By Professor Michael Taylor

OXFORD City Council’s recent decision to declare a climate emergency is a lighthouse of optimism amid a sea of bad climate news. Our city is taking steps forward and engaging in debate.

However, it seems the importance of the international Climate Conference in Poland last December (COP 24) is currently submerged in the media and in the public psyche by Brexit, whilst global greenhouse gas emissions and temperatures continue to rise faster than ever.

Those economically poor countries who have contributed least to such emissions and climate change are suffering the most, with the gravest consequences of rising sea levels in low level islands and weather catastrophes in vulnerable countries. In the last six months, the FairPlay social justice network in north Oxford has held a Climate Justice Campaign for the community to raise awareness of this inequality, and to suggest practical and accessible ways ourselves to be climate justice champions.

Addressing a large public meeting for the campaign in Summertown, Myles Allen, an Oxford University Professor of Geosystem Science, said it was still possible to bring climate change under control and keep global temperature rises to 1.5C - the new meaningful target recognised at COP24. Limiting warming to this level will have a significant impact on the poorest communities worldwide, who have less ability to resist and manage the impacts of storms, droughts and sea level rise.

An immediate priority is developing the capability for mass carbon capture and storage. Last year a record of at least 40 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide was added to the atmosphere: Professor Allen pointed suggested that in almost all 1.5C scenarios, that 40 billion tonnes will need to be pulled back out of the atmosphere, and we still have no idea how best to do this.

He called it a huge technological challenge, but an achievable one, arguing that responsibility and funding should be put at the door of fossil fuel industries.

Political and international will is needed to make this happen. Simultaneously we all need to radically cut our emissions and move towards a zero carbon economy - both national life and individual behaviour needs dramatic change.

The professor also pointed out that life will change dramatically in various ways over the coming decades, so it was wrong to think of a zero-carbon future as simply 'doing without'.

Also at the meeting was Abingdon South County Councillor Neil Fawcett, representing Oxford West and Abingdon MP Layla Moran, who stressed the Liberal Democrat commitment to achieving the UK’s goal to reduce carbon emissions, and their backing for a legally binding target of a zero-carbon Britain by 2050.

Ms Moran has backed a number of climate change initiatives in Parliament, including working with Green MP Caroline Lucas on an Early Day Motion about the importance of investment fund managers taking proper account of the potential impact of climate change and hence possible disastrous result for global weather and national economies.

She is also among those who have campaigned for local policies to reduce carbon emissions, particularly on the Local Plan and Oxford-Cambridge Expressway.

That, alongside principle initiatives like the Oxford ZEZ, and calls for more cycling and electric transport, are cause for optimism locally. This week's proposed student protest also encapsulates the urgency of concern. Internationally, similar responses are required in parallel with the responsibility of industries.

Professor Michael Taylor is Chair of the FairPlay social justice network north Oxford