If you can't face reading the whole thing here is a short summary:
- There will be a UN meeting next year called COP21 where the world's heads of state will make a 'universal agreement on climate'
- In the run up to this world defining meeting, the leaders of every country need to feel intense public pressure to ensure that COP21 results in an effective and decisive global agreement.
- Climate Change and the reduction of CO2 emissions need to be brought out of the political sidelines and onto centre stage.
- In the UK you can help to achieve this
• By joining the People's Climate March tomorrow (September 21) in London, Manchester, Edinburgh or Bristol.
• By supporting Grow Heathrow in their fight against an expansion of UK aviation.
• By questioning the environmental policies of any candidates you may consider voting for in May 2015.
In November and December 2015 Paris will host a Climate Change Conference called the UNFCCC COP 21/ CMP 11. (reference 1 below)
As often happens in politics, a vital and historic event is hidden behind a boring and unpronounceable acronym. The conference (known as COP21 for short) has this stated aim:
"By the end of the meeting, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, all the nations of the world, including the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, will be bound by a universal agreement on climate." (2)
That's right. Next year our world leaders are going to try to save the world. Isn't that a relief?
In advance of COP21 numerous reports are appearing that lay out the science behind man-made climate change; the potential effects of rising global temperatures; and the measures that governments can take to stop the looming climate catastrophe. Representing scientists and economists from across the globe, these reports paint a black view of where we are now, call for urgent action, and spell out actual workable plans for reducing our effects on the climate (3). (If you are still unconvinced by the idea of man made climate change, and the need to reduce our CO2 emissions, take an afternoon off to look through the resources below. There are plenty more where they came from.
Next Tuesday (Sep 23) the UN climate conference in New York (4), will receive a report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate Change (GCECC), stating that lowering greenhouse emissions can actually help a country's economy, and the global economy, and arguing that it is in everybody's interest for the richer, more developed countries to provide financial assistance to developing countries for investment in sustainable infrastructure (5).
"The world is expected to add billions of people to the global population in the next two decades, and trillions of dollars in economic growth – but if the massive expected growth of developing world cities is poorly managed, and global investment is poured into existing high-carbon infrastructure, then a unique opportunity to change the pattern of prosperity will have been lost, and billions of people will be left the poorer as a result" (6)
Next week's New York conference is intended to act as a preliminary meeting point where world leaders can lay the diplomatic groundwork for the lasting agreements that need to be made next year at COP21.
So, good news all round then yes? There is now a clear international scientific consensus that the climate is changing due to CO2 emissions and that this problem requires urgent and decisive action by the political powers across the globe. At COP21 next year, leaders will agree to a shared plan and sign up to a commitment to reduce carbon emissions. Clear roadmaps have been laid out for the heads of state allowing humanity to globally reduce our CO2 emissions while still growing our economies. All that is needed is some long term thinking and the political will to act fast and decisively.
We seem to have been here before.
Lord Stern (one of the 24 co-authors of the GCECC report) released his Stern Review (7) in 2006 which said much the same thing as the one due out on Tuesday (climate change is a reality, we must act fast, there are real solutions). COP15 was held in Copenhagen 2009 with similar aims to COP21 and just as much urgency (8).
COP15 was a week of international arguments, in-fighting and disagreement which resulted in a decision to 'take note of' a political (not legally binding) agreement drawn up by a small group of heads of state. The conference is usually found next to the word 'chaos' in newspaper articles. The official summary of COP15 from the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions gives a sense of the atmosphere in Copenhagen:
"A new draft political agreement finally tabled late in the first week was roundly rejected by developed countries. Attempts to break the impasse by referring core issues to smaller groups of countries, rather than continuing to negotiate all issues with all parties, were repeatedly rebuffed by many developing countries, who insisted on full “transparency” and “inclusiveness.”
Those issues continued to dominate in a bitter closing debate as Venezuela, Sudan, Nicaragua, Bolivia and a few others fought to block the leaders’ agreement because most parties were outside the room when it was negotiated. Venezuela declared the agreement a “coup d’etat against the United Nations,” and Sudan likened its effects on poor nations to those of the Holocaust, prompting a round of angry demands that the comment be withdrawn." (9)
In an attempt to look at things positively the BBC reported what had been achieved by COP15. The achievements break down to: COP15 got everyone in the room together to discuss climate issues and raised public awareness of the urgent need for decisive action on climate change. (10)
Commence sarcastic slow hand clap.
As a little individual staring out at the clamouring chaos of international politics, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless. Subject to that familiar urge to hide under the bed and hope that someone else is dealing with things.
But the urgent issues of climate change and CO2 emissions are everybody's business. And closing our eyes won't make it go away.
What we can do is try to put pressure on our national leaders to act and to consider the future of humanity on this planet when debating local and national projects. We need to make it clear that climate change action is a priority for all of us and to ensure that our leaders arrive at COP21 next year with a strong mandate to push for decisive action.
As a first step, there will be global public protests running tomorrow (Sunday September 21st). The People's Climate March will be an opportunity for populations around the word to stand together and demand action on climate change. The rally in New York is gearing up to be a huge event and hundreds of sister protests internationally will run alongside it. (11)
The leader of the UN Ban Ki-Moon has announced that he will be joining the People's Climate March in Manhatten on Sunday. He gave this explanation:
“Action on climate change is urgent. The more we delay, the more we will pay in lives and in money." (12)
Maybe, the memories of COP15 has driven him to hope that public pressure can force the state leaders to approach this round of meetings with a new, as yet unseen, determination to forge real agreements.
