“If we can’t imagine a positive future, we can’t create it”, said Paul Allen, Co-ordinator of the Centre for Alternative Technology’s ‘Zero Carbon Britain’ project. This emphasised much of what Paul was arguing at the first EPRG event of 2015/16. Zero Carbon Britain (ZCB) is a research project to model what infrastructural and lifestyle changes are needed in Britain to bring carbon emissions down to a level that would avoid dangerous climate change – within a 1.5° to 2° ‘safe’ threshold. Recently, however, the team at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), just a few miles from Aberystwyth, have focused on pooling carbon reduction models and projects from all round the world, on scales from cities to multi-national regions, to demonstrate the collective work being done on how to realistically meet the targets set.
At the end of this month the COP21 will be held in Paris, the next round of
international talks seeking to make an agreement on carbon reduction and climate change. Paul will be taking this research to the Paris negotiations, in order to share the research and the vision for tackling the problem. After the generally failed negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009, this year in Paris countries have already published their proposals of what they are willing to do to reduce carbon emissions, and sadly they already fail to reach the target of bringing emissions back to a level that would limit projected climate change to below threshold levels. So what hope is there for the COP21?
This issue, and equally fundamental issues of economic development vs. environmentalism, political will and the corporate lobby, as well as individual behaviour change, were discussed by attendees after Paul’s talk. Some hope, it was argued, comes from the potential of behaviour change; cultural shifts in attitude have happened before, and previously silent voices on climate change are now speaking out from an ethical, environmental and economic perspective, such as Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney, and the Pope. These opinion leaders, it is argued, could effect the required cultural change. Complex issues such as the increased availability of cheap flights and the continued popularity of meaty diets are potential stumbling points. Is direct governmental action through taxation and regulation a sine qua non? If so, they may prove a difficult political sell.
Discussion then turned to what we could do in Aberystwyth. Representatives from many departments in the room (InterPol, IBERS, Law & Criminology, Geography and the Business School, as well as Welsh Government and the public) were in agreement that some cross-departmental work is needed to address issues of carbon emissions
and sustainability within the University. A potential future avenue could be the Well-being of Future Generations Act that became law on 29 April 2015. The act could help pressure institutions into doing more. This is particularly relevant for universities in Wales, in light of the impending changes to funding criteria with an eye on long-term environmental sustainability. Now new connections have been made, we hope to work together on these issues in the coming year.