Path to and beyond COP26 : why it’s important and what needs to happen Pt II

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Time to shift power relations


In my last post, I looked at why COP26 is important for our climate future. Nonetheless, global efforts will mean nothing if not everyone has a seat at the table. In that respect, the fourth goal of COP26 ‘Working Together’, cannot simply be an empty symbolic gesture or conflated lip service to include marginalised groups in negotiations, it will have to be followed by key historical political commitments to shift the balance of power in climate policy and action. If COP26 becomes another cog in the machine of neoliberal climate diplomacy nothing will change. The first responses must be systemic and structural. All paths forward will rely on wholesale systemic change.


More power to historically excluded groups


The reality is that G20 countries are responsible for 80 percent of all climate emissions. The neoliberal approach to climate change and sustainability has not worked so far. Historic development policies have led the world into this rabbit hole of unequal consequences that have inflamed a climatic response to emissions output, linked to the rise and domination of fossil fuels.


Global international development has been somewhat of a sheep in wolf’s clothing. On the one hand promising to bring every society to the same standards of development of the West, and on the other allowing countries in the Global North to pillage the natural resources of those in the Global South, which has resulted in more economic injustices that letting those societies ‘develop’ on their own terms.

This historic and accepted practice of richer nations raping the earth in poorer nations to augment and continue wealth accumulation in the name of ‘economic growth’ has shown to be a major (if not the worst) culprit in the climate disaster. The extraction, exploitation and exportation of natural resources – not only fossil fuels, but also large-scale water, wood, cement, sand and other natural resources – has hands down been the biggest contributor of climate change according to the science. The intention, however, is linear: take from resource rich, economically poor countries and give to economically rich countries who are resource-intense users. This has to change, but it cannot unless those who have been on the receiving end of its consequences have a privileged seat at the table.


The mainstream notion of Sustainable Development recognises that changes must be made, that we must move away from a fossil fuel economy, but the structures and systems that keep power in place are still rampant. In that respect, if real transformative change is to be achieved post-COP26, it is acceptable to ask: is this the end of Sustainable Development (as we know it)?


Genuine, transformative and effective solutions will require more voices at the table. This means that the way we have known and practiced ‘development’ around the world will need to change to become more inclusive, more equitable, and consequently less taxing on the environment.


A balance of power towards the groups that have historically been excluded (especially Indigenous, traditional communities, and women) or had their voices ‘white-washed’ in climate negotiations to include more socially and ecologically just approaches or even alternatives to Sustainable ‘Development’ will be an unequivocal factor in finding effective solutions going forward. Strengthening the trust between people and global diplomatic actions can be achieved by this inclusivity, as can maintaining an element of hope.


By decolonising knowledge and approaches to how we interact with the environment, we have the potential to find sustainable solutions and trans formatively change the way society views its role in nature from one that has a right to dominate and exploit nature for the satisfaction of human desires, to one that sees its own wellbeing as impacted by the health of the environment and as such seeks to act as a caretaker of environmental rights and wellbeing.

This decolonisation includes centring valuable intelligence from Indigenous peoples, women, and people of colour (who are generally on the margins of knowledge in policy, but who have a historical record of being at the centre of environmental impacts, otherwise called intersectional environmentalism) in policy and decision-making for climate change and environmental management. Indigenous peoples in particular have not only innovation solutions that focus on collective outcomes, but have unique knowledge of the land and how to live in harmony with nature.


The use and exploitation of fossil fuels are a primary driver, that is sure and scientifically proven, but other extractive sectors have a gigantic responsibility in pushing us into a climate emergency. These industries prop up the consumerist society and support throw-away cultures that have a growing disconnect between spontaneous, self-indulgent or convenient whims, the natural source of the product and how it ultimately impacts the earth – think of the dire state of water and food (in)security, and the global impacts of deforestation on air quality, biodiversity and climatic events.


Indigenous peoples in particular know that all interactions with the environment have an equal or greater reaction on humans, and so the capitalist level exploitation of (note: not use of) all natural resources must be curbed significantly. In concepts like Buen Vivir, Indigenous knowledge also interacts and cooperates with other knowledge such as Western technical knowledge to co-create solutions that pursue the same goal.


I will say it again, this inclusivity cannot be a mere symbolic gest. The Indigenous groups who have and will be travelling to Glasgow are expecting to be heard, and to have their concerns and solutions included and highlighted in negotiations. At this point in history, we have more to lose than to gain by continuing down the dominant path to climate action.


More power to let people lead change


People in societies everywhere are bound by their own access to power within political systems that may or may not support community-led processes. Where vital progress will be made is where governments, both national and local, create the structures and systems for allowing communities not only to become involved in decision-making, but also in leading the decisions around their local environments and communities.


For many communities this will take not just political will, but educational and advocacy campaigns to get people involved in scenarios where they have traditionally let people in power lead the charge. Still, it starts with political will and systemic change. In frameworks like Buen Vivir this might look like local governments prioritising a cross-section of different community voices to be key decisionmakers, driven by Indigenous knowledge. This can be played out in participatory budgeting models and peoples’ assemblies. The point is people are at the core of climate action and should be prioritised as such.


So, to summarise, while COP26 will be a pivotal moment in climate diplomacy for the future of our planet, it must be accompanied by a decolonisation of knowledge to allow and prioritise other voices and knowledge in solutions going forward. Transformative change will be closer if we do so, but this will also need to be accompanied by a change in the global economic system. Some say it is already underway, other say not anywhere near as radical or as fast as it needs to be. I will discuss this in the final post of this series on COP26.

