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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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An alarmists guide to climate change

This is an article written by Prof Bill McGuire of University College, London and published by Scientists for Global Responsibility, as well as in: Responsible Science journal, no.1; Advance online publication: 14 February 2019.

Below is copied in its entirety from SGR magazine: http://www.sgr.org.uk/resources/alarmist-s-guide-climate-change

ProfBillMcGuire

Prof. Bill McGuire, University College London

“Have you noticed how the term ‘alarmist’ has been hijacked? In the context of climate breakdown, habitat and wildlife loss and other environmental issues, it has become synonymous with scaremongering; with the voice of doom. In certain circles it is frowned upon and judged to be a hindrance to getting the global warming message across. Iconic broadcaster David Attenborough is the latest to express the view that ‘alarmism’ in the context of the environment can be a ‘turn-off’ rather than a call to action. But are such viewpoints justified, especially when our world and our society teeter on the edge of catastrophe? After all, the simplest, most straightforward, meaning of an ‘alarmist’ is someone who raises the alarm. Is this not what we need now more than ever; to be told the whole story – warts and all? The alternative, it seems to me, is to play down the seriousness of our predicament; to send a message that is incomplete, and to conveniently avoid or marginalise predictions and forecasts that paint a picture regarded as too bleak for general consumption. Surely, this is the last thing we need at this critical time?

No-one could ever accuse the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of being alarmist. Because every sentence of IPCC report drafts is pored over by representatives of national governments – some of whom are lukewarm or even antagonistic to the whole idea of climate change – the final versions are inevitably conservative. The closest the IPCC has come to sounding an alarm bell can be found in its latest report Global Warming of 1.5ºC, published in October. Here it warns that emissions must be slashed within 12 years (by 2030) if there is to be any chance whatsoever of keeping the global average temperature rise (since pre-industrial times) below 1.5ºC, and fall to zero by 2050.

Notwithstanding the unlikelihood of achieving net zero global emissions in a little more than three decades, the pace and degree of climate change are about more than just anthropogenic emissions. They are also influenced by tipping points and positive feedback loops; sudden changes in the behaviour of ice sheets, carbon sources and sinks, and ocean currents, which can accelerate warming and its consequences way beyond the expected. Depressingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the latest IPCC report’s Summary for Policymakers [1] – let’s face it, the only bit likely to be read by the movers and shakers – includes just one brief mention of feedbacks and has nothing at all to say about tipping points. The justification for this appears to be that because it is not possible to assign levels of confidence to such known unknowns, they cannot be included. But it is difficult not to conclude that the real reason is to tone down the threat in order to appease those governments that view climate change as a nuisance that they would like to go away.

The decision to bury concerns over tipping points and feedbacks in the depths of the full report rather than flagging them in the Summary is nonsensical. Touting the critical importance of drastic action while at the same time soft peddling the threat has the potential to backfire, providing the obvious get out: well, if the situation is not so bad, maybe the response doesn’t need to be that urgent. If drastic, life-changing, action is being mooted, people need to know – have a right to know – why. They need to be presented with a complete picture showing how bad things might get – however scary or poorly constrained.

Bringing the potential consequences of tipping points and feedbacks into the equation inevitably transforms perceptions of the dangers we face. Suddenly, climate change ceases to be something vaguely inconvenient that we can leave future generations to deal with. Instead, it becomes far more of an immediate threat capable of tearing our world apart. Take sea level, for example. The IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report, [2] published in 2013 and 2014, predicts – for a worst-case scenario – that global mean sea level could be about a metre higher by the end of the century. Bad enough for millions of coastal dwellers, but nothing compared to what our descendants might experience if a tipping point is crossed that sees the Greenland and/or West Antarctic ice sheets start to disintegrate in earnest. Models that do incorporate this, point to sea level rising far more rapidly. One suggests that the ice loss in Antarctica could occur at a much faster rate than expected, leading to global average sea level being more than 3m higher at the end of the century. [3] Another, based upon correlations between temperature and sea levels during the last interglacial, which ended around 115,000 years ago, proposes that sea level – in theory at least – could climb by as much as 5m by 2100. [4]

Worrying evidence that we might be at a tipping point in Antarctica comes from a very recent study on the rate of ice loss from 2012 to 2017. During this five-year period, Antarctic ice loss shot up threefold, from 76 billion tonnes annually, to a colossal 219 billion tonnes. [5] In total, more than 2.7 trillion tonnes of Antarctic ice has melted in the last quarter century, adding three quarters of a centimetre to global sea level. At the new rate, the contribution over the next 25 years would be 1.5cm. Not enough to worry about in its own right. If, however, the rate of increase is maintained over this period, then the annual rise by 2043 would be close to a catastrophic five centimetres a year. And this is without the growing contribution from Greenland and from the increasing expansion of sea water as the oceans warm.

And there are other causes for serious concern too. None more so than the behaviour of the Gulf Stream and associated currents (together making up the AMOC – Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation) that warm north-west Europe and also have a big influence on global weather patterns. In the distant past, surges of meltwater from shrinking ice sheets have caused the Gulf Stream to shut down. Now, it looks as if it might be in danger of doing so again as huge volumes of freshwater from the crumbling Greenland Ice Sheet pour into the North Atlantic, forming a so-called ‘cold blob’.

The IPCC’s official line is that another complete shutdown is ‘very unlikely’, but this is not the same as ruling it out. And there are certainly some worrying signs. The Gulf Stream has slowed by 15 – 20 percent since the middle of the 20th century and is now at its weakest for at least 1600 years. [6] The Gulf Stream has a tipping point, and – evidence from the past shows – can shut down in just a few years when this is crossed. The problem is that no-one knows when – or even if – this will happen. If it does, the ramifications will be sudden and widespread. The North Atlantic region will cool dramatically, particularly across the UK, Iceland and North West Europe, while sea ice will expand southwards (without, it should be emphasised, counteracting the trajectory of climate change). Sea-levels along the eastern seaboard of North America could rise at three to four times the global average rate. Further afield, changes to weather patterns are forecast to include a weakening of Indian and East Asian monsoons, which could have devastating consequences for crop yields. No-one is saying that the Gulf Stream is in imminent danger of collapse. Nonetheless, the threat is not insignificant, and as such should be soberly touted, not wilfully ignored.

Of the many and varied feedback loops and tipping points linked with rapid anthropogenic warming, perhaps the most disquieting involves the vast tracts of permafrost at high latitudes – both on land and beneath the sea. Trapped beneath this frozen crust are colossal quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas that has a warming effect 86 times greater than carbon dioxide. Fortunately, methane has a relatively short residence time in the atmosphere and breaks down to carbon dioxide within a few decades. Nonetheless, major outbursts of methane from the rapidly thawing permafrost are capable of causing climate mayhem with little or no warning. The geographic region of most concern is probably the submarine permafrost that floors the East Siberian Continental Shelf, where an estimated 1400 billion tonnes of carbon, in the form of methane, is lurking beneath a frozen carapace that is thawing rapidly.

