Category Archives: Climate Change

A broken system leaves parliament in the dark ages

Yesterday Christopher Chope MP (aka The Chope) along with a small group of co-conspirators managed to talk the Daylight Saving Bill out of parliament.We know that this is not the first time he has done it either. It is just the latest illustration of how our outdated Private Members Bill system  is not fit for purpose. It is fundamentally undemocratic that a Bill can scuppered by just a handful of MPs. Any MP who has ever been involved in this  should be deeply ashamed. It only adds weight however to Caroline Lucas MPs call for modernising parliamentary procedure.

Daniel Vockins, the campaign manager for the Lighter Later campaign, summed up the nature of the problem when he commented, “Today’s result is yet another damning indictment of our broken private member’s bill system. Even with over 120 MPs staying in Westminster to vote in favour of the bill today, the support of 90 national organisations, the UK government, and strong public opinion polls, it’s not possible to get a bill passed a couple of MPs determined to talk it out of receiving a proper vote.”

It is an outrage that our supposedly democratic system can have such a failure built into it. Not only are we left with the lighter later campaign de-railed but we are left with a parliament operating in the dark ages. We need reform.

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The true cost of EU membership

At £14.7bn a year the EU seems a pretty expensive club to be part of. So why are we? The logical answer is that we, as a vested interest, must be getting something significant in return. But what? This blog aims to justify the spending £14.7bn in return for membership of the EU. No easy task.

Firstly, out of the £14.7bn we get about £5bn back in rebates. So actually, I am going to try and justify the expenditure of just over £10 bn. To put this into context that is about one tenth of our current health expenditure.

The UK is currently incredibly reliant on trade with the EU. Three and a half million jobs are reliant on the EU’s single market. That’s roughly one in ten British jobs. Being part of the EU gives us access to a 500 million strong consumer market. 50% of UK trade, that’s about £200bn year, is with other EU Member States. Not to be sniffed at. I do not accept however, the argument that we would lose access to the EU market if we left and negotiated trade terms. I do however think that we would lose a competitive edge. Quantifying the long term impact of this is difficult. It is feasible however to imagine a scenario where we gradually lose leverage within future negotiations. By staying in the EU, and playing a positive role within it, we can at least guarantee access on an equal playing field.

Equally, the EU, through competition and consumer rights laws have driven down prices for consumers and increased consumer protection. One simple example is the reduced roaming charges for using your phone throughout the EU. Again, would we lose this if we left? Probably not. Can I imagine a scenario where we miss out on future benefits if we were not full members? Certainly.

Our trade outside of the EU is also highly dependent on the EU. Being part of the single biggest trading bloc in the world means that we can enter the world’s markets with far more clout than if we were acting alone. To illustrate, the recently signed EU Free Trade Agreement with South Korea has eradicated all tariffs for UK businesses. It is estimated that this will bring in £500 million a year of benefits to British businesses. Free Trade Agreements (FTA) are being negotiated with countries around the world and if they are all completed, they would bring considerable benefit to the UK.

In light of this, I would argue that although I think we could function as a politically autonomous country with economic links to the EU; I think we would be severely disadvantaged. Being part of the EU is good both for British business but also for you as a consumer.

Outside of the economics, there are a plethora of reasons why our de facto £10bn membership fee represents value for money. The EU is central to the UK’s ambition of tackling climate change for example. The EU looks like it will stick to a 20% reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) by 2020 while the UK is calling for 30%. Be under no illusion however, the EU is doing more to bring about a global movement than the UK could dream of by itself. The potential within the EU is huge. For example, the Emissions Trading Scheme is the biggest of its kind, and although not currently working, has the potential to effectively reduce GHG emissions on a massive scale.

The list of benefits could go on, from counter terrorism (frontex) through to workers rights (minimum wage). The EU is at the heart of many things that we take for granted (such as the right to work anywhere in the EU).