Further reading:

COP26 Coalition Global Day of Action and People’s Summit
Systems Change Alliance
UNFCC Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples’ Platform
IPCC Report and Indigenous Solutions
COP26 and Indigenous Leadership

The Path to and Beyond COP26: Why its Important and what needs to Happen

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

Part I – Time for planet altering commitments

We are in the lead up to the most pivotal climate conference in history, from which the outcomes have the potential to either send us full throttle towards climate breakdown and biodiversity loss well beyond 2 degrees warming, or provide us with the last exit – one last chance to redeem humanity’s future and limit warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“We can either save our world or condemn humanity to a hellish future.”

António Guterres

The pressure on our global leaders from civil society to achieve the latter has never been so high. An overwhelming number of people around the world have listened to the climate science and now want those in power to act with urgency and resolve, rather than continue the conflated lip service we have heard from environmental negotiations over the past three decades.

What is COP26 and why is it important ?

The planet has already warmed by 1.1 degree since the beginning of the industrial revolution and the jury is out as to whether the 1.5 goal is still possible. In July this year global surface temperatures were the highest since records began in 1880. The IPCC 6th Assessment Report released in August found that global warming and sea level rise is happening much faster than scientists originally predicted.

Source: United in Science 2021

Between 2019-21, we have witnessed an unprecedented number of extreme weather events around the globe. Instead of decreasing, CO2 emissions have reached historical levels in May 2021 at 419 parts per million. These figures only make it more crucial that we try everything within the realm of possibility to avert climate catastrophe. There are thus unprecedented expectations of the November conference.

In the lead up to COP26 there have been a number of key climate discussions at a multilateral level. In July, the G20 debated (albeit divisibly) the need for stronger climate action. In August, the UN General Assembly kicked off its 76th session with an assessment of the Sustainable Development Goals.

As host, the UK has mapped out four main goals for COP26, which include :

  1. Securing global net zero by mid-century and keeping warming to below 1.5 degrees by : phasing out coal, preventing deforestation, switching to electric vehicles, and proliferating renewables.
  2. Increasing focus on adaptation to protect communities and habitats.
  3. Mobilising $100 billion of climate finance to developing countries, which has fallen below the previous pledges.
  4. Working together to deliver key commitments by accelerating collaboration and finalising the Paris Rulebook (how countries implement the commitments of the Paris Agreement, namely through Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs).

Thanks to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Australia is reinforcing its role as the climate villain of COP26 for lack of commitments for robust action. Not only does Australia not have a NDC, missing the 31 July deadline set out in the Paris Agreement ; but Morrison has tried to convince the UK to scale back key climate commitments in the bilateral trade agreement, and suggested he might not attend the November meeting. As it stands, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warns that current NDCs will lead to a “catastrophic” rise of 2.7 degrees. This will imminently lead to rapid climate breakdown.

Why COP26 is not everything

The reality is that since global governance on curbing carbon and other atmospheric emissions began all those decades ago, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere has not decreased, but increased 40%. While we need strong governance and genuine policy commitments in place on a multilateral scale, we also need national governance that reflects the climate crisis, community-level cooperation to lead effective change on a daily basis, corporate buy-in to make transformation possible through technology and innovation, and organisations to act as mediators between these actors and call out agenda pushing.

The COP26 goal of ‘Working together’ must be a genuine commitment to including a wider range of voices at the table. In that respect, the (im)balance of power that has led climate action to date needs to change. I’ll explore what that might involve in part II.

The ‘Transformative’ SDG Moment for Rethinking Sustainability

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The 76th UN General Assembly has kicked off this week with the ‘SDG Moment’- a call to renew momentum for the SDGs, but the COVID-19 pandemic has had profound impacts on how governments manage global social and environmental policies. It’s clear that an approach that promotes universal growth-oriented Goals is simply outdated.


Several scholars and experts have called for the need to revise the SDGs for a post-COVID world – one which will be profoundly different to the world in which the SDGs were designed.


Transformation often happens through crisis, and right now the entire planet is living a climate crisis, a social crisis, and a health crisis. This tells us that business-as-usual will not suffice to overcome the challenges we are living right now. To achieve environmental and social ‘transformation’ the SDGs will need recalibrating to include a contextual, community-led, and wellbeing-oriented alternatives that embraces holistic visions of wellbeing.


The SDGs call for ‘transformation’, yet as a perpetuation of the idea of mainstream development, they are doomed to fail if we do not abandon the people-above-nature-growth-above-all-else mindset and align 17 Goals with community-based, grassroots, alternative approaches. The way the SDGs have been conceived is simply not feasible, realistic, sustainable nor attainable.
Opening the 76th session, the President of UNGA 76, Abdulla Shahid of the Maldives, said we need a “new narrative” for the SDGs. The UN itself has admitted that “to get the SDGs back on track and prevent the worst impacts of climate change, a profound shift in economies and societies everywhere, is now needed.”


Our Common Agenda” contains 12 points for action, agreed on by member states.

Member states concluded that our challenges are interconnected and can only be addressed through reinvigorated multilateralism with the United Nations at the centre of our efforts. While collective action is crucial, especially with crises like climate change and COVID-19 that transcend national boundaries, it is equally vital that this high-level multilateralism better incorporates community-led action and capacity for transformative change.


One way to do so is to reprioritise five fundamental dimensions: people, planet, peace, prosperity, and partnership to ensure that ‘people’ refers to shifting power to allow for bottom-up approaches to environmental and social change. It is also imperative in that respect that the five dimensions do not perpetuate the anthropocentric vision that has dominated global sustainable development approaches so far, and that it reintegrates ‘planet’ to include people as part of nature, not a dominant force upon it. By shifting the power from a universal approach to the SDGs to proliferating plural community-led approaches, we incorporate the aspect of ‘partnership’ to achieving change. Here, the keywords are connection, reciprocity, and plurality.


