As four of the world’s largest oil and gas producers blocked UN climate talks from “welcoming” a key scientific report on global warming, Australia’s silence during a key debate is being viewed as tacit support for the four oil allies: the US,Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait.
Climate Strike protestors in Brisbane on Saturday
The end of the first week of the UN climate talks – known as COP24 – in Katowice,Poland, has been mired by protracted debate over whether the conference should “welcome” or “note” a key report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The IPCC’s 1.5 degrees report, released in October, warned the world would have to cut greenhouse gas emissions by about 45% by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5C and potentially avoid some of the worst effects of climate change, including a dramatically increased risk of drought, flood, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.
The UN climate conference commissioned the IPCC report, but when that body went to “welcome” the report’s findings and commit to continuing its work, four nations – the US, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait andRussia, all major oil and gas producers – refused to accept the wording, insisting instead that the convention simply “note” the findings.
Negotiators spent two and a half hours trying to hammer out a compromise without success.
The apparently minor semantic debate has significant consequences, and the deadlock ensures the debate will spill into the second critical week of negotiations, with key government ministers set to arrive in Katowice.
Sir David Attenborough’s Warning to COP24
Most of the world’s countries spoke out in fierce opposition to the oil allies’ position.
The push to adopt the wording “welcome” was led by the Maldives, leader of the alliance of small island states, of which Australia’s Pacific island neighbours are members.
They were backed by a broad swathe of support, including from the EU, the bloc of 47 least developed countries, the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean, African, American and European nations, and Pacific countries such as the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu.
Climate Strike protestors give Australian’s new PM a Fail on climate science
Australia did not speak during the at-times heated debate, a silence noted by many countries on the floor of the conference, Dr Bill Hare, the managing director of Climate Analytics and a lead author on previous IPCC reports, told Guardian Australia.
“Australia’s silence in the face of this attack yesterday shocked many countries and is widely seen as de facto support for the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait’s refusal to welcome the IPCC report,” Hare said.
Richie Merzian, climate and energy program director at the Australia Institute, said widespread goodwill across the Katowice talks was being undermined by “a handful of countries” trying to disconnect the science and urgency from the implementation of the Paris agreement.
Australia government is stealing our children’s future
“It is disappointing but not surprising that Australia kept its head down during the debate … by remaining silent and not putting a position forward, Australia has tacitly supported the US, Russia and Saudi Arabia’s rejection of the latest science on climate change.”
Merzian said Australia’s regional neighbours, including New Zealand and Pacific islands, had voiced strong support for the IPCC’s report, which was a key outcome of the Paris agreement.
“A number of delegates privately shared their frustration that countries like Australia stood on the sidelines while Trump’s, Putin’s and King Salman’s representatives laid waste to the fundamental climate science.”
Australia is failing to protect the Great Barrier Reef from climate change
Hare said the interests of the fossil fuel industry were seeking to thwart the conference’s drive towards larger emissions cuts.
“The fossil fuel interest – coal, oil and gas – campaign against the IPCC 1.5 report and science continues to play out in the climate talks, but even those countries [opposing welcoming the report] are being hit by the impacts of only one degree of warming.
“The big challenge now is for the Polish presidency to set aside its obsession with coal, get out of the way and allow full acknowledgement of the IPCC 1.5C report, and its implications for increasing the ambition of all countries, in the conclusion of COP24 later this week.”
Australia’s environment minister, Melissa Price, arrived in Katowice on Sunday, with negotiations set to resume Monday morning.
“The government is committed to the Paris agreement and our emissions reduction targets,” she said before leaving Australia. “Australia’s participation in the Paris agreement and in COP24 is in our national interest, in the interests of the Indo-Pacific region, and the international community as a whole.”
Price said a priority for Australia at COP24 was to ensure a robust framework of rules to govern the reporting of Paris agreement targets. “Australia’s emissions reporting is of an exceptionally high standard and we are advocating for rules that bring other countries up to the standard to which we adhere.”
Australia’s emissions, seasonally adjusted, increased 1.3% over the past quarter. Excluding emissions from land use, land use change and forestry (for which the calculations are controversial), they are at a record high.
Police estimated the number of green activists at 17,000 while organisers counted 25,000
Up to 25,000 people marched through Paris on Saturday urging greater action on climate change, despite fears that their protest would be scuppered by “yellow vest” demonstrations.
Police estimated the number of green activists heading onto the streets at 17,000 while organisers counted 25,000 urging world governments to better protect the environment.
The numbers were similar to previous climate marches in Paris, despite sporadic violence in the city on Saturday among thousands of “yellow vest” demonstrators who want more help for France’s poor.
Organisers had to change the route of the climate march, marching instead from Place de la Nation to Place de la Republique, due to the yellow vest demonstrations, but refused a request by Interior Minister Christophe Castaner to postpone it.
“It was unthinkable to cancel this march.
It’s important to talk about problems related to the end of the world as well as the end of the month,” Elodie Nace, a spokeswoman for green NGO Alternatiba, told the crowds.
Thousands also marched in other French cities, including an estimated 10,000 in Marseille, 3,500 in Montpellier and 3,000 in Lille.
The “yellow vest” movement has been spurred by anger in small-town and rural France at rising car fuel taxes which were aimed at helping the country transition to a greener economy, but which protesters say hurts the poor.
But green activists at the climate marches urged people to find solutions for both environmental problems and the financial struggles of France’s poorest.
“Yellow vests, green vests — same anger,” they chanted.
Some “yellow vest” activists, clad in their emblematic high-visibility road jackets, joined the Paris march after breaking off from their own demonstration.
Marches had been organised in more than 120 towns across France to mark the COP24 climate talks in Poland.
In our complex, interdependent global ecosystem, life is dying, with species extinction accelerating.
The climate crisis is worsening much faster than previously predicted. Every single day 200 species are becoming extinct.
This desperate situation can’t continue.
Political leaders worldwide are failing to address the environmental crisis.
If global corporate capitalism continues to drive the international economy, global catastrophe is inevitable.
Complacency and inaction in Britain, the US, Australia, Brazil, across Africa and Asia – all illustrate diverse manifestations of political paralysis, abdicating humankind’s grave responsibility for planetary stewardship.
International political organisations and national governments must foreground the climate-emergency issue immediately, urgently drawing up comprehensive policies to address it.
Conventionally privileged nations must voluntarily fund comprehensive environment-protection policies in impoverished nations, to compensate the latter for foregoing unsustainable economic growth, and paying recompense for the planet-plundering imperialism of materially privileged nations.
With extreme weather already hitting food production, we demand that governments act now to avoid any risk of hunger, with emergency investment in agro-ecological extreme-weather-resistant food production. We also call for an urgent summit on saving the Arctic icecap, to slow weather disruption of our harvests.
We further call on concerned global citizens to rise up and organise against current complacency in their particular contexts, including indigenous people’s rights advocacy, decolonisation and reparatory justice – so joining the global movement that’s now rebelling against extinction (eg Extinction Rebellion in the UK).
We must collectively do whatever’s necessary non-violently, to persuade politicians and business leaders to relinquish their complacency and denial. Their “business as usual” is no longer an option.
Global citizens will no longer put up with this failure of our planetary duty.
Every one of us, especially in the materially privileged world, must commit to accepting the need to live more lightly, consume far less, and to not only uphold human rights but also our stewardship responsibilities to the planet.
