable on-the-ground solutions to tackle climate change than the biggest challenge facing humanity?

Martin Baxter is chief policy advisor at IEMA, the worldwide alliance of environment and sustainability professionals. Find Martin and IEMA on Twitter at @mbaxteriema and @iemanet

Photo | iStock

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