Dr. James Hansen calls on PM Boris Johnson to Lead on Climate

Dr. James Hansen calls on PM Boris Johnson to Lead on Climate

Dr. James Hansen has been a leading scientific voice on the urgency of climate action at least since June 1988, when he testified before the United States Congress that global heating threatened to destabilize Earth’s climate and create havoc for societies around the world. Three decades later, we are now seeing the projected impacts unfold in real time:

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission—a US financial regulator—warns climate disruption poses an existential threat to the financial system itself. The global hunger crisis linked to the COVID pandemic is deepened by the environmental stresses on agriculture due to global heating and climate disruption.

In a letter to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Dr. Hansen highlights the stakes for the world and the historic opportunity now before Johnson. He calls for a world-leading example in the implementation of climate income—a carbon fee with 100% dividend to households.

As Dr. Hansen notes, such a plan “is socially just, anti-regressive. Seventy percent of the public comes out ahead.” He calls on the Prime Minister to be “a hero, a leader”, to show leadership by ensuring the economically efficient transformation of the UK energy economy, and inviting others to raise their national climate ambition ahead of COP26. We believe the COP26 is a chance to reinvent prosperity and secure a better future for everyone.

James Collis—a Citizens’ Climate volunteer leader in the UK—notes that “The UK Government recently stated its awareness of Carbon Fee and Dividend (aka Climate Income)” and that “Dr Hansen’s intervention was a welcome injection of passion and policy stimulation.”

The best future for the UK, and for the world, depends on the Prime Minister honoring his own team’s call for a Race to Zero (emissions) and a Race to Resilience, with transformative policy to match the challenge.

A letter to the Prime Minister

February 3, 2021

27/04/2020. London, United Kingdom. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives a statement outside 10 Downing Street, as he returns to work following recovering from Coronavirus at Chequers. Picture by Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street.

Dear Prime Minister Johnson,

I  write nine months prior to the 26th Conference of Parties, with much at  stake for the young people of the United Kingdom and every community  suffering the ravages of the climate and ecological emergency. Increase  in disease, drought, fire and flood stemming from recent climate-induced  events and trends foretell much worse to come. Unless bold political  leaders set a new course for our home planet.

Prime Minister  Johnson, young people are fed up—and for good reason. They demand that  political leaders follow the science and take the actions needed to  preserve and restore a healthy climate. If this COP is like the prior  ones—with soothing words and worthless ambitions—they will be  justifiably outraged.

In leading the UK, as host to the COP, you  have a chance to change the course of our climate trajectory, earning  the UK and yourself historic accolades—or you can stick with  business-almost-as-usual and be vilified in the streets of Glasgow,  London, and around the world.

It would be easy to achieve this latter ignominy and humiliation. Just continue with the plan to open a new coal mine in Cumbria and continue to invest funds of the British public in fossil fuel projects overseas, in contemptuous disregard of  the future of young people and nature.

The contrary path is not so  easy, but, with your leadership, it is realistic. And by providing the  acumen and gumption required to change our course, you will earn a  special place in history and the gratitude of young people.

The science must be followed

U.S. versus UK fossil fuel carbon emissions, in megatons of carbon per year

The science that must be followed is clear, not forbidding,  and not in dispute among the experts. It is feasible to explain to the  public what must be done and to persuade your Parliament. The great  obstacle you must overcome—where others have failed—is that posed by  the special financial interests that have bribed our governments and  trashed our planet.

Some background information clarifies the science.

Recently, in reviewing UK progress in reducing fossil fuel emissions, I noted  that your national emissions declined by 30 percent between 1997 (year  of the Kyoto Protocol) and 2019, which compares with a reduction of 7 percent in the United States (see the chart above). The UK deserves  congratulations.

Phase out fossil fuel emissions

Global energy consumptions vs fossil-fuel emissions

Your progress reflects well on your parliamentary democracy.  My wife and I were fortunate to witness the efforts of UK citizens and  political leaders during the past two decades as that progress was  achieved. It is our fervent hope that the UK will continue to provide  leadership and affect the entire planet.

The UK is a  special place, but it is not an island unto itself. British citizens  will feel all the momentous changes to our planet’s atmosphere and  suffer the blows from changing climate, should we fail to alter our  course.

Our future will be determined by the changes to the global  atmosphere. The most relevant change is the increasing amount of  atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), which is driven by growing global  energy consumption and resulting fossil fuel CO2 emissions.

Global energy use and emissions—still being tabulated—declined in the past  year, but high emissions will continue unless decisive action informed  by science is undertaken. Specifically, the science reveals that to stem  the climate tide we need to phase out fossil fuel emissions by  mid-century at the latest and obtain our energy from carbon-free sources  such as renewable energy and nuclear power.