According to Natalia Shakhova and colleagues, [7] as much as 50 billion tonnes of this is available for sudden release at any time, which would – at a stroke – hike the methane content of the atmosphere 12 times. According to a study published in 2013, [8] a discrete methane ‘burp’ on this scale, could advance global warming by 30 years and cost the global economy US$60 trillion – a figure close to four times the US national debt. Once again, the occurrence of such an outburst is far from a certainty and there are other issues to consider, including how much methane is absorbed by the ocean as it bubbles upwards. Notwithstanding this, there is a potential danger here that needs to be promulgated rather than hidden away, so that the scale of the climate change threat is clear to everyone.

So – to conclude – be alarmed; be very alarmed. But don’t let alarm feed inertia. Use it instead to galvanise action. For your children’s and their children’s sake, stand up and do something about it. Drastically change your lifestyle; become an activist; vote into power a government that will walk the walk on climate change, not just talk the talk. Or – preferably – all three.”
Bill McGuire is Professor Emeritus of Geophysical and Climate Hazards at University College London and a co-director of the New Weather Institute. His current book is Waking the Giant: how a changing climate triggers earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes. He is a signatory of an academics’ letter in support of the School Climate Strike.
References

1. IPCC (2018). Global Warming of 1.5°C. Summary for Policymakers. http://report.ipcc.ch/sr15/pdf/sr15_spm_final.pdf

2. IPCC (2014). Fifth Assessment Report. http://ipcc.ch/report/ar5/

3. Le Bars D. et al (2017). A high-end sea-level rise probabilistic projection including rapid Antarctic Ice Sheet mass loss. Environmental Research Letters, vol.12.

4. 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., vol.16, pp.3761-3812.

5. The IMBIE Team (2018). Mass balance of the Antarctic Ice Sheet 1992 – 2017. Nature, vol.558, pp.219-222.

6. Caesar L. et al (2018). Observed fingerprint of a weakening Atlantic Ocean overturning circulation. Nature, vol.556, pp.191-196.

7. Shakhova N.E. (2008). Anomalies of methane in the atmosphere over the East Siberian shelf. Geophysical Research Abstracts, vol.10, EGU2008-A-01526. Abstract.

8. Whiteman G., Hope C., Wadhams P. (2013). Vast costs of Arctic change. Nature, vol.499, pp.401–403.


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Climate economics need updating

Bob Ward, Policy and Communications Director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment (LSE), has written a letter to the Financial Times on 28th December 2018.  It is copied in its entirety below:

“Your excellent editorial “ How to rescue the global climate change agenda” (December 27) is right to call for a transformation of the policy discussion on climate change in order to accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon economy. However, you neglected to highlight a key solution: economists and finance ministries must stop relying on models that are simply not fit for purpose when making investment decisions.

The potential impacts of climate change caused by fossil fuel use are grossly underestimated by the current generation of economic models, which cannot quantify the cost of, and therefore omit, tipping points in the climate system, such as the destabilisation of the land-based ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica, and apply inappropriate discounting such that huge damages to future generations are trivialised.

Similarly, economic models overestimate the costs of new zero-carbon technologies because they do not take adequate account of co-benefits, such as reductions in local air pollution, and of processes such as learning by doing. These models have failed to forecast how quickly the production and development costs of renewable energy technologies, such as wind and solar, have fallen over the past few decades and years.

The consequence of these shortcomings was starkly illustrated earlier this month during the Nobel Prize lecture by William Nordhaus, the great pioneer of climate economics. He told the audience in Stockholm that his widely used model indicates “optimal climate policy” would result in global warming of 3C by the end of this century and 4C by 2150. Such a result is simply not credible when compared with the scientific evidence collated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier this year, showing how devastating a global temperature rise of more than 1.5C would be.” 

climate dryness


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New 2018 UN Report shows that climate change is worse than predicted

A new report, published by an international panel of climate scientists, describes the impact of global warming at 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels and compares the impact of global warming at 2ºC above pre-industrial levels. Basically, it is saying that 1.5ºC is the better target.  Indeed, a representative of the Marshall Islands is said to have reported that allowing global warming to reach 2º is genocide. But the report also points out how difficult it will be to keep warming below 1.5 degrees because of actions that have already been taken, so that too much carbon is already in the atmosphere.

There is now increasing use of the word anthropogenic, which means relating to, or resulting from the influence of human beings, on nature”.

A summary of the report, which was commissioned by the United Nations IPCC, can be found at:

Click to access sr15_spm_final.pdf

bp_ipcc_091018_22 (2)

Chair of the IPCC, Hoesung Lee (centre), speaks during a press conference on Oct 8 2018

Basically, the IPCC is now saying that the 1.5 ºC goal is technically and economically feasible, but it depends on political leadership to become reality.

The panel says capping global warming at 1.5 deg C above pre-industrial levels will require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”.

Earth’s average surface temperature has already gone up about one degree, which has been enough to unleash a surge of deadly extreme weather – but it is on track to rise another two or three degrees unless there is a sharp and sustained reduction in carbon pollution.  This is demonstrated by the graphic below:

Capture

 



Below is part of the summary document.


A. Understanding Global Warming of 1.5°C
A1. Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, with a likely range of 0.8°C to 1.2°C. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate. (high confidence) {1.2, Figure SPM.1}
A1.1. Reflecting the long-term warming trend since pre-industrial times, observed global mean surface temperature (GMST) for the decade 2006–2015 was 0.87°C (likely between 0.75°C and 0.99°C) higher than the average over the 1850–1900 period (very high confidence). Estimated anthropogenic global warming matches the level of observed warming to within ±20% (likely range). Estimated anthropogenic global warming is currently increasing at 0.2°C (likely between 0.1°C and 0.3°C) per decade due to past and ongoing emissions (high confidence). {1.2.1, Table 1.1, 1.2.4}
A1.2. Warming greater than the global annual average is being experienced in many land regions and seasons, including two to three times higher in the Arctic. Warming is generally higher over land than over the ocean. (high confidence) {1.2.1, 1.2.2, Figure 1.1, Figure 1.3, 3.3.1, 3.3.2}
A1.3. Trends in intensity and frequency of some climate and weather extremes have been detected over time spans during which about 0.5°C of global warming occurred (medium confidence). This assessment is based on several lines of evidence, including attribution studies for changes in extremes since 1950. {3.3.1, 3.3.2, 3.3.3}
A.2. Warming from anthropogenic emissions from the pre-industrial period to the present will persist for centuries to millennia and will continue to cause further long-term changes in the climate system, such as sea level rise, with associated impacts (high confidence), but these emissions alone are unlikely to cause global warming of 1.5°C (medium confidence) {1.2, 3.3, Figure 1.5, Figure SPM.1}
A2.1. Anthropogenic emissions (including greenhouse gases, aerosols and their precursors) up to the present are unlikely to cause further warming of more than 0.5°C over the next two to three decades (high confidence) or on a century time scale (medium confidence). {1.2.4, Figure 1.5}                                                                                                    A2.2. Reaching and sustaining net-zero global anthropogenic CO2 emissions and declining net nonCO2 radiative forcing would halt anthropogenic global warming on multi-decadal timescales (high confidence). The maximum temperature reached is then determined by cumulative net global anthropogenic CO2 emissions up to the time of net zero CO2 emissions (high confidence) and the level of non-CO2 radiative forcing in the decades prior to the time that maximum temperatures are reached (medium confidence). On longer timescales, sustained net negative global anthropogenic
CO2 emissions and/or further reductions in non-CO2 radiative forcing may still be required to prevent further warming due to Earth system feedbacks and reverse ocean acidification (medium confidence) and will be required to minimise sea level rise (high confidence). {Cross-Chapter Box 2 in Chapter 1, 1.2.3, 1.2.4, Figure 1.4, 2.2.1, 2.2.2, 3.4.4.8, 3.4.5.1, 3.6.3.2}



It is obviously a very technical document so it may be best to direct the reader to other summaries of its text.  The first is very alarmist:

http://nymag.com/intelligencer/amp/2018/10/un-says-climate-genocide-coming-but-its-worse-than-that.html?__twitter_impression=true



The Fossil Free News has the following statement:

“A month on from the mass #RiseforClimate mobilizations around the world, we’re seeing public discourse turn back to climate change this week. A new United Nations report, detailing the dangers of a world above 1.5˚C of warming, has just been published – and it’s a tough wake up call. 

