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.

 
 
 
 

In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 


The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.