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International Cooperation on Climate Change is Failing, and People want Change

By Harry Gray

In February of 1971 Edgar Mitchell made history by being the sixth person to set foot on the moon. He spent nine hours on the lunar surface working as part of the Apollo 14 programme. During this time, he collected nearly one hundred pounds of lunar samples for laboratory examination, performed complex communications tests and took pictures of the moon’s surface. Whilst completing his work, he stopped for a moment to stare back at green and blue planet he had set off from. In this moment, a thought occurred to him that he later shared: “From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.”

Although most of us will never see the Earth from the perspective Mitchell did, it hasn’t prevented people sharing his frustration with politicians and agreeing with views that international politics in its current state is unimportant, ineffective and needs fundamental change. People feel especially strongly about this when addressing the issue of climate change and evidence of this is not hard to come by. A survey published in August and conducted on behalf of the Global Commons Alliance in G20 nations reveals that on average 64% of the general public believe that international organisations like the UN should be given more power to protect climate and nature. Another global survey completed in 2020 and published by the Stockholm-based Global Challenges Foundation found that an international average of 67 percent of people agree that “a new global supranational organisation should be created to make binding global decisions on how to manage global risks”.  

But why does the threat of climate change require stronger international institutions?

Climate change poses a new type of threat, one that impacts all nations, societies, communities and individuals. It is quite clear that no country alone can solve the climate crisis. Decisions made in one nation can directly affect the lives of those on the other side of the planet. As the scientist Patrick Hayden asserts, ‘The shared fates and interests of persons extend beyond political boundaries as economic, environmental, social, cultural and political life becomes increasingly global.” In the case of climate change, this is clear. For example, greenhouse gas emissions released in the United States can lead to a chain of events that causes flooding in rural Bangladesh. Deforestation in Brazil can affect annual rainfall in Australia. In short, climate change poses a problem that humanity has not previously faced, the interdependence of nations is now absolute and the need for global cooperation and international teamwork has never been more important.

There is also the issue of climate justice. Who should pay for the impacts of climate change? Should those who have polluted the most bear the responsibility for resolving the climate crisis? Or should the wealthiest nations pay? Is it fair that poorer nations should suffer the most from the impacts of climate change even though they contributed least to it? These issues can only be solved at the international level, no nation alone can provide an adequate solution to these transnational issues of justice.

Have current international attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions been successful?

International cooperation on climate change simply isn’t working. For decades now we have known about the danger that climate change poses. In 1965 Lydon B Johnson was presented with a report of the dangers releasing too many greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere and the need for international action. In 1988 the UN General Assembly described climate change as a ‘common concern for mankind’. Yet still, decade by decade, emissions have continued to rise and no major reform at the international level has occurred, despite the majority believing it is necessary.

Many attempts at international treaties to combat climate change have been attempted.  Examples of which have included the 1982 Rio Framework, the Montreal Protocol in 1987, the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 and in 2015 the Paris Climate Agreement. To date, none of these agreements have been able to truly enforce states to commit to promises made relating to reducing climate emissions. Therefore, it is now time for politicians to delegate some power to international institutions, allow them to increase their authority and give them the ability to ensure nations address climate change.

Conclusion:

As I perceive it, there is a moral argument and a logical argument as to why we need stronger international institutions to solve the climate crisis. We can infer the moral argument from Edgar Mitchell. When looking at earth from space, considering the bigger picture, national boarders become meaningless, and our shared humanity is much more prevalent and current international quarrels are unimportant. Instead, we must focus on our similarities not our differences to solve the pressing issue of climate change. On the other hand, the logical argument highlights that humanity is facing an emergency that threatens our existence, it is an emergency that one nation alone does not have the capacity to solve and current attempts have been unsuccessful. Climate justice issues also require an international body to solve with real authority to enforce the decisions it makes. What’s interesting is that most people agree with these arguments, it’s now up to our politicians to act.

Sources:

https://www.nasa.gov/feature/apollo-astronaut-edgar-mitchell-dies-at-age-85

https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/global-commons-survey-attitudes-transformation-and-planetary-stewardship

Hayden, Patrick (2010), ‘The Environment, Global Justice and World Environmental Citizenship’, in G. W. Brown and D. Held (eds), The Cosmopolitanism Reader, Cambridge, Durham: Polity Press, pp. 355–70

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2015/nov/05/scientists-warned-the-president-about-global-warming-50-years-ago-today

Insurers fuelling climate crisis

By Elise Peterson-Trujillo (from Public Citizen) and Justin Stevens

In August 2021, the global insurance firm AIG was the headline sponsor for the British Women’s Open Golf Tournament. In the same month, the Sixth IPCC report made clear that, in order to keep the planet within 1.5°C of warming, all fossil fuel production must be rapidly phased out. There is no ambiguity in that report; as noted by the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres:-

“The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk.”