All over, people are speaking out about what the new report on 1.5 means – that science itself necessitates an end to fossil fuels as fast as we possibly can. 

This has the potential to be a turning point. People everywhere are waking up to the fact that a livable world is a Fossil Free world. Wherever you are, you can help deliver this urgent message to local leaders this weekend and encourage them to go Fossil Free.”

They also post this piece of video:


 


Friends of the Earth sent out the following statement:

“Today, the world’s leading panel of climate change experts released its latest report [1]. And it doesn’t make for cheerful reading.

The report lays bare how crucial it is that we keep global warming below 1.5 degrees. If we don’t stop burning coal, oil and gas, the damage to wildlife, ecosystems, and vulnerable communities around the globe will be almost unimaginable.  

But the UK government seems determined to do the opposite. As you know, it actually wants to make it easier for fracking companies to drill in search of gas. And thanks to its narrow-minded pursuit of fracking, later this week we could see the first fracking in this country since 2011 – when Cuadrilla’s operations near Blackpool were halted due to earth tremors.”  



The Guardian says the following:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/world-leaders-have-moral-obligation-to-act-after-un-climate-report?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX0dyZWVuTGlnaHQtMTgxMDEy&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GreenLight&CMP=greenlight_email

The headline states the following:

World leaders ‘have moral obligation to act’ after UN climate report

Even half degree of extra warming will affect hundreds of millions of people, decimate corals and intensify heat extremes, report shows

The article goes on to state:

“But the muted response by Britain, Australia and other governments highlights the immense political challenges facing adoption of pathways to the relatively safe limit of 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures outlined on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

With the report set to be presented at a major climate summit in Poland in December, known as COP24, there is little time for squabbles. The report noted that emissions need to be cut by 45% by 2030 in order to keep warming within 1.5C. That means decisions have to be taken in the next two years to decommission coal power plants and replace them with renewables, because major investments usually have a lifecycle of at least a decade.”

 



Martin Wolf writing for the Financial Times on 23rd October 2018, in an article entitled “Inaction over climate change is shameful: we need to shift the world onto a different investment and growth path immediately”.  He starts his article with the words:

It is five minutes to midnight on climate change. We will have to alter our trajectory very quickly if we wish to have a good chance of limiting the global average temperature rise to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. That was a goal of the Paris agreement of 2015. Achieving it means drastic reductions in emissions from now. This is very unlikely to happen. That is no longer because it is technically impossible. It is because it is politically painful. We are instead set on running an irreversible bet on our ability to manage the consequences of a far bigger rise even than 2C. Our progeny will see this as a crime.”

He goes onto to provide graphical data demonstrating the reality of climate change, as well as suggestions for implementing a radical reduction in climate emissions. See:

https://www.ft.com/content/b1c35f36-d5fd-11e8-ab8e-6be0dcf18713?accessToken=zwAAAWalWQ5okdOxw1821f0R6NOrjmvg3PGHEw.MEQCIHrSnzLknveTTsC_gpNj8MSfIAypDMWaqbPtXV1e1jyWAiBhn-zEUulScTd0cRx3rzhLa_aSSb6WujzjV3YvfDzGQg&sharetype=gift

On the same page is an advertisement offering information about “Climate Change Investment”.

https://blogs.cfainstitute.org/marketintegrity/2018/03/16/esg-qa-principles-for-climate-conscious-investment/?s_cid=dsp_BRAND18_Smartology_FT_EMEA_300x600



Following on from Martin Wolf’s excellent Financial Times article, a reader sent in the following letter:

Climate change must be part of the FT’s reporting From Claire James, London, UK.  “Martin Wolf’s excellent article “The shameful inaction over climate change” (October 24) about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report sets out with brutal clarity what is at stake if we delay action on climate change. Will the Financial Times now move to acknowledge this in its wider news and business coverage, in particular for high-carbon sectors such as fossil fuel extraction or aviation? The climate impact of particular projects should be included as standard information for your readers. Unfortunately, investment in these industries’ continued expansion, rather than in sustainable alternatives, is precisely why a safe climate for future generations is now almost unachievable. Claire James London W5, UK.”



 


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Church Ecumenical Conference: “A Future for All” – keynote speech by Paul Parker

This conference, organised by Birmingham Anglican Climate Action & Central England Quakers Low Carbon Commitment Forum, was held in July 2018 and was extremely well attended, emphasising perhaps the concern that many Christians have about the effects of climate change in our world today.  It was an opportunity to hear about what other people and organisations are doing to try to counteract the effects of climate change, both on an individual basis and as an organisation or faith community.  There were two keynote speeches, one of which, by Paul Parker, Quakers in Britain Recording Clerk, is reproduced below.

“Have you ever been back to visit your old school? There’s a walk I go on from home which
takes me past my old school. . It looks smaller now, despite having new classrooms and a
lick of paint, but children play outside it as they always did. Last week I met a man who’d
been to visit his father’s old school. They found it, but it was not only in ruins, but under a
metre of salt water. It was claimed by the rising Pacific Ocean; children will never play
outside it again. While we in the UK enjoy a bit of sunshine and grumble about the heat, for
many the reality of climate change bites hard.

We’ve all heard these stories. It’s easy to switch off because of despair, fear, guilt or
annoyance at others telling us how to live our lives. And because of that, there’s been a lot
of thinking about how we talk about it, whether it’s as an opportunity to build healthier
cities; or that there is joy in living simpler, low-carbon lives; or that we’re all in it together.
These points of view are very valid, but perhaps the full truth is more complicated.
It’s also about justice. Historically, as a relatively rich and privileged nation, we’ve benefited from fossil fuels and lots of other commodities at the expense of others. But if we’re serious in our belief that every human is a child of God, then as the UK negotiates what part we play in confronting our global climate crises, it’s important that historically privileged nations, and communities within them, confront their historic responsibility to do more than others to cut carbon and resource collective action. We need to be able to look people from the global South in the eye and say not only that we did what we could, but that we did everything we could.

Our awareness about the scale of the crisis of climate change is fairly recent. But there are
deep truths that we’ve always known.

