- The Australian Federal Government has blocked the development of a coal mine for the first time last week. Plans for the open pit coal mine located near the ecological icon the Great Barrier Reef by Central Queensland Coal were not approved by environment minister Tanya Plibersek, stating “The adverse environmental impacts are simply too great… “The risk of pollution and irreversible damage to the reef is very real.” This is a big win for marine biodiversity and Australian climate action. https://twitter.com/tanya_plibersek/status/1623179206447484928?s=20
- In Chile’s Valparaíso region, artisanal fishers have created small grassroots marine reserves to protect and regenerate marine biodiversity, making the region more resilient to climate change. https://news.mongabay.com/2023/02/fishing-communities-create-marine-refuges-to-protect-chiles-biodiversity/
- The rise in Citizen Science participation globally is helping scientists tackle biodiversity loss. One of the most successful is the Great Backyard Bird Count, happening now. Last year, about 385,000 people from 192 countries took part. https://apnews.com/article/great-backyard-bird-count-citizen-science-cornell-audubon-8aff018dd0e36c12f9539698d95758d9
- Climate change is creating more dangerous algae blooms, but cutting edge science is harnessing that to create positive solutions to many modern environmental and health problems. Here are five: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/5-surprising-ways-algae-is-driving-innovation
- OdySea Aquarium is celebrating the hatching of three African penguins listed as endangered by the IUCN, as part of a breeding program committed to the survival of the species. https://apnews.com/article/science-fish-arizona-climate-and-environment-animals-d11e80d946c77fa7dcd13bda50c82224
Tag: climate action
COP27 – Systems Change for Climate Action
On day 2 of the COP27, session 3: High-level Session on Systems Change and Climate and Sustainability Innovations examined the deep paradigm shift needed for effective climate action. There was one key overarching message that I took from this session that also resonated with my own work: we need a radical rethink of our economic systems, social justice, and the way we approach natural resources.
There were two issues that panelists argued need addressing in terms of innovation if we are to address climate change effectively and timely: 1) decoupling human wellbeing from the use of natural resources; 2) power, or rather the decentralization of power. Both issues are addressed in a Buen Vivir framework, which is one reason why I focus on the concept, not only for social wellbeing but ecological wellbeing too. It ties into yesterday’s discussion on empowering local communities for climate action.
Janez Potocnik, Co-Chair of UN International Resource Panel hit the nail on the head when he argued that we need to move from an economy that sees humans as external to nature, to one which understands humans are a part of nature. He also stated that we need to remove the causes which lead to negative impacts, of which extractivism is a core function because it is a driver of human needs, but it is also the cause of great inequalities.
Janez argued that to live sustainably, we must move to provisioning for human needs, rather than servicing existing paradigms. I argue further that in that, we must also provision for environmental needs. Without taking into consideration the needs natural resources, ecosystems and biodiversity have to continue to function and thrive, we risk destroying them to the detriment of society.
Dr Andres Steer, President of Bezos Earth Fund brought up the critical issue of power and control – that in the absence of empowering local communities to take action on the ground, any advances in innovation (whether that be technological, knowledge, economic, or otherwise) are void. This is perhaps one of the greatest challenges to effective climate action, the ability for decision and policy-makers, and others who hold the balance of power to cede some of that power to local communities to identify and implement solutions.
We see this with the concept of neoliberal development, under which the idea of sustainable development – and multilateral policymaking forums – sit. The overarching paradigm sees one set of values as dominant and therefore urges everyone to take the same approach, without having any idea about local challenges and the context on the ground. Dr Steer urged the UN to consider this transformative climate action, pleading, “as we think about changing the system, let’s not forget that on Monday morning we need to address real problems on the ground.” In other words, high-level aspirational commitments are nice, “and make for good dinner party conversation”, but are not always conducive to feeding effective solutions in real-time.
In closing this session, the facilitator summarised that “we have called for radical rethink. We have called for accepting that we will have to act in crisis. We are not going to be dealing with a world that is not in crisis.”
On that note, it is reassuring to hear the acknowledgment that frameworks and concepts like Buen Vivir, Donut Economics, Degrowth, Circular Society, and others that were once considered too ‘radical’ and pie-in-the-sky, could bring the kinds of holistic empowerment solutions the world needs in times of urgent climate crisis. Now it is about taking these from idea to action.