A 50 minute film has been released in the lead up to the People's Climate March eloquently arguing for the need to protest for the future of the earth and humanity's place on it. (13)
There will be a People's Climate March in London tomorrow, meeting at 12.30 at Temple Place (embankment) and there are other rallies planned for Bristol, Manchester, Edinburgh and more (14). With the general election approaching in May 2015, now is a perfect moment for the British people to remind our political leaders that we are watching, and we don't want to hide from the issue of climate change any more.
There are other important focus points for raising the volume of public debate around climate issues. In the village of Sipson a group of environmental activists have built a sustainable community on one of the proposed sites for Heathrow's controversial expansion (15). The long running argument about Heathrow's third runway has been a political hot potato for some time. The last Labour government gave Heathrow a green light to build a third runway despite several high ranking Labour MPs including Ed Miliband, expressing deep hostility to the plans:
"While Miliband was a minister in the last Labour government that approved plans for a third runway, his concerns were well established. At one point he threatened to resign as energy secretary if Heathrow was granted a third runway, citing the effect on carbon emissions, and as leader he ruled out the party standing by its former policy after the coalition scrapped the runway in 2010." (16)
The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have both come out publicly against Heathrow's third runway in the past, but the debates between the major parties all start with the principal that the UK needs to expand her aviation provision in order to continue competing economically on the global scale. The issues under discussion concern the 'where, when and how' rather than the wider issue of reducing greenhouse emissions.
In the lead up to next May's general election the three main parties have all become very vague on their aviation expansion policy. They avoid endorsing specific airport expansion plans through fear of the local backlash in the affected areas and they avoid the more contentious issue that any airport expansion is incompatible with a commitment to cut C02.
As a house of commons select committee warned in 2006:
"Under DfT's "best case" projections, then, aviation will grow from around 5% of the UK's carbon emissions today to 24% in 2050 (in neither case counting radiative forcing, which would increase these proportions). In other words, even under the Government's own and most optimistic projections, every other sector of the economy would have to cut its share of UK emissions, while that of aviation would be assisted to almost quintuple... If the Government continues in its policy of allowing just this one industry to grow, it will either cause severe pain to all other sectors or provoke so much opposition as to fatally undermine its 2050 target. If their joint PSA target is to mean anything, the Department for Transport must work with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to construct a new approach to aviation which constrains its future growth." (17)
Despite the clear warnings of the terrible impact that a growing aviation industry would have on the UK's CO2 emission levels, it is still too easy to label anyone arguing against such a destructive and polluting plan as 'anti-business' a toxic label that politicians will flee from like cats from a hoover. With a powerful business lobby on one side of them screaming that the UK will die an economic death without a massive increase in UK aviation it is vital that our politicians feel propped up on the other side by strong popular support for building a cleaner, more sustainable future.
The Grow Heathrow squatters are on the front line of this battle. They articulate an urgent need to care more for our land and to put the rights of future generations to live in an inhabitable world, over destructive short term business interests. Often they seem to be standing alone, like the only green MP in parliament, a single voice calling for sanity over the embarrassing hubbub of Britain's political infighting.
Since August 15th, Grow Heathrow has been living under the threat of eviction. The bailiffs could arrive at any time and when they do, they should be resisted by large numbers of people coming to the site in solidarity and support. Supporting this project is an effective way for the public to push the political debate around UK aviation into the realms of global scientific reality. Grow Heathrow is keeping a phone tree which will enable people to mobilise quickly when the eviction threat manifests, they are also running a series of activities throughout September and October to get more people down to the site to support their work there. For more info see the website. (18)
As well as physically coming out in mass public protests and supporting the actions of environmental activists in specific battles, we can also act as voters. Write to your MP, interrogate potential 2015 candidates about their policies on climate change and aviation expansion.
It is time for the urgent issue of Climate Change and CO2 emissions to come to centre stage.
The time to act is now.
Photos taken by me at Grow Heaathrow September 2014
1 - More about the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC): http://newsroom.unfccc.int/about/
2 - http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/french-foreign-policy-1/sustainable-development-1097/21st-conference-of-the-parties-on/
3 - Recent Climate Change reports:
IPCC reports commissioned by the UN in advance of the 2015 conference: http://www.ipcc.ch/
September 2014 Press Release from the World Meteorological Organization: https://www.wmo.int/pages/mediacentre/press_releases/pr_1002_en.html
4 - http://www.un.org/climatechange/summit/
5 - http://newclimateeconomy.net/content/aims-and-rationale
6 - http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/16/climate-change-report-damage-overhaul-global-economy
7 - stern review: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http:/www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/independent_reviews/stern_review_economics_climate_change/stern_review_report.cfm
8 - Juice Media COP15: http://youtu.be/KBzR0-j0O0o
9 - http://www.c2es.org/international/negotiations/cop-15/summary
10 - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8424522.stm
11 - NY - http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/09/biggest-climate-change-demonstration-ever-un-new-york
Global - http://peoplesclimate.org/global/
12 - http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/17/ban-ki-moon-climate-change-march
13 - film - http://watchdisruption.com/
14 - http://www.campaigncc.org/climatemarchlondon
Bristol - http://www.avaaz.org/en/event/climate/Bristol_Peoples_Climate_March/
15 - http://www.transitionheathrow.com/grow-heathrow/
16 - http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/dec/12/labour-dismisses-third-runway-uturn
17 - Select Committee on Environmental Audit Ninth Report, House of Commons 2006 - http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmselect/cmenvaud/981/98108.htm
18 - http://www.transitionheathrow.com/2014/09/grow-heathrow-are-recruiting/