Dr Vandana ShivaDelhi, India Naomi KleinAuthor Noam ChomskyLaureate professor, University of Arizona, Institute Professor (emeritus) MIT, USA ProfACGraylingMaster of the New College of the Humanities, London, UK Philip PullmanUK Dr Rowan WilliamsUK Bill McKibbenFounder, 350.org, Brooklyn, New York, US Tiokasin Ghosthorse(Lakota Nation), New York, NY, US Esther Stanford-XoseiConvenor-General, Stop the Maangamizi: We Charge Genocide/Ecocide Campaign (SMWeCGEC), London, UK Sir Jonathon PorrittSigning in a personal capacity, UK Dr Alison GreenPro Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Arden University, National Director (UK) http://www.scientistswarning.org/ , UK Lily ColeModel, entrepreneur and patron for the Environmental justice foundation Chris PackhamEnglish naturalist and TV presenter, UK Dr Susie OrbachConsultant psychoanalyst, The Balint Consultancy, UK ProfJoy Carter CBEVice Chancellor, University of Winchester, UK ProfJayati Ghosh JawaharlalNehru University, New Delhi, India
Others by nation –
United Kingdom Ms Da Abla Co-deputy general secretary, All-Afrikan Networking Community Link for International Development (AANCLID), London, UK Ms Demoui Akouba Doue Joint general secretary, All-Afrikan Students Union Link in Europe (AASULE), Plymouth, UK Jem Bendell Professor of sustainability leadership, University of Cumbria, UK Dr Adotey Bing-Pappoe Joint convenor, African Cooperative Forum (ACF), London, UK Liz Bondi Professor of social geography, University of Edinburgh, UK Dr Simon Boxley Centre for Climate Change Education & Communication, University of Winchester. UK Dr Onel Brooks Senior lecturer in psychotherapy, counselling and counselling psychology, UK Dr Philip Byrne chartered clinical psychologist, Cheshire, UK Professor Molly Scott Cato MEP UK Paul Chatterton Professor of urban futures, University of Leeds, UK Kooj Chuhan Director, Virtual Migrants, Manchester, UK Danny Dorling Halford Mackinder professor of geography, University of Oxford, UK Dr David Drew MP (Labour) Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs, UK Jonathan Gosling Emeritus professor of leadership studies, University of Exeter, UK Ms Athea Gordon-Davidson Co-chair, Brixtonics@Brixton, London, UK David Graeber Professor of anthropology, London School of Economics, UK Fe Haslam Secretariat facilitator, CAFA Archival Resources Action Team (CARAT), London, UK Richard House Ph.D. (Env.Sci.), Chartered psychologist, Stroud, UK David Humphreys Professor of environmental policy, Open University, UK Professor Gus John Partner, All Africa Advisors LLP & Coventry University, Coventry, UK Boucka Koffi Co-deputy coordinator, Global Justice Forum (GJF), Sheffield, UK Karin Lesnik-Oberstein Professor of critical theory, University of Reading, UK Del Loewenthal Emeritus professor in psychotherapy, University of Roehampton, UK Caroline Lucas MP (Green), UK Kofi Mawuli Klu Co-vice-chair, Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe (PARCOE), London,UK Tony McSherry Ph.D. (Psychology), Psychotherapist, UK Simon Murray Poet and graphic artist, Leeds, UK Professor Dany Nobus Brunel University, London, UK Michel Odent MD Primal Health Research Centre, London, UK Jenny Pickerill Professor of environmental geography, University of Sheffield, UK Dr Gillian Proctor CPsychol., Programme leader, MA in counselling and psychotherapy, University of Leeds, UK Kate Raworth author of Doughnut Economics; Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University, UK Dr Rupert Read Reader in philosophy, University of East Anglia, UK Professor Paul Routledge Leadership chair in Contentious Politics and Social Change, University of Leeds, UK Kwame Adofo Sampong Principal organising secretary, Pan-Afrikan Fora Internationalist Support Coordinating Council (PAFISCC), London, UK Professor Andrew Samuels University of Essex, Former Chair UK Council for Psychotherapy, UK Dr Leon Sealey-Huggins Global Sustainable Development lecturer, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK Ms Jendayi Serwah Co-chair, Afrikan Emancipation Day Reparations March Committee (AEDRMC), Bristol, UK Helen Spandler Professor of mental health, University of Central Lancashire, UK Simeon Stanford Co-founder and Leadership Facilitation Team member, Global Afrikan People’s Parliament (GAAP), London, UK Dr Julia K. Steinberger Sustainability Research Institute, University of Leeds, UK
United States of America Professor Julian Agyeman Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts, USA David Elkind Emeritus professor of psychology, Tufts University, USA Nik Heynen Professor of geography, University of Georgia at Athens, USA Eric Holthaus journalist and fellow, University of Minnesota, USA Maureen O’Hara Ph.D. Professor of psychology, National University, USA William J. Ripple Distinguished Professor of Ecology, Oregon State University, USA Guy McPherson Professor emeritus of conservation biology, University of Arizona, USA Professor Kris Manjapra Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts, USA William J. Ripple Distinguished professor of ecology, Oregon State University, USA Kirk Schneider Saybrook University and the Existential-Humanistic Institute, USA Rabbi Arthur Waskow director, the Shalom Center, Philadelphia, USA
Steve Biddulph AM, psychologist and author, Australia
Professor Timothy Doyle University of Adelaide, Australia
David Schlosberg Professor of environmental politics, University of Sydney, Australia
John Seed founder, Rainforest Information Centre, St Lismore, NSW, Australia
Salim Dara Chief community / king of Djougou, Bénin
Zeguen Moussa Toure President, Mouvement Social Panafricain pour le Development Integral (MSPDI), Cotonou, Bénin
Ms Aissata Diakhite Kaba Joint Principal Secretary, International Network of Scholars and Activists for Afrikan Reparations, Youth and Students Auxiliary Fellowship – RepAfrika (INOSAAR-RepAfrika), Paris, France
Engin Isin Professor of International Politics, Queen Mary University of London & University of London Institute, Paris, France
Lennard Gillman Professor of biogeography, head of science, Auckland University of Technology, Aotearoa, New Zealand
Professor Keith Tudor Auckland University of Technology, Aotearoa New Zealand
Nyoefe Yawa Dake Co-president, NUTROZA Panafrecycle (Pan-Afrikan Recycling Cooperative Society for Environmental Justice), Accra, Ghana
Ms Xolanyo Yawa Gbafa Co-deputy general secretary, EDIKANFO Pan-Afrikan Youth and Student Internationalist Link (EDIKANFO-PAYSIL), Accra, Ghana
Numo Akwaa Mensah III Ga Nae (Chief Priest of the Seas for the Indigenous Ga Community of Accra), honorary chair, Accra Community Regeneration for Sustainable Development Action Forum (ACORSDAF), Accra, Ghana
Nana Kobina Nketsia V Omanhen (paramount chief) of Essikado, Pan-Afrikan Chieftaincy Co-Director of Education for the Global Afrikan Family Reunion International Council (GAFRIC), Sekondi, Ghana
Professor Kwaku Senah Managing director, AFRICARIBE Centre, Accra, Ghana
Togbe Adza Tekpor VII Osie (Paramount chief) of Avatime, Pan-Afrikan Chieftaincy Co-Director of Environmental Justice for the Global Afrikan Family Reunion International Council (GAFRIC), Vane-Avatime, Ghana
Dr Paul Beckwith Professor of climatology, University of Ottawa, Canada
Dr Dina Glouberman Founder of Skyros Holidays, Skyros, Greece
David Lehrer Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, Kibbutz Ketura, Israel
Dr Jim Salinger University of Tasmania; visiting professor, University of Florence, Italy
Mussauwa Wandale Leader, People’s Land Organisation, Likoma, Malawi
Dr Barryl A. Biekman Co-Vice-Chair, Europewide NGO Consultative Council on Afrikan Reparations (ENGOCCAR), Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Dr Sunita Narain Director General, Centre for Science and Environment, Delhi, India
Neeshad Shafi Executive director of Arab Youth Climate Movement (AYCM), Qatar
Conley Shivambo Rose General Secretary, United Front for Progress (UFP),Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines
Giorgos Kallis ICREA professor, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain
With a few notable exceptions, the Australian movement for action on climate change has struggled to achieve big tangible wins in recent years.
We’ve had a few isolated victories, but even if Labor wins the next federal election and the Liberal Party’s position reverts closer to where it was under John Howard, the likely policy shifts aren’t going to come close to what’s needed unless there’s a strong push from civil society.
Here in Queensland, a Labor state government (where Labor’s left faction already controls more votes than the right faction) is still allowing the Adani coal mine to proceed, potentially opening the door to further new coal mines in the Galilee basin.
If these mines go ahead, the burning of the coal they produce will lead to the flooding of coastal cities around the world, the desertification of thousands of hectares of farmland and forest, and more intense bushfires and cyclones.
In defiance of public opinion and basic common sense, the Queensland Labor government is prioritising the financial interests of the mining industry ahead of the safety and security of literally billions of people around the globe. The various forms of pressure that environmentalists have been applying to Labor (both through internal and external channels) don’t appear to have had much impact.
So for those of us who don’t want our grandchildren growing up in some kind of dystopian combination of Water World and Mad Max: Fury Road, what effective courses of action are left available to us?
Here in Queensland, anti-coal campaigners have used a variety of tactics to apply pressure on the political establishment, from peaceful public rallies to locking on to mining equipment. But even a rally of several thousand people isn’t enough to counteract the undemocratic influence that mining lobbyists are exerting over senior Labor ministers. While non-disruptive rallies and marches can help energise and inspire campaigners and draw attention to an issue, they do not directly challenge the underlying logic of capitalism, and are too easy for politicians to ignore. Even the protests against the Iraq War, which saw around six hundred thousand Australians take to the streets, didn’t change John Howard’s mind (if the following Monday, all those people had refused to show up for work, it might have been another matter).
Lock-ons and other arrestable actions do directly hurt the profits of the target companies, but when only a very small proportion of the community are willing to risk arrest, such tactics can’t easily be scaled up to have a big enough impact on political decision-makers, and the costs of fines and legal fees start to take their toll on a movement over time.
The Leard State Forest Blockade against the Maules Creek mine down in NSW was one of the largest civil disobedience actions in Australian history, involving thousands of protesters and hundreds of arrests. The campaign had a range of positive outcomes and flow-on effects, but sadly, the mine eventually went ahead.
So we need to recognise that while both protest marches and lock-ons have their uses, it’s well past time we started exploring other methods of expressing dissent and pressuring the government. We need tactics that large numbers of people can realistically participate in at minimal personal cost, which also directly challenge the power of the state and the profits of the corporate sector.
Organised labour strikes have become more difficult in recent decades. Legislative changes first initiated by Prime Minister Bob Hawke in the 1980s have largely neutered traditional trade unions and made most kinds of strike action illegal. Automation and overseas outsourcing threaten many industries, while more and more of us are casual workers with little to no job security.
But that doesn’t mean striking is no longer a viable tactic. We may not all work together in large factories or worksites anymore, but that doesn’t mean we can’t coordinate our actions across different industries and workplaces. And the fact that large strikes are somewhat rarer than they used to be actually means that if enough of us did get our act together to organise one, the impact upon our political leaders would be more significant.
So what might a general strike against the Adani coal mine look like in practice? I don’t pretend to have detailed answers to this, but basically it would mean as many people as possible taking a day off work. Some workers would simply call in sick. Others would take a day of paid holiday leave, or perhaps just unpaid leave. Some of us might not be able to skip work for one reason or another, but could perhaps still donate a portion of our day’s wages to support the strike. Those of us who are stuck in work for the dole programs shoulddefinitelycall in sick.
If you do have a job, think about your workplace, and how it can throw a spanner in the works when just one or two people call in sick unexpectedly. Now imagine if as many as 1 in 5 or even 1 in 4 staff members all stayed home at the same time… from every workplace in the city. The ripples throughout society would be significant. Some businesses would simply have to shut their doors and give everyone a day off.