For example, generations before us may not have been aware of the greenhouse effect. But
it’s always been evident that extracting fossil fuels creates, and indeed feeds on, injustice.
We’re all complicit in this problem of extraction and ‘extractive economies’. But we need to
face up to the fact that extraction is damaging, and it tends to impact not only ecosystems,
but poorer and less powerful social groups, often determined by class and race, around the
world. What do we do about this community living where we want to mine coal? How do
we get away with paying people poorly to extract it? How do we silence people objecting to
having their water sources contaminated by drilling? Often, extraction has relied upon
people who are in the way of so called progress having little power. Naomi Klein has said
that ‘it was the relative ranking of humans that allowed the digging up of all that carbon in
the first place’.

I was talking last week to a sister from Cameroon, caught up in a civil war I hadn’t even
heard about, and who was trying to run a hospital. She said, ‘of course, it’s all about the oil.
And the money doesn’t even stay in the country when they’ve finished.’

I say all this not so that we spiral in to despair, anger or even guilt. But so that we see
purpose in the UK taking radical action now. Perhaps we as people of faith are able to
confront these truths whilst having faith that we can achieve change.

And after all, the truth is, that both collective action for social change, and the low-carbon
society that can result from it, can be joyful, and good for us.

Pope Francis, in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Sì – a radical call for transformation – the
overturning of the economic system as we know it, but also personal transformation – what Francis calls ‘ecological conversion’, and perhaps we Quakers would call ‘ecological
convincement’. I was at a conference at the Vatican to mark the 3rd anniversary of Laudato
Sì last week. 

Quakers sometimes get hung up on the question – what should we do first? Should we
change the system or change ourselves? We are so complicit in this problem. Do we need
to give up our cars before we demand political action on climate change. Or should it be the
other way round?

Well, let’s do both. And let’s embrace the fact that social change is messy, imperfect and full
of contradictions.

To speak out for economic and social change, we require the integrity of making changes to
our lives. But we also live in a system, largely fuelled by fossil fuels, which is more-or-less
impossible to simply opt out of. If we demanded that political activists rid themselves of any carbon footprint, the climate change movement would be in a very bad way. If we don’t
change our own lives at all, how can we show politicians what’s possible, and give them a
sense of what changes people at the grassroots are willing to make in their lives?

As Quakers, we do know that the scale and nature of the changes we require, demands bold
action from government. And that for governments to take action for the planet, civil
society must demand it. When I met the minister responsible for climate change last year,
in the aptly titled Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, we talked a lot
about where the leadership for change should come from. Should it come from the
grassroots? Or should it come from government? There is certainly a role for civil society in showing a lead here, including faith communities which are experienced in helping
individuals to think about how they can live their lives. But there is also a clear role for
government in raising ambition, regulating and legislating for change.

Currently, the UK government subsidies the fossil fuel industry by approximately (fossil fuels subsidies are notoriously non-transparent and hard to calculate) £1.3 bn per year. We don’t need to give up our cars and switch our fridges off before we can say that this money should be redirected to the low-carbon economy.

The UK continues to back highly carbon intensive projects like airport expansion and
fracking. We needn’t be green gods and goddesses to recognise that the time has passed
when governments, seemingly completely disregard the climate impacts of these projects.

We’re hearing more ambition from government of late – but it’s not going to deliver
anything without a surge of grassroots activism. So here we are today, with work to do.

Due to immense grassroots pressure – we’re now in a better place than we have ever been in to hold government to account on climate change. In 2008 the UK government
committed to law the target of cutting emissions in line with limiting global warming to 2
degrees above pre-industrial levels. This included committing to national carbon budgets – so we could see how well the UK is doing (although the government has not always
published these on time).

Fast forward to 2015, and the UK upped its game again. It signed up to the Paris Agreement, which went further than the 2 degree target- it committed nations to limit warming to ‘well below’ 2 degrees and to ‘further pursue efforts towards 1.5 degrees. The 1.5 degree target is what some of world’s nations and communities most vulnerable to climate chaos are calling for, so for it to be at least partially committed-to is progress.

Then in April this year, the government announced that it is intending to update our climate laws to fully commit to this 1.5 degree target. The announcement was a quiet one, but it was really quite significant. We certainly weren’t expecting it. Yet as we know, its action, and the details that are important – and these paint a bit of a different picture.

Last year the government published its Clean Growth Strategy. It claimed to outline how the UK will achieve our international climate commitments.

It included some positive commitments. Significant investment in energy efficiency – the big
no-brainer. Ambition for low-emissions vehicles. Some more support for renewables.
BUT it admitted that these commitments as they stood would not achieve the cuts required
by a 2 degree target. Let alone a 1.5 degree target. Overall, despite all the promises nations
have made through the UN climate process, we are still heading for well over 2C. At the
moment, it’s going to be bye-bye Tuvalu, bye-bye Bangladesh, and even bye-bye large parts
of East Anglia.

At the same time as announcing its taking climate change seriously, it increased subsidies for north sea oil and gas, announced a cap on renewables subsidies, committed to a third
runway at Heathrow, and put in place new planning laws to make it easier for companies to start fracking.

All this shows that whilst we can support the ambition- and we must- we can’t leave it
there. It’s down to normal people to demand more serious commitment, to demand
detailed climate policy, and bold action.

We’re working with other Churches to show government that we as people of faith care
about the outcome, and we care about the detail. It’s not enough to make high level commitments. We see our job to hold them to account. 

This is all the more important with the UK’s departure from the EU.

The government are being very woolly on the detail of how EU directives will be replaced
with robust UK policy and investments. When I spoke to one of the Brexit ministers last
year, and asked her how the government intended to allow itself to be held to account once
the EU institutions which have often enforced change are no longer able to do it; the reply
was that she expected this role to be taken by civil society. So that means we need to be
vigilant, to scrutinise the government response, and to equip ourselves with the scientific
knowledge truly to hold them to account.

It’s easy to feel powerless. To sit back in despair and pray for deliverance. But for Quakers,
prayer means action. And whilst we may feel powerless, through the eyes of someone from
the global South we look powerful beyond measure. We have the voice, the money, the
freedom of speech, the democratic structures and the access to government to make
ourselves heard. And we must do so.

Here are some examples of what Quakers have been doing:

Firstly, on fracking. Given that to achieve 1.5C we have to leave almost all remaining fossil
fuels in the ground, so it makes no sense to be looking for new ways to extract them, at the
three centres of fracking resistance – Preston New Road in Lancashire, Kirby Misperton in
North Yorkshire and Broadford Bridge –Quakers are getting really involved in local action.
Some are locking on at the gates; some are going to meet the council; some are giving
meeting space to local anti-fracking groups; some are going to make food for protesters. It’s really inspiring to see so many people thinking about how they can do something, in
whatever way, to support a struggle. And everyone can be part of such a movement, at
whatever level, and whatever gifts you bring.

Divestment from fossil fuels. Quakers nationally have divested, and many local groups are
doing so (if they even had money in fossil fuels in the first place). The only way fossil fuels
will be left in the ground is if the companies which invest in them become worthless. Much
as engagement with fossil fuel companies may be important, I think it’s naïve to believe that they will withdraw from extraction altogether, which is what they have to do for 1.5C. And how could we possibly continue to profit morally from companies which are responsible for the degradation of our environment?

There are global opportunities for engagement coming up: the global climate conference in
San Francisco this September; the International Monetary Fund & World Bank meetings in
Bali in October; and of course the COP24 talks to be held in Katowice, Poland, this
December, which is when the common rulebook for implementing the Paris agreement will
be agreed. It’s absolutely crucial that our government goes into these meetings prepared to
raise aspiration and to show the type of lead a country as historically privileged as ours
needs to give. So we need to embolden them to do so.

