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.

 
 
 
 

Community-powered policies should be at the top of Westminster’s to do list

A generic election picture. Image: Getty.

Over the past five decades, political and economic power has become increasingly concentrated in the UK’s capital. Communities feel ignored or alienated by a politics that feels distant and unrepresentative of their daily experiences.

Since the EU referendum result it has become something of a cliché to talk about how to respond to the sense of powerlessness felt by too many people. The foundations of our economy have been shifted by Brexit, technology and deindustrialisation – and these have shone a light on a growing divergence in views and values across geographies and generations. They are both a symptom and cause of the breakdown of the ties that traditionally brought people together.

As the country goes through seismic changes in its outlook, politics and economy, it is clear that a new way of doing politics is needed. Empowering people to take control over the things that affect their daily lives cannot be done from the top down.

Last week, the Co-operative Party launched our policy platform for the General Election – the ideas and priorities we hope to see at the top of the next Parliament’s to do list. We have been the voice for co-operative values and principles in the places where decisions are made and laws are made. As co-operators, we believe that the principles that lie behind successful co‑operatives – democratic control by customers and workers, and a fair share of the wealth we create together – ought to extend to the wider economy and our society. As Labour’s sister party, we campaign for a government that puts these shared values into practice.

Our policy platform has community power at its heart, because the co-operative movement, founded on shop floors and factory production lines, knows that power should flow from the bottom up. Today, this principle holds strong – decisions are best made by the people impacted the most by them, and services work best when the service users have a voice. Our policy platform is clear: this means shifting power from Whitehall to local government, but it also means looking beyond the town hall. Co-operative approaches are about placing power directly in the hands of people and communities.


There are many great examples of Co-operative councillors and local communities taking the lead on this. Co-operative councils like Oldham and Plymouth have pioneered new working relationships with residents, underpinned by a genuine commitment to working with communities rather than merely doing things to them.

Building a fairer future is, by definition, a bottom-up endeavour. Oldham, Plymouth and examples like the Elephant Project in Greater Manchester, where people with experience of disadvantage are involved in decision-making, or buses in Witney run by Co-operative councillors and the local community – are the building blocks of creating a better politics and a fairer economy.

This thread runs through our work over the last few years on community wealth building too – keeping wealth circulating in local economies through growing the local co-operative sector. Worker-owned businesses thriving at the expense of global corporate giants and private outsourcers. Assets owned by communities – from pubs to post offices to rooftop solar panels.

And it runs through our work in Westminster too – with Co-operative MPs and peers calling for parents, not private business, to own and run nurseries; for the stewards of our countryside to be farmers rather than big landowners; and for workers to have a stake in their workplaces and a share of the profit.

Far from being ignored, as suggested in last week’s article on community power, our work has never been more relevant and our co-operative voice is louder than ever.

Anna Birley is policy offer at the Co-operative party.