threegenerationsleft

human activity and the destruction of the planet


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WEF: The World’s Greatest Threat is not the Coronavirus

The World Economic Forum, on it’s web page has made the announcement in the title of this post.  They say that true sustainability will only be achieved through drastic lifestyle changes.

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/07/affluence-bigger-threat-than-coronavirus-scientists-capitalism

The article is headed by a massive photograph of landfill rubbish and goes on to state the following:

  • Affluence is the biggest threat to our world, according to a new scientific report.
  • True sustainability will only be achieved through drastic lifestyle changes, it argues.
  • The World Economic Forum has called for a great reset of capitalism in the wake of the pandemic.

A detailed analysis of environmental research has revealed the greatest threat to the world: affluence.

 

That’s one of the main conclusions of a team of scientists from Australia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, who have warned that tackling overconsumption has to become a priority. Their report, titled Scientists’ Warning on Affluence, explains that true sustainability calls for significant lifestyle changes, rather than hoping that more efficient use of resources will be enough.

 

This assertion is taken from an article published in Nature Communications 11, Article 3107 (2020), the Abstract of which is as follows:

For over half a century, worldwide growth in affluence has continuously increased resource use and pollutant emissions far more rapidly than these have been reduced through better technology. The affluent citizens of the world are responsible for most environmental impacts and are central to any future prospect of retreating to safer environmental conditions. We summarise the evidence and present possible solution approaches. Any transition towards sustainability can only be effective if far-reaching lifestyle changes complement technological advancements. However, existing societies, economies and cultures incite consumption expansion and the structural imperative for growth in competitive market economies inhibits necessary societal change.

The reference for the article is:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-16941-y#Fig2

and it is published by Thomas Wiedmann, Thomas Lenzen, Lorenz T. Keysser and Julia Steinbergen,

The figure below is taken from the article and is entitled “The Safe and Just Space for Humanity” and is reproduced on the WEF website.

 

Fig. 2




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Greta Thunberg: World must ‘tear up’ old systems, contracts to tackle climate change

gretathunberg in davos

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg said that the world needs an economic overhaul to have a chance of beating climate change and that countries should be prepared to tear up old deals and contracts to meet green targets.

The 17-year-old spoke to Reuters TV after she and other activists sent an open letter to European leaders urging them to take emergency action and saying people in power had practically “given up” on searching for a real solution.

“We need to see it as, above all, an existential crisis. And as long as it’s not being treated as a crisis, we can have as many of these climate change negotiations and talks, conferences as possible. It won’t change a thing,” Thunberg said, speaking via video from her home in Stockholm.

Demands in the letter, released before the European Council summit, included an immediate halt to all investments in fossil fuel exploration and extraction, in parallel with a rapid ending of fossil fuel subsidies.

The letter also called for binding annual “carbon budgets” to limit how much greenhouse gas countries can emit to maximise the chances of capping the rise in average global temperatures at 1.5C, a goal enshrined in the 2015 Paris climate accord.



This week (21st July 2020), it has been announced that Greta Thunberg has received an award for €1 million from the Gulbenkian Rights award. She has pledged that this money will be given to climate change activist groups, working to protect the environment and halt climate change.



 


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Global Heating and Climate Breakdown: a report from Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR)

Bill-McGuire-2000_cropped

Bill McGuire, Professor Emeritus of Geophysical & Climate Hazards, University College London, argued at the Responsible Science conference that mainstream climate science reports downplay the scale of the threats currently faced, especially from sea-level rise, extreme heat, shutdown of the Gulf Stream, and increased seismic activity. Here he spells out why.

Article from Responsible Science journal, no.2; online publication: 6 July 2020

Also to be found on the website of SGR, of which Bill McGuire is a patron:

https://www.sgr.org.uk/resources/global-heating-and-climate-breakdown


“A very fine line separates alarmism from what a risk expert colleague of mine likes to refer to comically as Compulsive Risk Assessment Psychosis (CRAP) – scaremongering as it is otherwise known. This distinction applies to global heating and ensuing climate breakdown as much as anything else; probably more so given the imminent and desperately serious ramifications of the climate emergency. My concern, however, is that – up until now at least – the message reaching the ears of both the great and the good, and the general public, is simply not alarmist enough. We have alarms for a reason, after all, they save lives. What I mean by this is that it doesn’t set the alarm bells ringing about just how bad things could get as hothouse Earth becomes an ever more likely reality.

In other words, the picture that people see and take on board, of what a broken climate will look like, is not complete. It ensures that the general view of the global heating threat is watered down, one that fails to encompass scenarios involving more deleterious impacts on society. In so doing, a sense of false security is engendered and the ‘call to arms’ to tackle global heating, diminished.

The problem can be traced to the very top. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) undoubtedly has done vital work in building understanding and appreciation of the global heating threat, flagging likely future scenarios, and signalling what needs to be done, and how quickly – to stave off the worst of climate breakdown. Without it we would already be in a very dark place indeed. But there are downsides too.

The IPCC’s periodic reports are conservative and compiled to reflect a broad consensus. This means that they fail to address global heating and climate breakdown scenarios that, although currently regarded by the climate science community as less likely, are – nonetheless – perfectly possible. Because the IPCC reports form the climate bible that drives news stories in the press and broadcast media, this incomplete picture is – inevitably – the one pitched to the public.