One of the speakers at the Laudato Sì conference summed up the problem in 3 A’s –
Avarice, Arrogance & Apathy – to which Aggression was added. We have to remember that war has significant effects on the environment, and that between them war and climate change account for almost all of the current global migration crisis, with more displaced people than at any time in history. Avarice, Arrogance, Apathy and Aggression are all things that we can do something about, as people of faith. They can all be challenged, in our own behaviour and others’.

There’s a story Quakers like to tell about one of the early Quakers, William Penn, who went
on to found Pennsylvania. He was a statesman and diplomat, and habitually wore a sword.
When he wore it to Quaker meeting, not long after Quakers had renounced war, another
Quaker George Fox, told him ‘wear it as long as thou canst’. The next time they saw each
other, he had stopped wearing it, having worn it as long as he could.

Friends, our lifestyle and our collective inaction is an act of violence to our planet, its
peoples, and its delicate ecosystem on which all life and communities depend. Continue
with it as long as thou canst!”

Paul Parker, 2018.  This speech can be downloaded from the Quaker website at:

http://centralenglandquakers.org.uk/2018/07/19/future-for-all/


The other keynote speech at the conference, by Bishop David Atkinson, explained how in the burning of fossil fuels we have lost the biblical ‘triangle of relationship’ between God, the earth and humanity.  His speech can be downloaded from the same web page, where other activities at the conference are also described.  The conference included workshops on the Eco Church movement, a project of A Rocha UK – a charity committed to mobilising Christians to care for nature.  (See: https://ecochurch.arocha.org.uk/how-eco-church-works/); fossil-fuel divestment; interfaith experiences etc.

future-for-all (2)

Keynote Speakers at the conference: Bishop David Atkinson and Paul Parker


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Global Networks

CHAPTER 8

Climate change, the loss of species, global warming, the increase in the human population, trading systems, the type of economy and poverty are all factors that affect every nation of the world in one way or another.  If there is to be a change of direction, in order to save the planet and its inhabitants, it must happen on a global scale and include every country, or at least those countries which have industrialised.  We need to get citizens across the world understanding the implications of climate change and industrialisation, so that they realise the need for urgent action and lobby their governments to make appropriate changes.

The most obvious organisation to initiate such a change of direction is (and has been) the United Nations.

un-logo

 

The Efforts of the United Nations to reduce carbon emissions

 fig70

Fig.70:  The Rio Summit

 In 1992, the United Nations Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro, produced a document, called Agenda 21, which was a non-binding, voluntary-implemented action plan with regard to sustainable development.  It provided an agenda for the UN, other multilateral organisations and individual governments around the world that could be executed at local, national or global level.  The UN body proposed in Rio to take this forward was the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), whose director is currently Halldor Thorgeirsson. Since Rio, regular meetings have been held in different countries of the world, under the title of COP (conference of parties), the latest being COP21 in Paris.  A further appraisal of the major COP agreements reached over the years is given in Table 699.

fig71

 Fig.71

As the United Nations does have a role in addressing the issue of climate change, let’s have a closer look first at how it functions and what it has achieved on climate change. The UN was first formed in 1945, as an intergovernmental organisation to promote international co-operation. The motivation for its formation came as a result of the Second World War, to prevent other similar conflicts from occurring. There were 51 member states initially and now there are 193, each country having one vote at deliberations of the General Assembly.  The headquarters of the UN is in New York, with further offices in Geneva, Nairobi and Vienna. It is financed by contributions from its member states, the United Kingdom providing 5.19% of the total budget.

The UN currently operates through five principal bodies: the General Assembly (the main deliberative body); the Security Council (peace and security); the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) (for promoting international economic and social co-operation and development); the Secretariat (provides, information, studies and facilities needed); and the International Court of Justice. There are also various UN bodies, which have particular functions: the World Bank; the World Health Organisation; the World Food Programme, UNESCO and UNICEF.  The current General Secretary is the South Korean, Ban Ki-moon, whose term of office comes to an end during 2016.


fig72

Fig.72

Structure of the United Nations

Many people are highly critical of the United Nations. Some commentators believe the organization to be an important force for peace and human development but others have called it ineffective, corrupt, biased and bureaucratic. I believe that, if the United Nations is to be taken seriously and respected, it needs to have more clout and to be reformed to be more inclusive.  Its initiatives on climate change certainly need to be more decisive and more closely targeted. The problem is that, trying to get 193 or more nations to agree on one issue, is virtually impossible.

Agenda 21

The original Agenda 21 was divided into four sections:

  • Combating Poverty;
  •  II  Environmental Issues;
  • III Strengthening the role of major groups;
  • IV. Means of Implementation.

The “21” refers to the 21st Century and has been affirmed and modified at subsequent UN conferences. It is a 700-page document that was adopted by the 178 countries attending the 1992 conference.  In 1997, the UN General Assembly held a special session to appraise the status of Agenda 21 and this has continued every 5 years since then. In 2012, at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, the attending members reaffirmed their commitment to Agenda 21 in their outcome document called “The Future We Want”. 180 leaders from nations participated.

  The implementation of Agenda 21 was intended to involve action at international, national, regional and local levels. Some national and state governments have legislated or advised that local authorities take steps to implement the plan locally, as recommended in Chapter 28 of the document.  The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ Division for Sustainable Development (ECOSOC) monitors and evaluates progress, nation by nation, towards the adoption of Agenda 21, as well as progress of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), and makes these reports available to the public on its website.  Europe has turned out to be the continent in which it was best accepted, as most European countries possess well documented Agenda 21 statuses. France, for example has nationwide programmes supporting it, though there are opposition groups in this country, as there are in other countries.

In Africa, national support for Agenda 21 is strong and most countries are signatories. But support is often closely tied to environmental challenges specific to each country (such as desertification in Namibia) and there is little mention of Agenda 21 at the local level in the indigenous media. Agenda 21 participation in North African countries mirrors that of Middle Eastern countries, with most countries being signatories, but with little to no adoption at the local government level. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa generally have poorly documented Agenda 21 status reports but South Africa’s participation in Agenda 21 is similar to that of Europe.

Whilst the United States of America has been a signatory to Agenda 21, there is a strong business lobby, which opposes it on the grounds that it is bad for business. The Republican Party have stated that “We strongly reject the UN Agenda 21 as erosive of American sovereignty.” Several state and local governments have considered or passed motions and legislation opposing Agenda 21, Alabama being the first state to prohibit government participation in it. Activists, some of whom have been associated with the Tea Party movement by The New York Times and The Huffington Post, have said that Agenda 21 is a conspiracy by the United Nations to deprive individuals of property rights.  Interestingly though, in view of these opposition lobbies, the president of the USA, Barack Obama, recently participated in a TV documentary, in which he and David Attenborough discussed the issue of climate change and what needs to be done; he referred to a number of American initiatives to reduce carbon emissions.

Yet, despite the focus on environmental issues since the 1992 Rio Summit, global carbon emissions continue to rise, with petroleum, coal and natural gas being the worst culprits contributing to this increase.