I’m confident that if even half the people who care about climate change all stayed home from work on the same day, our politicians would have no choice but to sit up and take notice. The recent school student strikes got a lot of attention, so why shouldn’t the adults join in?
What I’m now starting to wonder is whether we might have an even bigger impact if we all agreed that on the day of the climate strike, we also refused to engage in any kind of for-profit commercial transaction? Don’t go to the shops. Don’t buy anything online. Don’t even fill up your petrol tank. If your rent’s due that date, pause the automatic transfer and pay it a day later (fun fact: late rent payment doesn’t even technically count as a breach of your lease conditions).
Instead, take a day off and spend it with family and friends.
Go to the park.
Go for a swim.
Read a book.
Cook a proper meal.
Major party politicians have spent a long time arguing (wrongly) that supporting the coal industry is good for the economy. Maybe it’s time to force them to recognise that the opposite is true. A general strike might seem a drastic step to some, but it’s an entirely proportionate response to the danger and devastation of runaway climate change.
I know other activists around Australia are also starting to talk about climate change-related strikes in the lead-up to the next federal election. I think the sooner we pick dates and organise such actions, the better. Waiting until March or April to start putting this kind of pressure on Labor and the Liberals will probably be too late for them to change their policy positions prior to election day. But if we start a little sooner, we could help make this into the key election issue that it ought to be.
And if they don’t change their policies, we can keep striking on a monthly basis until they have no choice, or they’re voted out of office. Heck, maybe this would be a good way to finally achieve a four-day work week.
I don’t pretend to have this all worked out, or that such a tactic would definitely succeed. But it’s clear that climate activists need to start trialling and experimenting with a more diverse range of actions. Although they’re fun and energising, climate change rallies and marches are little more than empty rituals if they don’t lead to other kinds of action. And convincing people to take a day off work might actually be a lot easier than convincing people to give up their Saturday morning marching in the hot sun.
The rebels had three key demands: that the UK government tell the truth about the climate devastation by declaring an emergency, the establishment of a citizen’s assembly to overview a repeal of climate-negligent laws and the enactment of new policies in line with climate science.
They injected a new sense of energy and urgency into the climate movement. Thousands joined non-violent actions; London bridgeswere blocked, hundreds arrested. But the group has also come under fire for neglecting more political questions of justice, power and racism.
One month since XR burst on to the UK climate scene, five climate-concerned campaigners – from both in and outside the movement – give their views:
It’s time for a peaceful revolution
I chose to take part in the XR demonstrations in parliament square due to my mounting frustration with our collective legal response to climate change. Over the last 25 years, countries have agreed three international treaties to tackle it: the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Agreement which commits countries to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius and to strive for the considerably safer limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
But a closer examination of the legal implementation of these treaties shows the Rebels are right to take to the streets.
Of the 185 countries that are parties to the Paris Agreement, around 157 actually have national greenhouse gas reduction goals. Only 58 of these 157 countries have greenhouse gas reduction policies enshrined into law and few have legally binding policies in place that would fully achieve their own reduction goals.
We are running out of time. Climate scientists have concluded that global emissions must peak by 2020 and be net zero by 2050 if the world it is to have a chance of staying within the temperature thresholds set out in Paris. But we are very far from that happening. Only a handful of countries have set themselves this ambition let alone got legislation and public financing right to back up implementation. In the G20 countries – which accounts for 75 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions – after three decades of scientific warnings, about 82 per cent of the energy supply is still sourced from fossil fuels and CO2 emissions need to decline to net zero by 2050. But we are very far from that happening.
All the above demonstrates is that we’re rapidly making our way to climate devastation. Our fiscal policies and laws are tilted too heavily in favour of fossil fuels incumbents who fund lobbyists to kill climate legislation and buy off politicians.
These facts lie at the heart of Extinction Rebellion’s calls for public education about the truths of climate (in)action. That’s why I will be taking non-violent direct action – and supporting all those taking their governments to court – to demand a peaceful revolution to end the era of fossil fuels.
Farhana Yaminis an independent climate change lawyer and Founder of Track 0.
The demands for a citizen-led response to climate breakdown are without precedent. Extinction Rebellion has tapped into and facilitated a huge reservoir of latent energy
Apocalypticmovements don’t end well
I’ve been involved on the fringes of Extinction Rebellion and the emergence of the movement is remarkable, fascinating, exhilarating and troubling – all at the same time.
I’m always encouraged to see people motivated to organize, take action and just discuss climate change – the world’s biggest threat that people simply don’t talk about.
Despite this, I have concerns. I fear for the movement’s longevity and wider appeal. Most obviously, at a time when elites need to be challenged and systemic change enacted, they suggest we shouldn’t blame any one individual and just demand government do more.
A more troubling aspect though are the Millennialist tendencies of the group, whenever I see their doom-laden imagery and ‘end of the world’ slogans I’m reminded of the Fishes from the 2006 film ‘Children of Men’ – increasingly radicalized religious zealots, bent on reminding the population of their imminent mortality.
XR say this is the end and the choice we face is not whether it happens but how bad it will be. Influenced by the Dark Mountain literary movement, a recent action saw the burial of a coffin representing ‘Mother Earth’ and a series of public readings and poems centred on loss and mourning.
I worry because most Millennialist movements, from 16th-century Anabaptist Munster to present day ISIS, do not end well, unleashing strong emotions and tending towards extreme actions and Messianic leaders.
Class, race and geography all have an impact on a community’s resilience to climatic perturbations. It’s a privilege for well-off, relatively unaffected British citizens to mourn at a time when climate impacts are becoming more acute for the Global South as well as theUK working class.
If I possess it, I should use my privilege for practical purposes, to change our society for the better. Speaking of XR, a friend asked me, ‘Would they put their bodies on the line for the residents at Grenfell, for people sleeping rough, for refugees facing deportation?’
People shouldn’t be sad, they should be angry and they should direct their anger at those responsible for getting us into this mess and keeping us there.
Jonathan Atkinsonis an environmental campaigner and co-founder of energy system company Carbon Co-op
Climate protest in Melbourne on Saturday
The situation demands nothing less
I joined my local Extinction Rebellion group in November because it was a tactical way to organize against climate negligence and the movement felt unashamedly led by love. And with deep love comes grief. These are the raw feelings that define Extinction Rebellion meetings, more than any abstract sense of ‘morality’. This truth has bred trust and connections, and attention to well-being, support and aftercare during protests.
Civil disobedience may be new to many XRebels (as we call ourselves), but awareness of the interdependent crises facing our planet is not. Extinction Rebellion has tapped into and facilitated a huge reservoir of latent energy across the UK. Lives that have long been dedicated to personal, cultural, spiritual, ecological and economic regeneration are finding joint purpose, now strengthened by younger people who have come of age under the shadow of ecological extinction.
The demands for a citizen-led response to climate breakdown are without precedent. We are out of time for endless dissection and critique. Spearheaded by Extinction Rebellion, we can begin to inter-weave many spheres of activism within a broader and more purposeful platform. With this awareness – which must start with acknowledging the truth of the danger we are in – an abundant future, co-created with the earth just about still feels possible. Together with the transformative potential of renewables and regenerative agriculture, we can harness immense energy to support a cultural shift from ego- to eco-centric.
None of this ignores colonial, corporate and consumer culpability, nor the immediate challenges facing disenfranchised, indigenous and Global South communities. As a white and comparatively well-resourced UK citizen, I’m using the privilege of my relative safety to disrupt business-as-usual. The situation feels like it demands nothing less.
Charlotte Deanis a writer and permaculture consultant living in the South West UK.
Climate protest in Australian parliament
It’s time to move from protest to politics
Throughout my entire life, many wonderful activists have worked to force governments to act on climate change. From climate camps to the anti-fracking fight, the energy of the environmental movement has been an inspiration to campaigners everywhere. Yet, from today’s perspective these efforts were in vain.
This year alone has seen the green-lighting of fracking, and the confirmation that Heathrow will expand- despite the fact that it is clearer than ever that man-made climate change is hurtling the planet towards disaster. The situation is urgent. Extinction Rebellion have correctly recognized this, but their strategy will not work. Blocking bridges, gaining headlines and mass arrests, while useful in terms of maintaining a spotlight on climate change, will not ultimately bring about the radical shift in economic policy that is necessary.
In its place, the climate movement must engage strategically with the labour movement, the only political force with the power and capacity to deliver the transformation needed to avert catastrophic climate change. Green energy, infrastructure and industry must sit at the heart of all of Labour’s economic policy; and the argument – that fighting climate change need not lead to the loss of jobs – has to be won within the trade unions.
In the US this is already happening. The strategy of the Sunrise Movement in engaging with Left Democrats has produced Ocasio-Cortez’s ‘Green New Deal’, a development that Naomi Klein has called ‘game-changing’. Here in the UK we need the same. The climate movement will find many allies willing to work with them to achieve this, and their energy will be much needed to help build a social majority behind the transformative economic policy necessary to prevent catastrophic global warming. It’s time for the move from protest to politics.
Isaac Roseis chair of the Manchester branch of Momentum, a group within Labour formed to support Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and push for socialist policies and the democratization of the party.
The climate movement must engage strategically with the labour movement, the only political force with the power and capacity to deliver the transformation needed to avert catastrophic climate change.
XR must call out capitalism and neo-colonialism
Over the last few months, we have been working as part of, and in solidarity with, Extinction Rebellion. Cameron was voluntarily arrested on 17 November during Rebellion Day, while Boden was acting as a Legal Observer.
We believe Extinction Rebellion has certain serious issues that need addressing if it wants to effectively and responsibly fight for climate justice.