The blame cannot, however, be placed at the door of the IPCC. Every report it publishes is scrutinised line-by-line by representatives of all 197 nations and groupings signed up to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). These include the United States, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Russia and others, who have a history of playing down the climate emergency. As a matter of course, objections are raised to any elements of the text that such signatories regard as pushing too far the envelope of what global heating and climate breakdown might bring. As a consequence, much peer-reviewed climate change science fails to make the reports and, as a consequence, goes largely unnoticed by most of the media and the public.

Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in the area of future sea-level rise. In its 2019 Special Report on the Oceans and Cryosphere (SROCC)1, the IPPC’s worst case likely range for sea-level rise by the period 2081-2100 is 51 – 92cm, with a figure of up to 110cm provided for 2100. In stark contrast, peer-reviewed research, not addressed in the report, forecasts that more rapid break-up of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could see global sea levels 292cm higher by the end of the century2. Such an order of rise is supported by polar ice melt doubling times at the lower end of the 10-40 year range3 and by a tripling in the rate of Antarctic ice loss between 2012 and 20174. If maintained, such a tripling time of five years would see sea level climbing by around 5cm a year by the mid 2040s.

Another possible consequence of global heating that is underplayed in the IPCC reports is the collapse of the Gulf Stream and associated currents – known in oceanographic circles as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). In the aforementioned 2019 SROCC report, the IPCC recognises that ‘…the AMOC has weakened relative to 1850-1900….’ but that there is ‘….insufficient data to quantify the magnitude of weakening…’ or to ‘…properly attribute it to anthropogenic forcing.’ The report goes on to say that the ‘….AMOC is projected to weaken in the 21st century….although collapse is very unlikely.’ Other research, reported in a range of peer-reviewed papers is, however, more worrying. The strength of the AMOC has declined by 15 percent since the mid-nineteenth century and is now at its weakest for 1500 years and probably since it last collapsed 11,500 years ago5,6. Shutdown, should it occur, could happen extremely rapidly, perhaps over the course of just a year or two, leading to major cooling of the North Atlantic region and serious knock-on effects on sea level and weather patterns.

In it’s 5th Assessment Report, published in 20147, the IPCC notes that ‘…it is very likely that heat waves will occur with a higher frequency and duration.’ It does not, however, say anything about the terrifying prospect of so-called humid heat waves. These arise when the wet bulb temperature – a measure of the combination of heat and humidity – reaches 35°C. Such conditions, if sustained, are unsurvivable, so that even a fit and healthy human in the shade has only about six hours to live. The required combination of heat and humidity has not been encountered in modern times, but the conditions were almost met in parts of Iran in July 2015. Looking ahead, the second half of the century is forecast to see humid heat waves affecting the Ganges and Indus valleys of South Asia8, the Persian Gulf and China. Most at risk is the North China Plain, where widespread irrigation is predicted to contribute to the occurrence of humid heat waves later this century that could affect up to 400 million people under a business as usual emissions scenario9.

Other elements of global heating and climate breakdown research are omitted from IPCC publications too, or at least soft-peddled. The key question then, is how can this information be made generally available and how can it’s profile be raised so as to present a more complete picture of what a hotter world might look like. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be an easy solution. One way forward might be for the IPCC to openly acknowledge the existence of relevant and important peer-reviewed research that supports non-consensus findings, and to publish this material in addenda to the main reports. This would, or course, require the agreement of the signatories of the UNFCCC, which is likely to prove difficult, if not impossible.

Another way forward could be the establishment of an independently-vetted, non-political website, perhaps validated by national academies of science, on which peer-reviewed research findings not included – for one reason or another – in IPCC publications, could be lodged.

Building a more complete picture – for both stakeholders and the public – of what global heating and climate breakdown could mean, would also benefit from more climate scientists sticking their heads above the parapet and saying in public, what they currently reserve for private conversations. Many climate scientists clearly have an issue with telling it like it is, as high-lighted in a recent analysis10.

This showed that later observations of the climate system (e.g. ice extent and sea-level rise) were typically worse than earlier predictions made by climate scientists, and that key climate indicators were often underestimated. The study also unearthed a general feeling within the climate science community that it needed to give the impression of univocality – speaking with one voice – and a consensus outlook. The analysis also revealed that – when the world is watching – climate scientists worry about how they will be perceived. Taken together, all this means that most researchers working on global heating and climate breakdown tend to play down worst-case scenarios, thereby presenting an unrepresentative picture of their impacts and consequences. What the climate science community should be doing is not making consensus a goal. If it exists, it will emerge in its own right. If it doesn’t, then clear differences of opinion need to be acknowledged and clarified. The time for sweeping inconvenient research findings under the carpet and keeping heads down for fear of reputational damage or derision are long gone. We all have a right of access to the complete picture of the world our children and grandchildren could inherit. Failing to provide this may well mean that the actions we take in this critical decade fall short of what is needed to avoid catastrophic, all-pervasive, climate breakdown.”

 

Bill McGuire’s novel – SKYSEED – an eco-thriller about geoengineering gone wrong, is published in September 2020.