Table 6

From Rio to Paris, UN milestones in the history of climate change discussions


International negotiations on climate change have been going on for over 20 years. In the meantime, the Earth has become hotter, wetter and wilder. Like scientists, the vast majority of governments now agree that urgent steps are needed to reduce our impact on global warming. So far, they have failed to sign up to a universal plan of action.

  • 1992: The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted during the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992. It acknowledged the existence of human-induced climate change and gave industrialised countries the major part of responsibility for combating it – but without specifying how.
  • 1997: The adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in Japan in 1997 marked a milestone in international negotiations on tackling climate change. For the first time, binding greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets were set for industrialised countries, with obligations to reduce emissions by 5%. The protocol came into force in 2005, but was soon derailed by the failure of some of the world’s biggest polluters, notably the US, to ratify it. As a result, other countries, such as Canada, Russia and Japan also pulled out.  Another weakness of the Kyoto Protocol was that it exempted three countries, who were in the early stages of industrialisation (China, India, Australia) and now these are amongst the worst polluters. Protocol runs until 2020.
  • 2007: A longer-term vision was introduced by the Bali Action Plan in 2007, which set timelines for the negotiations towards reaching a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, due to expire in 2012. It was expected that an agreement would be reached by December 2009.
  • 2009: Although the COP15 summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, did not result in the adoption of a new agreement, the summit recognised the common objective of keeping the increase in global temperature below 2°C. Furthermore, industrialised countries undertook to raise $100 billion per year by 2020 to assist developing countries in climate-change adaptation and mitigation, barring which poor countries had threatened to scupper any deal. That pledge became more tangible with the establishment of the Green Climate Fund in Cancún, Mexico, in 2010.
  • 2011: Countries signed up to the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), thereby agreeing to develop “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force” applicable to all states that are party to the UNFCCC. This agreement was scheduled to be adopted in Paris and implemented from 2020.

At subsequent gatherings in Warsaw, Poland, in 2013 and Lima, Peru, in 2014, all states were invited to submit their pledges towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions ahead of the COP21 summit in Paris.


The Paris Agreement

The objective of the 2015 Paris COP21 conference was to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate from all the nations of the world.  I would like to see the UNFCCC go even further than this, to be involved in an internationally evidenced marketing initiative to demonstrate how urgent it is to take robust action to reduce carbon emissions.  Just talking about it, and making gestures to the world press, is not going to achieve what is needed.

 The COP21 talks in Paris set out more ambitious goals than many anticipated and was heralded, with much media attention, as an historic accord, though many hours had been spent in finalising the wording of this agreement, signed by 195 countries. Many believe that, in getting agreement, the main focus of the document was watered down. I have heard it said that certain oil-producing countries were the ones who caused the watering down of the Paris agreement, a similar action to that of Exxon Mobil, described in Chapter 3. The self-interest of powerful people in the world yet again holding back the actions required to really address the crisis that we all face.

The agreement included:

  • Clauses to limit global warming to less than 2˚C above pre-industrial levels and to endeavour to limit it to below 1.5˚C;
  • For countries to meet their own voluntary targets on limiting emissions between 2020 and 2030;
  • For countries to submit new, tougher targets every five years;
  • To aim for zero net emissions by 2050-2100;
  • For rich nations to help poorer nations to adapt.

 

fig73

Fig.73:  World leaders celebrating “an historic agreement” in Paris 2015

The agreement would come into force only after it had been ratified by 55 countries, who represented at least 55% of global emissions. If this target was exceeded, then the agreement would become operational in the same year.

A March 2016 report from the BBC indicated that the world’s two biggest carbon emitters, the US and China (40% of emissions together), had produced a joint statement to say that both countries were ready to sign the agreement in April. Ban Ki-moon invited leaders to a signing ceremony in New York on 22nd April and expected 120 to turn up for this. The USA and China represent almost 40% of global emissions, so this was a huge step forward.

The move was not initially welcomed by some developing nations100, led by an influential, Malaysia-based think tank who wanted to receive stronger assurances on finance, technology and compensation for damage from extreme weather before signing.  Meena Raman of the Third World Network, was quoted as saying: “It will be more advantageous to developing countries to wait this year and not rush into signing the Paris Agreement. Otherwise… we lose the political leverage that is critical to secure the necessary conditions that will enable developing countries to meet their obligations.” Developing countries have therefore been advised not to attend or sign at the 22nd April ceremony.

That date has now passed and a list of 175 nations who signed on 22nd April 2016 was included on a UN website (http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2016/04/parisagreementsignatures/)

as follows:


“List of Parties that signed the Paris Agreement on 22 April 2016101

The Paris Agreement will be open for signature by the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on 22 April and will remain open for signature for one year. This list contains the countries that signed the Agreement at the Signature Ceremony on 22 April:

Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Bhutan, Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, European Union, Fiji, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mauritania, Mexico, Micronesia (Federated States of), Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Spain, Sri Lanka, State of Palestine, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Thailand, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, United States of America, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), Viet Nam, Zimbabwe.”


 

This is a very comprehensive list indeed and a significant achievement by Ban Ki-moon, though there are some notable absentees from the list (some oil-producing countries).  Many people are now quite optimistic that there will be significant reductions in the use of fossil fuels and the subsequent carbon emissions. Others feel that the promised emissions’ cuts are totally inadequate. In a review of the Paris agreement, Michael Le Page in the New Scientist (no. 3052) stated that he thinks time has nearly run out for limiting global warming even to 2˚C and he quoted from various scientists and leaders as follows:

“Emissions targets are still way off track, but this agreement has the tools to ramp up ambition, and brings a spirit of hope that we can rise to this challenge”. Tony deBrum, foreign minister of the Marshall Islands.

“If we wait until 2020, it will be too late.”  Kevin Anderson, Climate Scientist at the Tyndall Centre in Manchester, UK.

As for 1.5˚, it would take nothing less than “a true world revolution”.  We need renewable energy, nuclear power, fracking, zero-carbon transport, energy efficiency and housing changes.  Even international aviation and shipping which were excluded from this report will need to be tackled”. Piers Forster, University of Leeds.

I personally don’t agree with this last person in terms of nuclear power and fracking, as I believe both to be dangerous cop-outs.

In a later, full length New Scientist Article, Michael Le Page102 discussed the likelihood of countries being able to keep to the promises made. He reminded his readers that each signatory has to formally approve, or ratify, the deal in their parliaments and only five had so far done so: Fiji, Palau, Maldives, Marshall Islands and Switzerland an interesting group of countries most at risk of rising sea levels or melting ice. The Telegraph reported on 22nd April that there had been 15 ratifications103.

Kimberley Nicholas, writing in the Scientific American (December 19th 2015)104, discussed what is required to bring about the meeting of the 1.5˚ target. She quoted from an article in Nature Climate Change by scientists Rogelj and colleagues, that it will require “rapid and profound decarbonisation” from its current 81% of fossil sources in order to meet net zero carbon emissions as early as 2045 (recognised in the long-term goal in the Paris agreement to balance greenhouse gas emissions and removal). Further they had found that meeting the target would ultimately require actively removing carbon from the atmosphere, through means that have yet to be widely tested or implemented.