In just under a decade, we have witnessed wildfires, tropical storms, and other natural disasters increasing in both numbers and intensity. The last decade saw a record high of $3 trillion in economic losses from natural disasters—over a trillion more than the previous decade. The increase in frequency of natural disasters can largely be explained by changes in the world’s climate brought about by human activity, namely the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels.

Insurance companies are uniquely vulnerable to the climate crisis due to their obligation to pay for covered damages from natural disasters. Despite this, global insurer American International Group (AIG) said it’s not very concerned about paying for worsening climate damage because it can just raise prices or drop coverage — and some insurers are also starting to talk openly about getting the government to pay for the damage.

But there’s even more to the story: insurers like AIG are putting people and the planet at increased risk by providing insurance coverage to fossil fuel projects. At the time of sponsoring the August Golf Tournament, this upstanding insurance firm was also allowing multiple fossil fuel extraction projects to continue and start.

The fact is – despite their seeming Goliath status – fossil fuel companies need insurance just as much as other businesses: they can’t get projects approved or financed without it. However, despite a $518 billion price tag on damages to insured property from natural disasters in the U.S alone over the last decade (compared to $190 billion the previous decade), insurers continue to enable the very projects making those disasters more frequent and more destructive.

The role of AIG in this is significant not only due to its size, but because it is one of the few remaining insurers able and willing to provide coverage to multi-billion dollar coal projects. That, coupled with the fact it is the world’s top three oil and gas insurers, makes it especially culpable. Meanwhile, other insurers have recognised that climate change poses a threat to their industry: at least 26 have ended or limited the insurance they provide to the coal sector. 

But AIG has yet to adopt a single policy to phase out its coverage of fossil fuels. In June of this year, AIG released its first ever “Environmental, Social, Governance Report”, in which the company reaffirmed its policy to insure and invest in fossil fuels. 

If the climate crisis is to be effectively tackled, multi-national insurers like AIG and other financial institutions must stop propping up the continued extraction of fossil fuels and destruction of natural carbon sinks like the Amazon. There is also a dark irony in how many of the worse perpetrators have headquarters in nations that have a heightened responsibility for causing climate change: America (entities like AIG and Black Rock), together with the UK (Barclays and the many London-based investment firms). Despite mounting pressure to divest, the amount of money these entities funnel to the fossil fuel industry is in the billions.

The question arises: when – and how – will they pay for the damage they have done?

Why an Independent Scotland is Better Placed to Tackle the Climate Emergency

By Justin Stevens

In 2021 the Parliamentary Elections for Scotland returned a majority for pro-independence parties, with the support of the Green Party alongside the SNP. The momentum for another independence momentum builds.

The two issues of independence and climate are very much interlinked, because if Scotland is able to govern itself then new trajectories and options become available. However, some people have argued that being independent will actually undermine efforts to tackle climate change. In this article, I will examine exactly why Scotland is more able to tackle the climate emergency by being independent.


Reason 1: Track record

For over a decade, the English government has not taken climate change seriously. Against all the spin and rhetoric, one only has to look at actual votes and actions:-

  • Westminster funding of overseas fossil fuel projects amounted to £6 billion since 2010 (as reported here). Only in 2021, after sustained pressure, did the government finally agree to stop directly funding such projects.
  • But, within its own borders, the Westminster government has gone on to approve a long list of climate wrecking initiatives – from the expansion of Heathrow Airport to the extreme reluctance to reverse the building of a new coal mine in Cumbria.
  • In other areas, the Westminster government has rushed to expand road construction, slashed the only green homes grant, cut and scrapped the feed-in tariff for home owned renewable energy, and consistently breached air pollution standards for major cities. The list could go on.

Across this decade, government ministers – including the current Prime Minister – have consistently opposed, challenged and watered down attempts to take a stronger stance on the climate emergency.

Reason 2: Insincerity

Given the above, insincerity about climate change action may come as no surprise. But the extent to which government ministers and the Prime Minister say one thing, only to do the exact opposite, is truly staggering. On numerous occasions, when promoting green initiatives, Boris Johnson has chosen to reach them by plane and helicopter – even, in some cases, when such initiatives were just over two hours away by train.