What is needed is a framework that appeals to both the SDGs calls for ‘transformation’, as well as for a more citizen-empowered approach to achieving sustainability by aligning the global Goals with a local, community-led and biocentric approach to social and environmental wellbeing: the Latin American framework for Buen Vivir.


In my book, I discuss how Buen Vivir can allow governments to rethink the way they approach sustainability and align the global goals with contextually-appropriate community-focussed action. You can find a copy of my book here. The chapter titled “Rethinking Sustainability: Making the Global Align with the Local” is available for download on the SDG Online portal.

Howarth (2012) argued, “A sustainable future will emerge if we build institutions that, on a practical level, sustain the natural environment and the social and technological conditions that will empower future generations to define and pursue their own conception of the good life”. Buen Vivir will require rethinking sustainability, in particular the SDGs as a plural albeit community-led approach, requiring cooperation from local, national and global actors for rapid and genuine transformation.

The IPCC Report on Climate Change: What you can do

What’s the Issue?

In this part II of my post on the IPCC report I’d like to look at the positive aspects of the report – that is, the ways we can help limit global warming below at least 2°C by a wholesale change in behaviours, attitudes, practices, and a mindset that is better coupled to the human-nature connection. A decoupling of this connection is what has ultimately led to the changes found in the report including a 1.1°C temperature rise since 1850-1900 from CO2 emissions.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the inactions of governments on climate change, which can lead to eco-paralysis and the inability to act, so in this post I’d like to focus on what individuals and communities can do and the power we have to drive change. I’m not saying that individuals are wholly responsible for slowing climate change, but I am saying that everyone has a part to play.

Climate change is an ecological, scientific and technological issue; but it is also a social, political and cultural one, and tackling it will involve social, political and cultural changes that need Joe Bloggs as much as the highest levels of government.

Let’s stay solutions-focussed!

This will mean looking to alternative ways of limiting our impacts on the environment, which will include changing attitudes, mindsets, behaviours and practices.

The most detrimental “solution” is the one that believes that we can tackle the changes needed using the same tools we have always used.

We can change behaviours and attitudes about our place on the planet by recalibrating our understandings of our connection to nature. Humans are part of nature, not superior to it. Indigenous knowledges of the role of nature in human society and vice-versa were instrumental in the ways in which people lived for millennia before industrial activities. In recent times, activists and policymakers alike have pointed to the need to return to Indigenous knowledge in environmental management and social policies.

Ideas like Buen Vivir (among similar traditional and Indigenous concepts and philosophies) recentre Indigenous approaches to the environment and community, thereby making them potential solutions for changing the way we live and organise society, globally. By changing this aspect of society, not only in how we act and the choices we make on a daily basis, but also in the policies that governments adopt, we can lessen our usage of natural resources and thus impacts on the natural environment.

However, we have one big global problem: political inaction. So rather than waiting for policies to change, we can start to do our part in slowing the changes to climate. How? It starts with a change in the way we think, followed by a change in the way we live.

The Indigenous Kichwa Peoples of the Andes in South America call this change in mindset and practices Vivir Bien.  If you’re familiar with Buen Vivir, you will know that Buen Vivir is the big picture idea of what sustainability and wellbeing should look like. It involves not only environmental sustainability, but also the social wellbeing of communities (not just competitive individuals), which in many ways is connected to the ways we value the environment. So, environmental and social wellbeing are inherently connected to each other in an idea I call Socio-Eco Wellbeing.

Vivir Bien is the same idea, based on the same principles as Buen Vivir, only it is described as how it manifests in daily living. The full matrix of principles can be found in my book. There are many examples on the internet about daily actions individuals can take to tackle climate change such as:

  • contacting leaders
  • adopting a climate friendly diet
  • limiting our resource use
  • switching to renewable sources where possible
  • consuming less, and
  • using your vote wisely.

These are great micro ideas that make important changes, but they also need to be backed up with the right mindset. That is, a switch to communal thinking and away from individualism, and; a consideration of the reciprocal human-nature connection in every action and decision taken. This also calls for macro ‘big picture’ thinking.

Here is an excerpt from my book on some of the (non-exhaustive) ways in which communities can implement the principles in their daily lives:

•• Adopting a reciprocal approach to our relationship with nature;

•• Public participation and enabling decision-making in a manner that honours

that reciprocity;

•• Fostering solidarity and harmony through an environment of community;

•• Ensuring equity in participation in public decision-making;

•• Manifesting a responsibility to participate in decision-making;

•• Educating future generations;

•• Participating in economic life;

•• Understanding their fundamental rights and responsibilities, including those

of the environment;

•• Exercising those rights;

•• Promoting and protecting cultural values and practices;

•• Valuing the role of health in a community.

Adding to that is the reducing consumerism and the material vision of the environment as a commodity – a consequence of adopting a reciprocal relationship to nature in our decision-making and behaviours.

These changes combined can help empower individuals and communities to do their part in limiting environmental impacts and therefore slowing climate change. Inevitably, the changes flow up.

In the words of the Dalai Lama, “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”

More reading:

Buen Vivir as an Alternative to Sustainable Development: Lessons from Ecuador, Routledge, 2020

How to Live the Good Life, Sustain the Mag

The IPCC Report on Climate Change: Facts & Scenarios – Part I

What’s the Issue?

Welcome to my second post of ‘What’s the Issue’. This post looks at the long-awaited IPCC Sixth Assessment Report on Climate Change and will be in two parts: first I will outline the main findings of the report, its facts, and scientific bases for climate change.