COP27 – Time to Highlight Local Climate Action
COP27 kicked off yesterday in Egypt, with a rockier than expected start. This climate conference has been called the “implementation COP” because of the expectation to negotiate on decisions made at Glasgow (COP26). Yet, there has already been no end of obstructions to progress.
Criticisms began with backlash against Egypt as host country because of a multitude of political scandals, including the fact that it holds approximately 60,000 political prisoners. Before the conference even started there was disappointment as civil society representatives from different African countries struggled to get passes to the events – both undermining the conference’s position as an ‘African COP’, and highlighting the eternal struggles of those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change to be included in key climate decision-making processes.
COP27 started in a less than desirable position as participating countries have failed to act on progress made at Glasgow. Only 24 countries have since updated their pledges, with Australia making the greatest strides – but that has only elevated us from ‘highly unacceptable’ to ‘unacceptable’. Just confirmed is Australia’s bid to host COP31 in 2026, but that brings up the question of legitimacy amidst a renewed focus on new fossil fuel projects.
To make matters worse, the start of the conference was delayed as delegates failed to agree on the agenda for the fortnight. One sticky point has been the inclusion of reparations for loss and damage due to climate change for the most vulnerable. One can see why, nonetheless it is crucial that those in power are held to account.
There have been calls to include a greater emphasis on adaptation in the negotiations. Given the scale of climate-related events globally over the last few years, it would be wise to strengthen community resilience and capacity to adapt.
Given all of these obstacles, there sems that there is little hope to be had in global diplomacy. This predicament powerfully emphasizes the importance of prioritising locally-led climate action and sustainability solutions. Local communities are the best placed to identify the challenges that climate change brings to them, so considering the lack of transformative capacity for global climate diplomacy to respond to the urgency of the situation, greater priority must be paid to empowering locally-identified and led solutions to the climate crisis – both adaptation and mitigation.
Community-managed projects for the conservation of biodiversity and local ecosystems, for example empowers communities to become invested in the local environments, but it also utilises vital local knowledge. Communities that are more socially invested in their environment, are more inclined to look after it and better placed to identify appropriate solutions, albeit with considerable technical and political cooperation. There are multiple substantial benefits. Not only does local climate action lead to better context-specific programs and projects, but they are also generally more equitable and lead to higher social, environmental and economic returns for a community. Locally-led solutions are usually more holistic, with fewer trade-offs between society and nature.
Grassroots projects also raise the bar of optimism on climate, which in turn leads to greater involvement and action. Given the pessimism around the expected outcomes of COP27, I will be encouraging positivity for future climate action. Every Monday I’ll be posting positive local climate news on my socials, as I firmly believe in the power of positivity to bourgeon change.
While COP27 has been led by a rocky start, it still opens up discussion and debate about what is needed at all levels as we head into this dangerous new phase of climate change. And that is cause for hope in my opinion.
A Good Life for the SDGs
Time to change the lens for sustainability?
The Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as a universal call to social and environmental sustainability, with an overarching goal of ending poverty and protecting the planet by 2030. Universal is the keyword. This means they apply to everyone, everywhere, regardless. This makes them more aspirational than practical and because of this, it’s argued that they are impossible to achieve. Indeed, by all accounts, they are failing. And, we’re running out of time.
The 2022 Progress report on the SDGs details the immense challenge ahead of us in terms of achieving social, environmental and economic sustainability. The report admits a backward slide against the Goals (albeit in the face of significant “cascading crises”, most notably in terms of poverty, climate change, and environmental indicators.
Climate change and sustainability come hand in hand. A changing climate is a major challenge for social and environmental sustainability. In turn, the way modern society functions is far from sustainable long, or even medium term and is hastening the speed of climatic changes that are occurring.
The IPCC has confirmed that climate change is caused by human activity, and it is happening at a speed faster than first realised. Thwaites “doomsday” Glacier in Antarctica, for example, is melting at a speed faster than could ever have been anticipated, threatening global sea levels to rise up to .6m https://theconversation.com/thwaites-glacier-the-melting-antarctic-monster-of-sea-level-rise-podcast-191057
UN Secretary-General, António Guterres has called the current climate situation a “code red for humanity”. Everyone everywhere will (and already is) experience the wrath of the past decades’ inaction. As I have argued many times, we cannot continue to decouple human and environmental wellbeing. These “cascading crises” are complex, and they are entangled.
