COP26 is over. It’s all over. After 2 weeks of negotiations, speeches, commitments, scandal (like extractive company Santos being given centre stage at the Australian booth), protests, cries for change from some countries, and a certain level of denial of the role of fossil fuels by other countires countries, COP26 has ended with a weak Glasgow Climate Pact that has led the COP President to solemly apologise. At the end of the summit Alok Sharma said in an emotional speech,
“May I just say to all delegates I apologise for the way this process has unfolded. I also understand the deep disappointment but I think, as you have noted, it’s also vital that we protect this package.”
At the beginning of the of the summit, UN Secretary General along with many leaders called for the need to strengthen the Paris Agreement and limit warming to 1.5 degrees celcius, which some argue is already out of reach. There was also a goal to look at phasing out coal and fossil fuels. So, by these expectations alone, the outcomes of COP26 have been deemed a failure.
Earlier in the week the draft statement was released calling for Parties to “accelerate the phasing-out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels”. This text was monumental in the history of mulitlateral environmental pledges. Despite being in draft form, and a loose symbolic statement, it was somewhat of a win for envirnomental activists everywhere because it was the first time the need to phase out fossil fuels had made it into COP.
That win was short-lived when several countries which have been unnamed but we know included Australia were working to water down key proposals around the phasing out of fossil fuels. The final text agreed upon interrupted by a last minute intervention by India says that Parties should “phase down” the use of unabated coal and fossil fuel subsidies. It also left a numer of loopholes for the continued extraction of fossil fuels.
From an international legal perspective, the problem is that statments like the one made at COP are not legally binding. What matters in that respect is if and how countries pass the commitments made into their own legislation. Once there is proof of widespread state practice and opinio juris (a sense of obligation), then they become customary international law, which in theory makes them binding, but in practice it is a lot more complicated, especially in the absence of an international court for the environment.
The next problem is in the wording, which has been the bane of some of the progressive countries, as well as activists in the days before the signing of the declaration. The subtle change in wording from “phasing out” to “phasing down” is not insignificant because language matters in international law. A key component of international law and whether or not states are held to account is ‘interpretation’ of legal documents. As Odile Aman says, “[I] nterpretation is not a mere technical device, but a political matter of the utmost importance: it may eventually depend on which interpretative method is applied whether a state (or any other actor, for that matter) can be accused of an internationally wrongful act, or whether it will be regarded as having stayed faithful to its commitments.”
COP27 has been scheduled for November 2022 in Egypt. The time in between now and then is a critical moment for states to demonstrate the commitments pledged in this pact by strengthening and introducing genuine and radical policies and legislation domestically.
It will also be a critical time for activists and environmentally concerned citizens to ramp up the pressure and work at change at the grassroots level. People power is essential! For Australians with the Federal election coming up, your vote can be an important driver for change. Changing behaviours, mindsets and attitudes is as important as changing legislation and policy. One reinforces the other.
There are now many complimentary frameworks and guidelines that can help us accelerate the change towards a more sustainable planet – at both the local governmental level, and at the level of people and communities. These frameworks can work together to guide transformative change.
If you are interested in how the framework for Buen Vivir can work in either your community or your local government, check out my book and other writings on Buen Vivir and please get in touch for ways this might be implemented in your local context.
Time to change the economic system
We are in a critical climate moment. As discussed in parts I and II of this post we know that we need transformative change. We know we need all actors to play a pivotal role. We know that we need to prioritize knowledge and voices of Indigenous peoples and traditional groups, who have a deep and inherent connection to the earth. We also know that we need political buy-in and multilateral commitments for a crisis that knows no geographical boundaries. Most of all, we know that we need wholesale systemic change – social, political, and economic. Let’s discuss that last point.
As Naomi Klein puts it in her book ‘On Fire’, “debates about climate action remain trapped in a paradigm that equates quality of life with personal prosperity and wealth accumulation.” We know, however, (and by we, I am referring to not just you and I, but politicians from all ideological perspectives, as well as economists and academics) that this perverse view of economics is no longer attainable, sustainable nor desirable. As the number of rich shrink, while simultaneously growing their wealth by billions, the vast mass of people living in poverty snowballs. The current global economic system exploits the planet and its resources for the benefit of very few, while those most disadvantaged will be the worst impacted by climate change.