References

1 IPCC 2019, Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate. https://www.ipcc.ch/srocc/

2 Le Bars, D. et al. 2017 A high-end sea-level rise probabilistic projection including rapid Antarctic Ice Sheet mass loss. Environmental Research Letters 12. https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aa6512/meta

3 Hansen, J. et al. 2016 Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2 °C global warming could be dangerous. Atmos. Chem. Phys., 16, 3761-3812.

4 The IMBIE Team 2018 Mass balance of the Antarctic Ice Sheet 1992 – 2017. Nature, 558, 219-222.

5 Caesar, L. et al. 2018 Observed fingerprint of a weakening Atlantic Ocean overturning circulation. Nature 556, 191 – 196.

6 Thornalley, D. J. R. et al. 2018 Anomalously weak Labrador Sea convection and Atlantic overturning during the past 150 years. Nature 556, 227-230.

7 IPCC 2013-14 5th Assessment Report. http://ipcc.ch/report/ar5/

8 Im, E., Pal, J. S & Eltahir, E. A. B. 2017 Deadly heatwaves projected in the densely populated agricultural regions of South Asia. Science Advances 3 (8), e1603322.

9 Kang, S. & Eltahir, E. A. B. 2018 North China Plain threatened by deadly heatwaves due to climate change and irrigation. Nature Communications Article 2894.

10 Oppenheimer, M. et al. 2019 Discerning experts: the practices of scientific assessment for environmental policy. University of Chicago Press. 304pp.



 


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Net Zero: CCC recommendations on how to achieve it

The UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the government’s statutory advisor, published its progress report at the end of June.

CCC

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jun/25/road-to-net-zero-what-the-committee-on-climate-change-recommends

According to the report, a number of areas need urgent attention, if the government is to reach its target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.  These are:

  • Energy Efficiency – insulating Britain’s homes;
  • Domestic Heating – looking at low carbon alternatives;
  • Electric Vehicles –  the CCC suggests that a complete switch to electric vehicles can be achieved by 2032, earlier than the government’s target of 2035, though car manufacturuers are opposing this;
  • Carbon Tax – this would not hit consumers but could raise £15 billion a year, according to the CCC;
  • Agriculture and Land Use – such as tree planting and nature-friendly farming, which could change agriculture from a major source of emissions to a net absorber;
  • Reskilling and Retraining Programmes – a new workforce will be required to install low-carbon boilers, home insulation and offshore wind farms;
  • Behavioural Changes in Lockdown – showed that many people can work from home, reducing emissions from transport emissions. A new infrastructure to encourage people to cycle or walk to work needs developing;
  • Targeted Science and Innovation Funding – for the development of low-carbon technologies;
  • Adaptations to the Effects of the Climate Crisis – flood defences, protecting homes from hotter summers etc.


 


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In Antarctica, Thwaites Glacier is melting at an alarming rate

Last December, I posted a piece about the Greenland ice melting much quicker than expected.  Now, it would appear that a similar – and alarming – phenomenon is happening in Antarctica and in particular to the Thwaites Glacier.  A long description of the studies going on in Antarctica are published in the Financial Times:

https://www.ft.com/content/4ff254ed-960d-4b35-a6c0-1e60a6e79d91?accessToken=zwAAAXNShYlwkc9P8lTtlg1LNdOmwB5gpuedkQ.MEUCIFKDG6HzzEOqwoYyTRgLpei4mcXYNWOLEcNC_maDzoPOAiEAzbhmPri686P70MFRmuvW3kxRxuMNWEPQ5spA-bHNzL8&sharetype=gift?token=20c077b2-b37e-43b0-91e2-77271122f61a

The location, and comparative size, of the glacier can be seen in the following image, sourced from the Norwegian Polar Institute and included in the FT article.

Thwaites glacier

Thwaites Glacier is only a small part of the Antarctic ice but, in size, approximates to the size of England and Wales (see insert above).  According to the article, it is the most vulnerable place in Antarctica because several chunks of ice have already broken away from it. The studies of the glacier are part of a joint effort between British and American scientists.  The glacier is being studied in order to predict how much the sea level will rise in the future.

Antarctica holds around 90 per cent of the ice on the planet and is equivalent to the size of Europe.  It is covered in a blanket of ice, 2km thick. And as the planet heats up due to climate change, the polar regions warm much faster. This puts the icy continents of Antarctica and Greenland, in the Arctic region, right at the forefront of the effects of global warming. The South Pole has warmed at three times the global rate since 1989.

Scientists believe that, if Thwaites glacier is removed, other ice which it is holding back, will start draining into the ocean. By itself, Thwaites could raise sea levels about 65cm as it melts. But if it goes, there will be a knock-on effect across the western half of Antarctica, which could lead to between 2m and 3m of sea level rise, a rise that would be catastrophic for most coastal cities.



 


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We need a Just Transition to reshape our economy for people and planet

This posting is from Scotland’s Friends of the Earth and is about a consultation just released by the Just Transition Commission, which was set up last year by the Scottish government.  The deadline for responding to the consultation is 30th June 2020.

We need a Just Transition to reshape our economy for people and planet – share your views with the Just Transition Commission

Without a radical transformation of our economy, we face climate breakdown. While the Scottish Government has set demanding climate and energy targets, plans to deliver them don’t do enough to ensure that no-one is left behind as we move to a fossil free economy.

