ON ONE side of the world, fires have turned Australia’s skies black and menaced the country’s largest city, Sydney . On the other, floods in England have killed a woman and triggered emergency evacuations.
While UK prime minister Boris Johnson said severe flooding was “almost certainly” happening more often because of climate change, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison refused to answer questions on global warming. Despite increasing calls from citizens for action, political will on climate change is still uneven.
One bright spot came last week, when New Zealand became the latest country to pass a law to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. Such goals are vital, not just because they are what the science demands for us to avoid catastrophic warming, but also because they draw into focus the need to clean up every sector of an economy, not just the obvious stuff like energy.
That includes one of the dirtiest and most invisible: heavy industry. Concrete and steel are fundamental to the modern world and our hunger for them is set to grow dramatically in coming decades, but they are on a par with the US for their contribution to climate change.
“Despite increasing calls from citizens for action, political will on climate change is still uneven”
It is little wonder why. We use huge amounts of these materials, and the chemical processes for making them are very carbon intensive. With the steel industry in a downturn, there is little economic incentive to spend money on carbon-cutting projects.
Yet there are glimmers of hope . Pilot projects are under way to reduce emissions from these processes by capturing carbon or cutting the use of these materials, or, in the case of steel, looking at alternative production methods involving hydrogen. Steel-maker Liberty House last month pledged to become carbon neutral by 2030, mainly through using furnaces that can be powered without fossil fuels.
While we work out those hard fixes, we need to crack on with the easy stuff: ramping up renewable energy, electrifying transport and ending energy waste in our buildings. It mustn’t take more fires and floods to generate the political will to make this happen.