Anti-capitalism, decolonization and anti-oppression work cannot be an afterthought – shoved into a five-minute window between speeches or tucked away at the end of an action. Communities on the frontline of climate change fight the causes and manifestations of climate breakdown daily. Supporting and platforming their struggles by targeting the systems of exploitation and extraction that they resist, must be at the centre of Extinction Rebellion.
A good place to start would be rethinking messaging and tactics. So far, the movement hasn’t focused on neo-colonialism and capitalism as the engines of climate breakdown, and it has actively chosen to disassociate from Leftist thought. The current messaging puts equal weight on the extinction of animal species as on the daily loss of human lives in the Global South. In doing so, it alienates frontline communities already leading fights for racial, environmental, gender, class and indigenous justice – neglecting the struggles of the real victims of climate breakdown in order to attract Centrists and Conservatives.
The use of arrests to crowd out police stations and gain media coverage is innovative. However, the narrow focus on this form of protest inevitably elevates white middle-class British voices, for whom arrest isn’t as big of a deal, and excludes people of colour, trans folk, anyone with a precarious visa status, and working-class people, for whom arrest is a potentially lethal and life-ruining prospect. Extinction Rebellion lis not fighting for climate justice if its movement excludes those people most disproportionately affected by climate breakdown.
Instead of exclusively focusing on arrests, it should target banks, fossil fuel corporations and extractive industries, creating more platforms for frontline community leadership and connecting with other justice-oriented campaigns. This would be a lot more effective and popular than bluntly grid-locking London streets. We need to remember that being part of an integrated ecology of movements is much more threatening to entrenched power than acting in isolation. This was true for the civil rights and anti-colonial movements that Extinction Rebellion gains inspiration from, and it is true now.
Cameron Joshiis a member of the London Renters Union and London activist group Our Future Now. He co-writes ablogon activism with two other activists called “Army of Three”
BodenFranklinis a climate activist focusing on divestment, climate justice, and anti-fracking campaigning in the UK.
But it seems many Australians don’t agree with Mr Morrison’s comments that there should be “more learning in schools and less activism”.
New national ReachTel polling conducted after the Student Strike for Climate Action revealed widespread support for the students.
The Australian Youth Climate Coalition released results from the survey of 2345 people, which found 62.7 per cent thought school students had a right to demand action from the Government on climate change. Among Labor voters, this rose to 86.4 per cent.
A majority of 58.1 per cent also thought the Labor Party should show leadership on climate change and oppose Adani’s coal mine, including 80.7 per cent of Labor voters.
“This new poll shows Australians support the students’ actions and that the Prime Minister’s attacks on the kids are mean-spirited and out-of-step with public opinion,” Australian Youth Climate Coalition national director Gemma Borgo-Caratti said.
“The poll also puts Bill Shorten on notice that a clear majority of Australians, and the vast majority of Labor voters, want him to act to stop the Adani mine.
“Labor voters want strong leadership on climate change, not a would-be prime minister who says the Adani coal mine would make no difference to carbon emissions.”
Jean Hinchliffe, 14, said students would continue to push governments to act on climate change.
“We’re not going to stop until change is made,” she told news.com.au.
She said young people around Australia were working on big plans for the school holidays and for 2019.
Melbourne Climate Strike
The rallies on Saturday protested against the Adani coal mine and Jean said they were opposed to the use of coal for electricity and were also against the development because of the potential impact on the Great Barrier Reef.
“It will drive Australia and the rest of the world away from a sustainable future and that’s something we don’t agree with,” she said.
“Young people will not stand by and let Adani dig its mine, or let politicians get away with waving through a project which will destroy our future.
“Climate change is breathing down our necks. We’re fired up and ready to do whatever it takes to stop Adani.”
This weekend’s protests follow a nationwide student strike last weekfollowed by a “sit-in” inside the lobby of Parliament Housethis week. High school students staged the protest after their requests to speak with the Prime Minister about climate change were ignored – and it earnt them a three-month ban from the premises.
Earlier in the day, Mr Morrison said he would sit down with the school students, a week after he criticised them for skipping school to stage the national strikes.
“I’m always happy to listen. I respect everybody’s views,” he told reporters on Wednesday morning.
“We don’t always have to agree on everything, you know, but we do have to respect each other and we do have to take each other’s views seriously.”
Despite the PM’s words, he’s yet to meet with the 100-strong student group, whose protest was moved to the lawns outside Parliament House by security
Crossbench MP Kerryn Phelps and Greens senator Jordon Steele-John both took time to meet with the students.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale praised the group.
“The reason we had young people in parliament today protesting is because the Liberal and Labor Party are not listening to them,” he told reporters.
It was a sentiment echoed by the students gathered outside, including 14-year-old Tully Bowtell-Young who travelled solo from Townsville to be there – using her own pocket money to help cover costs.
“I think it’s worthwhile because nothing I have now is going to mean anything if I don’t have a future in this world,” she told AAP.
EMISSIONS ARE RISING
The world has already warmed by 1C and global emissions are projected to rise by more than 2 per cent this year due to an increase in the amount of coal being burned and the sustained use of oil and natural gas.
In Australia, the latest government data shows greenhouse emissions are at their highest level since 2011.
The National Greenhouse Gas Inventory figures for the June quarter show total emissions were the equivalent of 533.7 million tonnes, up 5.1 per cent since the carbon price was abolished in June 2014.
Australia had the highest per capita greenhouse gas energy in the world
A leading climate scientist suggests Australia will now have to reduce electricity sector emissions by 60 to 70 per cent in order to meet its Paris Agreement target of reducing carbon emissions by 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030.
“It’s clear that nations around the world aren’t doing enough to slow down climate change,” Griffith University emeritus professor Ian Lowe told ABC radio on Thursday.
Some argue that Australia only contributes to about 1.8 per cent of global emissions but Prof Lowe said every nation except the US and China was in the same position – and together these emissions contribute to the majority of emissions.
“It’s all of the one and two per cents from all of the little countries that add up to the other 60 per cent outside the US and China,” he said.
If warming is allowed to reach 2C almost all the world’s coral reefs would die including the Great Barrier Reef. Even if warming reached 1.5C, most would still die. To even save half the world’s reefs, warming should be limited to 1.2C.
GOVERNMENT FAILS TO GET AGREEMENT
Representatives from nearly 200 countries will hold talks at a UN Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland focusing on the rules for implementing the Paris climate accord.
But federal Environment Minister Melissa Price was unable to get a joint statement on climate change signed off by state environment ministers to take with her to Poland on Saturday.
Ms Price met with her state counterparts in Canberra on Friday and asked them to endorse a statement but they refused because the government has no plan to tackle the problem.
“What I had suggested was that we had an agreed statement that we would all work together to determine an action plan with respect to climate, with respect to things that we can do individually and collectively,” Ms Price told reporters on Friday.
“Sadly that was not agreed. There was not an agreement on the words that I proposed, and no one proposed alternative words.”
The Labor governments of Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and the ACT released a joint statement condemning the lack of action.
“The science is frightening, unequivocal and clear – we are running out of time,” the statement said. “Yet the response of successive Liberal prime ministers has been one of delusion and deliberate inaction.
“It is unacceptable that any action on climate change has again been left off the agenda at today’s meeting.”
Attempts to incorporate a key scientific study into global climate talks in Poland have failed.
The IPCC report on the impacts of a temperature rise of 1.5C, had a significant impact when it was launched last October.
Scientists and many delegates in Poland were shocked and disappointed as the US, Saudi Arabia and Russia objected to this meeting “welcoming” the report.
It was the 2015 climate conference that had commissioned the landmark study.
The report said that the world is now completely off track, heading more towards 3C this century rather than 1.5C.
Keeping to the preferred target would need “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”. If warming was to be kept to 1.5C this century, then emissions of carbon dioxide would have to be reduced by 45% by 2030.
The report, launched in Incheon in South Korea, had an immediate impact winning praise from politicians all over the world.
But negotiators here ran into serious trouble when Saudi Arabia, the US and Russia objected to the conference “welcoming” the document.
Instead they wanted to support a much more lukewarm phrase, that the conference would “take note” of the report.
Saudi Arabia had fought until the last minute in Korea to limit the conclusions of the document. Eventually they gave in. But it now seems that they have brought their objections to Poland.
The dispute dragged on as huddles of negotiators met in corners of the plenary session here, trying to agree a compromise wording.
None was forthcoming.
With no consensus, under UN rules the passage of text had to be dropped.
Many countries expressed frustration and disappointment at the outcome.
Thousands protest in Melbourne Sydney and Cairns
“It’s not about one word or another, it is us being in a position to welcome a report we commissioned in the first place,” said Ruenna Haynes from St Kitts and Nevis.
“If there is anything ludicrous about the discussion its that we can’t welcome the report,” she said to spontaneous applause.
Scientists and campaigners were also extremely disappointed by the outcome.
“We are really angry and find it atrocious that some countries dismiss the messages and the consequences that we are facing, by not accepting what is unequivocal and not acting upon it,” said Yamide Dagnet from the World Resources Institute, and a former climate negotiator for the UK.
Others noted that Saudi Arabia and the US had supported the report when it was launched in October. It appears that the Saudis and the US baulked at the political implications of the UN body putting the IPCC report at its heart.
“Climate science is not a political football,” said Camilla Born, from climate think tank E3G.
“All the worlds governments – Saudi included – agreed the 1.5C report and we deserve the truth. Saudi can’t argue with physics, the climate will keep on changing.”
Many delegates are now hoping that ministers, who arrive on Monday, will try and revive efforts to put this key report at the heart of the conference.
“We hope that the rest of the world will rally and we get a decisive response to the report,” said Yamide Dagnet.