In fact, much of our progress in reducing emissions has been as a result of de-industrialisation, and policies to deliver the zero-carbon economy have failed to realise the full potential of creating new, decent work in Scotland.

If the transition continues to be left to market forces, we risk a repeat of the devastating social dislocation and high unemployment experienced as a result of de-industrialisation and coal mine closures.

The importance of planning this transition

To get this crucial, economy-and-society-wide transition right, people all over Scotland need to be deeply involved in the planning for how their work, lives and communities are going to change. The impact of measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 on the economy, with a deep recession now looming, simply compounds this.

The economic recovery must be a Just and Green Recovery that promotes the growth of green industries, creating urgently-needed, quality opportunities for those who have lost their jobs and livelihoods during the pandemic as well as for those who will be impacted in the move to a fossil free economy.
Just Transition banner at May Day March 2-10

The Just Transition Commission – set up by the Scottish Government last year following calls from STUC and FoES – has been tasked with advising Ministers on how to achieve Scotland’s climate targets in a way that is fair to all. The Commission has recently launched an Interim Report and alongside this issued a call for evidence to inform their work, closing on 30th June.

Crucially, the Interim Report emphasised that a Just Transition will not happen by accident and it must mean more than rhetoric. The Commission has been clear in stating that a Just Transition requires a comprehensive approach from Government with consistency across all Departments in reducing our emissions in a way that protects workers and communities while reshaping our economy in the interests of people and planet.

The importance of urgent planning and intervention to put us on the path to a Just Transition is brought into even sharper focus as we look to recover from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, with a deep global recession looming unless governments intervene effectively. The Scottish Government has written to the Commission for advice on how best to do this, so the present call for evidence is also a crucial chance to share with the Commission our vision and demands for a Just and Green Recovery from COVID-19.

Seize the moment to shape the transition

This call for evidence is a key opportunity for individuals, organisations and groups across the country to get their voices heard about what needs to happen for a truly just transition to a zero carbon economy that is fair for all.

This is particularly important for workers or communities where the local economy relies heavily on fossil fuel industries, but the scale of change necessary to tackle the climate crisis is such that it will have an impact on everyone.

In the process we can transform our economy in terms of who it serves and what we prioritise, putting people and the planet above corporate interests. This is a rare moment – we must seize it!

The Just Transition Commission wants to hear from people, organisations and businesses across Scotland on their views of what a successful Just Transition would look like and who is likely to be most impacted by the move to a zero carbon economy.  Below you can read our priorities as well as additional resources to help you in preparing to respond.

Our priorities for a Just Transition

We have been campaigning with our trade union allies in the Just Transition Partnership since 2017. Based on this work, our key priorities for a Just Transition that we want the Commission to take on board are:

  • New jobs for a high skill, high wage and zero carbon economy are needed for those leaving old, polluting jobs to move into but there is no sign yet of the strategic support, intervention and investment needed to realise this.
  • A Just Transition approach which is able to protect workers, while ensuring a fairer spread of the economic benefits, must anticipate changes in the labour market and put in place strategic skills development and retraining programmes.
  • Just Transition Plans must be put in place for all industrial sectors, deepening democratic participation in decision making through the participation of workers and trade unions. These should be a condition of all government support to private companies and delivered by the actions of all public agencies
  • The workers and communities likely to be most impacted must be engaged deeply in the decisions affecting their livelihoods. Planning must involve those people as well as trade unions and environmentalists to ensure the pace and focus needed.
  • There must be a far greater role for a Publicly Owned Energy Company (POEC) than that currently proposed by the Scottish Government. Rather than becoming just another retail supplier of energy, it should have a role across the energy network; creating new renewables projects, prioritising domestic supply chains and enabling local and regional energy ownership too.
  • Scotland’s National Investment Bank should be connected with the POEC to provide critically needed investment. More widely, the Bank’s patient, long-term lending should be concentrated on delivering the just transition to zero carbon, and creating decent work in the green economy across Scotland.

Take this opportunity to get your voice heard by following this link.

The deadline to respond is Tuesday 30th June!

There are six questions in the consultation but you do not need to answer every one. If you want to submit your thoughts then you could focus on Questions 3 & 4 to say what a Just Transition would look like in your opinion and what the Scottish Government should be doing to make it happen

Additional resources to help you respond to the call for evidence:

A pdf copy of the report can be downloaded from:

https://www.gov.scot/publications/transition-commission-interim-report/pages/10/

View this document



Scottish Quakers have submitted a response to the consultation:

Quakers in Scotland response to the Scottish Just Transition Commission interim report consultation

This submission is made on behalf of Quakers in Scotland. It is informed by the longstanding and deeply held Quaker concern for equality and care for the earth, and by our current work focusing on climate justice. Quakers seek to live in accordance with our core values of equality, peace, simplicity, truth and integrity. Led by our experience that there is something of God in all people, we are saddened by, and deplore the vast inequalities that currently exist in Scottish and UK society as well as globally. We believe government has a moral duty to address this crisis of inequality, including through a just transition approach to emission reductions. We believe it is also the duty of government to speak plainly and honestly about the scale of the economic transformation required, and about what this means for highcarbon industries such as oil and gas and aviation.