Even as government ministers stand before press podiums declaring ‘plans’ to tackle climate change, it appoints dedicated climate deniers to environmental committees and aligns itself with billionaire media moguls who oppose climate action (Murdoch being one example).

Reason 3: Crackdown on environmental activism

Despite continuing pressure, the Westminster government is set to impose a draconian new law (the ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill’) that would outlaw peaceful protests that cause ‘disruption’. The law, seen as an explicit attack on the environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion, came in the wake of mounting protests against insufficient government action to tackle the climate emergency. Indeed, the British Home Secretary Priti Pratel was quoted as describing these activists as ‘criminals’ who ‘threaten our way of life’. Efforts were also made to classify XR as an ‘organised crime group’ and, although later dropped, the government has consolidated the impunity of undercover police to infiltrate and disrupt the work of such groups.

Reason 4: An international center of tax evasion and corruption

For anyone who has visited inner city London, it might not be immediately apparently that entire streets are owned by Russian oligarchs, Saudi Arabian princes, and other members of ‘the 1%’ global elite. This, however, is just the tip of a humongous iceberg (and, unlike the others, it’s not melting). The London-centered UK finance center has, for decades, been a hidden epicenter of a globalised network that launders money from former dictators, the beneficiaries of the most extractive and exploitative corporations, and outright criminals. Indeed, mafia expert Roberto Saviano – who dedicated most of his life to uncovering networks of ‘black money’ – described the UK as the ‘most corrupt country in the world. The explosive Panama Papers leak in 2016 demonstrated the veracity of that assessment – with UK firms, top businessman, politicians and even then Prime Minister David Cameron being connected with huge tax evasion networks. But, aside from Panama, the British overseas territories – the Virgin Islands, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, etc – top the list for the world’s ‘tax havens’, where billions of money is channeled by the world’s richest people in order to avoid paying their fair due of tax.

The implications of this one issue are so huge that it merits an entire article by itself, and even closer to home we have seen leading British ministers willing to engage in outright corruption.


Despite the above, there are chances that the Westminster government could change course and redeem itself. First of these is the landmark Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill. If backed, it would be the first piece of legislation with teeth to truly tackle the climate emergency, with concrete commitments that bind the Government to reduce emissions and take meaningful steps, by 2030, in reversing biodiversity loss. We should watch closely how the Westminster politicians vote in this matter, especially those in the dominant Conservative Party.

If Scotland were to gain independence, it could break free from a government consistently opposed to real climate change action and which is heavily linked to vested interests that benefit from a high consuming, high emission trajectory. Independence would also enable rejoining the European Union, which has some of the strongest legislation in the world to tackle the climate emergency and has a long list of environmental achievements, with most EU member states meeting or exceeding their carbon emission reduction targets.

However, independence and even rejoining the EU does not automatically guarantee that Scotland will be a world leader in climate change. Whatever government emerges must be reminded what steps are necessary, rather than being enticed into following the standard model of ‘limitless growth’, based on GDP. It must not be afraid to break from this destructive mould and to place the long-term benefits of citizens, the environment, other species -and ultimately the continuance of life – before short-term votes and securing quick money from elites.

For now, we are still some way from even being in the position of making a choice. Pro-independence parties in Scotland are well ahead of their English counterparts in setting out meaningful climate change policies, but they are still ultimately overseen and restricted by Westminster.

Mitigation or Adaptation?

When we think of tackling climate change, the first thing that comes to mind is reducing greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide, methane, chlorofluorocarbons). Alongside this, we may consider ways to improve natural ‘carbon sinks’, such as planting forests. But there is another element – one that has, for the most part, been consigned as a secondary consideration, or even something that is deliberately avoided. It is, of course, climate adaptation.

What is not often realised is that climate adaptation can actually complement, and enhance, mitigation. When we retrofit our homes to be more energy efficient, we are simultaneously helping to reduce emissions. When trees are planed in urban areas to provide shade and a cooling effect, they also store atmospheric CO2. Putting in place ways to adapt and build resilience to climate change, of the kind we recommend, always has some interconnection with adaptation.

The more we leave adaptation on the sidelines, the greater the risk of it being picked up by powerful players, who can even go on to shape what it actually means to people.

This does not mean that adaptation will inevitably, by itself, be positive. Consider, for example, the way rising temperatures in some parts of the world entail widespread and growing use of air-conditioning. This is adaptation to the impacts of climate change (heat), but in doing so it creates – rather than reduces – greenhouse gas emissions. Likewise, adaptation schemes can end up being imposed on communities rather than built in consultation with them. The more we leave adaptation on the sidelines, the greater the risk of it being picked up by powerful players, who can even go on to shape what it actually means, regardless of the social impacts.