“I sincerely hope that all countries will fight that we don’t leave COP24 having missed a moment of history.”
It’s the springof 2043, and Gina is graduating college with the rest of her class. She had a relatively stable childhood. Her parents availed themselves of some of the year of paid family leave they were entitled to, and after that she was dropped off at a free child care program.
Pre-K and K-12 were also free, of course, but so was her time at college, which she began after a year of public service, during which she spent six months restoring wetlands and another six volunteering at a day care much like the one she had gone to.
Now that she’s graduated, it’s time to think about what to do with her life. Without student debt, the options are broad. She also won’t have to worry about health insurance costs, since everyone is now eligible for Medicare. Like most people, she isn’t extraordinarily wealthy, so she can live in public, rent-controlled housing — not in the underfunded, neglected units we’re accustomed to seeing in the United States, but in one of any number of buildings that the country’s top architects have competed for the privilege to design, featuring lush green spaces, child care centers, and even bars and restaurants. Utilities won’t be an issue, either. Broadband and clean water are both free and publicly provisioned, and the solar array that is spread atop the roofs of her housing complex generates all the power it needs and more.
For work, she trained to become a high-level engineer at a solar panel manufacturer, though some of her friends are going into nursing and teaching. All are well-paid, unionized positions, and are considered an essential part of the transition away from fossil fuels, updates about which are broadcast over the nightly news. In any case, she won’t have to spend long looking for a job. At any number of American Job Centers around the country, she can walk in and work with a counselor to find a well-paid position on projects that help make her city better able to deal with rising tides and more severe storms, or oral history projects, or switch careers altogether and receive training toward a union job in the booming clean energy sector.
The AJCs are a small part of the Green New Deal Act of 2021, a compromise plan that was only strengthened in the years that followed. For a brief moment, it looked as if the Supreme Court might strike down large elements of it, but as a plan to expand the size of the court gained popularity with the public, the justices backed down.
Gina might also open her own business. Without having to worry about the cost of day care or health insurance, she can invest everything into making her dream a reality. And the cost of labor for business owners, who no longer have to pick up the health care tab, is reasonable enough that she can afford to pay good wages for the staff that she needs to meet demand.
Whichever she chooses, she’ll work no more than 40 hours a week, and likely far less, leaving ample time to travel via high speed, zero-carbon rail to visit friends elsewhere and go hiking or to the beach; enjoy long, leisurely meals of locally sourced food and drink; and attend concerts in the park, featuring musicians whose careers have been supported by generous public arts grants. As she gets older, paying for health care won’t be a concern, with everything from routine doctor’s visits and screenings, to prescription drugs, to home health aides covered under the public system, as social security continues to furnish her rent, expenses, and entertainment through the end of her life.
That’s the world a “Green New Deal” could build, and what a number of representatives and activists are pushing Congress to help set into motion. Led by Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., 17 representatives and counting have signed on to ameasurethat would create a select House committee tasked with crafting, over the course of a year, a comprehensive plan to move the U.S. away from fossil fuels by 2030 and accomplish seven goals related to decarbonizing the economy.
On Friday, Ocasio-Cortez and her collaborators gathered outside the Capitol to talk about the increasingly popular program. “The push for a Green New Deal is about more than just natural resources and jobs,” said Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. “It’s about our most precious commodity: people, families, children, our future. It’s about moving to 100 percent renewable energy and the elimination of greenhouse gases. It’s about ensuring that our coastal communities have the resources and tools to build sustainable infrastructure that will counteract rising sea levels, beat back untenable natural disasters, and mitigate the effects of extreme temperature.”
On Monday evening, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., hosted a town hall on the issue with Ocasio-Cortez inside the Capitol.
All of this raises a question: What, exactly, would a Green New Deal entail?
Like its 1930s counterpart, the “Green New Deal” isn’t a specific set of programs so much as an umbrella under which various policies might fit, ranging from technocratic to transformative. The sheer scale of change needed to deal effectively with climate change is massive, as the scientific consensus is making increasingly clear, requiring an economy-wide mobilization of the sort that the United States hasn’t really undertaken since World War II. While the Green New Deal imaginary evokes images of strapping young men pulling up their sleeves to hoist up wind turbines (in the mold of realist Civilian Conservation Corps ads), its actual scope is far broader than the narrow set of activities typically housed under the green jobs umbrella, or even in the original New Deal.
“People talk often about the infrastructure investment that has to happen, and new technology,” Saikat Chakrabarti, Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, told me. “But there’s also an industrial plan that needs to happen to build entirely new industries. It’s sort of like the moonshot. When JFK said America was going to go to the moon, none of the things we needed to get to the moon at that point existed. But we tried and we did it.” The Green New Deal, he added, “touches everything — it’s basically a massive system upgrade for the economy.”
In a broad sense, that’s what policymakers in other countries refer to as industrial policy, whereby the government plays a decisive role in shaping the direction of the economy to accomplish specific aims. That doesn’t mean that the state controls every industry, as in the Soviet system; instead, it would be closer to the kind of economic planning that the U.S. practiced during the economic mobilization around World War II, and that is practiced internally today by many of the world’s biggest corporations. Should Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution pass muster, the select committee will convene policymakers, academics, and representatives from the private sector and civil society to hash out next steps. How widely or narrowly that groups defines a Green New Deal — and whether it’ll ever be given space to meet on Capitol Hill — remains to be seen, as supportive lawmakers huddle in Washington this week to try and gain support for writing it into the rulebook for the next Congress. Ultimately, it will be that committee that fleshes out what a Green New Deal looks like. But the proposal itself, American history, and existing research give us a sense for what all it might look like in practice.
The plan itself — or rather, the plan to make the plan — lays out seven goals, starting with generating 100 percent of power in the U.S. from renewable sources and updating the country’s power grid.
As the first two points of the resolution suggest, one of the main goals of any Green New Deal that spurs a complete switch to renewables will be dialing up the amount of total energy demand represented byelectricity, by switching combustion-based activities like heating systems, air conditioners, and automobiles over to electric power. The Energy Transitions Commission estimatesthat 60 percent of energy will need to be distributed via electricity by mid-century, up from just 20 percent today. Making that possible means developing new technology, and also overhauling today’s grid, making it easier for homes and businesses that generate their own power to feed it back into the system. A modern grid — or “smart” grid, per Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal — would also make way for microgrids, which are self-contained renewable energy generation systems that allow small neighborhoods and hospitals, for instance, to continue making their own power even if there are disruptions (say, hurricane-force winds or a wildfire) upstream. Assuming it won’t be entirely sustainable to import all of that capacity, scaling up renewables will also likely mean expanding the country’s renewables manufacturing sector to produce more solar and wind infrastructure, components for which are today sourcedlargelyfrom abroad.
“We build things here in Detroit, and across Michigan, and we’ve got a lot of people here with manufacturing skills who are being left behind by the corporate greed,” incoming Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D- Mich., among the first supporters of the resolution and who campaigned on a Green New Deal, said via email. “Just this week we heard about how GM, a company that has received billions and billions from taxpayers, is planning to cut thousands of jobs here. So it’s really exciting to be talking about rapidly building up our green, renewable energy infrastructure, because these are jobs that can and should go to our workers here in Michigan.
“We were the Arsenal of Democracy and helped save the planet from real darkness decades ago, and there’s no reason why we couldn’t be one of the regions to build America’s green energy infrastructure and help save the planet again in the process.”
Bringing more clean energy online could entail expanding the types of programs that already exist at the state level, too, though they seldom come with much teeth. Renewable portfolio standards require utilities to source a certain amount of their power from wind and solar.New York state, for instance, set a renewable portfolio standard of 29 percent by 2015. The deadline came and went quietly, without much talk of how it would pick up the slack to reach its next goal of 50 percent renewables by 2030.
Those targets would have to be much stricter to get off fossil fuels by 2035. “You say, you hit the target and you reduce emissions 10 percent every year or you go to jail,” says Robert Pollin, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute. “That would get their attention.”
That may sound aggressive by today’s standards, but has been par for the course at other points in American history when the country has faced existential threats. During World War II, for instance, the government was largely responsible for administering prices, wages, and sourcing in sectors deemed vital to the Allies. Corporate productivity and profits boomed with demand for tankers and munitions, but companies that refused to go along with mandates sent down from the War Production Board and associated economic planning bodies faced a federal takeover. Among the most iconic images of these changed power relationships was a widely circulated image of Sewell Avery, the president of Montgomery Ward. During World War II, Montgomery Ward, a mail-order corporation, produced everything from uniforms to bullets for soldiers abroad. In 1944, the National War Labor Board ordered Avery, a Nazi sympathizer, to let his employees unionize to ward off a strike, and the ensuing disruption in war production. When he refused, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the National Guard tohaul him off, chair and all, and seize the company’s main plant in Chicago. The government took over operations at the company’s factories in several other cities by the year’s end. And by the end of the war, around a quarter of all domestic manufacturing had been nationalized for the sake of the war effort.
Notably, Green New Deal proponents aren’t pushing for such drastic action. Yet given the collision course between the fossil fuel industry’s business model and a livable future, simply building up more renewable power will almost certainly need to be paired with constraints on the fossil fuel industry. Waleed Shahid, communications director for Justice Democrats, which is backing the Green New Deal proposal, told me, “Given the fossil fuel industry’s role in creating an untenable situation for billions of people around the world, the government should step up and promote winners and create losers, which has happened before in the United States.” Among the provisions of the committee resolution, fittingly, is that politicians who accept donations from coal, oil, and gas companies can’t be appointed to it.
At a press conference announcing additional support for the resolution, Ocasio-Cortez spelled out the conflict of interest: “This is about the fact that if we continue to allow power to concentrate with corporations to dictate the quality of our air, to … tell us that we can keep burning fossil fuels — to dupe us — people will die,” she said, “and people are dying.”
