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Climate Change: All Talk No Action

Awareness of climate change and the interconnected environmental crisis is growing throughout the world. Protest movements led by Extinction Rebellion and School Strike for Climate increase in number and scope, demands for action are repeated, louder and louder, anger and anxiety mounts. And yet politicians and corporations, complacent, trapped by outdated ideology and motivated by short term self-interest, respond inadequately if at all.

World leaders, “talk too much and…listen too little” – the UN Secretary General, António Guterres at the Youth Climate Summit in September. In a candid address he related that, “things [concerning climate change] are getting worse. The worst forecasts that were made are being proven wrong, not because they were too dramatic, but because they were not dramatic enough…we are still losing the race … climate change is still running faster than what we are.” Thus resulting in unprecedented heat waves, record-breaking wildfires, declining sea ice and glaciers (parts of the Arctic are warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet), cyclones, floods and drought.

The way of life in rich developed nations – i.e., those that caused the environmental problem in the first place – and (given the development model forced on them by western institutions) to a much smaller but growing degree in developing countries, is based on greed and limitless consumption. It is completely unsustainable, has poisoned the planet and promoted a set of self-supporting negative values that lie at the root of a range of social ills.

If the planet is to be healed and social harmony inculcated it cannot continue. Growing numbers of people around the world recognize this fact, but the Men and Women of Power, whether political or business, and the two are bedmates, fail to accept that it has to end and do all they can to manipulate dying forms and resist change. They fear that if real change were embraced and sustainable, just and healthy modes of living introduced, they would make less profit and lose power. And money and power – two more bedmates – have become all-important in our societies: government policies are dominated by them. Lives, landscapes, oceans, rivers, ecosystems, the air we breathe, all are sacrificed in the pursuit of these hollow totems.

Broken pledges and failing targets

In October 2018 the The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published Global Warming 1.5C. The report makes clear that restricting the increase in global ground temperatures to 1.5C (as agreed at the pivotal 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference) would require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” Resulting in “clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems … ensuring a more sustainable and equitable society.” The years between 2015 and 2019 have been the warmest of any equivalent period on record and have moved global warming towards 1.1C (above pre-industrial levels). Without urgent action it’s widely accepted that we will reach 1.5 °C by 2030. The consequences of which, the IPCC says, are much worse than previously predicted.

The ‘nightmarish tale’ would see “warming of extreme temperatures in many regions, increases in frequency, intensity and/or amount of heavy precipitation in several regions, and an increase in intensity or frequency of droughts in some regions.” Sea levels according to Carbon Brief would rise by a colossal 48cm by 2100, almost 300 million people would be exposed to water scarcity, cyclones would increase, and, among a lot of other chilling impacts, close to 30 million people living in coastal areas flooded by 2055.

This is a sketch of the 1.5C scenario, the agreed global target; if warming is higher the consequences are more severe. It is a target most nations are not on track to meet. At the UN Summit, Secretary General Guterres said that countries (major polluters) need to cut emissions by 45% by 2030, end fossil fuel subsidies, ban new coal plants after 2020 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Since Paris, governments around the world have made various non-binding pledges and established honorable targets to lower greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE). Most of which are then ignored. As a result the prospect of achieving the targets they themselves have set remain non-existent, and in most cases, the targets themselves are totally inadequate if we want to preserve life and maintain a viable living planet.

Before the Climate Summit in September a report was published by United in Science (backed by the UN Environment Programme and the IPCC), which finds that “commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions must be at least tripled and increased by up to fivefold if the world is to meet the goals” of the Paris Agreement. Coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization the report says that if current plans continue, by 2100 the rise in average global temperatures would be between 2.9C and 3.4C.

One would imagine that such a forecast would make governments, who are very much aware of them, wake up, but immersed in complacency and arrogance most at least simply ignore such information and carry on regardless. The Climate Action Tracker (CAT) is an independent scientific analysis body that monitors the climate action of governments around the world and measures this against the Paris Agreement (holding warming well below 2°C, and pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C).

Among other things CAT assesses whether countries are likely to meet their emission targets and estimates likely global temperature increases based on current policies. The observations are truly shocking: Where they exist at all, plans by the USA (Trump has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, weakened environmental legislation and is supporting the fossil fuel industry), Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are described as ‘critically insufficient’ i.e., these countries are doing virtually nothing. Measures taken by China, Japan and a list of other nations are termed ‘highly insufficient’, steps introduced by the EU, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway and five more are ‘insufficient’ (to meet the target of 1.5). Perhaps surprisingly India, which is emerging as a global leader in renewable energy, is among those countries regarded as having taken ‘sufficient’ steps, but ‘sufficient’ towards meeting 2C – not 1.5. According to CAT only Morocco and The Gambia are on track to meet its targets.

If warming is to be limited to 1.5C there needs to be drastic cuts made in the use of fossil fuels. This means withdrawing funding to fossil fuel companies, leaving the oil and coal in the ground and heavily investing in renewable energy sources, which, BP reports, currently amount to a mere 9.3% of global electricity generation.

However, consistent with the Profit At All Costs doctrine, a report (Banking on Climate Change) from a coalition of environmental groups, reveals that since the Paris Agreement, “33 global banks have provided $1.9 trillion to fossil fuel companies [and] the amount of financing has risen in each of the past two years.” The big U.S. banks dominate, JPMorgan Chase coming out as the world’s top fossil fuel funder, “by a wide margin.” Royal Bank of Canada, Barclays in the UK and Bank of China are all funding the polluters.

The IPCC report outlines broad recommendations of what needs to happen in order to meet, or attempt to meet the 1.5 target: “transformative systemic change, integrated with sustainable development,” are two crucial elements that stand out. Operating within the existing structures and ideologies, governments and corporations have consistently shown that they will not act within the required time frame. Some, as the CAT data reveals, appear reluctant to act at all, while others are acting in contradictory, hypocritical ways by making pledges to drastically cut emissions while investing in fossil fuels.

Fundamental changes to the socio-economic system is urgently required; competition, national self-interest and the profit motive have to be curtailed, cooperation and unity cultivated. Man-made climate change observes no borders, it is a global catastrophe, and, as has been repeatedly said but consistently ignored, it demands a unified, coordinated global response.

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Graham Peebles is a British freelance writer and charity worker. He set up The Create Trust in 2005 and has run education projects in Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and India. 

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