When you look at £10bn a year in isolation it can feel (and indeed is) a lot of money. In context however, I feel it represents value for money. Think of the strategic benefit of spending £97bn on replacing Trident compared to the £10bn on EU membership. Think of the strategic benefit of spending £18bn on an ID card scheme in comparison to £10bn on EU membership. Think of strategic benefits of the £11.2bn spent on the NHS database scheme in comparison to £10bn on EU membership. Suddenly, £10bn on EU membership seems like a bargain!

The sad truth however is that most people in the UK do not want the UK to keep its membership. If we held a in/out referendum tomorrow we would leave. I cannot stress strongly enough how counterproductive that would be. We need to be inside this lumbering beast to install the reforms it so badly needs. We need the EU and all the benefits it brings, even if we don’t realise it.

Of course, our politicians know all this. That’s why we are still a member, that’s why we haven’t had a referendum as we were promised. Our politicians, even the Tory’s, know that we need to be part of the EU.

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Government plans to raise the motorway speed limit to 80 mph is a stealth tax

The campaign for Better Transport has today claimed that the government’s plan to raise the speed limit on motorways to 80 mph is a stealth tax.

The new measure would bring in the government an extra £500 million a year at the expense of ordinary drivers and the environment. The time/financial benefits at being able to travel faster have been shown to have a negative  impact on British drivers.

When combine this with the already widely reported environmental concerns you get an unpalatable policy, even for you petrolheads out there.

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Trains are a “rich man’s toy”

A rich man's toy

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond yesterday told MPs that the British railways are a “rich man’s toy”. I would support him in this statement if it was not his government that was putting train travel out of reach for ordinary people.

UK rail fares are the most expensive in the world already. New Labour has to take some responsibility for that. In light of this already bleak situation though, I find it incomprehensible how this government can justify increasing rail fares by 3% on top of inflation from January 2012.

To put this into context, this will add an additional £1,300 for some season tickets. By the end of this parliament, thanks to this government’s policy, rail fares will be 28% more expensive. People are not going to make the modal shift in transport use away from cars that we so desperately need unless there is a real incentive.

If you are as outraged as I am then support the Fair Fares Now campaign and sign this petition.

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The ban of the incandescent light bulb – Draconian tokenism or well thought out policy?

It is now illegal throughout the EU to manufactur 60-watt incandescent light bulbs. This is an effort to encourage (force?) people to use energy efficient bulbs in order to help reduce our CO2 footprints. Is this a good idea or the EU being too draconian again?

The first thing to point out is that it won’t actually affect most people. To illustrate, hands up if you noticed that the 100-Watt or 75-Watt incandescent light has ceased to be produced for quite a while now? Exactly, if you don’t notice something is no longer there then it can’t be that important to you. All those who protest this piece of policy, remind me of those boyfriends when they suddenly find out their ‘favourite’ t-shirt had been thrown away by their girlfriend 6 months previously.

Yet, there are those such as Labour MP Sheila Gilmore who claim that these ‘new’ (and of course they are not new their design is just not hundreds of years old like Edisons) have detrimental health affects such as causing migraines. It is estimated by some that these new bulbs will have a detrimental affect on 2 million people, so the daily mail tells us. Even if this is true (and I would question what is deemed a detrimental affect) then the potential health consequences that may occur if the ban is implemented is minimal in comparison to the potential health consequences if we do not take measures to tackle climate change (at this point I would encourage anyone who hasn’t to read my blog on the human impact of climate change).

Ahh, but (I hear you cry) – by banning lightbulbs you are not going to tackle climate change. I would concede this point – you will not. What you will do though is reduce our total carbon footprint which will reduce the inevitable detrimental consequences of climate change. I have said it a million times before and I will say it again – climate change is not something that will either happen or not happen, it is something that IS happening. We are just trying to reduce the negative consequences by keeping average global temperature increases to a minimum. In other words what we experience will be a lot worse if we heat this planet up by 5 degree from 1990 levels than if we stuck to more modest 1.5 degree mark.

By banning incandescent light bulbs we will do this in a manner that has minimal negative consequences.

Every piece of social policy has negative consequences – there is no such thing as a perfect piece of social policy. The smoking ban for example (a piece of policy I strongly support) is A) illiberal, B) contributing to the closure of countries pubs (although not to the degree the tobacco lobby would suggest) and C) has forced some smoking bars to close costing communities central meeting places. Yet, in the grand scheme of things we can see it is broadly having a positive affect on society. I would argue – so will the ban on the manufacture (not use) of the incandescent light bulb.

Simply, this piece of policy, although not perfect, doesn’t cause significant harm – but has the potential to help us remove the threat of a potentially very serious form of harm. In my mind at least, this means it can be justified.

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The human impact of climate change

I get frustrated with people talking about the consequences of climate change as being some far off disputed theory. We are already seeing the consequences, it is just that they are affecting the group of people we have become so used to ignoring, the poor and marginalised.

The Human Impact report from the Global Humanitarian Forum states that climate change is leaving 300,000 dead every year (that’s the equivalent death toll of a 1000 September 11th). In addition the report states that 325 million people (that’s 4 times the population of the UK) are already seriously affected by climate change. This could be through serious weather events, rising sea levels or desertification which can bring hunger, disease and poverty.

Climate change is already, and holds the potential to increasingly, hamper our efforts to tackle poverty, malnutrition, human rights abuses and many more very worthwhile aims. For anyone who wants to see any change in the world that affects humans, tackling climate change has to be your number one priority.

Where to start? Without wanting to sound like a cliché and quote Gandhi, start with yourself. An average person in the UK produces 9.8 tonnes of CO2 per year (compared to just 0.2 tonnes if you live in the least developed countries). It is one of the great ironies that it is the developed world who is predominantly causing the problem of man made climate change through a system which has systematically screwed over the majority world (everybody else) but it is the poorest “bottom billion” who are disproportionately suffering.

Of course, due to the above mentioned ignoring of the poor and marginalised, we (the minority rich) refuse to except that our actions are causing such levels of human suffering. Why would you think about this? It is a horrible thought. But let’s not beat ourselves up about it. Most people, are not acting maliciously, it is an unintentional impact. We can see that when ordinary people are given easy and accessible ways of reducing the harm their actions have they tend to take it. Fairtrade is a good illustration of that. All we need is for people to associate their actions with the suffering we can see occurring because of climate change (or being extenuated because of climate change). It won’t fix the problem but it will start the wheels of change rolling.

Action doesn’t have to be painful. There is no beards, bare feet and beetroot involved in turning your thermostats down by one degree (and saving 10% on our heating bill). Sadly though, this by itself is not enough. Any environmentalist who tries to convince you a sustainable future in the next 100 years is all skipping through fields and cycling in the sunshine is either misleading you or exceptionally stupid (I wouldn’t rule either out).

We need to reduce our personal carbon footprint. Not just one or two of us, but all of us (well the 5% who make up the “developed world”). Some things will be better (hopefully), some things will be different and some things will be worse. What we need to do though is stop hiding our heads in the sand and do something.

Firstly, work out your personal carbon footprint on one of the many on-line counters. If you are normal, it will come out around 8-12 tonnes of CO2 a year. If (like me) you are a “greeny” (technical term) it will come out 4-8 tonnes of CO2. The startling truth is that we need to be aiming for 1-2 tonnes of CO2 per person per year. This is a big drop by anyone’s standards. If you are already below 2 tonnes and live a relatively normal life then tell people about it. For everybody else, start with the easy things; change your electricity supplier, turn your heating down, get solar installed etc. None of this hurts.

I know people do not want to change. I know people do not want to think about the thousands of people dying, going hungry, loosing their homes and suffering but we do not have a choice. If we do not act now, we will go down in history as the generation who monitored unprecedented levels of suffering but did nothing about it. The scale of the current problem is only going to escalate. We are not prepared to deal with the looming crisis.

I do not consider myself to be an environmentalist because I like the environment. From my own personal perspective I couldn’t give a shit if the Panda was extinct. I do care though about people. I care about the thousands who are currently dying, the millions suffering and the billions in the future who we are leaving with a pretty bleak outlook. At the moment the consequences seem foreign, but it is only a matter of time before they are on our doorsteps.

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Tory MEPs run riot in Brussels and put us all at risk

The greenest government yet? Maybe. This will mean nothing though unless Cameron regains control of his rogue MEPs in Brussels who are threatening to scupper any chance of an ambitious climate change agreement.

The coalition agreement states “We will push for the EU to demonstrate leadership in tackling international climate change, including by supporting an increase in the EU emission reduction target to 30% by 2020“. Equally, David Cameron has repeatedly used climate change as a tool for his PR machine to soften the Tories image.

He is facing embarrassment tonight then when a number of his MEPs are vowing to vote against any move to increase the EU emissions reduction target.

Once again, Tory MEPs like climate change sceptic Roger Helmer are running riot and putting us all at risk. As it stands, these few rogue ECR MEPs have the potential to make or break an EU deal which will affect us all. You might recognise Helmer’s face from a previous blog.

It is irresponsible for Cameron to let his MEPs run riot. He must, without delay, implement a bit of party discipline and accountability. If he doesn’t it is not only the Tories that will suffer, but all of us who need a binding EU deal to help reduce our chances of facing the worst consequences of climate change.

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Broken promises – the coalition is back tracking over its commitment to ban illegal timber

Every year 19,000 square kilometres of Amazon is flattened

The coalition agreement stated, “We will introduce measures to make the import or possession of illegal timber a criminal offence”. Now however, the Government has said it is content to follow weaker EU legislation and simply ban illegal timber from entering the EU. This would not affect the legality of buying/selling or owning illegal timber.

Prior to the General Election Greg Barker explained the limitations of the EU approach as follows: “It is clear that action at European level will not go far enough. It [the new EU measure] lacks an explicit overarching prohibition on illegal timber in the EU market. With no explicit prohibition, there is no incentive to exclude illegal timber from entering the market; there is only an incentive to prove that the company concerned has tried to prevent it. Furthermore, the regulation applies only to those companies that place timber and timber products on the market for the first time, rather than all operators involved in the distribution chain. Loopholes are therefore created whereby all downstream companies-the majority of EU traders-are exempt from even the bare minimum of due diligence requirements. A prohibition on illegal timber needs to apply to all companies that make timber available to the market, whatever their position in the supply chain.”

So if a Government minister can see this, and the coalition agreed last May to go further than the EU by prohibiting the possession of illegal timber then why has the Government decided to back track on the issue? Answers on a postcard please!

I am delighted to see that Caroline Lucas MP has kept this issue on the agenda by drafting an EDM highlighting how disappointing this move is. Disappointingly however, only 78 MPs have signed up to it.

The UK Government has a responsibility to push this as far as possible. The current EU legislation will not stem the flow of illegal timber, let alone in the time frame or quantity that our fight against climate change and deforestation demands.

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Roger Helmer describes a hypothetical rape as such: “the victim surely shares a part of the responsibility, if only for establishing reasonable expectations in her boyfriend’s mind”

Roger “I think a girl can be responsible for being raped” Helmer

Tories are on the back foot on this subject. I wrote a blog yesterday essentially defending what Ken Clarke said (although highlighting its lack of clarity). Then, out of no-where (well Brussels) Roger Helmer wades in with some comments that reinforce every negative idea about rape!