Evan Weber, of the Sunrise Movement, put it in similar terms. “Dealing with climate change in the way that we need to is not just about passing a suite of policies that will transform our society to both end the causes of climate change and prepare society for the climate change that is already baked in,” he said. “It’s also changing our conception of what government is and who its for.”
Especially under the Trump administration, plenty of government policy has been written for the benefit of the fossil fuel industry. According to a2018 analysis by Oil Change International, the U.S. government annually spends about $20 billion on direct and indirect subsidies to the fossil fuel industry; the richest “G7” nations overall spend about$100 billion. This in itself is a kind of industrial policy already in place, and a Green New Deal might at the very least remove those subsidies and redirect them toward the clean energy sector, where wind and solar already enjoy a much smaller degree of subsidization through the production and investment tax credits, respectively.
While winding down fossil fuel production and scaling up renewables will of course be a considerable part of any Green New Deal, so too will investing in the research, development, and manufacturing capacities to get especially difficult-to-decarbonize sectors, like airlines and steel, off fossil fuels over the next several decades, as Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal notes. The latter requires a still largely experimental process called electrolysis, which targeted investments could subsidize research into. In Sanders’s town hall Monday night, Ocasio-Cortez appeared to reference economist Mariana Mazzucato’s work, which lays out the existing progress and potential of using public investment to finance early-stage research that venture capital funds are too risk-averse to support. (Ocasio-Cortez and other members of her team have met with Mazzacuto.)
“For far too long,” she said, “we gave money to Tesla — to a lot of people — and we got no return on the investment that the public made in new technologies. It’s the public that financed innovative new technologies.”
Such a policy umbrella, though, could be just as much about decarbonization as about building out sectors of the economy which simply aren’t carbon-intensive, but are essential to a healthy economy, such as teaching and nursing. A federal job guarantee, which is cited in the draft resolution and a hot topic among 2020 presidential hopefuls, might put people to work remediating wetlands and tending community gardens while providing an alternative to low-paid work bound up in hugely carbon-intensive supply chains. Walmart, for instance, is thebiggest employerin 22 states, paying an entry-level wage of $11 per hour. McDonald’s, another major employer, is estimated to have at some point employed1 in 8 American workers and has consistently resisted calls to institute a $15 minimum wage. A federal jobs guarantee that paying that much, as outlined by several proposals, would effectively create a national wage floor, compelling retail and fast food chains to either raise their wages or risk having their employees enticed into better-paid jobs that improve their communities and make them more resilient against climate impacts.
For extractive industry workers, whose wages are traditionally high thanks to decades of labor militancy, $15 an hour may not be too big of a draw, meaning other programs could be needed to finance what’s widely referred to as a just transition, making sure that workers in sectors that need to be phased out — like coal, oil, and gas — are well taken care of and that communities which have historically revolved around those industries can diversify their economies. Spain’s social democratic government recently sponsored a small-scale version of this, investing the relatively tiny sum of $282 million, with the support of trade unions, to help coal workers transition into other work while shuttering the last of the country’s coal mines.
With the right investment, new jobs won’t be hard to come by. Research from theInternational Labour Organization finds that while a concerted transition to renewable energy could cost as many as 6 million jobs around the world in carbon-intensive sectors, it could create 24 million jobs, or a net gain of 18 million, and far more than the profound job loss that would stem from unchecked climate change.
It’s not hardto imagine cries from Republicans and Democrats alike about how much such a program might cost, and of the dangers of blowing up the deficit. Worth noting is the cost that 13 federal agencies have said are likely if we do nothing, according to theNational Climate Assessmentquietly released on Black Friday. By 2100, heat-related deaths could cost the U.S. $141 billion. Sea-level rise could rack up a $118 billion bill, and infrastructure damages could cost up to $32 billion. Along the same timeline, the report’s authors found, the financial damages of climate change to the U.S. could double those caused by the Great Recession.
By comparison, the 1 to 2 percent of gross domestic product that Pollin has said a Green New Deal would cost seems pretty cheap, never mind the fact that putting millions of people to work would bolster tax revenues and consumer spending. Pollin calls it “equitable green growth,” coupled with “degrowth down to zero of the fossil fuel industry.” Incumbent fuel sources, and coal in particular, aren’t exactly saving anyone money. A recent analysis from the group Carbon Tracker has found that 42 percent of coal capacity worldwide is already unprofitable, and that figure could spiked to 72 percent by 2030.
“The question is, ‘What policy do you use to build up the public investment and incentivize private investment?’” Pollin said. “You can’t just have these private sector incentive programs. That’s just not going to get it.”
As several proponents have pointed out, though, so-called pay-for questions are rarely asked of public spending programs designed to further national interests, be that getting out of a recession or fighting a war. “If we were threatened by an invader, we would mobilize all the resources we have at our disposal to deal with that security threat,” says U.K.-based economist Ann Pettifor. “As in those circumstances, you cannot rely entirely on the private sector.”
Pettifor was among the first people to start thinking seriously about a Green New Deal just after the financial crisis. Then working at the New Economics Foundation, a progressive think tank, she helped convene a series of meetings in her living room that would eventually coalesce into the Green New Deal group. The group produced several reports on the subject. But with European sovereign debt crisis about to plunge the continent’s lawmakers into full-blown austerity hysteria, any public discussion of a big, expansionary spending package faded. Jeremy Corbyn’s election to Labour Party leadership helped change that. And this past March, Chakrabarti, working on Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign at the time, showed up on her doorstep wanting to hear more.
For Pettifor, as for many Green New Deal advocates on this side of the pond, the funding question is less about how to reconcile line items than about reconfiguring what goals the economy is working toward — that is, to make it do something other than simply grow GDP by some fixed percentage each year.
Economists’ and policymakers’ fixation on unlimited economic growth as the metric for measuring economic prosperity is a really recent invention, developed in large part by the exponential returns that were being brought in by a ballooning financial sector–and not to that point factored into economic accounts. “If I work hard every day and night I have a weekly wage. If i gamble and win a load of money, I get rich quick,” she explains. “And the finance sector has moved its focus into making money in that way and not in investing in productive activity.” That shift toward measuring growth above all else started to displace an earlier focus on full employment in the 1960s, making multiplying profits and consumption the goal rather than ensuring people’s basic needs were met. As a result, carbon emissions spiked.
It’s why Pettifor largely rejects the premise of debates among environmentalists about growth and degrowth. For the green movement to talk about growth at all, she says, “is to adapt that OECD framing of what the economy should be about” and “to adopt the framing of a neoliberal idea of the economy. I would prefer to us to talk about full employment.”
That’s not to suggest there aren’t nuts and bolts funding issues that can be easily worked out. In contrast to state governments, which rely in large part on tax revenues, the federal government has plenty of tools at its disposal for financing a Green New Deal — tools it deployed to great effect during the financial crisis. It could also set up a National Investment Bank to furnish lines of credit for green investment. A polluter fee or carbon tax could provide some revenue, as well, but perhaps more importantly would punish bad behavior in the energy sector. Loan guarantees of the sort used in the stimulus package could help to build out clean energy as they did then, before getting scrapped when Republicans took control of the House in 2010. (While Solyndra, the most infamous of those loan recipients, failed, the program overall made a return on investment greater than those enjoyed by most venture capital funds.)
In a piece co-authored by Greg Carlock, author of a Green New Deal prospectus for the upstart think tank Data for Progress; and Andres Bernal, an adviser to Ocasio-Cortez; and Stephanie Kelton, former chief economist on the Senate Budget Committee, the writers explain, “When Congress authorizes spending, it sets off a sequence of actions. Federal agencies … enter into contracts and begin spending. As the checks go out, the government’s bank — the Federal Reserve — clears the payments by crediting the seller’s bank account with digital dollars. In other words, Congress can pass any budget it chooses, and our government already pays for everything by creating new money.”
A Green New Deal, moreover, “will actually help the economy by stimulating productivity, job growth and consumer spending, as government spending has often done,” Kelton, Bernal, and Carlock add. “In fact, a Green New Deal can create good-paying jobs while redressing economic and environmental inequities.”
Green New Dealadvocates also have no illusions about just how flawed the original New Deal was in terms of inequities, given that it largely left Jim Crow in place. “It threw black and brown people under the bus,” Chakrabarti said, noting that Roosevelt gave up on enshrining civil rights into its programs in order to win the support of white supremacist southern Democrats. Among the most infamous examples of this dynamic was theFederal Housing Administration, which guaranteed mortgages and subsidized large housing developments for whites on the condition that African-Americans couldn’t live there. African-Americans who applied for assistance to buy homes in predominantly white neighborhoods were refused. It’s from these same policies that the term redlining first emerged, a reference to New Deal-era planning maps which used literal red lines to designate areas where the federally backed Home Owners’ Loan Corporation would and would not insure mortgages.
“Right off the bat,” Chakrabarti says of the Green New Deal plan, “we’ve put trying to fix the injustices that have been perpetrated on black and brown communities front and center. Unless you have targeted investments in communities that have had their wealth stripped from them for generations, it’s going to be very difficult for communities that have faced redlining to enjoy economic prosperity.”
The detritus of FHA-style discrimination serves to make a transition harder, and will need to be overcome to make any new New Deal a success. Dense, transit-connected cities are on the whole more sustainable than the car-centric suburban sprawl encouraged by a mix of mid-century development schemes, segregationist policies and white flight. Yet the home solar market is oriented largely around rooftop installations, which creates obvious barriers to entry for renters in multi-unit buildings, where landlords have little incentive to upgrade. The New York City Housing Authority, accounting for about a fifth of the country’s public housing, could be a model for retrofitting public and affordable housing in cities around the country, but is currently sitting in about $17 billion of debt and remains in dire need of basic updates and repairs.
