“Europe is Burning” – is climate change to blame? And what can we do…?

During the summer of 2023 (as the UK has typically largely wallowed in summer showers) Europe has been reporting record temperatures.  62,000 deaths across Europe were attributed to being heat related in the summer of 2022 alone.

Europe is not isolated, with temperatures exceeding 50C in the US and Northwest China.

Paradoxically there have even been fatalities in Southwest China caused by severe rainfall, flooding and landslides.

What role does climate change play?

While it is difficult to blame single events, such as heatwaves or even floods, directly on climate change, there do appear to be increased occurrences of record temperatures, drought and other extreme weather events in recent years.

Research by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirms an upward trend. Data shows increases in the regularity and severity of extreme weather since the 1950s.  A separate study implies that the speed of this increase across Europe has increased in the last 20 years.

The impact of extreme heat

There have been recent suggestions that the UK and surrounding areas may need to take a more “European” approach to the hottest weather – such as altering working hours/patterns, staying in the shade at the hottest times – but this would entail a potentially massive cultural and social change which traditionally can be problematic.

If the temperatures are to continue rising, there will be economic as well as social consequences – road surfaces can be damaged, railway tracks can buckle.  Even nuclear power isn’t “safe” – in 2022 nuclear plants in France could not run at capacity due to increased water temperature in rivers meaning their cooling ability was impacted.

It is aways important to balance the narrative though.  If we were somehow globally to completely cease greenhouse gas emissions today, the planet would continue to get warmer.  This is largely due to the levels of heat that have already been absorbed by the seas and oceans.

We can (and need to) slow the effects, but “extreme” is set to become the new normal.

Mobilizing the transport sector to tackle climate change

As focus on the environment has grown in recent years, inevitably the transport sector has been increasingly under the spotlight in terms of what can be done to at least slow down the impact of climate change.  Inland transport is critical to the global economy, but it is undeniable that “greenhouse gas” emissions have increased massively in recent years.

According to recent studies, the transport sector is responsible for almost 25% of C02 emissions – and inland transport accounts for a staggering 71% of all transport related emissions.

So – what can we do about it?

One of the main advances in recent years is the level of public and political awareness – regardless of opinion or viewpoint, everyone is certainly aware of the term “climate change”.

With this level of awareness comes an increased level of responsibility for significant action to be taken – and Brit European Transport addressed some of the issues head on this year.  The Vita Nova Centre in Middlewich utilises a combination of cutting-edge construction techniques along with innovative environmentally friendly energy production.

For the first time a fully operational haulage company national HQ aims to be completely “off grid” within 5 to 7 years, providing a blueprint for how future projects can be carried out.  So much so in fact that the project has already been discussed in Parliament, with future visits from Ministers planned.

Technology across the industry also has a massive part to play – improving engine efficiency, reducing emissions, and the development of electric and hydrogen powered vehicles.

Government action

While companies such as Brit European Transport and other major manufacturers address the issues of climate change at “ground level” – there is a growing recognition that there needs to be political change as well.  Former US President Donald Trump received a great deal of attention for his refusing to accept reports on climate change, blaming “Prophets of Doom” and conspiracy theorists – and pursuing a pro-fossil fuel agenda during his time in office.

The policy in the USA has since changed, rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and passing bills for funding of renewable energy – but this microcosm of opposing views from just one governments term to the next highlights some of the challenges faced.

In the UK as recently as August 2023 Rishi Sunak pledged to approving new licences for the drilling of oil and gas in the North Sea – claiming that this is actually a positive climate step, saving “two, three, four times the amount of carbon emissions” than “shipping it from halfway around the world”.

While there may be some basis in this claim, the message is still confusing – with a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 remaining as government policy, along with other “firm” commitments to renewable energy.

It is impossible to take politics out of an issue that impacts everybody and every aspect of modern life – but clearly politicians themselves may be swayed by party political considerations when it comes to implementation of policy.

It is difficult to dispute that extreme weather events are more and more frequent,  (whatever your thoughts on the cause) and that the consequences are potentially crucial on a social, economic and human level.  Forward thinking projects such as the Vita Nova Centre, and the development of (among other things) electrical HGVS, are just a small part of the overall solution.

Tony Curran