What do you see as the main economic opportunities and challenges associated with meeting Scotland’s climate change targets?
Scotland, like the rest of the global North, faces the immense challenge of managing a
transition to an economic system which prioritises equality, health and quality of life, not
growth. GDP was never intended as a measure of general prosperity, and its continuing use for this purpose, results in a distorted view of the economy which is still the basis of
policymaking. The success of the transition to a zero-carbon economy must be measured in different terms: emissions reductions, and a range of indicators for equality and wellbeing.

The unprecedented circumstances of Covid-19 have revealed the inequities within our
current system, as well as the public appetite for change: for example, a recent Britain-wide poll for Positive Money found that a majority of people think social and environmental outcomes should be prioritised over economic growth.i
Justice must be the basis for policies to address the climate crisis, or we are likely to see increased inequality, ill health and social exclusion. We are therefore pleased to see the Scottish government placing the just transition at the heart of its thinking on climate.
Fuel poverty provides a clear example of how a just transition can reduce inequality as well as emissions. Strong government action on energy efficiency of housing, through both retrofitting programmes and standards for new homes, could improve health through better housing conditions, as well as contributing to Scotland’s climate targets. Money spent wisely on the just transition is a good investment, not a burden, and the government should present it as such.

One particular challenge in the Scottish context is the need to wind down oil and gas
production. Scottish and UK energy policy still includes the ‘duty’ to “maximise economic
recovery from the UK continental shelf”, an aim that is directly at odds with the urgent need for a just transition to a zero-carbon economy. The two aims cannot coexist, and attempts to pretend otherwise are hampering the transition.

To assume continued dependence on oil and gas in 2045 presupposes an unrealistically
large ‘net’ in ‘net zero’, with no evidence this can be achieved. The reference in the
consultation document to a ‘transition’ for the oil and gas industry suggests that it can
‘green’ itself, when there is no evidence that this is so. We fear that the idea of a ‘net zero
carbon hydrocarbon basin’, based wholly on hoped-for ‘further innovation’ could be
industry ‘greenwash’ designed to allow little serious change. Government action is needed to ensure that sector-by-sector plans are realistic and in line with the Paris Agreement: voluntary action from industry will not be enough. The just transition must be about protecting workers and communities, not big business. A just transition for oil and gas workers cannot be predicated on fantasies about a continuing role for fossil fuels – it needs to plan for a much earlier phase-out date. The Covid-19 crisis has shown that it is possible for the manufacturing industries to diversify into, for example, the production of ventilators.

What do you think are the wider social (health, community etc.) opportunities and
challenges associated with meeting Scotland’s climate change targets?
A just transition to zero carbon presents an opportunity to build thriving, resilient
communities based around local jobs, environmental protection, community ownership and a circular economy. Our response focuses on two key challenges, but there are many others.

Land use
Scotland’s peatlands are a vital carbon sink and fundamental to meeting Scotland’s and the UK’s climate targets. The UK narrative and funding in support of tree planting does not take into account the Scottish context, where grant-backed conifer planting is destroying shallow peatland sites. Restoring all peatlands, including shallow peat, is the most effective action Scotland could take to sequester carbon. Much stronger regulation is needed to prevent damage to peatlands through extraction, burning, draining or tree planting. Expert advice should be available to all farmers and landowners on how to make best use of their land for carbon sequestration. Incentives to use land as a carbon sink should not undermine sustainable food production where that is the optimal use of the land. Grants and training should be provided for all farmers to cut their emissions and adopt agroecological farming methods, which promote soil health (including its ability to act as a carbon sink) and biodiversity and eliminate the need for highly polluting artificial fertilisers.

Ending car dependency
A transition to electric cars will not solve the problem of transport emissions. An entirely
green grid will take time to achieve; and the greater the demand for electricity, the harder it will be. Electric cars are part of the transition, but walking, cycling and public transport must come first, along with reducing the need to travel through provision of local jobs and services and good broadband.

Investment in cycle infrastructure is needed, and would have substantial public health
benefits: Western countries with the highest levels of active travel generally have the lowest obesity rates. Estimates vary, but one report found that increasing the cycling rate to 27% of all journeys could save the Scottish economy £4 billion/yearii. However, figures from the new National Transport Strategy show cycling on Scotland’s roads declined from 2012 to 2017.iii

The existing commitment to decarbonise rail routes by 2035 is welcome, but needs to be
brought forward to ensure zero-emission trains can replace old diesel trains as they are
retired. Bus routes need to be protected and improved, particularly in rural areas. We
welcome the steps being taken towards this, including the £500m fund announced last year. However, a more comprehensive approach is still needed, to include new research clarifying what it is that people actually need, better integration of different transport modes to enable multi-modal journeys, and a review of all planned transport infrastructure projects, with projects only going ahead if they are projected to reduce emissions.

We support Transform Scotland’s call for all organisations to rule out air travel for trips
within mainland Britain; the public sector could and should take the lead on this.

What would a successful transition to net-zero emissions look like for your
sector/community?
Many Quakers are involved in local projects based on mutual aid, democratic participation and more collaborative and communal ways of living. This is at the heart of our vision for a more equal and sustainable society. A zero-carbon society must embrace these principles and foster strong local networks of sharing and support. This includes support for community farms and gardens, community asset ownership, community energy, co-housing and co-operative housing models, reuse and repair initiatives, ‘libraries of things’ (as well as more traditional libraries), and training in the skills that make these projects thrive.