The outlook is not good. While it seems like we are on a one-way course for destruction, there is definitely hope in limiting the scale of future destruction, if we band together, separately. That is, if we change divert the approach from ‘universal’ to ‘contextual’. Immediately.
In the words of Sneddon et al. (2006)
“Sustainability may yet be possible if sufficient numbers of scholars, practitioners and political actors embrace a plurality of approaches to and perspectives on sustainability, accept multiple interpretations and practices associated with an evolving concept of “development”, and support a further opening up of local-to-global public spaces to debate and enact a politics of sustainability.”
Because climate change is a global challenge (perhaps the biggest!) with no geographical limits it requires a global response. Let me rephrase that, it requires a response globally, that is anchored in local geographical, climatic, ecological, socio-political, economic and cultural context.
The thing about place is that no one locale is the same. Place is a complex notion. Each comes with its own identity, challenges, and socio-economic situation. The identifying factors aren’t just social, each place is unique with its own environment, biodiversity, ecosystems, topographical, geological, and geographical advantages and disadvantages. Place influences a person’s identity and their empathy towards nature, which plays a role in the motivation for climate and sustainability action. The perception of place is then vital to social and environmental justice at the community level. This makes the community context the most practical viewpoint for addressing social and environmental issues.
What’s more, climate change is not and will not affect each place equally. Each community will mount its own challenges that are unique to that place. So, it is nonsensical to then believe that we can apply a universal approach to these issues, even if they have global scope. Plus, large-scale transformational systemic change is inherently complicated, and especially drawn out – a major issue when dealing with issues on an urgent timescale like climate change.
Global declarations and treaties are a vital part of the international system. They are an important tool to set the wheels in motion for action in all parts of the world, and they outline states responsibilities and obligations in responding to challenges that affect us all. But, they are not effective in their own right. International action is firmly squared within the boundaries of neoliberalism, which promotes universal values in line with Western standards, and ignores the diverse realities of communities everywhere. This has indeed been one of the most common critiques in relation to global climate declarations. International climate diplomacy must be coupled with locally anchored solutions within a context that speaks to locally-identified needs and challenges, otherwise they are all but useless.
What alternative approaches like Buen Vivir do is remove local action for social and environmental justice from ideal and aspirational universal values and provide local communities with agency to drive solutions that meet their realities. As a hypothetical example, let’s look at two climate-related flood disasters, the solutions that are required for (comparably) affluent communities in Northern New South Wales in Australia will not work in the poor communities of Pakistan who are currently experiencing climate flooding of biblical proportions.
Small-scale transformational change breaks up larger big-picture goals like the SDGs and makes them amenable to place and context. Smaller chunks are easier to swallow and (notwithstanding all the complexities in a community) quicker to achieve real change. Concepts like Buen Vivir also help reconcile the social and environmental aspects, that builds bridges between the two rather than having them almost compete for attention.
Local action for climate change is crucial and Buen Vivir provides a framework for locally driven solutions that build resilience, mitigate impacts, and allow communities to adapt in relation to their own realities. It that respect it provides a tool for increasing social and environmental wellbeing in the face of these challenges. Having local solutions unadulterated by the global agenda yet capable of working together in cooperation with it is vital for transformative action at this point. ‘Together yet apart’ – much like the catchphrase of the COVID lockdown period.
Even the upcoming COP27 in Egypt has recognised the importance of working together for implementation against the old notion of a single negotiated outcome. The Presidency Vision states the need “to replicate and rapidly upscale all other climate-friendly solutions towards implementation in developing countries”. “Together for implementation” is the theme, with the Presidency saying that implementation needs to happen “on time and at scale”, and be “specific, measurable, and impactful”.
Each of the principles of Buen Vivir has the potential to cooperate with the wider global Goals, but leaving it to the communities to identify the needs and respective solutions. I outline just how the principles converge with the Goals in my book and more recently paper published in the Community Development Journal .
Never before has the term “think globally, act locally” been more prevalent than now. And never has the call been more urgent!