The December 2015 Newsletter of Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs)105 had the following statement about the Paris agreement:

As the fallout continues, many of you may be confused by the outcome of the recent COP21 climate talks in Paris, variously reported as:

“A victory for all of the planet and future generations” ~ John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State
We did it! A turning point in human history!” ~ Avaaz
“10/10 for presentation, 4/10 for content” ~ Kevin Anderson, climate scientist
A historic moment and positive step forward … but not the legally-binding science and justice-based agreement that was needed” ~ Friends of the Earth UK
“A sham” ~ Friends of the Earth International
“It’s a fraud really, a fake” ~ James Hansen, climate scientist
Our leaders have shown themselves willing to set our world on fire” ~ Naomi Klein, author/activist
“Epic fail on a planetary scale” ~ New Internationalist
The US is a cruel hypocrite. This is a deliberate plan to make the rich richer and the poor poorer” ~ Lidy Nacpil, Asian People’s Movement on Debt and Development

COP21: a clear win for political reality – a clear loss for every life form dependent on a liveable climate

The TEQs newsletter105 continued:

“Our take is that when there is a fundamental rift between the physical reality of our changing climate and the political reality tasked with responding to this, this agreement – based on voluntary emissions pledges which even if met would mean more emissions in 2030 than today – is a clear win for political reality. In other words, a clear loss for every life form dependent on a liveable climate.

Sadly, it is not hard to identify the agendas of those hailing the Paris agreement as a great success. The whole conference has, in essence, been smoke and mirrors, distracting us from the real work of reintegrating human society with the reality that it depends on. As most impartial observers predicted, the UN have again failed to deliver an agreement that preserves the future of either humanity or the wider biosphere.

The Paris agreement is, in short, based on non-binding commitments to deliver on dodgy mathematics through the application of technologies that do not yet (and may never) exist.”

 Greenpeace have also criticised the Paris agreement106, whilst applauding parts of it, such as setting 2018 as a review date. The main failure of the agreement, they feel, is that it failed the “justice test”; this relates to the human rights, where indigenous peoples affected by climate change are not given the protection they deserve. However, Greenpeace feel that what did not happen in Paris had already happened in Manila, where a human rights probe has been launched with the Human Rights Commission106.

Thus, the challenge facing the world in 2016 is significant.  This has been reinforced by the excessive rain experienced in the north of the UK over the last few weeks, leading to extensive flooding, as well as in France and Germany and other extreme weather events in other parts of the world, such as the second strongest ever recorded tropical cyclone Winston which devastated Fiji.

I find it hard to reconcile these quoted comments with the “business as usual” attitude of our present government in the UK, a government which we will have to tolerate until 2020, unless something major happens in the next four years, to bring about an election.

In his book, “Why are we Waiting” (MIT Press), Professor Nicholas Stern107, author of the Stern Review on the economics of climate change, sets out some of the goals that now face humanity in the 21st Century.  The goals include:

  1. The elimination of mass poverty and the risk of catastrophic climate change;
  2. These goals are complementary;
  3. The case for action is overwhelming because greenhouse gases stay in the atmosphere for centuries.

A recent research report in Science, and quoted in the Guardian108, provides hope that carbon dioxide can be removed from the atmosphere by pumping it underground. The new research pumped CO2 into the volcanic rock under Iceland and sped up a natural process where the basalts react with the gas to form carbonate minerals, which make up limestone. The researchers were amazed by how fast all the gas turned into a solid – just two years, compared to the hundreds or thousands of years that had been predicted. Juerg Matter, of the University of Southampton in the UK, led the research. Further research clearly needs to take place on this potential resolution to the problems we face.

But, are there other global networks can we call on to make a greater impact than that so far made by the UNFCCC?

Other initiatives

  1. The Elders

In 2007, Nelson Mandela set up a group, called “The Elders”; it originally included elder states-people, such as Kofi Annan (now chairman of the group, former UN-Secretary-General and Nobel Peace Laureate), Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Nobel Peace Laureate and honorary elder), Aung Sun Suu Kyi (honorary elder until her election in 2012, Burmese pro-democracy leader), Ela Bhatt (India, pioneer of women’s empowerment and grassroots development), Lakhdar Brahimi (Algeria, conflict mediator and UN diplomat) Martti Artisaari Finland, Nobel Peace Laureate), Gro Harlem Brundtland (Norway, deputy chair, doctor who champions health as a human right), Fernando H Cardosa (Brazil – former president), Jimmy Carter (USA former president, Nobel Peace Laureate), Hina Jilani (Pakistan, pioneering lawyer and pro-democracy campaigner), Graça Machel (Mozambique, international advocate for women’s and children’s rights), Mary Robinson( first woman president of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for human rights),  Ernesto Zedilla (former president of Mexico who led profound democratic and social reforms).

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Fig.74:  A group of The Elders in 2010. From: www.theelders.org

The Elders is an independent group of global leaders who work together for peace and human rights.  The concept of the Elders originated from an idea from a conversation between the entrepreneur Richard Branson and the musician Peter Gabriel. The idea they discussed was simple: many communities look to their elders for guidance, or to help resolve disputes. In an increasingly interdependent world – a ‘global village’ – could a small, dedicated group of individuals use their collective experience and influence to help tackle some of the most pressing problems facing the world today? Branson and Gabriel took their idea to Nelson Mandela, who agreed to support it. With the help of Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu, Mandela set about bringing the Elders together and formally launched the group in Johannesburg in July 2007.

The Elders work strategically, focusing on work where they are uniquely placed to make a difference. One of their latest campaigns is for the UN, now over 70 years’ old, to be adapted so that it is fit for purpose.  They have four proposals on this (more details available on their website: http://theelders.org/un-fit-purpose):

  • A new category of members;
  • A pledge from permanent members;
  • A voice for civil society;
  • A more independent Secretary-General.

I believe that the issue of Climate Change is now so urgent that it may be too late to wait for a reform of the United Nations to tackle the issue more robustly.  Perhaps a new body, independent of the United Nations, but respected globally, needs to take on the issue, cutting through all the bureaucracy that creates a climate of inaction on major issues.

Whether these proposals will bring about the changes necessary to generate greater respect and support for the United Nations, remains to be seen.  However, the United Nations is the most obvious body to take forward the urgent imperative to work together with global co-operation to turn back the current surge of ever increasing carbon emissions and the devastating effects of climate change. Most of the concerns about climate change come from faith-based networks.

b). Christian-based organisations and networks have had much to say about the need for urgent action, as good stewardship of the earth is a major tenet of the Christian faith, as are the Jubilee principles of environmental restoration and fair allocation of wealth.

There is an ecumenical organisation, Operation Noah, with a seven-year plan to encourage Christians to work together to address climate change109.

Recently, the Pope has issued an encyclical on climate change, which hasn’t gone unnoticed110.

For the Anglicans, Archbishop Desmond Tutu initiated a petition asking governments, and the United Nations, to set a renewable energy target of 100% by 2050111.  Tutu, a  Nobel peace laureate, who rose to fame for his anti-apartheid activism, said: “As responsible citizens of the world – sisters and brothers of one family, the human family, God’s family – we have a duty to persuade our leaders to lead us in a new direction: to help us abandon our collective addiction to fossil fuels. We can no longer continue feeding our addiction to fossil fuels as if there were no tomorrow. For there will be no tomorrow.”

