Image: Coal fired power station in Poland. Credit: Bankwatch/Flickr CC 2.0
There are almost many different opinions on the most effective way to deal with the climate emergency as there are individuals concerned about it. On Saturday 1st December, we are organising a rally outside the Polish Embassy and march to Downing Street, marking the beginning of UN climate negotiations with a call to action.
Why do we believe this is important? Because to deal with a crisis as huge as climate change we have to take it on at every level. You can make changes as an individual (you won’t save the world by changing your lightbulbs, but if you make significant changes to cut carbon, like not flying, and talk about it, it helps raise much-needed awareness). And you can make changes in your workplace. And by lobbying local government. And of course you can target national government, where much vital action is blocked.
But we can’t stop there. We must take international action seriously as well and understand what is going on. Three years ago the Paris climate agreement was signed. It was badly flawed - the voluntary pledges on the table coming nowhere near the scale of the action needed - but it was important. The way it could succeed was by ‘ratcheting up’ the levels of ambition, and by countries applying pressure on laggards to do so.
On 3 December, in Poland, negotiators from around the world will meet again to agree a ‘rulebook’ to create transparency and trust in how the Paris agreement is implemented. But although the success of these talks (termed in jargon ‘COP24’ as the 24th annual negotiations) is extremely important, there is hardly any media attention on them.
The negotiations will take place less than two months after the IPCC published a report scotching once and for all the idea that 2C warming above pre-industrial levels would be any kind of ‘safe’ limit for our climate. The report drew on 91 authors’ analysis of over 6000 papers, and said that a rise in temperature of 1.5C would be damaging to humans and ecosystems in some ways (coral reefs, for example, will be devastated). But 2C will be even more devastating. Note: we are currently heading for closer to 4 degrees of warming.
The choice of Poland as host (for the third time in 11 years) is an interesting one. The summit is being held in Katowice, in the heart of Poland’s coal region. Poland has a history of holding back EU ambition on climate change, out of concern for its own coal industry. Currently around 80% of the country’s energy is generated by coal. A recently published energy plan showed an increased share for renewables, but coal would still represent 60% by 2030 and 30% by 2040. The first sponsor of the talks was announced this week - a Polish coal company.
Poland’s right-wing government has been accused of eroding the rule of law and human rights. Earlier this year, a bill was passed which would ban spontaneous protest at the talks and allow gathering of personal data on anyone attending. On Saturday, we will be sending a message of solidarity to activists organising there.
There is of course another problem. The US has declared that it will withdraw from the Paris agreement, and the idea that it may be drawn back in if only nothing too ambitious is agreed is an extremely dangerous factor when ambition is precisely what we need.
The election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil has added another level of threat to our climate, with his plans to open up the Amazon to deforestation and corporate exploitation. Brazil has just announced that it will withdraw from hosting the UN climate talks in 2019. We will look forward to hearing this Saturday from Beatriz Ratton of Brazilian Women against Fascism about the importance of international solidarity in supporting the resistance to Bolsonaro, not forgetting of course, that many of the companies that take advantage of weak regulation are based in or financed from the UK.
In such a challenging context, the UK can play a positive, constructive role - but only if we get our own house in order. There is no excuse for one of the most prosperous countries in the world to fail to act on climate change, but our government has consistently done so.
Two issues which will be highlighted at our protest will be fracking (Frack Free United will be handing in a declaration with over 8000 signatures hand-gathered in affected communities calling for a ban, alongside many prominent MPs, academics and organisations) and the third Heathrow runway, which is being allowed despite the fact that it would mean effectively ripping up advice from the Committee on Climate Change about emissions limits.
There are many more hard questions to ask our own government. Why did the most recent budget (coming out right after the hard-hitting IPCC report) not even mention climate change, instead focusing on freezing fuel duty? Why is there still an effective ban in place on new onshore wind in England and why are wind and solar energy blocked from competing in energy ‘capacity’ auctions? What will they do to reverse the catastrophic fall in home insulation and renewable energy construction? Why the obsession with building new roads, when what we need is decent train services, buses and safe cycle lanes to tackle the twin crises of climate and air pollution?
There is increasing public awareness and alarm about climate change - rightly. The good news is that with a crisis that needs to be tackled on every level, there is something that everyone can do.
If you’d like to join us on Saturday, along with Labour's Barry Gardiner and Clive Lewis, the Green Party leader Sian Berry, and speakers from Frack Free United, Extinction Rebellion, Reclaim the Power, Brazilian Coalition against Fascism, Friends of the Earth, No Third Runway Coalition, War on Want and more, there is more information on our website and Facebook page.