Climate change will affect all of us in the coming years, and so will the solutions.
The government’s plan to virtually eliminate greenhouse gases by 2050, and grow trees to suck up the small amount of unavoidable carbon emissions, will need a revolution in the way we lead our lives.
Gas boilers from 25 million homes will need to be replaced with low carbon heating.
Around 38 million petrol and diesel vehicles will need to be removed from the roads, superseded by electric or hydrogen-fuelled alternatives.
And the energy grid needs to be decarbonised, while keeping the lights on when the wind doesn’t blow.
The Committee on Climate Change, the government’s advisers that had argued for the country to go “net zero”, says we don’t need any “unicorn technologies”.
We know how to strip carbon out of the economy, we just need to get on and do it.
That’s true, but it disguises the scale and logistics of what is involved.
Take boilers. One million a year will need to be replaced to meet the target. Heat pumps, which suck warmth out of the air or ground, will only be suitable for newer houses with underfloor heating.
The rest will need either electric heating – and we don’t have anywhere near enough renewable capacity for that – or hydrogen boilers. Hydrogen would corrode the old metal gas mains, so every mile would need to be lined with a protective sheath.
And cars? The government’s record is poor. Incentives to drive electric have been cut, so sales are slow.
In Norway, where green cars are subsidised, parking is free and drivers are allowed to use bus lanes, 47% of new cars are electric.
The government will need to look again at how it helps us to do the right thing.
The easy bits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions have largely been done already. They’re down 43% since 1990, in large part because of the huge shift from coal to wind and solar power.
But there is no doubt we need to do the hard stuff, too.
There is a growing scientific consensus that keeping global warming to no more than 1.5C by the end of the century is essential to avoid severe climate impacts, with extreme weather, extinction of species, and millions of humans fleeing lethal heat and rising seas.
The rest of the world will need to share the burden – and there are big concerns about the rapidly growing economies of China and India, and the US with its climate sceptic president.
And, yes, there will be a short term cost: around £20-40bn a year to the economy, about 1-2% of GDP.
But the costs of doing nothing are far greater – the clean-up bill from more frequent and violent storms, higher insurance premiums and perhaps (if pension companies take a hit from climate-ravaged investments) a poorer retirement.
The pain will bring gain in the longer term. Lower energy bills, a more stable climate, and cleaner air in our cities.
The journey to a greener future is worthwhile.
It’s now down to the government to come up with a route map and then sell it to the public.