‘A code red for humanity’, the publication of the IPCC’s Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis this week is a blunt reality check:

  • Human activity is ‘unequivocally’ and ‘indisputably’ the cause of rapid changes to climate including the recent heatwaves, floods, and wild fires
  • Climate change is affecting every part of the planet – land, water, and air
  • Many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia
  • We are set to pass 1.5C warming by 2040 – the danger limit set in the Paris climate deal – an earlier date than previously thought because of new data available
  • We must deliver ‘immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions’ in emissions to avoid catastrophe

What does this mean for Exeter? 

Exeter has demonstrated leadership in setting out the Net Zero Exeter 2030 Plan. However, the publication of the IPCC’s Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis paints a very sobering picture. As Exeter continues its carbon neutral journey, what positivity can we take from what could otherwise be such an overwhelming report?

The window of opportunity

The IPCC report was written by top world scientists, including contributions from our very own University of Exeter academics. They evidence, more strongly than ever before, an unequivocal link between human activity and rapid climate change. The report says that the 1.1C global warming already caused by human-generated emission of greenhouse gases has unleashed the intense rainfall, flooding, extreme heat, and wildfires recently witnessed. Some changes caused are irreversible – mountain and polar glaciers will continue to melt and oceans will continue to rise for centuries.

Signed by all the world’s governments, and published so close to COP26, it is not surprising then to see many of the responses to the IPCC report are calls to hold governments, and large fossil fuel corporations, to account. This is entirely the right thing to do. This report is one of [too] many wake up calls and likely carries extra impetus because it is so close to the November COP 26 summit. The UK’s Government needs to act now and push real and urgent change. However, new law and policy does not always come soon enough. Sitting in Exeter with a 2030 net zero target, this is ever apparent.

Hope, in a small window of opportunity that Exeter is well-positioned to seize, is a welcome sight – addressing climate change is also, unequivocally, the responsibility of us all.

“Climate change is a problem that is here, now. Nobody is safe…it is time to get serious, because every tonne of CO2 emission adds to global warming…this generation of political and business leaders, this generation of conscious citizens, can make things right. This generation can make the systemic changes that will stop the planet warming, help everyone adapt to the new conditions and create a world of peace, prosperity and equity. Climate change is here, now, but we are also here, now. If we don’t act, who will?”Inger Anderson, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme

This responsibility is not only in what we can do to urge our national politicians to make significant progress. This responsibility is also what we can do ourselves.

Exeter already taking collective action

Exeter’s politicians, businesses, communities and residents are already demonstrating their care for our city and a shared ambition that Exeter should remain a brilliant place to live. Many shared their time, experience and views to collaboratively develop the Net Zero Exeter 2030 Plan. Exeter’s carbon neutral ambitions are driving core city strategy as key city organisations work together to build back better following the pandemic. Conscious citizens and small businesses are inspiring others to positively change how they live their lives. Public sector organisations are seeking ways in which to work better together and enable net zero in Exeter, one example seen in Exeter City Futures’ Board membership. 

In curating the Net Zero Exeter 2030 Plan, Exeter City Futures identified how vital it is that we must all work together to make net zero by 2030 a reality – it is not possible for one organisation on its own to deliver a carbon neutral city. Not only are people across Exeter invested in taking action against climate change, they are working together to make positive change happen. 

Getting people on the same page in the first place is extremely difficult. Having people work together once they’re on the same page is another challenge. People are working together to realise the shared goal of a net zero city in Exeter. There is still a long way to go, and the city needs more people working together to achieve net zero, but Exeter can evidence a good grounding in collective action – an opportune springboard from which to launch into ever greater action.

A call to do things differently

Delivering greater action – essentially the ‘immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions’ in emissions to avoid catastrophe – is undoubtedly Exeter’s next challenge. 

The process of becoming a net zero city has never been done before, but Exeter must become a net zero city urgently and at pace. To add further demands, we must ensure a just transition – no one can be left behind. 

This strongly suggests that we must embrace innovation – both new ways of doing, and new ways of being. With Exeter being a compact city, it is the perfect place to trial new solutions to the challenge of becoming net zero.

However, many of the actions we need to take in order to become net zero, risk not being taken at the scale required, or at all.  Many decisions that will lead to action are potentially stumped by existing processes, protocols, and budgets that are not necessarily fit for the purpose of net zero.

So this is our call: seek to take bold, innovative action of the type that will significantly reduce carbon emissions. Of the type that will inspire others to follow you. If you are stopped from taking that action, ask instead ‘what is the cost of not doing anything?’ (consider the social and environmental as well as economic impact). Ask instead, ‘who would be able to do this?’ Ask instead, ‘who could I work with to make this happen?’ Rethink. Reimagine. Take collective action and make net zero happen.

The IPCC report is a blunt and sobering reality check. But let it not overwhelm us. There is still a long way to go, but Exeter is already trailblazing and we have a lot of opportunity to work together and deliver the action at the scale and pace needed in order to be net zero by 2030.

Read the IPCC’s Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis report here