The report details some sombre conclusions. “This report is a reality check,” said IPCC Working Group I Co-Chair Valérie Masson-Delmotte. “We now have a much clearer picture of the past, present and future climate, which is essential for understanding where we are headed, what can be done, and how we can prepare.”

This can leave us all a little disillusioned about the future of our planet, so part II will focus on the positive aspects of the report and notwithstanding changes in policy, look at ways we can all help slow the changing of our climate.

Let’s get into the facts…

In my last post I explained a little of the background of the report and what we might expect from this Sixth Assessment on Climate Change – the physical basis. Climate change and sustainability experts were not expecting good news from this report, and while the findings are somewhat unsurprising, they are a sobering account of the state of our planet. The report findings combine “multiple lines of evidence from paleoclimate, observations, process understanding, and global and regional climate simulations”, and is the most comprehensive study on climate change yet.

The IPCC has affirmed that human activities are responsible for climate change, with the main driver being CO2 emissions. “Each of the last four decades has been successively warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850.” Global surface temperatures in the first two decades of the 21st century (2001-2020) was 1.1°C warmer than 1850-1900. If we average this trend over the next 20 years, we will exceed 1.5°C warming, or even 2°C by the end of the century.

Importantly though, global surface temperatures will continue to increase to at least mid-century under all scenarios.

There will be no cherry-picking. Every region on earth will be affected. This concerns us all from all corners of the globe, and as we know that climate change is emmeshed with social justice the outcomes for the world’s most vulnerable are looking dire. We only need look at the news this week and see the devastation occurring in Haiti with a 7.2 magnitude earthquake and awaiting tropical storm Grace with all its fury.

On the current trajectory, the outcomes will be unthinkable. We are already seeing the extreme changes in weather patterns around the world, and in the coming few decades there will be multiple climatic changes which will intensify with further warming scenarios. We will see:

  • harsh changes in urban climates
  • intense wetness and drought with affected rainfall patterns
  • already occurring sea-level rise leading to more severe flooding in low-lying regions, and increased coastal erosion
  • amplified changes to and melting of snow, ice and permafrost
  • more marine heatwaves, ocean acidification and reduced oxygen levels acutely affecting ocean ecosystems.

With higher global ocean and land temperatures, both ocean and carbon sinks will be less effective at slowing the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere – driving further acute changes to climate.

Despite this, there is some hope if we enact immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in CO2 emissions and other GHG emissions globally. The most positive conclusion from the IPCC is that strong and sustained reductions in CO2 would limit climate change and give us a chance to slow warming. With radical wholesale transformation of our political, economic and social systems this could be below 1.5°; however more realistically if we see immediate drastic global reductions in emissions, we could limit warming to below 2°. This means 1.5° is almost certainly locked in.

The news is not good. But we can turn it around!

To even remotely have the chance of achieving these reductions governments globally must take multiple paths to reducing emissions, in global concertation with business, and citizens. A post-extractive economy is most certainly a necessity – that means an end to fossil fuels as the mains source of energy, but also changing the economic system to limit the exploitation and exportation of natural resources (especially from the Global South) for economic growth and wealth accumulation. COP26 in November will be a momentous opportunity for world leaders to leverage on this report for change.

Technology will play an important role in lowering industrial and consumer emissions, but it will not be a silver bullet. The way governments understand and “do” development must change. The argument for relying on extractivist policies heavily based on fossil fuels to raise global development expectations to a universal Westernised standard is redundant. The problem is not just fossil fuels, but all capitalist levels of extractivism of natural resources.

In light of the work that needs to be done there is a strong impetus on looking beyond ‘development’ and ‘sustainable development’ to other decolonised ideas about how we can better approach the transformation needed to slow climate change and its impacts.

We need to ask ourselves and our leaders: is the idea of development now redundant? And, be prepared for hard truths.

The future needs all-hands-on-deck, not just a motivated few. Behavioural change in the world’s most consumerist societies will help us avoid the worst case scenario, as will a realisation of the consequences our disconnection from nature is having on the natural world. Most of all, a positive future needs people everywhere, everyday doing what they can. The next part of this post looks at what that might look like.

Sources:

www.ipcc.ch

Full report

IPCC, 2021: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, A. Pirani, S. L. Connors, C. Péan, S. Berger, N. Caud, Y. Chen, L. Goldfarb, M. I. Gomis, M. Huang, K. Leitzell, E. Lonnoy, J. B. R. Matthews, T. K. Maycock, T. Waterfield, O. Yelekçi, R. Yu and B. Zhou (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press.

Summary for Policymakers

IPCC, 2021: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [MassonDelmotte, V., P. Zhai, A. Pirani, S. L. Connors, C. Péan, S. Berger, N. Caud, Y. Chen, L. Goldfarb, M. I. Gomis, M. Huang, K. Leitzell, E. Lonnoy, J. B. R. Matthews, T. K. Maycock, T. Waterfield, O. Yelekçi, R. Yu and B. Zhou (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press.

What’s the Diagnosis? What the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report on Climate Change might mean for Future Action

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is releasing its Sixth Assessment Report today 9 August, 6pm AEST and it’s a huge deal.
The Report was prepared by 234 climate scientists from 66 countries and is the most comprehensive and important study on climate systems and climate change in the world. Its findings are as relevant to individuals and communities as they are to governments, policymakers and business.


As such you will probably be inundated with news and media reports of the IPCC report. As climate experts we are expecting the report findings to be very dim assessment on climate change. The Report will provide the most recent scientific findings on the climate system and where we stand on climate change.