Klein argues that in this respect “there is much to learn from Indigenous-led movements” like Buen Vivir, which she describes as a “focus on the right to a good life as opposed to the more-and-more life of ever-escalating consumption and planned obsolescence.”
Phasing out coal, moving away from extractive policies including fossil fuels and biofuels, moving towards a needs-based approach to resource consumption, towards renewables with an emphasis on community-based and small-scale renewable energy transitions will need to be part of the solution. Moving away from fossil fuels is the bare minimum, but it is not the magic bullet to save the planet from destruction. We need to do more. It is not good enough to replace one form of large-scale extraction (fossil fuels) with another just because it is the easier option the lesser of two evils. Non-fossil fuel extraction and exploitation also has negative, irreversible impacts on the planet’s carrying capacity, if not in the short term, in generations to come. Deforestation one major extractive activity but there are others. So effective solutions start with transforming the global economic model.
Major key adjustments need to be made to the global economic system, and national economies and development policies can begin to immediately reflect a wholescale commitment to striving for rapid and radical emissions reductions, and aiming for Net Zero by 2030. The UN says that countries will have to commit to at least 45 percent emissions reductions by 2030 if we are to have any chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. Climate Council of Australia argues that this will need to be more like a 75 percent reduction by 2030, with Net Zero by 2035 based on current risk assessments. However, a new assessment conducted by Breakthrough, the National Centre for Climate Restoration argues that there is no carbon budget for 2030 as we are already overdrawn and that based on past emissions we are already on track to reach 1.5 degrees by 2030. Net Zero by 2050 is too late, yet loose ‘targets’ made by countries like Australia are locking us into climate catastrophe.
Released in a briefing paper earlier this year, Breakthrough argues that we will need to reach Net Zero by 2030 to keep warming below 2 degrees, a fact that has been argued by many climate scientists and advocates including Greta Thunberg. It states, “The world needs to be at zero emissions by 2030 for the 2°C target, based on three assumptions: 1. Mitigation expenditure no more than 3% of GDP; 2. No geoengineering; 3. Climate sensitivity is not low (Lamontagne et al, 2019. Nature Climate Change, 9:290–294).”
Whatever the commitment, to reach Net Zero we need a complete transformation of the global economic system. The CSIRO says, “Reaching Net Zero will require a fundamental reimagining of everything we do. It will require a new energy system, new modes of transport, new fuels, new materials, new modes of financing investments, new ways for industry sectors to interact and new ways of living on a scale – and at a pace we have never come close to achieving before.” But it’s not enough to assume that we can technologically innovate our way out of this. We also need a reimagining of society to transform the way, scale and speed at which we consume. To quote journalist Sarah O’Connor,
“To this new world, let’s not go back to a past that wasn’t working anyway !”
The global capitalist system that rewards competition and the exploitation of nature for the accumulation of individual wealth can no longer be logically and ethically argued as best system for an economy bounded by social injustices and planetary restraints.
In the near future, greater, more radical changes to the global economic system will need to be made. There are many proposals that policymakers and economists can consider, for example: degrowth, the social and solidarity economy, regenerative economy, and a circular society (which not only incorporates a circular economy, but also social and environmental factors including knowledge that impinge just outcomes).
It may be that no one single alternative model will be appropriate to transition markets to Net Zero, instead, key elements of the various significant models can be incorporated into one cohesive response that can be tailored to different contexts, so as not to reinforce the economic growth approach, but to level global equity, respond to fundamental needs and eliminate extreme poverty. With the last factor, it is instrumental to evaluate multidimensional poverty (environmental, wellbeing, social cohesion, health, education, sanitation, etc), not just economic poverty.
The path to Net Zero is not a linear one. It involves all actors – civil, governmental, business and organisations -and it requires rapid, radical systemic change to transform society, industry and politics in a just manner.
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.
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
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.
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
•• 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.”