We must ensure that the transition to zero emissions does not leave behind the same
people who are already struggling and marginalised. All policies should be assessed for their impact on low-income households as well as for their carbon impact. Crucially, the value that is created through public investment – be it land value or wealth enabled by new technology – must be captured and retained for public benefit, through taxation, planning and land use policy, and support for community and employee ownership. Without measures to enable this, wealth will continue to flow upwards, and many people will continue to have no stake in Scotland’s prosperity. There is good evidence that emissions are lower in more equal societies, so policies that promote equality are key to reaching our climate targets as well as being a moral duty.
The major changes that are needed will only be just and sustainable if citizens are involved in decision-making. While there is much that can be done now – from mass retrofitting programmes to investment in public transport – genuine public participation and not “tick box consultation” is needed where decisions could have negative impacts or will involve significant inconvenience. There is widespread support for stronger climate action, and for us not to return, post-pandemic, to a ‘normal’ that was failing so many people.iv

The transition is an opportunity to rethink our relationship with production and
consumption and the way we treat our living planet. These are difficult issues, but if we fail to confront them now, a safe, post-fossil fuel era will remain out of reach.

What actions do you think the Scottish Government should take to manage the
opportunities and challenges referenced above?
Stop funding fossil fuels and high-carbon infrastructure: end fossil fuel and aviation
subsidies; require the carbon impact of all spending decisions to be assessed; publish a
carbon impact account alongside future Budgets to show the overall carbon impact of
government spending decisions.
Provide more support for a post-fossil fuel future: invest in walking and cycling and rural bus routes; support community renewable energy; invest in energy efficient homes; support sustainable food production; provide adequate funding for peatland restoration; provide funding and support for local authorities and communities to cut their emissions and build resilience. The Scottish National Investment Bank could be key to investment in a just transition. The welcome inclusion of a legislative requirement for the Bank to invest in projects that promote a just transition to zero carbon, needs strengthening to rule out lending to fossil fuel producers and other polluting industries. Oil and gas-based products (as opposed to fossil fuels) must be limited to those with a non-polluting footprint: 1 not fuel; 2 longterm recyclable.’

Design policies to benefit low-income households first: the transition to zero carbon must
address economic and social inequalities in the UK, and all policies should be assessed
against their impact on low-income households.

Support a global just transition: while this consultation relates to Scotland, it is important
not to lose sight of the global picture. Scotland and the UK have overwhelmingly benefited from cheap fossil fuel energy, while communities in the global South who have not enjoyed the same benefits are now suffering the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Scotland and the UK have an opportunity to show leadership by both reducing emissions rapidly and ensuring that policy decisions do not reinforce existing global inequalities. Much of this is in the hands of the UK government, but we urge the Scottish government to align its own policy and investment decisions with the principles of climate justice. To give one key example: in embracing renewable energy and new technologies, the government should seek to ensure that it is not supporting exploitative and destructive mining in the global South.

We welcome the new Climate Change Act’s recognition of the need to address overall
consumption emissions, as well as the inclusion of just transition and climate justice
principles. We are disappointed that the government blocked amendments that would have required Ministers to set out steps taken to ensure that policies to cut emissions in Scotland do not reduce the ability of other countries to achieve their Sustainable Development Goals.

The climate crisis is a global challenge and must be addressed through international
collaboration. A zero-carbon transition which pits one country’s interests against another’s cannot be just, and we hope to see this omission rectified.

The Scottish government could also use its voice in support of debt relief and grants for poor countries hit by climate disasters, and push the UK government to acknowledge the
principle of ‘fair shares’ based on historic emissions, which demands a much greater
contribution than the UK is currently making.

Are there specific groups or communities that may be, or feel that they may be,
adversely affected by a transition to a net-zero carbon economy? What steps can be taken to address their concerns?
Unless policies are specifically designed to promote equality, the same people who have
been left behind under the current system will suffer again. Communities which have
suffered as a result of previous economic transitions (such as the decline of coal mining) are likely to be sceptical and should be brought into decision-making at the earliest possible stage. Full participation of unions and community groups will result in better policymaking and broader public support.

i https://positivemoney.org/2020/05/new-polling-only-12-want-uk-to-prioritise-economic-growth-overwellbeing/
ii http://transformscotland.org.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Towards-a-Healthier-
Economy.pdf
iii Transport and Travel in Scotland 2017, Table i: Traffic and passenger numbers in Scotland, 2012 to 2017



 


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European Environmental Agency’s report shows EU greenhouse gas emissions continue to fall

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/29/eus-greenhouse-gas-emissions-continue-to-fall-as-coal-ditched

drax power station hero pic

Greenhouse gas emissions in the EU continued their fall in 2018, the latest year for which comprehensive data is available, according to a new report from Europe’s environment watchdog.

Emissions fell by 2.1% compared with 2017, to a level 23% lower than in 1990, the baseline for the bloc’s emission cuts under the UN’s climate agreements. If the UK is excluded, the decline since 1990 was smaller, standing at 20.7%.

Greenhouse gas emissions in the EU continued their fall in 2018, the latest year for which comprehensive data is available, according to a new report from Europe’s environment watchdog.