As sociologist Daniel Aldana Cohen points out, density alone doesn’t make a city low-carbon. While they pride themselves as green for buying organic and taking the train, luxury high-rise inhabitants — with their taste for carbon-intensive imports, summer homes, and first-class business trips — have the largest footprints in their cities, which account for around three-quarters of carbon emissions worldwide. “When it comes to the carbon emissions of New York’s individual residents, as calculated in terms of consumption, Manhattan is the worst borough. Because it’s the richest,” hewrites. “Crowded but well-to-do West Villagers’ carbon footprints are comparable to sprawling suburbanites’ all over the country.” Beyond Manhattan,Oxfam Internationalhas found that the world’s richest 10 percent produce about half of its carbon emissions. “It is only residents of Manhattan’s less-gentrified neighborhoods,” Aldana Cohen continues, “who have really low carbon footprints. They reside by the island’s northwest and southeast tips, in zip codes anchored by public housing. … Public housing, well-stocked libraries, accessible transit, gorgeous parks: these are democratic low-carbon amenities. And they’re the political achievements of working-class New York.”
Dense, affordable housing is the key to making a low-carbon city. And with the right investments, NYCHA could cut its emissions by three-quarters or more, “while using the renovation process to clean out mold, seal the cracks and crevices where pests now thrive, and increase leaf canopy. With these and other measures, NYCHA could become the world’s largest—albeit decentralized—green city,” Aldana Cohen adds. A Green New Deal could sponsor similar improvements in towns and cities around the country, rendering cities greener, more equitable, and infinitely more livable.
Beyond redressing some of the ills of the original New Deal, those pushing for its redux are also keenly focused on the people who could be on the losing end of both climate policy and the climate crisis itself. “We know that if we are really going to make it out of the years and decades ahead, we need a government that cares for people and is of, by and for the people and acts to protect the most marginalized amongst us,” Weber, of Sunrise, says. “When we have things like extreme weather events and increased migration because of climate change, we take a more humanitarian approach to responding to those than what we’re seeing from our federal government, which is saying we need to build walls and lock people in cages.”
In the coming decades, climate change is likely to bring about the largest mass migration in human history, both within and between countries. Already, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimates that as many as 21.5 million people have been displaced thanks to climate-related impacts, and the civil war in Syria that has led many refugees to flee that country is owed at least partially to climate-induced drought and agricultural crisis. Largely, governments in the global north have treated these flows as a problem. But the Green New Deal could adopt a different approach.
“We’re going to need tens or hundreds of millions of jobs,” Chakrabarti said, projecting that there could even be a labor shortage. “What that’s going to result in is that, yes, we’re going to have to retrain and invest in the current American workforce. But we’re probably going to be begging for more immigration.” He referenced the influx of labor needed to build up the interstate highway system in the 1950s. “It’s not just that we had an open immigration policy. We were actively recruiting.” Chakrabarti’s father, he said, immigrated after visiting an American recruitment center in West Bengal. “They were pitching them on the American dream to try to get them to come to America and build the country together.”
As the immigration question highlights, climate change isn’t an issue that confines itself narrowly to borders. The US represents about 15 percent of global emissions, so acting alone won’t get us too far. Coal is on a steady decline here, but Asia accounts for around three-quarters of global coal consumption, which has actually risen overall in the last 2 years. And while China has backed what might be the world’s most ambitious green spending package, it’s also continuing to finance coal plants domestically and throughout the global south, encouraging other countries to pursue a path to economic development based on a fuel source that climate science is increasingly clear should be zeroed out. Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal frames this problem delicately, setting out an intention to make green “technology, industry, expertise, products and services a major export of the United States, with the aim of becoming the undisputed international leader in helping other countries transition to completely carbon neutral economies and bringing about a global Green New Deal.”
Aside from turning the US into a major exporter of clean energy — rather than, say, oil — that might involve US capital opening up a path to development for other countries that’s based on renewable energy and not coal or gas, in ways similar to the Marshall Plan shaped the course of economic rebuilding and development in post-war development. The approach wouldn’t be all that dramatic of a departure from current U.S. energy policy in the U.S.; the Trump Administration has repeatedly stated its intent to help bring coal to the rest of the world, including at last year’s UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany, and almost certainly at their event this year at COP 24. But extending the Green New Deal beyond the narrow confines of U.S. borders would also involve upending thetraditionally obstructive rolethe U.S. has played in international climate talks, stymying ambition and binding pledges. As Naomi Klein noted last week, the U.S. taking the climate crisis seriously — adopting what could be the world’s most ambitious decarbonization plan, in its most dominant economy — would have a tremendous ripple effect throughout the rest of the world, and more narrowly in the talks themselves as countries figure out how to ratchet up their commitments to the Paris agreement in the coming years.
All of the above is only the tip of the iceberg. Here’s a brief and entirely non-exhaustive list of some other issues that might fall under a Green New Deal: farm and agricultural policy; reforming the National Flood Insurance Program and developing a coherent plan for relocating coastal communities away from flood zones; formally honoring indigenous sovereignty and tribal land rights; ensuring democratic participation in clean energy planning and ending eminent domain; a universal basic income; wildfire management; trade policy; building up infrastructure to sequester carbon; fully extending broadband wireless to rural communities; rare earths and mineral procurement; overhauling FEMA; sweeping campaign finance reform; and “Medicare for All” — to name just a few.
Needless to say,the Green New Deal faces an uphill battle on the Hill. Aside from complaints about feasibility, the pushback from other Democrats so far has been largely procedural, Weber says, citing a fear voiced by some House members that should the select committee be empowered to draft legislation, it would undermine the authority of other established committees. As he points out, the resolution outlines only that the committee be allowed to draft legislation, and wouldn’t pre-empt that legislation first going through another body before moving to a floor vote. Moreover, Weber added, “We actually do need a committee that goes beyond the very narrow focus of the existing ones. What we’re talking about is something that effects every aspect of society. A select committee that can have the purview over the issues that all of these existing committees and more is exactly the type of vehicle that Congress — if it want to take climate change seriously — should be creating.”
I contacted several incoming members of Congress that were outspoken in their campaigns about climate change but have not yet signed on to the Green New Deal resolution to ask about their positions. As of yet, no one has responded, although one — Rep.-elect Mike Levin, D-Calif. — announced his support last week.
In the coming days and weeks, House Democrats are expected to release the first version of their rules package for the next Congress, in which supporters hope that a version of the select committee on the Green New Deal will appear. “Whether we get it or we don’t get it, the biggest thing we need to have is a movement backing this stuff,” Chakrabarti said. “The movement needs to keep pushing it and making a plan to go all the way. If we don’t get the committee, it’s up to us to figure out how to do it.”
Rapidglobal warmingcaused the largest extinction event in the Earth’s history, which wiped out the vast majority of marine and terrestrial animals on the planet, scientists have found.
The mass extinction, known as the “great dying”, occurred around 252m years ago and marked the end of the Permian geologic period.
The study of sediments and fossilized creatures show the event was the single greatest calamity ever to befall life on Earth, eclipsing even the extinction of the dinosaurs 65m years ago.
10,000 fruit bats (Flying Fox) die from heat stress during record heatwave in Cairns last week.
Up to 96% of all marine species perished while more than two-thirds of terrestrial species disappeared.
The cataclysm was so severe it wiped out most of the planet’s trees, insects, plants, lizards and even microbes.
Scientists havetheorized causes for the extinction, such as a giant asteroid impact. But US researchers now say they have pinpointed the demise of marine life to a spike in Earth’s temperatures, warning that present-day global warming will also have severe ramifications for life on the planet.
“It was a huge event. In the last half a billion years of life on the planet, it was the worst extinction,” said Curtis Deutsch, an oceanography expert who co-authored the research, published on Thursday, with his University of Washington colleague Justin Penn along with Stanford University scientists Jonathan Payne and Erik Sperling.
The researchers used paleoceanographic records and built a model to analyse changes in animal metabolism, ocean andclimateconditions. When they used the model to mimic conditions at the end of the Permian period, they found it matched the extinction records.
According to the study, this suggests that marine animals essentially suffocated as warming waters lacked the oxygen required for survival. “For the first time, we’ve got a whole lot of confidence that this is what happened,” said Deutsch. “It’s a very strong argument that rising temperatures and oxygen depletion were to blame.”
The great dying event, which occurred over an uncertain timeframe of possibly hundreds of years, saw Earth’s temperatures increase by around 10C (18F). Oceans lost around 80% of their oxygen, with parts of the seafloor becoming completely oxygen-free. Scientists believe this warming was caused by a huge spike in greenhouse gas emissions, potentially caused by volcanic activity.
The new research,published in Science, found that the drop in oxygen levels was particularly deadly for marine animals living closer to the poles. Experiments that varied oxygen and temperature levels for modern marine species, including shellfish, corals and sharks, helped “bridge the gap” to what the model found, Payne said.
“This really would be a terrible, terrible time to be around on the planet,” he added. “It shows us that when the climate and ocean chemistry changes quickly, you can reach a point where species don’t survive. It took millions of years to recover from the Permian event, which is essentially permanent from the perspective of human timescales.”
Over the past century, the modern world has warmed by around 1C due to the release of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, rather than from volcanic eruptions.
Thiswarmingis already causing punishing heatwaves, flooding and wildfires around the world, with scientistswarningthat the temperature rise could reach 3C or more by the end of the century unless there are immediate, radicalreductionsin emissions.
At the same time, Earth’s species are undergoing what some experts have termed the “sixth greatextinction” due to habitat loss, poaching, pollution andclimate change.