The IPCC established in 1988 is the United Nations’ body for assessing climate related science. Its Assessment Reports have been instrumental in the making of global climate-related policy. The First Assessment Report in 1990 argued climate change as a global challenge requiring international cooperation.


The Sixth Assessment Report is divided into three parts. The first part, released today, will be the physical science basis for climate change. The other two parts will be released in 2022, with a synthesis report due in September 2022.


We expect the Report to build on the last assessment report in 2013 and reveal just how much human activity has influenced our planetary systems. We also expect the Report to how soon scientists expect temperatures to rise 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, after which we could enter tipping point. In fact, temperatures in some parts of the globe have already risen above 1 degree, including here in Tasmania!


There was a leak last month warning that tipping point is indeed near, and once we go beyond that we can never recover. This is not a surprise; climate scientists have been warning about nearing the earth’s tipping point for decades. In fact, the idea of tipping points was introduced by the IPCC more than two decades ago. Just recently, I found a paper I wrote 16 years ago on tipping points and climate change based on the IPCC data, back when I was a non-expert Honour’s student, reminding me that this has been in discussion for well longer than I care to remember – with yet any decisive political action.

In 2019, Prof Tim Lenton at the University of Exeter, along with Johan Rockström and colleagues released a report in Nature suggestion the world may have already passed several of the nine climate tipping points . Recently, scientists have warned that many of these tipping points have already been reached with the rapid melting of the Greenland ice sheet, Arctic permafrost, and the discovery that the Amazon basin has turned from a carbon sink to a source of CO2 emissions. The West Antarctic ice sheet, the authors said back in 2019, may already have passed tipping point. We are in trouble. We already know that. We are seeing this manifest in extreme heatwaves in North America, wildfires in Greece and unprecedented flooding events across Europe. The question is: what is the best way forward? It will likely be a massive culmination of pathways to address the crisis radically and urgently.


We are past the need for widespread urgent political action. It is long overdue and has let us and future generations down. It now needs to be swift, radical and transformative, and that includes mitigation and adaptation for the impacts that we are already witnessing, and a change of economic system. But, we also need wholesale behavioural change supported by legislation and technology – technologies that have already been developed and can be fast-tracked into not just circular economies, but circular societies that value human and environmental connection more than economic growth.


Actions will need to be localised, but in keeping in mind the global repercussions. Indigenous and traditional knowledge must be prioritised and incorporated into policies. There will be no one-sized fits all way to tackle the propensity of what needs to be done. There will need to be a decolonisation, a localisation, and contextualisation of all action on climate and sustainability that is no longer anthropocentric. All of the current global policies and strategies that target climate change including the Paris Agreement and the SDGs will need to be re-evaluated in light of the findings, and in the aftermath of the global pandemic that is changing our environment, the way the world operates and our understandings of our connection to nature.


In light of the expectations over the coming days, weeks, months and years, it’s important to look after your mental health – eco anxiety is becoming more prevalent, especially in younger people. That’s when it is vital to know that our actions have reactions, and no matter how large this climate crisis is, individuals can and do make a different. And, despite all the projected gloom, we expect there to be snippets of optimism. We can find momentum in a mentality of climate hope.


*The report is a mammoth feat of authorship, and therefore a sizable document. I will be writing about the first part over coming weeks. If you have any questions or discussion, don’t hesitate to get in touch via the contact form. If you are an individual or community association/group, or policymaker interested in how to use Buen Vivir as a way to tackle the climate problem, please also get in touch. There is a brief guide to Buen Vivir for communities available for download on my website (Spanish only for the moment). If you are interested in the English version or the guide for policymakers, please get in contact. My work on Buen Vivir and the SDGs is also available on the Taylor & Francis SDGs Online Collection (Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals).

Great Barrier Reef and Australian Inaction on Climate Change

What’s the Issue?

Photo by Elliot Connor on Pexels.com

In this inaugural post of ‘What’s the Issue?’ where I discuss current issues on climate change and social justice, I’m going to talk about Australia’s iconic, but threatened Great Barrier Reef.

UNESCO along with other UN bodies and international experts have urged Australia for some time to take “accelerated action at all possible levels” on climate change. In June, UNESCO issued a scientific report to recommend that the Reef be placed on the ‘in danger’ list at the World Heritage Committee meeting this month, which was imminently rejected after some heavy lobbying by the Morrison government, and backed by some of its oil-rich allies like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain – clearly a conflict of interest.

This is not the first time the Reef was recommended to be listed as in danger. In 2014 a recommendation was successfully lobbied by the Abbott government which would have stopped development policies including the dumping of capital dredge spoil in the protected area and limiting agricultural runoff on to the Reef.

Back in 2015 the IUCN brought climate change to the attention of the World Heritage Committee as a major threat affecting both natural and cultural World Heritage sites. If the committee followed the recent recommendation, it would be the first time a natural world heritage site has been placed on the “in danger” list in Australia (a recommendation to include Kakadu on that list was rejected in 2014) – but not the first in the world.

Natural World Heritage sites are areas of natural value recognised as the world’s most important protected areas, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, governed by the World Heritage Committee (comprised of 21 countries), and guided by the World Heritage Convention. Australia is a member of the Committee, but it was also one of the first countries to ratify the Convention in 1974, bringing it into force. Australia has 20 sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List – 12 natural, 4 cultural and 4 both natural and cultural.

Natural sites are listed as World Heritage for their “unique natural values, such as the scale of natural habitats, intactness of ecological processes, viability of populations of rare species, as well as exceptional natural beauty.” The Great Barrier Reef was included on the list for its outstanding universal value and characteristics such as its size, globally significant diversity, geological evolution and superlative natural beauty (https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/154).