This may seem to be a  tall order, but in fact it is doable. The required actions make sense for many reasons—our economic well-being, human health, and the future of young people and all life on the planet. The required actions are  not painful—they will be beneficial, and they will increase social  justice.

You may ask: what is the role of the UK in this? We are a small nation with negligible emissions on a global scale. We have  little to do with the matter.

A historical role in climate-changing emissions

Contemporary vs. historical carbon emissions

In fact, the UK has much to do with the situation that we  find ourselves in. And the UK has the potential to play a major role in  rectifying the situation and leading the world to a brighter future.

Current  and historical emissions are compared in the pie charts above. The UK  accounts for about 1 percent of global emissions today, but global warming is proportional to cumulative emissions.  The UK is responsible for about 5 percent of total emissions. UK and US cumulative emissions are each a factor of five larger than our  respective portions of global population.

Our large energy use  served a good purpose: It raised our standards of living. But in recent  decades the climate situation has emerged with clarity. We must find a  new energy path in the mature economies and cooperate with emerging  economies, so they can raise living standards with clean carbon-free  energies.

Increasing global emissions

Fossil fuel emissions of mature (blue) and emerging (red) economies

The chart above summarizes the global situation. It shows  fossil fuel emissions of mature (blue) and emerging (red) economies.  Despite subsidies of renewable energy, global emissions increased.  Despite the current health pandemic, high energy demand continues and  energy growth will reemerge. However, an effective response to climate  change requires that global emissions decline rapidly in the next few  decades.

Young people are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their understanding. In the US, student government presidents at more  than 350 colleges agreed to a bipartisan statement that they want our government to follow the science—climate, energy, and economics—and adopt a carbon fee & dividend policy.

That policy is dictated by science. Students were informed by their professors, who pointed to a joint resolution of 3,500 economists. In support of the young people, my colleague Daniel Miller and I wrote an op-ed explaining why fee and dividend is the socially and environmentally just way to fight climate change.

The economic fact is that an economy is most efficient if prices are  honest. As long as the price of fossil fuels does not include the costs  to society, people suffer for the sake of fossil fuel industry profits.  The way to rectify this is a rising carbon fee collected at the domestic  mine or port of entry, with 100 percent of the funds distributed  uniformly to legal residents.

Fee & dividend as solution

Economic studies show that fee and dividend is the fastest  way to drive down fossil fuel use while spurring innovation, clean  energies and energy efficiency. And it is cost-free. In fact, it increases prosperity and government revenues.

It is socially just, anti-regressive. Seventy percent of the public comes out ahead. Most wealthy people—with larger carbon footprints from more travel, larger dwellings, and so on—will lose money, but they can afford it.

Economists agree that a carbon fee or tax is the easiest climate  policy to make global. Once a major economic power has adopted it, it  can be made near-global via border duties on products from countries  without a carbon tax, thus encouraging widespread adoption of a carbon fee.

Why has such a policy not been adopted in the United States?  Many congresspeople in the US are well-oiled, coal-fired and full of gas. Fee-and-dividend scares the bejesus out of the fossil fuel industry. But it need not be their kryptonite, because far-thinking companies can retool and invest in both carbon-free energy and negative emissions technologies.

The need for a leader

Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street

Thus, one leader with the courage to take on the special  interests could change the world’s energy course and alter the future  for young people and other life on the planet. Where may we find such a  leader?

I note that there is a Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL-UK) group in the UK that advocates this policy. I am sure that the leader,  James Collis, would be glad to work with your team on the fee and dividend approach (which they term “climate income“).

There are  also UK citizen climate leaders that are demanding an honest accounting  of the climate impacts of government decision-making, including investments in energy projects. Towards this end, I am certain that Tim Crosland, director of PlanB.Earth, would be willing to work with your team.

Prime Minister Johnson, your actions and decisions now will  either establish or undermine your claim to climate leadership. The  upcoming UN climate conference will be an excellent venue for you to  display your commitment.

I will attend that  conference with my legal advisor, Daniel M. Galpern. If we can be of any  assistance to your climate team in these matters, we would be pleased  to help. Thank you for your consideration.

Yours sincerely,
James E. Hansen

James Hansen is the former director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for  Space Studies. He is an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s  Earth Institute, where he directs the Program on Climate Science,  Awareness and Solutions.

He is also representing his  granddaughter as well as “future generations” as plaintiffs in Juliana  v. United States, a lawsuit against the United States government for  failing to protect a stable climate system.

Follow Dr. Hansen’s work: