Never have the voices of civil society been so important.
As the UK and German Governments choose lies over action on climate change, so they pass legislation to silence those pointing this out.
Following one of Kevin Anderson’s tweets, he was asked by a major news outlet to elaborate on the issue of legislation designed to stop public protest. As his response arrived too late for publication, we’ve included it here as a quick comment on the UK Government’s “serious disruption” amendment to the Public Order Bill.
A third of a century ago the IPCC published the first of its seminal reports on climate change. At the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, world leaders committed to cut emissions in line with avoiding “dangerous interference with the climate system” – an agreement finally ratified in 1994. Yet in the intervening decades leaders have repeatedly preferred accountancy scams, PR spin and straightforward lying over cogent and coherent policies to cut emissions; UK and Germany amongst them. When emissions associated with imports and exports, aviation and shipping are accounted for, then the average cut in emissions delivered by these self-proclaimed climate-progressive nations has been little more than half of one percent each year.
Now, in 2023, the remaining emission space (carbon budget) for a 50% chance of not exceeding 1.5°C is under ten years of current emissions; for “well below 2°C” this extends to under nineteen years. Add in the equity component enshrined in all international climate agreements, whereby so-called “developed” nations need to lead on mitigation, and the rate of emission cuts for 1.5°C is now over 20% each year for the UK, Germany and other wealthy nations. Even for 2°C, this is somewhere between 10 and 15% year on year.
We are where we are because physics is indifferent to ephemeral and Machiavellian politics, it cares not a jot for discount rates and other forms of astrological economics; it just keeps warming the climate as we keep burning the fossil fuels and preferring diets rich in meat.
Climate change is not a distant ‘threat’, it is a reality already destroying livelihoods and lives of many within climate vulnerable communities. Today these are primarily in poorer nations, with little political influence and are typically people of colour. Let’s be blunt: we knew this would be the case. Yet collectively, we wealthy few responsible for the lion’s share of emissions have been prepared to sacrifice distant people’s lives for the hedonistic high-carbon pleasures we have come to normalise. But the climate impacts are extending their geographical footprint and our own children are now in the firing line.
So while we have pathetic governments, clearly ill-equipped to address the system-level challenges of the 21st century, we rely on the messy gaggle of activist movements and wider civil society engagement to catalyse change. Perhaps a Roosevelt-like figure will emerge and, through a contemporary interpretation of FDR’s fireside talks, offer a progressive and inclusive vision of a sustainable society. But in the absence of such a figure, leadership remains as much bottom-up as it is top-down.
Set against the dismal failure of the current crop of leaders, an active civil society in its multiple forms has never been so important. Even if we don’t want to be at the coal-face of civil action, there is an immediate and key role for engaged citizens to oppose the draconian laws now being implemented by weak politicians simply unfit for office.
For a framing of the carbon budgets, building on our Paris/Glasgow commitments and the IPCC’s latest analysis, see: https://climateuncensored.com/how-alive-is-1-5part-one-a-small-budget-shrinking-fast/
For a short comment on the central role of equity/fairness see: https://climateuncensored.com/maths-of-equity/
For a wider account of my concerns about how much the expert community has, in many respects, been co-opted by the status quo, see: https://climateuncensored.com/whats-in-a-name/