“It does terrify me to think we are on a trajectory similar to the Permian because we really don’t want to be on that trajectory,” Payne said. “It doesn’t look like we will warm by around 10C and we haven’t lost that amount of biodiversity yet. But even getting halfway there would be something to be very concerned about. The magnitude of change we are currently experiencing is fairly large.”
Deutsch said: “We are about a 10th of the way to the Permian. Once you get to 3-4C of warming, that’s a significant fraction and life in the ocean is in big trouble, to put it bluntly. There are big implications for humans’ domination of the Earth and its ecosystems.”
Deutsch added that the only way to avoid a mass aquatic die-off in the oceans was to reduce carbon emissions, given there is no viable way to ameliorate the impact of climate change in the oceans using other measures.
The research group “provide convincing evidence that warmer temperatures and associated lower oxygen levels in the ocean are sufficient to explain the observed extinctions we see in the fossil record”, said Pamela Grothe, a paleoclimate scientist at the University of Mary Washington.
“The past holds the key to the future,” she added. “Our current rates of carbon dioxide emissions is instantaneous geologically speaking and we are already seeing warming ocean temperatures and lower oxygen in many regions, currently affecting marine ecosystems.
“If we continue in the trajectory we are on with current emission rates, this study highlights the potential that we may see similar rates of extinction in marine species as in the end of the Permian.”
Three trends will combine to hasten it, warn Yangyang Xu, Veerabhadran Ramanathan and David G. Victor.
Devastating wildfires ravaged California last month. Credit: Gene Blevins/Reuters
Prepare for the “new abnormal”. That was what California Governor Jerry Brown told reporters last month, commenting on the deadly wildfires that have plagued the state this year.
He’s right. California’s latest crisis builds on years of record-breaking droughts and heatwaves.
The rest of the world, too, has had more than its fair share of extreme weather in 2018. TheLancetCountdown on health and climate changeannounced last weekthat 157 million more people were exposed to heatwave events in 2017, compared with 2000.
Such environmental disasters will only intensify. Governments, rightly, want to know what to do. Yet the climate-science community is struggling to offer useful answers.
In October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)released a reportsetting out why we must stop global warming at 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, and how to do so1. It is grim reading. If the planet warms by 2 °C — the widely touted temperature limit in the 2015 Paris climate agreement — twice as many people will face water scarcity than if warming is limited to 1.5 °C. That extra warming will also expose more than 1.5 billion people to deadly heat extremes, and hundreds of millions of individuals to vector-borne diseases such as malaria, among other harms.
But the latest IPCC special report underplays another alarming fact: global warming is accelerating. Three trends — rising emissions, declining air pollution and natural climate cycles — will combine over the next 20 years to make climate change faster and more furious than anticipated. In our view, there’s a good chance that we could breach the 1.5 °C level by 2030, not by 2040 as projected in the special report (see ‘Accelerated warming’). The climate-modelling community has not grappled enough with the rapid changes that policymakers care most about, preferring to focus on longer-term trends and equilibria.
Policymakers have less time to respond than they thought. Governments need to invest even more urgently in schemes that protect homes from floods and fires and help people to manage heat stress (especially older individuals and those living in poverty). Nations need to make their forests and farms more resilient to droughts, and prepare coasts for inundation. Rapid warming will create a greater need for emissions policies that yield the quickest changes in climate, such as controls on soot, methane and hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases. There might even be a case for solar geoengineering — cooling the planet by, for instance, seeding reflective particles in the stratosphere to act as a sunshade.
Climate scientists must supply the evidence policymakers will need and provide assessments for the next 25 years. They should advise policymakers on which climate-warming pollutants to limit first to gain the most climate benefit. They should assess which policies can be enacted most swiftly and successfully in the real world, where political, administrative and economic constraints often make abstract, ‘ideal’ policies impractical.
Speeding freight train
Three lines of evidence suggest that global warming will be faster than projected in the recent IPCC special report.
First, greenhouse-gas emissions are still rising.
In 2017, industrial carbon dioxide emissions are estimated to have reached about 37 gigatonnes.
This puts them on track with the highest emissions trajectory the IPCC has modelled so far.
This dark news means that the next 25 years are poised to warm at a rate of 0.25–0.32 °C per decade. That is faster than the 0.2 °C per decade that we have experienced since the 2000s, and which the IPCC used in its special report.
Second, governments are cleaning up air pollution faster than the IPCC and most climate modellers have assumed.
For example, China reduced sulfur dioxide emissions from its power plants by 7–14% between 2014 and 2016 (ref.).
Mainstream climate models had expected them to rise. Lower pollution is better for crops and public health. But aerosols, including sulfates, nitrates and organic compounds, reflect sunlight. This shield of aerosols has kept the planet cooler, possibly by as much as 0.7 °C globally.
Third, there are signs that the planet might be entering a natural warm phase that could last for a couple of decades. The Pacific Ocean seems to be warming up, in accord with a slow climate cycle known as the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation. This cycle modulates temperatures over the equatorial Pacific and over North America. Similarly, the mixing of deep and surface waters in the Atlantic Ocean (the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation) looks to have weakened since 2004, on the basis of data from drifting floats that probe the deep ocean. Without this mixing, more heat will stay in the atmosphere rather than going into the deep oceans, as it has in the past.
These three forces reinforce each other. We estimate that rising greenhouse-gas emissions, along with declines in air pollution, bring forward the estimated date of 1.5 °C of warming to around 2030, with the 2 °C boundary reached by 2045. These could happen sooner with quicker shedding of air pollutants. Adding in natural decadal fluctuations raises the odds of blasting through 1.5 °C by 2025 to at least 10% (ref.). By comparison, the IPCC assigned probabilities of 17% and 83% for crossing the 1.5 °C mark by 2030 and 2052, respectively.
Scientists and policymakers must rethink their roles, objectives and approaches on four fronts.
Assess science in the near term.Policymakers should ask the IPCC for another special report, this time on the rates of climate change over the next 25 years. The panel should also look beyond the physical science itself and assess the speed at which political systems can respond, taking into account pressures to maintain the status quo from interest groups and bureaucrats. Researchers should improve climate models to describe the next 25 years in more detail, including the latest data on the state of the oceans and atmosphere, as well as natural cycles. They should do more to quantify the odds and impacts of extreme events. The evidence will be hard to muster, but it will be more useful in assessing real climate dangers and responses.
Rethink policy goals.Warming limits, such as the 1.5 °C goal, should be recognized as broad planning tools. Too often they are misconstrued as physical thresholds around which to design policies. The excessive reliance on ‘negative emissions technologies’ (that take up CO2) in the IPCC special report shows that it becomes harder to envision realistic policies the closer the world gets to such limits. It’s easy to bend models on paper, but much harder to implement real policies that work.
Realistic goals should be set based on political and social trade-offs, not just on geophysical parameters. They should come out of analyses of costs, benefits and feasibility. Assessments of these trade-offs must be embedded in the Paris climate process, which needs a stronger compass to guide its evaluations of how realistic policies affect emissions. Better assessment can motivate action but will also be politically controversial: it will highlight gaps between what countries say they will do to control emissions, and what needs to be achieved collectively to limit warming. Information about trade-offs must therefore come from outside the formal intergovernmental process — from national academies of sciences, subnational partnerships and non-governmental organizations.
Design strategies for adaptation.The time for rapid adaptation has arrived. Policymakers need two types of information from scientists to guide their responses. First, they need to know what the potential local impacts will be at the scales of counties to cities. Some of this information could be gleaned by combining fine-resolution climate impact assessments with artificial intelligence for ‘big data’ analyses of weather extremes, health, property damage and other variables. Second, policymakers need to understand uncertainties in the ranges of probable climate impacts and responses. Even regions that are proactive in setting adaptation policies, such as California, lack information about the ever-changing risks of extreme warming, fires and rising seas. Research must be integrated across fields and stakeholders — urban planners, public-health management, agriculture and ecosystem services. Adaptation strategies should be adjustable if impacts unfold differently. More planning and costing is needed around the worst-case outcomes.
Understand options for rapid response.Climate assessments must evaluate quick ways of lessening climate impacts, such as through reducing emissions of methane, soot (or black carbon) and HFCs. Per tonne, these three ‘super pollutants’ have 25 to thousands of times the impact of CO2. Their atmospheric lifetimes are short — in the range of weeks (for soot) to about a decade (for methane and HFCs). Slashing these pollutants would potentially halve the warming trend over the next 25 years.
There has been progress on this front. At the Global Climate Action summit held in September in San Francisco, California, the United States Climate Alliance — a coalition of state governors representing 40% of the US population —issued a road mapto reduce emissions of methane, HFCs and soot by 40–50% by 2030. The2016 Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which will go into force by January 2019, is set to slash HFC emissions by 80% over the next 30 years.
Various climate engineering options should be on the table as an emergency response. If global conditions really deteriorate, we might be forced to extract large volumes of excess CO2 directly from the atmosphere. An even faster emergency response could be toinject aerosols into the atmosphere to lower the amount of solar radiation heating the planet, as air pollution does. This option is hugely controversial, and might have unintended consequences, such as altering rainfall patterns that lead to drying of the tropics. So research and planning are crucial, in case this option is needed. Until there is investment in testing and technical preparedness — today, there is almost none — the chances are high that the wrong kinds of climate-engineering scheme will be deployed by irresponsible parties who are uninformed by research.
For decades, scientists and policymakers have framed the climate-policy debate in a simple way: scientists analyse long-term goals, and policymakers pretend to honour them.
Those days are over.
Serious climate policy must focus more on the near-term and on feasibility.
It must consider the full range of options, even though some are uncomfortable and freighted with risk.