Last week a piece of news appeared that was almost certainly missed by most people, but which may carry the gravest of implications for all our futures. Global carbon dioxide concentrations are poised to hit 400 parts per million (ppm) for both the first and last time. The last time as the Earth’s natural weather cycles mean that, once the 400 ppm milestone is breached, carbon dioxide concentrations will never fall below that level again. Put simply, we have now hit the point where, even if by some miracle we stopped putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere tomorrow, we still will not be able to escape the consequences our past emissions will wreak upon our planet.
You might be wondering why I’m writing about this on a council blog. You might be saying that surely this is too big an issue for us, and it’s not like we can do a lot about it anyway? I have to say that I disagree. We all share this planet. Acting on climate change is all our responsibilities, and only through collective action can we hope to be successful. Local government can also play a big role in improving the environment and curbing greenhouse gas emissions in their own areas.
Part of that is acknowledging what we can all do better. That’s what we’ve done at the Greater Manchester Pension Fund. Last month the Asset Owners Disclosure Project (AODP), an independent global non-profit set up to protect people’s retirement savings from the risks posed by climate change, gave us an “A” for the leadership we have shown in managing climate risk in our investments. Not only is that a great result in itself, it’s also an improvement of over 100 places from this time last year. We’ve always prided ourselves on looking beyond the bottom line when it comes to social responsibility, and I’m delighted that our work has been recognised.
We’ve also committed ourselves to improving Tameside’s environment through several of our 16 pledges for 2016. We intend on build upon last year’s success at improving recycling rates by placing public recycling bins on all council offices and town centres. Our LED lighting program is continuing apace, improving our street lights while cutting both our running costs and our carbon footprint. We’re planting at least 2016 trees to support greater biodiversity, improve our street scene and absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. We’ll get Tameside growing its own food in gardens, windows boxes, community spaces and allotments. When it is completed, our new Joint Service Centre will be over £1.5 million a year cheaper to run, much of this coming from better energy efficiency. All of these are examples of how we are doing our bit to slow the march of climate change while at the same time improving the quality of life of our residents.
We do not have time to waste. Last month was the hottest April on record globally – and the seventh month in a row to have broken global temperature records. The World Bank tells us that by 2050 climate change could endanger 1.3 billion people across the world and cost £158 trillion, double the total output of the global economy. This is not scaremongering; this is hard data and figures. We need to find a better, more sustainable way, and Tameside stands ready to do its part.