There have also been statements published by:

  • the Baptist Union112
  • the Anglican Synod113
  • the Methodist Church114
  • the Quakers115
  • and other ecumenical bodies, such as Christian Aid and Tear Fund.

A particular initiative is called “Eco-Church”116, which encourages churches to switch their energy supplier to green forms of energy, with special rates being negotiated if a number of churches join the initiative117 (called ‘Big Church Switch’).  Other bodies of Christians network to encourage individuals to reduce their personal carbon emissions, in various ways.  A recent conference in Coventry, “Hope in a Changing Climate” provided much information to inspire hope, as many groups of Christians are working together, rather like the 3G groups I mentioned in Chapter 7, to reduce their personal emissions and to encourage their friends to do so as well. One speaker, a climate scientist, talked about efforts already underway to develop a plan for net zero (from the Paris agreement), with the aim of keeping 80% of fossil fuels in the ground.  This included measurable actions to reduce carbon emissions per degree of warming.

There was also discussion about how churches might disinvest any funds they have with those companies who emit the most greenhouse gases, as well as taking action by joining the boards of such companies to influence their future direction.  A similar action brought down the apartheid regime in South Africa. Indeed, it would appear that such an initiative is already underway through an organisation called Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, based in London118.

There has also been a Green Bible119, which outlines text in green, which relate to environmental issues and teachings.

c). Other faiths

Other faiths making statements about climate change include Baha’i; Buddhism; Hindu; Islam; Sikh; Unitarian Universalist Association120.

It is possible, therefore, that combined interfaith initiatives on climate change may have more impact on the activities of the global population than the United Nations has been able to do.   Indeed, in 1995, at a conference in Japan on Religions, Land and Conservation, a declaration was made – The Ohito Declaration121 which stated ten spiritual principles:

  1. Religious beliefs and traditions call us to care for the earth.2. For people of faith maintaining and sustaining environmental life systems is a religious responsibility.3. Nature should be treated with respect and compassion, thus forming a basis for our sense of responsibility for conserving plants, animals, land, water, air and energy.

    4. Environmental understanding is enhanced when people learn from the example of prophets and of nature itself.

    5. Markets and trade arrangements should reflect the spiritual needs of people and their communities to ensure health, justice and harmony. Justice and equity principles of faith traditions should be used for maintaining and sustaining environmental life systems.

    6. People of faith should give more emphasis to a higher quality of life in preference to a higher standard of living, recognising that greed and avarice are root causes of environmental degradation and human debasement.

    7. All faiths should fully recognise and promote the role of women in environmental sustainability.

    8. People of faith should be involved in the conservation and development process. Development of the environment must take better account of its effects on the community and its religious beliefs.

    9. Faith communities should endorse multilateral consultation in a form that recognizes the value of local/indigenous wisdom and current scientific information.

    10. In the context of faith perspective, emphasis should be given not only to the globalisation of human endeavours, but also to participatory community action.

That declaration was made 11 years ago and, although people of faith make up the majority of the world’s population, it is surprising that very little has been done so far to really get to grips with the damage to the environment and the planet that humans are responsible for.  Perhaps the time has come for a new purposeful faith initiative. Table 7 gives a summary of the recommended actions proposed at the Ohiti Conference.  Maybe it is time for all the religions of the world to take another look at it.

d). Other agencies

In chapter 7, I gave details of the European Environment Agency and the Green Economy Coalition, both of which bodies are providing suggested frameworks for moving away from a market economy, which has been so damaging, to a green economy. Maybe either or both of these agencies can be reinforced to be the body to create more urgent change than the UNFCCC has done.

There is also Forum for the Future122, an independent non-profit organisation, which works with business, government and other organisations to solve complex sustainability issues; they particularly focus on food and energy.


Table 7
Recommended Courses of Action made at the 1995 MOA International Conference on Religions, Land and Conservation, held in Ohito, Japan


1. We call upon religious leaders to emphasise environmental issues within religious teaching: faith should be taught and practised as if nature mattered.
2. We call upon religious communities to commit themselves to sustainable practices and encourage community use of their land.
3. We call upon religious leaders to recognise the need for ongoing environmental education and training for themselves and all those engaged in religious instruction.
4. We call upon people of faith to promote environmental education within their community especially among their youth and children.
5. We call upon people of faith to implement individual, community and institutional action plans at local, national, and global levels that flow from their spiritual practices and where possible to work with other faith communities.
6. We call upon religious leaders and faith communities to pursue peacemaking as an essential component of conservation action.
7. We call upon religious leaders and communities to be actively involved in caring for the environment to sponsor sustainable food production and consumption.
8. We call upon people of faith to take up the challenge of instituting fair trading practices devoid of financial, economic and political exploitation.
9. We call upon the world’s religious leaders and world institutions to establish and maintain a networking system that will encourage sustainable agriculture and environmental life systems.
10. We call upon faith communities to act immediately, to undertake self-review and auditing processes on conservation issues on a regular basis.


A new body?

But some have no confidence in the United Nations and have no faith, so should we consider looking to form, or adopt, some of these other networks into a consortium, to bring about greater consensus about achieving measures to stop or reverse current trends?  If so, how will these bodies be funded?  Perhaps a global tax on all offending organisations would be apt, though probably unenforceable.

I leave this as a question for others in more influential positions than myself to answer, and/or implement, as necessary.  Quite clearly there is a need for the nations of the world to stop seeing each other as competitors, rivals or enemies, for the desired results will not occur without global co-operation.

The Business World

There are businesses who are aware of the problems and who invest their profits in carbon reduction initiatives.  These are showing the way for those large corporations who have been investing their profits in hiding the reality of climate change and in deceiving the public about their products and in paying so-called scientists to question the reality of climate change.

But so much more could be done, as it is often big business who has the financial resources to make a difference. Richard Branson played an active part in bringing The Elders together. As part of the business world (including the airline industry), which has brought us to the current dilemma, could he take a lead in getting business leaders together to understand, and rectify, what they have been responsible for, rather than burying their heads in the sand and continuing in their money-making at the expense of the planet. Recently, a podcast has been produced by Kyung-Ah Park123 of Goldman Sachs on “The Business Case for Climate Action”, as a result of attending the Paris Summit on behalf of this company. It is warming that some businesses are beginning to come up with strategies for the future.

How to make a global impact on the issues facing us

The writing of this book has changed my own attitudes and thinking.  As a result I am no longer influenced by the rhetoric propagated by UK government and its economists to focus mainly on economic growth.  For I know that, in promoting economic growth and redirecting funds to the business world, they are actually multiplying the effects of industrialisation and its by-products, which will further damage and destroy the ecosystems and atmosphere of this world.

I do not support initiatives to get involved in bombing countries far from our shores, in the name of national security, for I know that this all adds to the carbon footprint, as well as driving many indigenous people to flee their homes, adding to the thousands of refugees seeking new homes elsewhere.

But how can we reverse the centuries-old trend of global trade – of believing that free trade is a good thing?  Trading systems and merchant cultures are at the root of all of the cycles I have described and I think I realised this when writing the End Piece to my first book.

There is still so much ignorance about the cycle of activities, described in the pages of this book.  The general public tend not to see the urgency of the situation, or dismiss it as not their concern. If you have been influenced by the descriptions in the pages of this book, then use it to lobby for the changes that need to occur urgently.