Whilst we may hear very little about climate adaptation (although mentions are growing), the concept crops up numerously in governmental and large business circles. All governments are expected to produce reports on how they will adapt to climate change, with Local Authorities being required to do the same. For Scotland, this is reflected by Section 53 of the Climate Change Act 2009, which notes the need for public bodies to be resilient to climate change and plan the continuing delivery of key functions in presence of possible climate related disruption.

In some regions the public duty to consider climate adaptation has been shared or delegated to NGOs. In Glasgow region we have Climate Ready Clyde. Their detailed risk assessment sets out recommendations for the region, together with the challenges and opportunities that exist. From reading this, climate adaptation is not just a positive response to an urgent problem; it also represents a catalyst for a rejuvenated economy, with green jobs and chances to empower the next generation to tackle the mounting threat of climate change.

Starting 2025, all organisations employing more than 200 people will need to provide a mandatory report every year that sets out how they are addressing climate change risks.

It does not end there. For many businesses, taking into account the impacts of climate change will soon no longer be optional. Starting 2025, all organisations employing more than 200 people will need to provide a mandatory report every year that sets out how they are addressing climate change risks[1]. Legislation is only heading in one direction, so there is a good chance this requirement will be extended to more organisations, with additional factors around climate adaptation coming to bear. In short – whether you like it or not – adaptation is moving out from its obscure position and into the spotlight. As it does so, we should look to good examples of community rooted, socially just, initiatives, which double up as climate mitigation. They are out there: watch this space!


[1] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-11-10/u-k-sets-new-standard-forcing-companies-to-reveal-climate-risks?sref=jjXJRDFv

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/nov/09/uk-to-make-climate-risk-reports-mandatory-for-large-companies

Covid and Climate: How Much is Too Little?

By JUSTIN STEVENS (Director, Climadapt)

The second wave of COVID-19 is still hitting many countries, and total lock-downs are the norm. Working from home and travel bans have resulted in a fall in CO2 emissions, outpacing the 2008 recession and even WWII. So has this bought us more time, and is the climate emergency now a little less urgent?

A report published by the World Meteorological Organisation in September 2020 showed that the reduction of emissions from COVID-19, although significant, was not enough. It was also the case that, towards the end of the first wave, emissions started to increase again.

Even now, in the midst of another even deeper lockdown, the world’s climate emissions are above what is needed to keep temperatures below 2 degrees. They actually need to fall by at least 7.6% globally, each year, until they are zero. Because so much carbon has soaked into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, and since it lasts for several hundred years, our ability to emit even more without consequences is shrinking. Each gigatonne now only adds to the carbon ‘bank’ – at present over 415ppm. The last time this amount of carbon was seen in the atmosphere was 3 million years ago, when sea levels were 25 metres higher than they are now. And the warming created by carbon takes time to happen.

For some, the election of President Biden in the US and his subsequent rejoining of the Paris Agreement was a cause for hope. Unfortunately, it is the case that even if countries meet commitments made under the 2015 Paris Agreement – and there is not much to even bind them to those commitments – the world is still heading for a 3.2 degrees rise in global temperature.

These are scary figures to get your head around, and perhaps that explains why many people – including entire governments – are burying theirs in the sand.

What it means, for both them and the rest of us, is at least 3 degrees rise by 2100. If you want to know what a planet 3 degrees hotter looks like, check out this video.

There’s a chance, of course, that there will be a flurry of new policies aimed at driving down climate emissions and perhaps even the deployment of technologies from the atmosphere. If that happens temperatures will stay within 2 degrees rise – with deep impacts to our way of life, but ones far easier to deal with than if it gets to over 3 degrees.

And there’s also a chance, as we saw with the first wave of COVID, that industries will roar back into life, and emissions will continue on an upward trajectory. Indeed, many nations have already indicated that ‘economic growth’ (as measured by GDP, the thing driving emissions) takes priority.

We’ll see. But whatever happens, we need to be prepared.


Sources:-

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-54074733

https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikescott/2021/01/22/pandemic-impacts-will-last-a-decade-while-climate-change-accelerates/?sh=fdac0b61618f

https://www.co2levels.org/

https://econofact.org/the-effect-of-covid-19-on-co2-emissions

https://ourworldindata.org/future-emissions