The People’s Charter for an Eco-Social World
The Global People’s Summit: Co-Creating a New Eco-Socio World was held 29 June – 2 July 2022. I was honored to have been included in the program, presenting my research on Buen Vivir.
One of the key outcomes of the Peoples’ Global Summit was the ‘Peoples’ Charter’ shaped by diverse voices across the globe and based on the values of Buen Vivir, diversity, respect and Ubuntu, for the co-creation of globally shared values.
The People’s Charter is a living document and reference point that will grow as the world’s populations share their solutions for a sustainable planet where people live in peace and security. It is co-designed and co-built.
“The People’s Global Summit recognises that the pledges made by governments since the founding of the United Nations – the pillars of peace, development and human rights – have facilitated crucial steps forward but have not yet been realised. Challenges are at crisis point. Rights have been eroded. Inequalities and fractures have grown. Poverty sits alongside extreme wealth. Nature has been degraded, leading to climate warming and environmental destruction. Millions of people have been displaced as a result, adding to the millions more displaced by conflict and violence. The governments that made these commitments have prioritized competition over collaboration and sovereignty over solidarity. They have not yet served the people they represent.”
The Charter sets out five values for a new Socio-Eco World and seven implications going forward. The purpose was to create a call to action for world leaders at the United Nations High-Level Political Forum and General Assembly in July 2022.
If you missed the Summit, you can still watch the presentations by clicking the sessions in the program here. Be sure to check out some of the amazing keynote speakers, as well as the opening ceremony by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterrez and climate activist Dr Kumi Naidoo.
You can read the contribution book here.
Transformation for Climate: but, of what?
The latest warnings from the IPCC predict that the world is heading towards critical temperature limits. We have already reached 1.0 degree of global warming. The IPCC report estimates that global warming is likely to triple to 3.2 degrees unless urgent, radical action is taken immediately. The IPCC warns that incremental change is no longer enough, and what we need now is transformation. But, what does this mean?
The IPCC defines ‘transformation’ as, “a change in the fundamental attributes of natural and human systems.” Is this enough to prevent it from becoming another catchphrase amenable to co-optation as the status quo sees fit? To avoid perpetuating what UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calls, “a litany of broken climate promises” the course will have to change. We are running out of options.
Transformation, therefore, should effectively address and change the structural and systemic causes of social and environmental injustices that impede any genuine change. Confronting the crisis requires urgent political and societal change.
Transformation then is not only about technology and energy policy, but also a holistic approach to how we govern society on an interwoven planet. So, when we talk about transformation, we also have to talk about what type of transformation, who is involved, how, and at what scale.
The type of transformation that can see us through the change we need is plural, locally embedded, embraces all forms of knowledge (not only technological), and is inclusive of all geographic, cultural, socio-economic, developmental, and linguistic realities. It also needs to transform behaviours and practices from a largely anthropocentric model of society to a more holistic view that embraces a human society interwoven in harmony with nature.
To speak in metaphors of interwoven systems, humans have long viewed the world like a double helix, one strand representing nature as a living being, necessary for life, and the other strand representing society seeking to dominate nature and control it. The two strands coil around each other but running in opposite directions, their purpose intertwined, yet never touching. Yet, nature and society are more like an intricately woven tapestry. One loose thread in one part, can see the rest come completely undone. We are part of nature and any attempts at transformation to save it from climate change must recognise this.
Transformation is more than about scientific and technological mitigation strategies. Part of this is shifting mentalities firmly towards a post-extractive economy, not only discussing transition. The transition to just climate policies is important, we have to get it right, but merely focusing on discussions of what it looks like takes away from the immediate radical change that is needed and the larger goal of what comes after. Continual discussion about transitions without immediate action only sustains current convictions, planted in short-term fixes.
A hybrid approach that incorporates daily social transformation with the ultimate vision of what needs to be achieved to limit global warming will help achieve both long and short-term goals. In the quest for daily transformation, education plays a major role. That is, education on all levels, formal, in the home, in communities, and in policy. Education must be strategic not to continue the messages of the past. The transformation of education thus must also be systemic. I will discuss the transformation of education in my next post.
