Over the coming days, presidents, prime ministers and chancellors from seven of the world’s most powerful nations will have the privilege of spending time in Cornwall, one of the UK’s most outstanding areas of natural beauty.
When the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions has allowed, holiday makers from across the UK, myself included, have flocked to the South West of England in order to enjoy its seaside resorts, breath-taking scenery and abundant wildlife. This has brought a welcome boost to the Cornish visitor and hospitality industry during this period of exceptional difficulty. Hosting the G7 conference near St. Ives will further showcase the region on a global stage.
Yet as we hope we the end of the pandemic is in sight, Cornwall’s most grave threat remains.
In recent years, unprecedented flooding and unseasonable weather caused by climate change has impacted Cornwall’s economy. The rise in sea levels and pollution in the Atlantic Ocean may have devastating effects for the area’s celebrated – and lucrative to the tune of £150m per year – surfing industry.
We have seen first-hand the rapid and severe impact of a worldwide crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic, on both local and global economies. There can now be no doubt that the impacts of unchecked climate change will instigate economic damage that is larger and longer lasting. Research from Oxfam and the Swiss Re Institute recently revealed that the economies of rich countries will shrink by twice as much as they did in the COVID-19 crisis if they fail to tackle rising greenhouse gas emissions.
As the leaders of the G7 arrive in the UK for the 2021 summit, they do so against the backdrop of the findings of the report, which stated that their counties – the world’s biggest industrialised, democratic economies – will lose 8.5% of GDP a year, within 30 years if temperatures rise by 2.6C, which if existing government pledges and policies currently in place are achieved, is likely to be the case.
For other countries not within the G7, the picture is even bleaker. India – currently experiencing unimaginable suffering as a result of the pandemic – will see its economy shrink by a quarter owing to a 2.6C temperature increase. The prospects for poorer countries are worse still.
Of course, when an economy falters social unrest and worsening public health are often not far away. Both rich and poor countries will feel the effects of increasing migration due to conflict, famine or natural disaster. Just as some of the world’s most ‘advanced’ nations have suffered the most devastating death tolls to date in the COVID-19 pandemic, they will not be immune to the impact of climate change which will be definitely be felt closer to home in the UK than many realise currently. The Climate Assembly UK recognised the need for improved information and education for all on climate change; fairness across sectors, geographies, incomes and health; freedoms and choice for individuals and local areas and strong leadership from government.
So, as global leaders enjoy the sea, sand and sun of Cornwall, I would ask them to stop and consider how fragile its future is. Without concerted action at both this weekend’s G7 and COP26 later this year, sea level rise and an increase in intensity of both rain and drought, are expected to increase the pressures on Cornwall’s biodiversity and the beaches of Cornwall – like their counterparts across the globe – will be lost to future generations. Just 2m rise in sea level would see much of the beach in front of them at Carbis Bay disappear under the ocean along with many other beaches around the Cornish coast.
The people of Cornwall know what’s at stake, aided and enabled by The Eden Project. This jewel in the crown, not just of Cornwall, but the UK and indeed Europe, has done incredible work terms of pushing forward the sustainability agenda and simultaneously injecting more than £2bn into the South West regional economy.
Boris Johnson’s call for a ‘Marshall Plan’ to support low and middle income countries in Africa and Asia to build large scale renewable energy projects is a hugely welcome step, but to prove his ambition to his peers it must be demonstrated that his government is willing to take action at home that will implement the findings of the Dasgupta review and reflect our status as hosts of COP26. It’s fundamental that the UK genuinely takes a stance that places it at the forefront of the fight against the climate emergency and builds back better from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Action needs to be taken this decade to save the planet. That can seem daunting, but there are a range of shovel ready projects that, with government support, can be kick-started now.
The benefits that the Eden Project has brought to the South West and beyond can be replicated with Eden Project North, set to be located in Morecambe. Part of the N8 Research Partnership’s Net Zero North programme, it would deliver significant economic, environmental and social benefits for Lancashire and the wider North West region, as well as contributing to the wider levelling-up agenda and the Government’s 25-year Environment Plan.
Eden Project North would attracting around one million visitors a year and directly employ more than 400 people. We estimate a visitor spend of more than £200m per year in the region, not including money spent at Eden Project North, which would support an additional 1,500 jobs. Just as the Swiss RE and Oxfam report outlined what could be lost by inaction, the business case we have presented to government demonstrated what can be gained through taking bold, transformative decisions now.
I hope the Prime Minister and his G7 colleagues can find time during their stay to enjoy the stunning Cornish surroundings. I also hope that when they return to the negotiation table, they do so in the knowledge that in their hands is a unique opportunity to come together to build a new, healthier, more prosperous global community that can protect our planet for the current generation and generations to come.
By Dr Annette Bramley, Director, N8 Research Partnership