Buen Vivir as an Alternative to Sustainable Development: Lessons from Ecuador, Routledge, 2020
How to Live the Good Life, Sustain the Mag
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
It is no secret that the term climate change is the source of a great deal of anxiety in people of all ages these days – even more so amongst those who are starting to feel its effects. The term ‘eco-anxiety’ has been coined by psychologists to deal with this relatively new phenomenon.
Climate change is indeed having direct and indirect effects on our health, including our mental health. Many young people are facing feelings of “existential dread” about what their future holds. Despite the rise is climate pessimism, there are reasons to be (cautiously) optimistic. The Climate Reality Project discusses 9 of them here.
Let’s start with this idea of the ‘environment’. The term can be argued as being contested. It means different things to different cultures. Unfortunately, in the West we separate human life from the natural environment, but not without consequence.
To many Indigenous cultures around the world the environment is not a separate entity, it is an all-encompassing connection to a personified ‘Mother Earth’. It demands respect. Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, by personifying the natural environment, or even just seeing it as something other than an inanimate resource to exploit – a holder of rights – than we automatically begin to pay more respect to it and the richness it provides human life. After all, most people would hardly disrespect, abuse and exploit their own mother! It is a question of paying full respect to that which sustains life.
When we reframe the natural environment in such a way, it is less daunting to approach a changing climate with a sense of reality.
Nonetheless, it is easy to be pessimistic about climate change when we see the scientific data and understand the current planetary trajectory. A certain amount of fear is necessary to emphasize the urgency of the situation. The problem is, climate pessimism often leads to feelings of hopelessness, sometimes denial, and ultimately inaction. But, what happens when we start looking at things a little differently, and open our eyes to the pockets of good things that are happening globally to combat climate change – in our communities, cities, private enterprise, associations, research, policy, technology? We only have to look at the way the environment is embraced by other cultures around the world to restore some optimism in humanity.
A shift in mindset sows seeds of cautious optimism that can spur on lasting and effective climate action where we can all contribute to these pockets of good things, until climate action is no longer revolutionary, but the norm. To change our mindsets though, we need a certain dose of hope.
So, let us talk about hope for a moment. What is the opposite of hope? It is despair. Often despair leads to feelings of guilt. As Paul Goodman once said, “No good has ever come from feeling guilty, neither intelligence, policy, nor compassion. The guilty do not pay attention to the object but only to themselves, and not even to their own interests, which might make sense, but to their anxieties.” Hence the rise in eco-anxiety.
I have just started reading Jonathan Porritt’s ‘Hope in Hell: a decade to confront the climate emergency’. As a mother of two children, working on climate, sustainability and wellbeing from a social and policy perspective, I need to entertain feelings of hope, otherwise what am I doing? So, the title of this book drew me in immediately. I have read too little of this book to give a review, but this focus on reality mixed with hope and optimism is the angle we all should be taking right now.
Porritt opens his book with a quote from Rebecca Solnit, fitting for climate action
“Hope is an embrace of the unknown and unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists.”
To a certain degree, the precautionary principle in international environmental law is caught up in a force of hope. Solnit continues,
“It’s the belief that what we do matters, even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand.”Rebecca Solnit
We can no longer take a gamble with decisions and behaviours, all precaution is needed. Even if we don’t know why beforehand. In fact, precaution doesn’t go far enough. But hope does. Hope inspires people to understand that what they do matters. The actions they take in their personal, professional and political lives can contribute to real transformative change.
A sustainable future needs hope in transformative change, with a dose of optimism to believe that action can lead to change. Add an understanding of reality, and respect for the natural environment. As Greta Thunberg says “Act like your house is on fire. Because it is!” Only, guard hope that not all is lost.
Much attention is paid to the inaction of policymakers to enact effective climate policies. We must not forget though, the burden of climate passivists, those who believe that someone else will take care of things. Both “shiny optimists” as Porritt calls them, and pessimists can fall into that camp. Much lasting change is achieved from the bottom. Social movements and behavioural change has achieved great things in the past century.
So, let’s guard some hope, regard good climate action in all corners of society with a healthy sense of optimism, and embrace nature not as a resource to exploit exponentially, but with full respect for way it sustains life on earth.