Climate change is possibly one of the most serious environmental threats facing the world today. Global temperature increase is likely to trigger serious consequences for humanity and other life forms. The Council has a major role to play in not only setting an example for others to follow but mobilising all that live and work in the city to embrace the challenges that climate change and delivering a sustainable future presents us. This is not seen as a threat but more as an opportunity. We have the opportunity to position ourselves as a leading city in a global market.

Climate change

The United Nations[1] defines climate change as the long-term changes in average temperature and shift in our weather patterns. We know that some of these may be naturally occurring, but we are now certain[2] that human activity has been the largest contributor to climate change. Activities like driving cars fuelled by fossil fuels and cutting down forests release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere which warm our plant and cause[3] climate change.  

Greenhouse gases

  • Gases that trap solar energy and warm the earth’s atmosphere are referred to as greenhouse gases. At normal levels these gases keep the earth warm enough to be habitable.
  • An increase in these gases, mainly from human sources, is causing the earth to heat up, causing global warming. The main gases are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone.
  • Carbon dioxide is the most talked about because it is produced in high levels. Other greenhouse gases, such as methane[4], have the potential to be more harmful but are produced in lower quantities.

The IPCC and the Paris Agreement

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) s an intergovernmental body of the United Nations is an intergovernmental body of the United Nations with the aim to provide governments at all levels with scientific information that they can use to develop climate policies. In 2015, the Paris Agreement was adopted, with the goal of limiting global warming to well below 2°C and preferably 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels. This legally binding international treaty was adopted by 196 Parties at COP 21 in Paris.

This target of a 1.5°C average global temperature rise has been set by the IPCC to reduce challenging impacts on ecosystems, human health and well-being. However, we are on a pathway to global warming of more than double the 1.5-degree limit[5]. But what difference does this 0.5°C really make?

Here are a few facts that showcase the difference between a 1.5°C and 2°C world:

  • Temperature – at 1.5 °C about 14% of the earth’s population will experience severe heatwaves at least once every 5 years, at 2°C this is 37%.
  • Droughts – global warming of 1.5°C, compared to 2°C, could reduce the number of people in urban areas exposed to severe drought by as much as 61 million.
  • Biodiversity – at 1.5°C warming 6% of insects, 8% of plants and 4% of vertebrates will see their climatically determined habitat range reduced by more than a half; at 2°C this jumps to 18%, 16% and 8% respectively.
  • Poverty - limiting global warming to 1.5°C, compared with 2°C, could reduce the number of people both exposed to climate-related risks and susceptible to poverty by up to several hundred million by 2050.

Sources: NASA and IPPC

The IPCC releases periodic reports about knowledge on climate change, its causes, potential impacts and response options.

Net zero

The UK committed to a net-zero greenhouse gas target in 2019, seeking to achieve 100% reduction relative to 1990 levels by 2050.

But what does this actually mean?

  • Zero carbon: Requires reducing all emissions to zero – if no emissions are emitted at all, we would be zero carbon.
  • Net zero carbon: Seeks to achieve a balance by reducing existing emissions as far as possible and then removing any remaining emissions, for example, carbon capture and storage. Therefore, the more activity we do to reduce emissions the less we need to remove to achieve net zero. The calculations for the net reductions are difficult to assess and are usually inaccurate often overestimating the effect.

Why net-zero and not carbon neutral?

Carbon neutral does not require a commitment to reduce overall emissions. The emissions are balanced by removing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere but the overall emissions might still be increasing. Net zero seeks to reduce emissions as far as possible with only those that cannot be reduced being removed by other means.

Climate change in Coventry

As climate change is a global phenomenon, sometimes it's hard to conceptualise what this might mean for us in our everyday lives. So here are a few impacts of climate change on our city:

  • Heat - As an urban area, Coventry city will be more vulnerable to the impacts of severe heatwaves, caused by the warming effect of buildings. This increases the risk of heat related illnesses[6]. To reduce this risk, we will need to consider how we plan our buildings, keep them cool and provide shade in the city.
  • Pollution – Pollution and climate change are deeply intertwined, and both have impacts on human health[7]. Measures will need to take the impact of heatwaves into consideration to ensure we maintain our progress on improving air quality. 
  • Water floods/droughts – Risks from drought will be greater in urban areas where demand for water is already high, impacting our domestic water supplies, food security and industry which relies on water. Flood risk may also increase due to more extreme weather events, this creates the risk of flash flooding in areas of Coventry which lack natural drainage. We must work with partners on water saving and management measures and plan for how we can integrate drainage and flood management measures in the city.
  • Biodiversity – Coventry has many parks and green spaces supporting a variety of habitats including the Coombe Pool (Site of Special Scientific Interest). Any achievements we make in biodiversity growth are under threat from global warming and we will need to work harder to maintain suitable habitats. The survival of some species will rely on the ability for local plants and wildlife to be able to migrate to locations with the climatic conditions to which they are adapted. The Forestry Commission recommend that seeds from trees 2 degrees south of Coventry are better adapted to the climate that the city is most likely to experience in future[8].
  • Poverty – Coventry became a Marmot City[9] in 2013 and champions the approach of working with partners to reduce health and wellbeing inequalities across the City. The effects of climate change, including heatwaves, pollution, cost of fuel and access to good food, will impact health and wellbeing and threaten to push more people into poverty. We will need to work harder to develop approaches which address inequalities and tackle poverty. For example, development of new jobs/education/training in sustainable/green manufacturing roles and ensuring people can connect to these jobs using smart mobility models e.g. active travel, Electric buses.

Target setting to reduce emissions

  • The EU has set ambitions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to at least 55% below 1990 levels by 2030[10]. This target was adopted by the Covenant of Mayors which Coventry City Council was a signatory of in 2008[11].
  • On a local level, the Manchester Tyndall Centre produced Carbon Budget Reports presenting recommended climate commitments for UK local authorities. In Coventry, the analysis proposes reaching zero or near zero carbon by 2042 to make a fair contribution to the Paris Agreement[12].
  • In the West Midlands, WMCA, of which Coventry is a member, has proposed reaching Net Zero by 2041[13].
  • Coventry City Council is developing a routemap to inform our target commitments and develop an achievable pathway to net zero in keeping with national and international recommendations.