Emissions fell by 2.1% compared with 2017, to a level 23% lower than in 1990, the baseline for the bloc’s emission cuts under the UN’s climate agreements. If the UK is excluded, the decline since 1990 was smaller, standing at 20.7%.

However, emissions must be brought down much further and faster to satisfy the EU’s obligations under the Paris agreement, campaigners said. Annual falls of about 7% are estimated to be needed to keep global heating within the Paris upper limit of 2C above pre-industrial levels.

The economic turmoil and disruption caused by the coronavirus is likely to result in a short-term drop in emissions, as it has so far this year across the world, but the longer-term impact is unknown.

Green groups urged governments to link the recovery from the coronavirus with the need to reduce carbon, ahead of the Cop26 talks, and said the year’s delay must not be allowed to slow down action on the climate crisis.

“A 2.1% emissions drop isn’t nearly enough to avert massive climate breakdown, and we absolutely cannot lose sight of the urgency of this task,” said Aaron Kiely, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth. “Postponement of the climate talks cannot come at the cost of international climate action – it doesn’t give governments a get-out clause from their international responsibilities. There is a way out of both [the climate and coronavirus] crises if we collaborate, listen to the science, and stop losing time.”



 


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Biodiversity loss and the European Parliament

Biodiversity loss: what is causing it and why is it a concern?

https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/society/20200109STO69929/biodiversity-loss-what-is-causing-it-and-why-is-it-a-concern

biodiversity

Plant and animal species are disappearing at an ever faster rate due to human activity. What are the causes and why does biodiversity matter?

Biodiversity, or the variety of all living things on our planet, has been declining at an alarming rate in recent years, mainly due to human activities, such as land use changes, pollution and climate change.

On 16 January MEPs called for legally binding targets to stop biodiversity loss to be agreed at a UN biodiversity conference (COP15) in China in October. The conference brings together parties to the 1993 UN Biodiversity Convention to decide on its post-2020 strategy. Parliament wants the EU to take the lead by ensuring that 30% of EU territory consists of natural areas by 2030 and considering biodiversity in all EU policies.

What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity is traditionally defined as the variety of life on Earth in all its forms. It comprises the number of species, their genetic variation and the interaction of these lifeforms within complex ecosystems.

In a UN report published in 2019, scientists warned that one million species – out of an estimated total of eight million – are threatened with extinction, many within decades. Some researchers even consider we are in the middle of the sixth mass extinction event in Earth’s history. Earlier known mass extinctions wiped out between 60% and 95% of all species. It takes millions of years for ecosystems to recover from such an event.

Why is biodiversity important?

Healthy ecosystems provide us with many essentials we take for granted. Plants convert energy from the sun making it available to other life forms. Bacteria and other living organisms break down organic matter into nutrients providing plants with healthy soil to grow in. Pollinators are essential in plant reproduction, guaranteeing our food production. Plants and oceans act as major carbon sinks.

In short, biodiversity provides us with clean air, fresh water, good quality soil and crop pollination. It helps us fight climate change and adapt to it as well reduce the impact of natural hazards.

Since living organisms interact in dynamic ecosystems, the disappearance of one species can have a far-reaching impact on the food chain. It is impossible to know exactly what the consequences of mass extinctions would be for humans, but we do know that for now the diversity of nature allows us to thrive.

Main reasons for biodiversity loss 
  • Changes in land use (e.g. deforestation, intensive mono-culture, urbanisation) 
  • Direct exploitation such as hunting and over-fishing
  • Climate change 
  • Pollution 
  • Invasive alien species 

What measures does the Parliament propose?

MEPs are calling for legally binding targets both locally and globally, in order to encourage more ambitious measures to ensure the conservation and the restoration of biodiversity. Natural areas should cover 30% of the EU territory by 2030 and degraded ecosystems should be restored. In order to guarantee sufficient financing, Parliament proposes that 10% of the EU’s next long-term budget is devoted to conservation of biodiversity.

The Parliament also wants a better protection of pollinators, such as bees. In December 2019, MEPs criticised the EU pollinators’ initiative presented by the European Commission as insufficient to tackle the root causes of the declines.

 



 


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COP 26: New date agreed for UN climate summit in Glasgow

COP 26, due to be held in Glasgow in November 2020, has now been postponed for a year.  The COP26 UN summit will now take place between 1 and 12 November next year.

It was originally supposed to take place in November 2020. However, it had to be postponed due to the pandemic.

Dozens of world leaders will attend the gathering, the most important round of talks since the global Paris Agreement to tackle climate change was secured in 2015.

This year’s event was due to take place at the Scottish Events Campus in Glasgow, which has been turned into a temporary hospital in response to coronavirus.

‘Clean, resilient recovery’ from Covid-19

COP 26 President Alok Sharma said: “While we rightly focus on fighting the immediate crisis of the coronavirus, we must not lose sight of the huge challenges of climate change.”

Mr Sharma, who is also the UK government’s business secretary, added: “With the new dates for COP26 now agreed we are working with our international partners on an ambitious roadmap for global climate action between now and November 2021.

“The steps we take to rebuild our economies will have a profound impact on our societies’ future sustainability, resilience and wellbeing and COP26 can be a moment where the world unites behind a clean resilient recovery.

The UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa, said: “If done right, the recovery from the Covid-19 crisis can steer us to a more inclusive and sustainable climate path.”

COP 26 will be the event at which countries are expected to come forward with stronger emissions cuts to meet the goals of the Paris 2015 deal.

Plans submitted so far put the world on a pathway towards more than 3C of warming, though the Paris Agreement commits countries to curb temperatures to 1.5C or 2C above pre-industrial levels to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

But with countries around the world grappling with coronavirus, and many putting citizens in lockdown, governments have prioritised the immediate global health crisis.

Since the pandemic took hold, greenhouse gas emissions have dropped sharply as industry and transport have been curtailed, but experts have warned that pollution will soon bounce back without climate action.



 


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“Planet of the Humans” removed from youtube

This controversial film, produced by Michael Moore, argues that green energy sources, including biomass energy, wind power, and solar energy, are not truly renewable or sustainable. The film has been criticized as outdated and misleading. The film was removed from YouTube on 25 May 2020.

Here is a critique of the film by George Monbiot and published in The Guardian, 8th May 2020:

“How did the radical film maker Michael Moore become a hero of the far right?”

Denial never dies; it just goes quiet and waits. Today, after years of irrelevance, the climate science deniers are triumphant. Long after their last, desperate claims had collapsed, when they had traction only on alt-right conspiracy sites, a hero of the left turns up and gives them more than they could have dreamt of.

Planet of the Humans, whose executive producer and promoter is Michael Moore, has now been watched 6 million times on YouTube. The film does not deny climate science. But it promotes the discredited myths that deniers have used for years to justify their position. It claims that environmentalism is a self-seeking scam, doing immense harm to the living world while enriching a group of con artists. This has long been the most effective means by which denial – most of which has been funded by the fossil fuel industry – has been spread. Everyone hates a scammer.

And yes, there are scammers. There are real issues and real conflicts to be explored in seeking to prevent the collapse of our life support systems. But they are handled so clumsily and incoherently by this film that watching it is like watching someone starting a drunken brawl over a spilled pint, then lamping his friends when they try to restrain him. It stumbles so blindly into toxic issues that Michael Moore, former champion of the underdog, unwittingly aligns himself with white supremacists and the extreme right.

Occasionally, the film lands a punch on the right nose. It is right to attack the burning of trees to make electricity. But when the presenter and director, Jeff Gibbs, claims that “I found only one environmental leader willing to reject biomass and biofuels”, he can’t have been looking very far. Some of us have been speaking out against them ever since they became a serious proposition (since 2004 in my case). Almost every environmental leader I know opposes the burning of fresh materials to generate power.

There are also some genuine and difficult problems with renewable energy, particularly the mining of the necessary materials. But the film’s attacks on solar and wind power rely on a series of blatant falsehoods. It claims that, in producing electricity from renewables, “You use more fossil fuels to do this than you’re getting benefit from it. You would have been better off just burning fossil fuels in the first place”. This is flat wrong. On average, a solar panel generates 26 units of solar energy for every unit of fossil energy required to build and install it. For wind turbines the ratio is 44 to 1.

Planet of the Humans also claims that you can’t reduce fossil fuel use through renewable energy: coal is instead being replaced by gas. Well, in the third quarter of 2019, renewables in the UK generated more electricity than coal, oil and gas plants put together. As a result of the switch to renewables in this country, the amount of fossil fuel used for power generation has halved since 2010. By 2025, the government forecasts, roughly half our electricity will come from renewables, while gas burning will drop by a further 40%. To hammer home its point, the film shows footage of a “large terminal to import natural gas from the United States” that “Germany just built”. Germany has no such terminal. The footage was shot in Turkey.

There is also a real story to be told about the co-option and capture of some environmental groups by the industries they should hold to account. A remarkable number of large conservation organisations take money from fossil fuel companies. This is a disgrace. But rather than pinning the blame where it lies, Planet of the Humans concentrates its attacks on Bill McKibben, the co-founder of 350.org, who takes no money from any of his campaigning work. It’s an almost comic exercise in misdirection, but unfortunately it has horrible, real-world consequences, as McKibben now faces even more threats and attacks than he confronted before.

But this is by no means the worst of it. The film offers only one concrete solution to our predicament: the most toxic of all possible answers. “We really have got to start dealing with the issue of population … without seeing some sort of major die off in population, there’s no turning back.”

Yes, population growth does contribute to the pressures on the natural world. But while the global population is rising by 1% a year, consumption, until the pandemic, was rising at a steady 3%. High consumption is concentrated in countries where population growth is low. Where population growth is highest, consumption tends to be extremely low. Almost all the growth in numbers is in poor countries largely inhabited by black and brown people. When very rich people, such as Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs, point to this issue without the necessary caveats, they are saying, in effect, “it’s not us consuming, it’s Them breeding.” It’s not hard to see why the alt-right loves this film.

Population is where you go when you haven’t thought it through. Population is where you go when you don’t have the guts to face the structural, systemic causes of our predicament: inequality, oligarchic power, capitalism. Population is where you go when you want to kick down.

We have been here many times before. Dozens of films have spread falsehoods about  environmental activists and ripped into green technologies, while letting fossil fuels off the hook. But never before have these attacks come from a famous campaigner for social justice, rubbing our faces in the dirt.”

www.monbiot.com