Post-Extractive Circular Society
The theme of Earth Day yesterday was “Invest in our Planet”. The question needs to be asked, at which point does the fix-all economic narrative become redundant? While we do need future investment in new technologies, we can no longer hide behind the rhetoric of techno-fixes for reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Yes, technology and will play a crucial role in transformation, but relying on it to achieve the real physical change that is needed in urgency is not the solution. Perpetuating the myth that we can build our way out of this through technology that supports exponential economic growth is dangerously digging us a deeper grave.
The IPCC report states that other mitigation strategies are likely to be prohibitively expensive, and that is the excuse used in ideological stances to abandon any kind of concrete change. According to Munich Re Research, in 2020, climate change disasters have led to estimated global economic losses of A$272 billion. Yet, when we look at the costs of inaction the argument mounts that it may very well be more economically expensive to continue down the same path of slow transition and economic justification, but more than that it will also cost us much more than money, it will and is starting to cost lives. In 2020, there were approximately 31 million internally displaced people from climate change impacts alone. By 2050, think tank IEP estimates that at least 1.2 billion people could be displaced by climate-related events. We can therefore legitimately argue that there is more at stake than economic growth.
A move to a low carbon society will not be effective at its aims if it destabilises ecosystems and puts efforts to protect biodiversity in jeopardy. This is why transformation must not only be about the types of energy we transition to, but also how much and on what scale. For true transformation, the use of renewable resources has to be in harmony with nature, as well a society. After all, even renewal resources perpetuate an extractive mentality on a large-scale as part of a neoliberal economic growth strategy. Our global economic model, for starters, has to evolve and transform with the challenges that lie ahead.
The ways we transform the energy sector should also be plural, locally embedded, and embrace all forms of knowledge to sustain transformation in harmony with nature. Policy strategies like moving towards a circular economy, which embed multiple approaches with the same aims such as Donut Economics, Buen Vivir, Regeneration, or even Degrowth can be part of a just economic transformation towards a post-extractive society. Instead of thinking about it as only economic as we do with a circular economy, by embracing these various approaches in tandem, we can then evolve towards a circular society – renewing and regenerating all life in harmony with the natural environment.
The UN calls for “transformation [that] requires attacking the root causes that generate and reproduce economic, social, political and environmental problems and inequalities, not merely their symptoms” but there is no concrete blueprint for this type of transformation. Many scholars have argued that this requires visioning a post-extractive society that focuses on regenerative approaches to society and natural resource management.
In regeneration, it’s important to look beyond fossil fuels and carbon emissions because of the circular effects of environmental destruction. Here, the models and frameworks I mentioned earlier work within a regenerative, circular society, such as Donut Economics, Buen Vivir, and Degrowth, for example. For future actions that are compatible with nature, so that the environment may regenerate and flourish, incorporating the rights of nature into future global and national climate policies would be beneficial.
Regenerative alternatives to development promote a state where human society and nature live in harmony. Regenerative approaches are not just about reaching Net Zero, but they are holistic and integral in that they seek to leave environments and their societies in a better state, having a positive impact on human wellbeing and the environment as a whole.
So, in summary, when we think about the type and scale of change needed to tackle the environmental challenges that lie ahead, transformation must be plural, locally embedded, and embrace all forms of knowledge, particularly Indigenous knowledges. It is regenerative, seeking structural and systemic change which includes, as a foundation, formal and informal education systems. Transformative regenerative approaches work in harmony with nature and seek to enhance environmental wellbeing, as well as societal wellbeing. Transformation then, upends the way the world currently works, towards a more socially and environmentally sustainable future, not solely towards better economic growth.
An Incredible Force: Women and Climate Action
Happy International Women’s Day!
On International Women’s Day 2022 we reiterate the need for a gender-equal world and celebrate the power of women and girls in the fight against climate change and its impacts – Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow is the theme this year.
In a statement for UN Women, Executive Director Sima Bahous said, “Climate change is a threat multiplier. But women, and especially young women, are solution multipliers.”
Imagine the transformational change we can achieve if we prioritize gender equality globally – not just in privileged seats – and give precedence to the important role women and girls have to play in a sustainable future!
“Imagine a gender-equal world.
A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.
A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
A world where difference is valued and celebrated.
Together we can forge women’s equality.
Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.” –http://www.internationalwomensday.com
Breaking the bias…that is the first step. While women have a vital role to play in the health of our future planet, we are more vulnerable to the many impacts of climate change than men.