The health of the Great Barrier Reef, though, is under threat by impacts of climate change, development projects, and tourism. It is climate change, however, that has become the main issue for listing it as ‘in danger’. According to the IUCN World Heritage Outlook, climate change impacts can already be seen in 35 of 228 World Natural Heritage sites.

Climate change has known effects on the marine environment because of sea temperatures and levels, ocean acidity and currents, marine weather events including tropical cyclones, and geological pressures. So, climate change is seen as the greatest threat to the Reef, being held responsible for the cumulative effects of the mass coral bleaching events in 1998, 2002, 2016, 2017 and 2020. Coral bleaching is one of the first visible signs that the system is under threat, caused by rising ocean temperatures.

But, the World Heritage Committee on Friday ignored the scientific assessment recommending the listing due to government’s lobbying efforts. So, what is the Morrison’s government’s argument?

The government argue that State party must request or consent to inclusion on the ‘in danger’ list, and neither was given – that is Australia did neither ask for its inclusion nor agree to the listing, and as such this does not respect Australia’s State sovereignty as a party to the World Heritage Convention.

The criteria to be listed as being ‘in danger’ include if there is an ‘ascertained’ (specific, proven or imminent threat) or ‘potential’ (“have deleterious effects on its inherent characteristics”) threat to its values. The Convention, however, is guided by the 1992 operational guidelines which state that a site may be listed as ‘in danger’ if: there are clearly ascertained and substantial threats to the values of the World Heritage area; and either an apparent inability of the State Party to manage the threats and remedy the problem. The Australian government’s inaction on climate change to the demise of the Reef is the link here. The ecological state of the Reef arguably demonstrates that it’s both – as well as an inability to manage threats and remedy the situation.

The decision is arguably political, not environmental as it would confer new obligations on the Australian government to take immediate and effective action on climate change to avoid any further damage to the Reef – action that is clearly not on the Morrison government’s agenda.

It would no doubt have implications for international environmental law, but the extent of those implications is unclear. This reminds me of my first day studying international law, when the professor asked “does international law even exist?” A pertinent question when ‘binding treaties’ are not enforceable by law or have loopholes by which states can escape via the excuse of State Sovereignty.

By singling out the Australian government as failing in its job as guardian of the protected area, the World Heritage Committee, along with United Nations human rights treaty bodies, the United Nations Environment Program and independent experts it is sending a message, holding governments responsible for the destruction of natural world heritage sites because of inaction on climate change.

Yet, this message, (which could be seen as precedence if we had enforceable global environmental legal mechanisms) without an international environmental court upholding the Rights of Nature lacks teeth. Even my 7-year-old son, with no formal knowledge of the international system can see the need for an International Environmental Court. When overhearing news on the car radio about the Australian government’s climate inaction the other day he said to me, “when I grow up, I’m going to make a world court for the environment, so that whichever country hurts nature, has to go to court and get in trouble!”

The Great Barrier Reef cannot, however, wait for him and the next generation of climate guardians to grow up. It’s time for or world leaders to grow up, face the scientific facts, take responsibility, but most importantly take immediate, urgent and radical action now to ensure that these places of natural value will still be around for the following generations.

Read more:

http://www.iucn.org/content/climate-change-and-dams-threaten-natural-world-heritage-warns-iucn

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jun/11/unesco-urged-to-declare-great-barrier-reef-in-danger

https://whc.unesco.org/en/danger/

https://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/our-work/threats-to-the-reef/climate-change

G7 and Climate Change: an unsurprising fail for change

The G7 is a group of seven of the world’s richest industrialised countries which meets annually to discuss pressing issues always headlined by the global economy, security and energy. This year saw climate change and health highlight the agenda for the leaders, which is significant given that the world’s most affluent countries and biggest emitters are largely responsible for climate change.

However, this is mainly because climate change and COVID have proved to be two of the biggest threats to the global economic system – which, if we are honest, overshadows any moral imperative to address these crises. Leaders explicitly state a recognition of “climate change and growing inequalities as key risks for the global economy”. A historical look at global action on both ecological and health crises demonstrates that are not a priority until they begin to destabilise the global economic order.

The slogan of the summit was the familiar post-COVID catch-cry “build back better”, but what exactly are we building back? Despite acknowledgements to “level-up economies” and including a focus on inclusion and green technology, the language coming out of the summit has not been game changing. The neoliberal rhetoric is ubiquitous.

More than a few experts have argued that if we are to fight future climate and health crises, we need to address the structural and systemic causes. However, the communique coming out of the summit from our world’s most powerful leaders show a commitment to anything but that.

In a piece in Climate Policy following the Climate Ambition Summit in December 2020 four former senior members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat demanded that “Real action rather than lip service” by phasing out coal and put an end to fossil fuel subsidies and establishing a 2030 interim CO2 target. As co-author Michael Zammit Cutajar stated, “We cannot continue kicking the can down the road to climate safety. ” Yet, that is precisely what is being done by the world’s richest countries hiding under an economic safety net.

On climate leaders have promised to “commit to net zero no later than 2050, halving our collective emissions over the two decades to 2030, increasing and improving climate finance to 2025; and to conserve or protect at least 30 percent of our land and oceans by 2030”, which responds to the UNFCCC report to establish interim 2030 targets, but whether or not immediate and effective strategies – that is the “real action” in the form of urgent domestic policies and regulations – follows suit is yet unknown.