While I think it is right and proper that Ken Clarke still has a job, I honestly cannot see how this man who denies the existence of homophobia, climate change and child poverty within traveller communities still has a job. This latest round of comments highlight that his views are not only out-dated but also worryingly out of touch with reality.  To suggest that a girl is in part responsible for being raped is totally and utterly unacceptable.  On this one I stand side by side with Caroline Flint who described his comments as “outrageous”.

It is equally worrying that one MEP within the ECR group can be thrown out for so little, and yet another stay in the group after making such consistently disgusting comments.

The sad truth of the matter is that Mr Cameron knows he cannot stand up and be counted on this issue because Roger Helmer remains a favourite of his far right backbenchers. If the PM is going to launch an attack, he feels as though it has to be on something more serious than this. Thus, in a nutshell this is what’s wrong with the modern Conservative Party. Mr Cameron is still pandering to the far right extremists’ and so will tolerate what you and I find intolerable.

I suggest the Prime Minister goes away and read Mr Helmer’s comments and sets an example to show that he too finds Roger Helmer’s views deplorable.

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Dale Vince has scored an own goal at Forest Green Rovers

Dale Vince - Chairman of FGR, environmentalist and business man

Red meat is now off the menu at Forest Green Rovers FC. This is a massive move announced with a certain degree of glee by environmentalist and Chairman of FGR, Dale Vince (of Ecotricity fame). I have blogged before about the myriad of reasons why meat and dairy consumption is so bad and it is heartening to see these ideas being implemented into football. The manner in which Dale has pushed ahead with this idea however risks it back firing.

Firstly, there was little consultation with the fans. I am of the old-fashioned belief that a club should broadly reflect the will of the fans. This is not to say the Chairman and the board cannot take the lead on issues but they must, at the very least, take the fans with them. You can see from the fans forum that the one consistent message seems to be that the fans do not feel consulted on this issue.

Secondly, I wonder whether removing the red meat option completely is the most effective way forward. This move will reduce the clubs environmental footprint, but will it affect the fan’s health? I doubt it. What it will do is alienate a certain section of the fan base. This could have been avoided if they had introduced a less controversial,  more ethical menu (for example introduced free range meat instead of factory farmed) and priced red meats at a higher price to the poultry and fish (partially reflecting that red meat has a higher impact on the earth the poultry, fish or vegetarian options).  Without realising it, the supporters who are currently up in arms might have just started eating the cheaper chicken burger and not missed the red meats they habitually eat.  Once again, this move smacks of the absolutism that has characterised the “vegetarian Vs meat eater” debate. It is not only stupid, but also detrimental to the environmentalists cause.  

This move has generated a huge amount of media attention, from Eurosport through to Sky Sports. It has also been met with the usual dull, badly thought out opinions (see comments at the bottom of the Eurosports link).   These responses had a degree of inevitability about them. I just wish this move had been a little more subtle, and a little less media orientated. The result is a clear illustration that the Chairman is putting his business and media plan above the will of fans. This approach will not bring long term prosperity to the club.

For more information on ethical considerations of meat consumption see here.

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The greenest government yet? Sadly yes!

The greenest government yet?

This coalition government set out to be “the greenest government yet“.  Sadly, it appears to be achieving this.  Not because of any amazing policy initiative but more out of an utter failure of New Labour to act on climate change.  The over-riding message coming out of this government is we are acting “Green”.  The over-riding message coming out of NGO’s is “good, but you desperately need to go further”.

So what have the coalition achieved so far?

1 The Green Deal: 100,000 jobs to insulate and upgrade homes, reducing carbon emissions and saving money
2 £1bn for a Green Investment Bank
3 Replacing Air Passenger Duty with a per-plane duty
4 Scrapping Heathrow’s third runway
5 £200m for low-carbon technologies, including £60m for infrastructure to help create an offshore wind manufacturing industry
6 £1bn for a commercial scale Carbon Capture and Storage
7 £860m will fund a Renewable Heat Incentive
8 Lobbying the EU to increase our emissions cut target from 20 per cent to 30 per cent and provided effective leadership at Cancun.

This government has done more in 6 months than Labour achieved in 13 years to tackle climate change. Yet, anyone who is aware of the severity of the problems facing the UK through climate change can see that these measures simply do not go far enough.  The Green Investment Bank for example is a good idea, but it needs investment 4 – 6 times the amount currently being proposed to be truly effective.

This is the greenest government yet, that I have little doubt.  To be able to mutter this statement though is a cause for Labour to hide in shame, not for the coalition to hold its head up high.  We need to congratulate the coalition on the steps they have taken and push them further – much further.

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Environmental refugees – Why an environmental refugee convention for the 21st century is needed

Since the development of the modern nation-state, people have been fleeing them.   The very concept of a nation-state developed out of warring territories.  The idea however, of international responsibility for individuals forced out of their nation clearly did not develop at the same time as nation states.  It wasn’t until after WW2 that any form of international responsibility became acknowledged in international law.  After WW2 politicians were concerned about the issues of the day (political, religious and ethnic persecution). The issue of environmental degradation as a cause to flee your country was not on the agenda.   We have to up-date what we understand to be a refugee.  We have to create a refugee convention fit for the 21st century.  A convention that covers the issues facing a 21st century refugee – climate change.  This problem is only going to get worse.

Other reasons why people flee also need to be taken into consideration.  For example sexuality need to be carefully considered.  The case of Mehdi Kazemi whose asylum claim was rejected despite his boyfriend in Iran already being executed for “sodomy” is a shameful blight on our countries recent history. This blog however will focus predominantly on the need to protect those who are fleeing their country for environmental reasons.

The problem inherent with climate change is that it is not one single environmental problem that forces people to flee. Instead it is a complex web of climate changes linked by unpredictable feedbacks.  Thus the science is still often contradictory. Indeed, one of the biggest mistakes advocates who connect climate change with increasing number of refugees make is to pretend they can predict how it will affect humanity exactly.  This simply is not possible. Thus it presents a huge challenge, how to prepare for and act on a slowly unifying field of scientific research when all major power sources in the current political climate appear to be working against environmental sustainability?  It is clear there are no easy answers for this question.

The basic problem with acknowledging environmental refugees is that it implicitly suggests that the west have to take responsibility for “our” actions.  The moral obligation was taken on by New Zealand to take in the citizens of the collection of small islands of Tuvalu; the independent nation-state which is predicted to be underwater within a century by rising sea levels.  Tuvalu has a population of just 11,000 and so a satisfactory solution was relatively easy to find, even if it’s not perfect.  The real challenge faced by the international community as a result of rising sea levels are the millions more to be displaced, the 15 million in the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta, Bangladesh. If we in the West accept that we have a responsibility, we have accepted we have a responsibility for the hundreds of millions of people fleeing for climate change related reasons.  Would any government want to do this?

The wider consequences of accepting the term environmental refugees are massive.  Governments would have to provide protection for millions more, 5 or 6 times the number of conventional refugees at the moment if you accept the UNEP estimate.  The refugee debate would need to open itself up to reconsider other categories of people left out of the current convention (Internally Displaced Person’s and sexuality for example).  The UN would then need to address its current structures, could one UN body address all these different fields and concerns? There is a fairly comprehensive argument that would suggest the UNHCR is struggling under its current mandate.  So potentially this could justify a separate environmental refugee commission.  With the international community acknowledging these new types of refugees could host countries cope?  Would this approach succeed or would there be a anti-asylum backlash? Would current host countries sign up to such a concept? These are all questions that must be addressed before taking on moral arguments surrounding environmental refugees. 

One thing is for sure; the idea of “charity” to “help” those affected by climate change is not sustainable. Too often governments acknowledge their role but hide behind concepts of charity.  The Tsunami disaster is a good example, individuals, governments and business alike pledged 278 million dollars to the humanitarian disaster; Oxfam was over whelmed with money but it was all given as ‘charity’.  Is there anything wrong with this? It provided the basic support mechanism that the 1.8 million displaced people so desperately needed.  The problem however is that the concept of charity is inconsistent and unreliable, while the Tsunami was being overly funded (and rightly so) there were still non headline grabbing locus plagues that hit the Sahel that left food shortages affecting 9 million.   Similarly the aid money that comes through charity doesn’t tackle the underlying problems, thus monetary aid is all too often used as a smokescreen for government inaction.  This is not to say it doesn’t have its role but it ultimately only fixes short-term problems.  Also, at any point (times of recession) it faces the threat of being withdrawn.

Governments should not be in a position where they can chose to act in a humanitarian sense in one moment but ignore other situations in another.  There is a need for a legally binding agreement to bond government’s obligation to act in the case of environmental refugees.  That is why a working definition is so important.  Despite this, there has been no adequate working definition of an ‘environmental refugee’ put forward.  This does not mean though that they are not real and not in need of real protection.  

This is not an issue that sits comfortably with a conclusion.  The debate around environmental refugees will continue and an adequate solution will not be reached.  We have known about these problems for decades and solutions have only been partially reached.  A working definition of a refugee that would deprive millions of the protection they deserve and require must be adopted and indeed codified into international law.   Few would argue that the current definition of ‘refugee’ is perfect; and indeed few would argue we would be better off without it.  The same applies to environmental refugees.   This leaves a close to impossible question, how do you quantify an environmental refugee.  Is it the level of human influence, the time scale or the number of displaced that should qualify the individuals who would claim environmental refugee status to be refugees?  It is clear though that a limited working definition remains better than none at all. 

Recent attention on climate change suggests that, perhaps, the time is now ripe for action to be taken to deal with the world’s environmental refugee problem.

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Bjørn Lomborg is still on the wrong path to tackle climate change.

 

Bjorn Lomborg, the sceptical environmentalist

Bjørn Lomborg, the “sceptical environmentalist” has come out and acknowledged that man-made climate change is a problem, and one that should be prioritised by governments.  This revelation is a welcome step in the right direction.  Lomborg remains however, woefully off course on his action plan on how to tackle climate change.

Lomborg advocates a heavy investment in R and D to the tune of 100 billion dollars.  This is sort of investment would be welcome and indeed needed.  We should approach his arguments however with a degree of caution for his action plan would leave humanity facing terrible consequences when average temp increases climb well above the 2 degree guard level.  Lomborg, denies we need action to reduce emissions now, making a predominantly economic argument for a lack of action in the short-term.  His argument falls down on two levels.

Firstly, as Phil Bloomer (Policy director for Oxfam) points out in a letter to the Guardian, there are plenty of things that can be done now to tackle climate change that would be revenue creators such as a levies on aviation and shipping.  If we simply sit back and wait for the affect of R and D to kick in we might be waiting for another 20 years.  If we want to leave ourselves a reasonable chance of staying below 2 degrees (which I have siad previously is a dangerous target to be aiming for) then we need to peak our emissions by 2015, at the latest (see http://climatecongress.ku.dk/pdf/synthesisreport).  If we fail to cap our emissions for 20 years we can expect to see average temp rise by 2.8-3.2 degrees.   This would leave us with a dangerously high chance of experiencing run away climate change (see page 16 of the above mentioned report for impacts in relation to temp rises).

Lomborg, fundamentally approaches the issue of climate change from an illogical perspective.  Lomborg has tried to work out what is economically feasible and then work backwards.  What I would advocate is the need to start with what is scientifically imperative to leave us reasonable odds of not experiencing some of the worst effects of climate change.  Recent history shows that if the danger is considered big enough the political will power and the money can be found (use the bail out of the banks as a case point). To put an economic imperative before a scientific imperative (that has such disastrous consequences) is something no policy maker can afford to do.