As Sima says, “The accelerating crises of climate change and environmental degradation are disproportionately undermining the rights and wellbeing of women and girls. They are multiplying insecurity at all levels, from individual and household to national. Rising temperatures, extended droughts, violent storms and floods are resulting in loss of livelihoods, they are depleting resources and fueling migration and displacement. The latest major IPCC report on climate change, and our Secretary-General, have warned us that ‘nearly half of humanity is living in the danger zone – now, ’and that ‘many ecosystems are at the point of no return – now’.”
As the COVID pandemic has shown us, we now have the opportunity to rewrite the future trajectory of climate action. We can rethink and re-imagine avenues of transformative change for a sustainable future. The global shifts in policy and behaviour in relation to COVID have shown us that swift and radical change is possible when we have the momentum. The urgent nature of climate change gives us this impetus.
Part of this shift will require us to re-evaluate and transform the way we understand wealth in the economy. Currently in a neoliberal system wealth is measured by GDP. This measure of how a nation is fairing has been widely criticized over the past few years as outdated and dangerous in the era of climate change. An extractive economy is at the heart of economic growth policies that promote economic wealth accumulation above all else. Studies that show the vital importance of the care economy – of which women play a large part – tell us that we need to shift away from resource-heavy extractivism and better value collective wellbeing to ensure social sustainability throughout generations, and ultimately positively impacting ecological sustainability.
Valuing social and ecological wealth, to which women often pay greater focus in decision-making, helps to augment a communities’ Socio-Eco Wellbeing.
Women and girls are positive agents and super changemakers when it comes to climate action because of the tendency to think about collective wellbeing and the ecological impacts on their families and communities. Around the world, there are some amazing women and girls leading the charge in both formal and informal ways against climate change.
Research shows that greater female representation in parliament leads to more stringent and genuine climate policies. Yet, only 35% of environmental ministries have a gender focal point (womendeliver.org) Increasing involvement of women in decision-making capacities, especially regarding natural resource and land use is sound policymaking for climate-resilient communities, which has a ‘ripple effect’.
UN Women has identified 5 useful ways to build gender equality globally. Some of these actions are policy-based, others also require a shift in mindset for a transformational gender-equal future:
- Empower women small-holders: Increasing the capacity of female small-scale farmers and access to productive resources can help promote sustainable agricultural practices. Women often think long-term and when involved in natural resource management, have been shown to use resources more sustainably.
- Invest in care: Unpaid and underpaid care work that unequally falls on the shoulders of women historically is a collective good that can benefit the wellbeing of all (individuals, families, communities, and their environments etc), but much like the environment in a neoliberal model, it is treated as a commodity to be exploited. More social value can be attributed to this kind of work, as well as more supportive policies with greater investment in the care economy.
- Support women’s leadership: Participation and inclusion of women in leadership and decision-making at all levels of society can help lead to more sustainable outcomes. Decision-making by women often leads us away from individualism, as women have a tendency to consider wider impacts and their families, communities and environments in decision-making. It is particularly important to prioritise Indigenous women’s knowledge in decision-making processes because of the wealth of knowledge they possess about their local communities, natural environments, biodiversity and natural resource management that can benefit climate action.
- Fund women’s organisations: empowering women’s civil society organisations can not only help achieve the action above, but it can also help elevate those voices in vulnerable communities that might otherwise be suppressed.
- Protect women’s health: Research shows that women are more likely to suffer from climate-related health issues such as disease or weather-related health impacts. Women are the cornerstones of family and community life, therefore impacts to women’s health have flow on effects for collective wellbeing. Moreover, threats to public health are threats to community capabilities, affecting climate resilience.
Although global, equitable gender-focused solutions are not yet a reality, we can draw on the lessons in this year’s IWD theme to embrace women and girls as ‘solution multipliers’ in the face of social and environmental challenges, and break the bias for a more sustainable (and collective) future.
Path to and beyond COP26 : why it’s important and what needs to happen Pt III
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.
The Path to and Beyond COP26: Why its Important and what needs to Happen
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.
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.
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 :
- 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.
- Increasing focus on adaptation to protect communities and habitats.
- Mobilising $100 billion of climate finance to developing countries, which has fallen below the previous pledges.
- 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 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.
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.