An Open Discussion between Canada and Britain: What can we do to put this right?

Phil De Luna

​Toronto-based Phil De Luna is a scientist, turned first-time political candidate. He was named a Forbes 30 under 30 in 2019. He ran the Materials for Clean Fuels Challenge Program for the National Research Council Canada before taking unpaid leave to run for office for the Green Party in Toronto,  in the recent Canadian elections.

​​Nick Lyth lives in the United Kingdom.  He is CEO and co-founder of Green Angel Syndicate,  the only angel investment syndicate in the UK specialising in the fight against climate change, which has grown to almost 300 members and 28 investments.  He is in his 60s, and lives in Edinburgh.

Nick:

This summer, the British Met Office published its 7th Annual State of the UK Climate Report 2020. Widely reported in the media, the report included some statistics that have been ignored:

  • 21st Century has so far been warmer in the UK than any of the previous three centuries.
  • Top UK temperature in 2020 was 38 degrees, recorded in July in London.
  • 2020 featured the sunniest April on record in the UK and sunniest May, and a heatwave in August with temperatures consistently above 34 degrees.
  • 2020 was one of the least snowy years on record.
  • Frosts were on decline – 4th lowest since 1960/61.
  • Rainfall was above average – 5th wettest year since 1862.
  • February 2020 was the wettest in England & Wales since 1766.
  • 3rd October and 15th February 2020 were two of the three wettest days on record since 1891.
  • Four of the 41 days that have ever recorded more than 20 millimetres of rain occurred in 2020.

And we already know that, although 2020 wasn’t great, 2021 is getting worse. Since the end of 2020, records have continued to be broken. March 2021 recorded higher temperatures, and then May recorded higher rainfall, than 2020. In July, the Met Office issued its first ever extreme heat warning. There has been flooding in parts of both London and Edinburgh which have never been flooded before.

How does this compare with Canada and Toronto, Phil?

Phil

​Canada is on fire. This summer Canada smashed its record for highest ever recorded temperature three times over three days, ending at a scorching 49.6 degrees C. This sparked a wave of wildfires that have ravaged our west and turned an entire town of Lytton, British Columbia into ash.

In British Columbia alone, there are 1,251 wildfires that have charred more than 4,500 square kilometres since the start of the fire season. Our air is thick with smoke, fish are being baked in the waters, and extreme drought has turned our fertile soil into dusty dirt.

​As the world has been fighting back a global pandemic, I’ve been reflecting on how similar this threat is to climate change. Like the COVID19 virus, CO2 emissions know no borders – the impacts of emissions from China or India are just as easily felt in Canada and the UK, and vice versa. Similar to how deaths are a lagging indicator of infection, temperature rise is a lagging indicator of emissions, with the only difference being the timeframe for which they are felt.

Just as an unprecedented level of spending and international action was needed to address the pandemic, so too must we muster that political will to tackle the climate crisis.

I say this to you because I believe it is only through a global concerted international effort that we can stem the tide of climate change. As close allies and benefactors of industrialization over the 20th century which has fueled our economies, Canada and the UK have a moral obligation to lead the way in the world’s transition to a more sustainable economy.

Nick

Canada is much worse than the UK because of the temperature rise.  That’s terrible.  Nothing can survive in that heat.  How do you propose dealing with the problem, Phil?

Phil

I would galvanize all global economies to focus entirely on decarbonizing our societies by doing the following:

  • End fossil fuel subsidies and shift those funds towards clean technology.
  • Establish crown corporations solely focused on the green transition, similar to the crown corporations established during wartime.
  • Price carbon and work with international blocks to establish carbon border adjustments
  • Invest in a 100% emissions-free electricity grid.
  • Use those clean electrons to electrify every inch of our economy that we can.
  • Set a minimum spend of 2% of GDP on climate mitigation and energy transition.
  • Make politicians accountable to emissions targets that they set by tying compensation and pensions to targets reached.

​I’ve come to the realization that while technology and science are necessary and important, they are not sufficient by themselves to solve this problem. It is the combination of technology, finance, and policy that lead to change. You work at the interface of technology and finance, and I am trying to make an impact at the interface of technology and policy. What gives me hope is that we are having this conversation across countries, generations, and disciplines, but both focused on what needs to be done to address the climate crisis.

As a young person part of a generation that will be disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change as time goes on, I sometimes feel that the urgency to act that burns so deeply in me is lost on those who are older. Has the older generation lost sight of the problem, or lost interest in it?

​I’ve come to the realization that while technology and science are necessary and important, they are not sufficient by themselves to solve this problem. It is the combination of technology, finance, and policy that lead to change. You work at the interface of technology and finance, and I am trying to make an impact at the interface of technology and policy. What gives me hope is that we are having this conversation across countries, generations, and disciplines, but both focused on what needs to be done to address the climate crisis.

As a young person part of a generation that will be disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change as time goes on, I sometimes feel that the urgency to act that burns so deeply in me is lost on those who are older. Has the older generation lost sight of the problem, or lost interest in it?

Nick

We have to define what is wrong first. The older generation is confused, I think. I actually think the younger generation is confused as well, in spite of Greta and the Extinction Rebellion. But we’re all confused because, although the media have correctly drawn the conclusion that climate change is making itself felt, I think the most important aspect of the UK Climate Report is the detail. The more granular, the more useful it is, because we can then understand it in the context of our own lives. In the end, this is a practical problem, and we need practical solutions.

Have a look at the statistics concerning rainfall in particular. Monthly statistics do not help very much, much less annual. The detail that matters is daily. The final two statistics in the list above tell the clearest story to us – how these statistics translate into real problems for us. Record levels of water need not matter, but they certainly matter if they fall in a short space of time. Flash floods, a term rarely used in the 20th century, has become a staple in the 21st.

I think the time has come for a different approach. We need a new mantra for our new circumstances if we are to stop being taken by surprise: Predict and Protect. Let us use our exceptional capability to anticipate the problems – Predict – and prepare ourselves to restrict the damage before it happens – Protect.

I think that means we will need more and more grassroots technology innovations to cope with the problems we are already facing, ranging from software programmes to forecast weather events and their impact to specific locations; to micro flood defences which can be applied to individual premises; ventilation systems that can retro-fit into premises suffering from excessive heat; through to guttering run-off systems to divert cascading water from threatened roofs.

It’s going to be expensive, but it is essential.

Phil

Yes, it will be expensive, but the first-of-a-kind always is, and the opportunity in a just and clean economy is massive. The question for you, Nick, is What? What are the technologies that can do what we need?

To be continued.

Nick Lyth is Founder and CEO of Green Angel Syndicate, one of the largest active angel syndicates in the UK and the only one specialising in the fight against Climate Change. For regular updates follow Green Angel Syndicate on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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