The key points on climate coming out of the communiqué are as follows, however, one must pay attention to the non-committal and sometimes exclusive language that may open up any loopholes for tangible action. We must keep in mind that language use is a vital factor in International Law:

  • Ahead of the 15th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP15), the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (UNFCCC COP26) and the fifteenth session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD COP15), we commit to accelerating efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and keep the 1.5°C global warming threshold within reach, strengthening adaptation and resilience to protect people from the impacts of climate change, halting and reversing biodiversity loss, mobilising finance and leveraging innovation to reach these goals.
  • [In line with the Paris Agreement] we collectively commit to ambitious and accelerated efforts to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and by 2050 at the latest, recognising the importance of significant action this decade…we have each committed to increased 2030 targets and, where not done already, commit to submit aligned Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) as soon as possible ahead of COP26, which will cut our collective emissions by around half compared to 2010 or over half compared to 2005.
  • Domestically, we commit to achieve an overwhelmingly decarbonised power system in the 2030s and to actions to accelerate this. Internationally, we commit to aligning official international financing with the global achievement of net zero GHG emissions no later than 2050 and for deep emissions reductions in the 2020s.
  • We will phase out new direct government support for international carbon-intensive fossil fuel energy as soon as possible, with limited exceptions consistent with an ambitious climate neutrality pathway, the Paris Agreement, 1.5°C goal and best available science.
  • Domestically, we have committed to rapidly scale-up technologies and policies that further accelerate the transition away from unabated coal capacity, consistent with our 2030 NDCs and net zero commitments.
  • International investments in unabated coal must stop now and we commit now to an end to new direct government support for unabated international thermal coal power generation by the end of 2021.
  • We reaffirm our existing commitment to eliminating inefficient fossil fuel subsidies by 2025.
  • Sustainable, decarbonised mobility and to scaling up zero emission vehicle technologies, including buses, trains, shipping and aviation.
  • We will take action to decarbonise areas such as iron and steel, cement, chemicals, and petrochemicals, in order to reach net zero emissions across the whole economy.
  • We recognise the need for an urgent step change in the deployment of renewable heating and cooling and reduction in energy demand…[and[] welcome the Super-Efficient Equipment and Appliance Deployment (SEAD) initiative’s goal of doubling the efficiency of lighting, cooling, refrigeration and motor systems sold globally by 2030.
  • We commit to ensuring our policies encourage sustainable production, the protection, conservation, and regeneration of ecosystems, and the sequestration of carbon.
  • We support an ambitious post-2020 global biodiversity framework to be adopted by parties at CBD COP15 which sets ambitious goals, strengthens implementation, and enhances regular reporting and review.
  • We adopt the G7 2030 Nature Compact in support of the global mission to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030.

What should have been on the agenda is possible pathways to a new global economic system (or economies) that will better help ensure both social justice globally, while effectively fighting climate change and ecosystem destruction.

Despite growing calls to abandon old ideas of economic growth as a solution to global ills, the G7 communiqué expressed renewed calls to reinvigorate our economies by “promoting growth into the future”. Leaders promised to “increase the prosperity and wellbeing of all people while upholding our values as open societies.”

We cannot continue to prioritise growth as a fix-all solution. To meet the increasing ecological and social challenges of the 21st century, we will need to end the pursuit of exponential growth, and look towards economic models that are that regenerative, collective, collaborative decolonial, and new values-driven.

A global economy that focuses on collective wellbeing of both people and nature is the only way we can use economics to tackle the mess we are in. There are many alternative to development models, such as Buen Vivir, which advocate plural economies within a larger global wellbeing-oriented economy to fundamentally address collective social and ecological wellbeing locally, and scaling that up. Perhaps the G7 is an outdated concept for our 21st century challenges, and needs to be opened up to thinking from other ‘undeveloped’ economies.

Regenerating and Restoring the planet goes beyond Earth Day. Here’s how we can do it

Our world is broken in many ways, compounded by climate change and biodiversity loss. Human impacts have had a profound effect on the changes in nature.

Humans have led to a broken world. It’s time to for us restore the earth! For today, Earth Day 2021, that is the theme.

The global pandemic highlights the urgency of environmental action at every level of society. Restoring the earth doesn’t just mean relying on government action, it’s  a reminder that we all have to come together and contribute to a brighter future – one of hope.

‘Sustainability’ is no longer enough. ‘Sustainable development’ hasn’t worked. Let’s change the narrative. Let’s look at other approaches that can reconcile our society with the planet that sustains us. We have the opportunity to turn away business-as-usual, challenge the staus quo and regenerate and renew the earth.

We can do this by shifting our behaviours, and changing our worldviews on our role and relationship with nature. This involves deep societal change. But in the words of Martin Luther King, “today our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.”

Earth Day should not be just symbolic, however, it’s an opportunity to continue the conversations of change which can lead to real, practical transformation. Here some ways all levels of society can do so from individuals,  communities, industry and governments:

• Prioritise Indigenous and traditional knowledge and incorporate them in public policy and decision making.


• Look towards ideas like Buen Vivir that seek to restore the connection between people and nature, and between each other. This means moving away from a transactional society and towards collaborative living and collective socio-eco wellbeing.


• Start implementing and supporting regenerative activities like regenerative farming, agriculture, gardening, and tourism.


• Educate. Teach the next generations what can be done for the future, and instill a reciprocal planet-people mindset. Centre Indigenous and traditional approaches to resources in education.


• Move to a circular and regenerative economy, and localising that through social and solidarity economies that connect producers with consumers and provide equitable outcomes.


• Change consumption patterns with cooperation between people, governments, business, and organisations. At the most basic level this can involve tree planting; reductions in energy consumption and waste by individuals and industry, supported by effective policy; better waste management solutions incorporating new technologies.


• Support research in and harness sustainable technologies to support a circular and regenerative economy, and help support individual efforts.


