If the richest 10th of the planet reduced consumption to the average EU level, it’d cut global emissions by 30%

Environmental campaigners, campaigning. Image: Getty.

The latest UN climate talks, known as COP24, have just concluded. The supposed story this time was one of a grinding victory by the EU and developing nations over recalcitrant petro-states – Russia, the US, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. These four, condemned as “climate villains” over the past week, worked to block the adoption of a critical IPCC report that detailed how woefully inadequate current international action was for limiting future climate change to 1.5C.

Building on a previous COP in Paris in 2015, this meeting focused on writing the “rulebook” for the Paris Agreement, setting out how emissions will be measured, reported and verified. Absent at COP24 was any real discussion of how efforts to cut emissions would be increased, or targets raised from their current low level. This will be discussed at another meeting – another COP – in 2020.

More magical thinking

You could be forgiven for thinking this COP (short for Conference Of the Parties to the UN climate agreements) was no different to any of the previous COPs. As usual, there were a set of villains who were “holding up progress”. There was another scientific report spelling out how little time we have and how bad climate change will be if nothing changes. There was rancorous debate on technicalities, a sideshow debate around carbon markets, and no action on what to actually do. So far, so normal. Throughout its history very little has actually been achieved at the COP.

As things stand, we are still heading for 3℃ or more of global warming. We do not have 12 years to “do something” about it as the IPCC insists. Increasing numbers of commentators, journalists, scientists and environmentalists are breaking ranks from the “hopeful”, to argue that not only is far too little being done too late, but that dangerous climate change is already here.

Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, has consistently criticised IPCC reports for magical thinking, for assuming that at some point in the near future technology will be both invented and rolled out on a mass scale that will suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (so-called negative emission technologies). At the moment, there are none that are close to being ready to be mass produced. Take these out of the most recent IPCC report and instead of 12 years to stop dangerous climate change we have just three.

Given all this, it could be tempting to blame the state of things on the climate villains – who doesn’t want to blame authoritarian or outright fascist government leaders for the world’s problems? But the problem isn’t bad leaders, but the entire system itself. The reality of climate change is that we need a radically different economic and political system if we are to limit future warming and ensure adaptation is fair and just.

Nation-states wont fix climate change

The COP reveals the limits of using nation states as the basis for action. Wedded to geopolitical realities and economic competition, states have not changed their behaviour to match the demands of climate science. In many ways it is unrealistic and naive to demand they do so. After all, they are not, as sometimes imagined, ships under the command of a single captain, able to direct the nation one way or another, but rather, complex assemblages where a huge number of actors and interested parties compete for wealth, power, access and influence.


Let’s be clear about what must be demanded of nation states: not some kind of minor adjustment or new zero-cost policy, but the end of economic growth. It would require legislating for de-growth, something that could be considered, after a decade of economic austerity, as electoral suicide.

Legislating for de-growth is the right government policy, but the wrong approach. If the nation state is the wrong climate change actor, then the national economy is also the wrong perpetrator. Yet this is what every plan to combat climate change focuses on: national emissions. But this focus hides massive inequities within national populations and, more importantly, obscures both who is responsible for carbon emissions and who has the power to arrest them.

It is really important that we – that is, the vast majority of humanity who will or already are suffering the effects of dangerous climate change – move past “national action plans” and start to take action immediately against two groups largely responsible for climate change. They are the 100 or so corporations responsible for 71 per cent of global carbon emissions and the wealthiest 10 per cent of the global population responsible for 50 per cent of consumption emissions. To put the latter in perspective, if this 10 per cent reduced their consumption to the level of the average European that would produce a 30 per cent cut in global emissions.

Focusing on the wealthy and their corporations would enable us to bring about an immediate cut in carbon emissions. But it would also form part of a just transition, ensuring that the majority of the world’s population do not have to pay for climate policy, a conflict we have already seen on the streets of Paris in recent weeks in the yellow vests movement.

As we hurtle into 2019, we need to immediately shift to actions against the ultra-wealthy and the uber-powerful. It is long past time for changing how we talk about climate change. At some point we will need social movements capable of changing everything, but right now we need to relentlessly focus our actions on that small group of people profiting off the destruction of the world, and not wait in vain on governments to do it for us.

The Conversation

Nicholas Beuret, Lecturer in Environmental Politics, University of Essex.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Jane Jacobs and Le Corbusier would agree on one thing: we need more social housing

Unite d’Habitation, Marseille. Image: Iantomferry/Wikimedia Commons.

Much has been written in CityMetric and beyond about the urban planning debates of the 1950s and ‘60s, that came to be characterised as a battle between master-planning and preservation. One side of the debate was personified by the father of modernist architecture, Le Corbusier, whilst the counter-argument was advanced by writer and journalist Jane Jacobs.

