Why The Timing Of Keir Starmer's Green Pledge U-Turn Has Triggered Extra Backlash

We just exceeded the pivotal 1.5C climate warming threshold for the first time.
Keir Starmer
Keir Starmer
Jonathan Brady - PA Images via Getty Images

Keir Starmer’s U-turn over Labour’s green pledges could not have come at a worse time, according to some of his online critics.

The Labour leader is officially dropping his promise to spend £28 billion a year on green projects today, after weeks of uncertainty.

And crucially, the news comes on the same day EU scientists announced global warming exceeded 1.5C for an entire year – some unfortunate timing for Starmer’s dramatic U-turn.

World leaders agreed to limit global climate increase to 1.5C in 2015, in an effort to reduce the climate crisis.

So social media was quick to lash out at Starmer over the move.

What is the 1.5C limit?

In the 2015 Paris Agreement, world leaders pledged to limit long-term climate change to a 1.5C increase compared to the pre-industrial era.

This meant cutting carbon emissions to stop them from accumulating in the atmosphere and warming up the planet.

The world settled on 1.5C as a limit, but it’s worth remembering that any slight temperature increase shifts our environmental conditions – the hotter the planet gets, the more incremental change we can expect to see.

For instance, if we breach the 1.5C threshold, the Arctic would be ice-free once a century. At 2°C, it would be once every decade.

As Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann told Inside Climate News in 2018: “A better analogy is a minefield. The further out onto that minefield we go, the more explosions we are likely to set off.”

Have we breached the 1.5C limit?

Yes and no.

Technically, between February 2023 and January 2024, the climate reached 1.52C of warming, according to the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.

Global average air temperatures started to exceed 1.5C almost every day in the second half of 2023.

And the world’s sea surface is at its highest ever recorded average climate, too.

However, the agreement is actually about avoiding a long-term breach.

As the EU scientists only recorded a one-year period, the Paris Agreement is still intact.

And we are currently in a phase where a natural phenomenon known as El Nino occurs – it started to kick in late last year.

This pushes the global average air temperatures over the threshold by around 0.2C, so once El Nino lifts, the climate will probably drop back below 1.5C again.

Can we still stop global temperatures rising?

Yes, but UK politicians’ recent announcements about green pledges have sparked concern.

Starmer’s roll-back on the £28bn pledge comes shortly after Rishi Sunak did his own green U-turn in September.

That means the two leading parties in the UK have watered down their commitments to eco-friendly policies, despite the persistent warnings from scientists about taking climate action.

Professor Sir Bob Watson, previously chair of the UN climate body, told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “This far exceeds anything that is acceptable.

“Look what’s happened this year with only 1.5C – we’ve seen floods, we’ve seen droughts, we’ve seen heatwaves and wildfires all over the world.”

And a landmark UN report from 2018 said climate change consequences are going to be much worse if we increase from even 1.5C to 2C.

If we manage to reach net zero carbon emissions – and preferably halve them this decade – global warming should stop.

But the current rate of emissions means within the next decade we could breach 1.5C as a long-term threshold.

The EU’s Climate Copernicus Climate Change Service predicted that it was likely to happen between 2030 and the early 2050s.


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