• Declarations of a climate emergency coupled with effective strategies and policies to implement necessary changes.


• Celebrate and promote a ‘culture of restoration and regeneration’ through art, music and storytelling to motivate and inspire action.

Why we need more practical idealists in the age of climate change

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com


“The difficulty lies not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones”

John Mayard Keynes


Idealism is described in the Cambridge dictionary as “the belief that your ideals can be achieved, often when this does not seem likely to others.” Being an idealist requires resilience and determination – two useful qualities in the era of climate change and related rising global inequalities. Addressing climate change is going to require both resilience to make hard decisions and changes, and pragmatism to follow that through. What will guide these changes is an idealist perspective that all of this matters.


Idealists though, are often criticised by the lack of pragmatism to act on problems and find concrete solutions. They are often labelled as “politically naïve”, or “dreamers”. Idealism in that light would fall short on any meaningful action for environmental and social justice. The world has enough big ideas that lack pragmatism. Practical idealism, however, can combine utopian vision with practical tools for implementing the moral principles to support it.


Mahatma Gandhi was a practical idealist who acted pragmatically on his principles and values. Practical idealism moves beyond knowledge and ideas towards actively finding solutions to social and environmental concerns.


How do we do that ?

Far from being naïve, practical idealism is centered around hope. Hope is a necessary outlook for fighting the climate crisis, because without it, the reasons for doing so would be null and void. Without hope that the future could be more bleak, we continue perpetuating the status quo. That is a realist’s job.


I was once told “don’t think you can change the world.” Changing the world sounds ideal, doesn’t it? But it doesn’t sound so practical. Yet, those of us fighting for social and environmental justice must believe precisely that we can change the world, otherwise what is the point of our work? Believing the realist rhetoric means that you simply must accept the status quo. Continuing with the status quo is also easier than confronting the necessary structural and societal changes that should be made. That is arguably what got us into this mess in the first place.

Currently, the status quo has sent us hurtling past tipping point, upwards towards global structural inequality, and is now sending us on a trajectory of global warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius. Such a path would be disastrous for the planet and reinforce greater inequalities.


The first step is to break from these old paradigms and find fresh new solutions that are not built in the shadows of old social and environmental models. To do so we need all hands on deck. Here, a plural approach is important.

Despite countless international conferences, declarations and treaties we are still on a crash course to destruction. While we do still need big global frameworks to guide us, to understand where the problems lie scientifically and how we could possibly tackle them collectively; we also need local action guided by idealists. Whereas countries have a political imperative to act on climate change, for many individuals it is hard to see the bigger picture, that repeated smaller voluntary actions count way more than we care to give them credit for. It’s hard for people to see and feel the positive impacts and consequences of changes to their daily behaviours and so the biggest problem is getting people to persist with change beyond their own moral compass. After all, the collective impact of individual actions can certainly have a world-changing effect. In the words of Margaret Mead, ““Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”


So, we need more practical idealists to drive the momentum. That sounds romantic, but how on this great burning planet do we create idealists when the future (and current state of affairs) is filled with pessimism?


Jennifer Anikst wrote, “To me, pragmatic idealism means that you want to change the world for the better, and you believe that the tools exist to figure out how to do that”. Put in the perspective of Buen Vivir, it is the point of cleavage between Buen Vivir (sumak kawsay/Good Life) and Vivir Buen (ally kawsay/Good Living), or if you like, the utopian ideal and the daily journey we take to reach it. That is the sweet spot for practical idealism.


One criticism of idealism is that it is subjective. If we look at universal ideals like Western development we see the problem head-on. One cannot impose one set of ideals universally and believe they will work. They cannot then be pragmatic. Any practical approach has to be a decolonised one. Coming back to the argument for pluralism, if we scale actions down to the local level, the first thing we should understand is that, as Rutger Bregman says, “Not everything is measurable. And findings can’t always be generalised.”


This is where local context, local needs, and local actions matters over universal standards based on the aspirations of one culture. Context matters in the way we deal with climate change and sustainability, but also particularly with related social problems. It then becomes a subjective matter – subject in that communities everywhere live very different socio-economic, cultural, historical and geographic realities.

A practical idealist will be guided by a core common ideal (in this case limiting global warming, and the impacts on climate change, as well as reducing global inequalities), but the applied principles will be different depending on one’s reality, and that is the same with Buen Vivir.


But climate change and social issues are essentially political. Then question then becomes, how do we become idealists without becoming ideological? Ideologies take away from the pragmatism of an idea, and focus on creating epistemic rifts rather than concrete solutions for change.


In my book I argue that “once something has been labelled under a particular ideology, it has the potential to become co-opted for certain interests. Ideology, in this way becomes a ‘mobilising utopia’ sought as an ‘offensive weapon against hegemonic ideals’ (Caria & Domínguez 2016). This will only create a polarising defence, instead of working in cooperative and plural ways for effective solutions.”


If we refer to an approach filled with hope as utopian instead of unattainable idealism, we are really talking about the idea of practical idealism. As Omar Felipe Giraldo says, a utopia is ‘‘not simply a dream, but a dream that indispensably aspires to be realised.” On Buen Vivir as a utopian concept for social and environmental wellbeing, I argue also that “it has to be separated from ideology to serve a high-level, guiding purpose in which it is possible unite community needs with national and global goals.”


So, to become a practical idealist without becoming ideological the key is to see approaches like Buen Vivir as decolonised (not set on a universal ideal) practical tools to achieving a higher set of moral and ethical values for environmental and social wellbeing. By doing so we have a practical pathway to climate action and social equality in which we all play a vital role, which can hopefully lead us to more positive future outcomes for the planet and its people.