But when it comes to London’s housing crisis, aren’t there a few things that these two would actually agree on?

Jane Jacobs’ writing about the organic nature of self-organising communities, demonstrated, in her words, by the “intricate sidewalk ballet” of inner city neighbourhoods, should be required reading for anyone interested in how cities function. But today, Jacobs is increasingly invoked in attempts to oppose new developments of any kind. Her role in conceiving Manhattan’s West Village Houses, a low cost rented housing scheme built through New York State’s Mitchell-Lama Program, is unfortunately much less well known. It’s been suggested that if Jacobs were around today, she’d be working with New York’s housing activists. When her seminal work The Death and Life of Great American Cities was written, there were almost 2 million rent-controlled or rent-stabilised apartments in New York City; nowadays, there are fewer than half that number.

Le Corbusier, on the other hand, is too often blamed for drab high-rise blocks. But regardless of how well his followers across Europe interpreted his ideas, Le Corbusier’s vision for cities was about high quality residential blocks that also contained shops and leisure amenities and were surrounded by parkland – the original mixed use development if you like. His most famous building, Marseille’s Unite d’Habitation, consisted of 337 apartments with views of the mountains and the sea together with shops, a restaurant and a nursery school. The building was originally intended to be public housing, but the French government eventually sold off the flats to recoup costs. Alton West Estate in Roehampton and Park Hill in Sheffield are just some of the examples of Le Corbusier’s influence on the design of post-war council housing here in the UK.

Building homes for a serious business in post-war Britain. Under Attlee’s 1945 Labour Government, 700,000 new council homes were completed. In 1952, the largest architectural practice in the World was at London County Council, with 1,577 staff including 350 professional architects and trainees. These were the days of consensus, and very quickly Tory governments were actually competing with Labour governments about who could built the most council homes.

Some of the council homes built post-war have stood the test of time better than others. But what’s not in doubt is that building council homes on such a scale immeasurably changed the lives of so many families in desperate need of a decent, secure and affordable home. And so many of the post-war modernist high-rise blocks so despised by Jacobs quickly took on the organic self-organising traits that she held in such high regard and have become some of the most enduring and closely-knit communities in London.

Fast forward to 2019 and Right To Buy continues to decimate council housing stock, but perversely home ownership seems more out of reach than ever for so many. An entire generation is being forced to embrace long term private ting in a country that has some weakest protections for private tenants in Europe. Meanwhile, government spending on building new homes fell from £11.4bn in 2009 to just £5.3bn in 2015 – from 0.7 per cent to 0.2 per cent of GDP – and since then, the housing minister’s desk has been occupied by no fewer than six people.


So what would a comprehensive drive for new council and social housing on the scale of the 1945 government’s efforts look like in 2019?

Lubetkin, the architect responsible for Islington’s Spa Green Estate and Bevin Court, summed up the spirit of post-war council home building with his maxim that “nothing is too good for ordinary people”. It’s a vision that we’re trying to recreate through our own council home building programme in Islington.

One of the best opportunities for small council home building schemes is to expand upon existing communities. The vast majority of Islington’s new council housing takes the form of infill, construction on existing estates; in unloved spaces, in old garages, and in old undercrofts. These projects often involve landscaping and new amenities to enhance rather than reinvent local communities. We have built community centres and even rebuilt a library as part of council housing schemes. One Tenants’ and Residents’ Association had an idea for a new specialist over 55s block for the older residents of the estate who wanted to stay in their community.

But there’s a place for large-scale place making as well. When the Ministry of Justice closed Holloway Prison and announced that the site would be sold, Islington Council published a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) on the site. We had one aim – to send a clear signal to the market that anyone who was looking at buying the site needed to be aware of their planning obligations. Most importantly, any development on the site needed to include at least 50 per cent genuinely affordable homes. The speculation around the site came to an end on 8 March this year when Peabody Housing Association announced that it had bought it. It has committed to going well above and beyond our planning requirements, by making 600 out of a total 1000 homes genuinely affordable homes, including 420 homes for social rent. We need to see more detail on what they are proposing but this is potentially brilliant for the borough. A local grassroots group, Community Plan for Holloway, have been instrumental in ensuring that the community’s voice is heard since the site was sold.

To recreate the scale of the massive post-war council home building programmes would require a Jane Jacobs inspired level of community activism combined with the architectural idealism of Le Corbusier. But it would also need the political will from central government to help local authorities get council housing built. And that, sadly, feels as far away as ever.

Diarmaid Ward is a Labour councillor and the executive member for housing & development at the London Borough of Islington.