One in five Londoners wants an independent city-state, says extremely scientific new poll

The future republic of London. Image: Evian Pepper at Wikimedia Commons.

Looks like London has come down with a case of referendum-envy: according to a poll commissioned by the View from the Shard (the organisation responsible for attracting tourists to, oh, you can guess), one in five Londoners said they think the capital should be its own country. Singapore-style city-state, here we come.

Okay, one in five doesn’t sound like much. But consider that, in 2009, support for Scottish independence was polling between 20 and 30 per cent. Now, the Yes and No campaigns are neck and neck at around 40 per cent apiece. Perhaps we should be bracing ourselves for the London National Party, replete with badges, campaign videos and patronising magazine covers.

In the extremely unlikely event that it were ever to come about, an independent London would have serious implications for the rest of the country. We’ve noted in the past that, in economic terms, England’s local economies have more in common with Eastern Europe than London: South Yorkshire’s GDP per capita is on a par with Slovakia's, while Liverpool’s is smaller than the Czech Republic's. 

Whether that means the loss of London would be good or bad for those that remained, however, is not exactly clear. If the city were to annexe itself, large cities like Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds could take more influential roles on the national, or even international, stage (as economic Jim O’Neill said when we recently interviewed him: “it's quite striking how London is the only major [UK] conurbation that features on a global scale of any relevance”). And if the country were to construct a new central government from scratch, it’d probably seem mad to concentrate all our economic and political power in one city. Losing London might finally bring about the economy re-balancing the rest of the country so desperately needs.

On the downside, there’s the poor old Queen to consider. In the course of one reign, she’d have lost the British Empire, and could be about to witness the breakup of the United Kingdom. It’d be a bit of a blow to see the capital go, too.

An independent London wasn’t the only unlikely possibility voted on by the 2,000 pollsters. Smaller groups of around 10 per cent each were convinced that

a)      there'll be no monarchy by 2030, and

b)      London will eventually, like Venice, be underwater.

The biggest majorities, of around 80 per cent apiece, were in favour of more mundane ideas, such as more green space and a pedestrianised Oxford street. Over half welcomed Thomas Heatherwick’s plans for a Garden Bridge. Those, at least, are ideas we can (mostly) get behind. 

 
 
 
 

The IPPC report on the melting ice caps makes for terrifying reading

A Greeland iceberg, 2007. Image: Getty.

Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the UN body responsible for communicating the science of climate breakdown – released its long-awaited Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.

Based on almost 7,000 peer-reviewed research articles, the report is a cutting-edge crash course in how human-caused climate breakdown is changing our ice and oceans and what it means for humanity and the living planet. In a nutshell, the news isn’t good.

Cryosphere in decline

Most of us rarely come into contact with the cryosphere, but it is a critical part of our climate system. The term refers to the frozen parts of our planet – the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, the icebergs that break off and drift in the oceans, the glaciers on our high mountain ranges, our winter snow, the ice on lakes and the polar oceans, and the frozen ground in much of the Arctic landscape called permafrost.

The cryosphere is shrinking. Snow cover is reducing, glaciers and ice sheets are melting and permafrost is thawing. We’ve known this for most of my 25-year career, but the report highlights that melting is accelerating, with potentially disastrous consequences for humanity and marine and high mountain ecosystems.

At the moment, we’re on track to lose more than half of all the permafrost by the end of the century. Thousands of roads and buildings sit on this frozen soil – and their foundations are slowly transitioning to mud. Permafrost also stores almost twice the amount of carbon as is present in the atmosphere. While increased plant growth may be able to offset some of the release of carbon from newly thawed soils, much will be released to the atmosphere, significantly accelerating the pace of global heating.

Sea ice is declining rapidly, and an ice-free Arctic ocean will become a regular summer occurrence as things stand. Indigenous peoples who live in the Arctic are already having to change how they hunt and travel, and some coastal communities are already planning for relocation. Populations of seals, walruses, polar bears, whales and other mammals and sea birds who depend on the ice may crash if sea ice is regularly absent. And as water in its bright-white solid form is much more effective at reflecting heat from the sun, its rapid loss is also accelerating global heating.

Glaciers are also melting. If emissions continue on their current trajectory, smaller glaciers will shrink by more than 80 per cent by the end of the century. This retreat will place increasing strain on the hundreds of millions of people globally who rely on glaciers for water, agriculture, and power. Dangerous landslides, avalanches, rockfalls and floods will become increasingly normal in mountain areas.


Rising oceans, rising problems

All this melting ice means that sea levels are rising. While seas rose globally by around 15cm during the 20th century, they’re now rising more than twice as fast –- and this rate is accelerating.

Thanks to research from myself and others, we now better understand how Antarctica and Greenland’s ice sheets interact with the oceans. As a result, the latest report has upgraded its long-term estimates for how much sea level is expected to rise. Uncertainties still remain, but we’re headed for a rise of between 60 and 110cm by 2100.

Of course, sea level isn’t static. Intense rainfall and cyclones – themselves exacerbated by climate breakdown – can cause water to surge metres above the normal level. The IPCC’s report is very clear: these extreme storm surges we used to expect once per century will now be expected every year by mid-century. In addition to rapidly curbing emissions, we must invest millions to protect at-risk coastal and low-lying areas from flooding and loss of life.

Ocean ecosystems

Up to now, the ocean has taken up more than 90 per cent of the excess heat in the global climate system. Warming to date has already reduced the mixing between water layers and, as a consequence, has reduced the supply of oxygen and nutrients for marine life. By 2100 the ocean will take up five to seven times more heat than it has done in the past 50 years if we don’t change our emissions trajectory. Marine heatwaves are also projected to be more intense, last longer and occur 50 times more often. To top it off, the ocean is becoming more acidic as it continues to absorb a proportion of the carbon dioxide we emit.

Collectively, these pressures place marine life across the globe under unprecedented threat. Some species may move to new waters, but others less able to adapt will decline or even die out. This could cause major problems for communities that depend on local seafood. As it stands, coral reefs – beautiful ecosystems that support thousands of species – will be nearly totally wiped out by the end of the century.

Between the lines

While the document makes some striking statements, it is actually relatively conservative with its conclusions – perhaps because it had to be approved by the 195 nations that ratify the IPCC’s reports. Right now, I would expect that sea level rise and ice melt will occur faster than the report predicts. Ten years ago, I might have said the opposite. But the latest science is painting an increasingly grave picture for the future of our oceans and cryosphere – particularly if we carry on with “business as usual”.

The difference between 1.5°C and 2°C of heating is especially important for the icy poles, which warm much faster than the global average. At 1.5°C of warming, the probability of an ice-free September in the Arctic ocean is one in 100. But at 2°C, we’d expect to see this happening about one-third of the time. Rising sea levels, ocean warming and acidification, melting glaciers, and permafrost also will also happen faster – and with it, the risks to humanity and the living planet increase. It’s up to us and the leaders we choose to stem the rising tide of climate and ecological breakdown.

Mark Brandon, Professor of Polar Oceanography, The Open University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.