Economists win the day at the Earthwatch Climate Debate
Economists win the day at the Earthwatch Climate Debate
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Economists win the day at the Earthwatch Climate Debate

Economists won the day after voting was counted at the annual Earthwatch debate.

The topic of the debate was Climate Change in Britain? Have your say and we brought together a panel of top experts to outline what they consider Britain's vital actions on climate change to be.

Author and leading British environmentalist Tony Juniper chaired the debate and was joined on stage by Dimitri Zenghelis, joint-Head of Policy at the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics, Sarah Colenbrander, an environmental economist with the International Institute for Environment and Development, Dr Martha Crockatt, Research Manager at Earthwatch Institute and Dr Mike Morecroft, Principal Specialist on Climate Change at Natural England.  

When votes were cast at the end of the debate, Dimitri’s proposal of transforming the economy for a zero-carbon society won with Sara’s plan to create climate smart cities coming in a close second.

Dimitri’s argument centred on the principle of accepting that ‘growth is good’ and that it was inevitable. The battle lay in making sure that growth was not harmful to the environment and that it has a positive effect.

He said: “We are, to some extent, slaves to history. We have an infrastructure that is a fossil-fuel based with our power stations and transport fuel so we have a structural problem.”

He identified that the challenge is changing the norms that people are bought into.

“If you go to Copenhagen or Amsterdam,” he added, “you will see that everyone cycles. If you ask why they will say it is because there are great cycle lanes. If you ask why there are such great cycle lanes you will be told that it is because everyone cycles.

“This is the kind of circle that we need. The difficulty comes because the losers from climate change actions are often big businesses who are skilled at lobbying government.”

Sarah’s central point was that most could be done about climate change in cities because 80 per cent of Britain’s population lives in urban areas.

She added: “Even if you don’t accept the overwhelming and unequivocal body of evidence on climate change, we should still invest in climate smart cities because they are cleaner, healthier and more economically productive.”

Martha, who runs Earthwatch’s research in Wytham Woods, Oxfordshire, said that the primary action must be protecting carbon sinks in forests.

She added that forests are amazing machines, absorbing carbon in huge quantities. But when forests become degraded through deforestation and disease, the can emit more carbon than they absorb, which has potentially catastrophic consequences for our environment.

Martha said: “We have to stop chopping down forests and chopping them up.

“About 75 per cent of all of the UK’s forests are within 100m of the forests edge now because they have been reduced to small parcels by roads, agriculture and house building. This reduces their ability to function.

“So my message is that bigger is better. We need more forests and bigger forests.”

Mike Morecroft spoke about the need to build resilience in our environment.

He said: “Species are on the move, sea levels are rising and our coastlines are changing. We need more natural habitats and we need to ensure they are bigger and better.”

Mike emphasised that this is something we can all contribute to – that we can take this home with us all by creating natural habitats in our gardens and homes.

“It’s time we just got on with this as a society” he concluded.

In concluding Tony Juniper thanked the speakers for their inspiring words and said that what he had heard reminded him of a carton in which a climate sceptic is pictured saying ‘But what if it’s not true? We’ll have created a better world for nothing.”

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