Policy makers (and still perhaps Lomborg) need to understand the severity of the threat we face and the short length in which we have to act.  If we do not begin to understand this, we face a potentially perilous future.

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More daylight, who has a problem with that?

David Mitchell backs the lighter later campaign

People have written the idea off as a mad environmentalist plot that should be dismissed and ignored.  The idea being…that the UK should work on GMT+1 in summer, and GMT +2 hours in winter.  It’s pretty simple.  We would get more sunlight during the day – it would be great. So why are people opposed to this idea when it has so many potential benefits?

It would mean we would all experience more sunlight (making us happier – I think), reduce our electricity use (which is why this move is backed by the 10:10 campaign) , reduce crime (you know, the lit up areas argument) and reduce road deaths (remember that over 3,000 people die every year on our roads – which is why it’s supported by the RAC).   It overwhelmingly seems like a great idea.

Ahh I hear you cry…what about those who have to get up early and suffer the long dark mornings? Will these people not suffer because of it? For most of these people no…They could just get up at the same time as they do now (in relation to dawn).  David Mitchell very eloquently goes through the example of a Scottish farmer to illustrate this solution.

In fact I cannot (off the top of my head) think of any reason we wouldn’t do this.  Other than of course the British people’s opposition to change and things they don’t really understand.  I am genuinely interested…is there a good reason the UK should not move forward an hour?

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How environmentalism is like a sonnet

Jonathon Porritt, what an interesting chap!

On Thursday 4th March over 250 people packed Stroud Sub-rooms to listen to Johnathon Porritt talk on what a sustainable future would look like. I left feeling truly inspired after hearing speeches from Martin Whiteside (Green Party Parliamentary candidate for Stroud) and a young activist called Rhiannon.  As you may have noticed, I have been a bit busy recently, so I will try and condense here into one blog entry an overview of some of the more interesting points to come out of the evening. I’ll start with why Jonathon Porritt thinks that environmentalism is a bit like a sonnet (after all that’s what I’ve put in the title).

Johnathon talked about how we need to re-open the language of limits in politics.  This, he maintained, had slipped out of political discourse.  For a happy, sustainable future there needs to be limits.  Limits on how much banks should be able to speculatively lend, limits on how much of the worlds resources we should be able to use, and perhaps limits on the type of mass consumerism we all so love.  We as humanity, think, believe, and want everything.  This surely cannot be the case.   We cannot grow our economies forever, nor can we all consume in the same way as the West currently does.  He went on however, to challenge the very premise of opponents who see limits as something restrictive and bad.  He argued that limits could be beautiful.  A Sonnet is incredibly restricted in its structure and composition, but no one would maintain that different sonnets do not hold incredible beauty and insight because of this.  Indeed, he painted a picture of a world, where limited creative energy could be very beautiful.  He painted a picture of a world that is sometimes missing in green language – a positive future.

Martin Whiteside drew a second interesting point – focusing his speech on the central role of equality and fairness in a sustainable future. At the heart of this idea, is that a more equal society is one that is better and happier for all.  Based on the recent publication “The spirit level”, Martin argued, with great oratory skill, that’s it is not just the poor that suffer from more unequal societies, but it is the population as a whole.  Inequality causes shorter, unhealthily and unhappier lives; it increases the rate of teenage pregnancy, violence, obesity, imprisonment and addiction.  He argued, that the Greens are in a unique position to push our society towards a fairer future.

The Greens not only advocate a higher minimum wage, but also a maximum wage.  Martin talked from personal experience from his time at Christian Aid that has a maximum differential of 4 between its entry-level staff and its director.  The Greens also have a policy of increasing the national pension from 97 quid a week to 170 (inline with all major pressure groups).  These fairer policies, he argued, would best prepare us for a future that is going to be characterised by the distribution of the worlds limited resources and wealth.  Will we be the generation that holds onto disproportionate amount of the world’s resources and wealth while the rest suffer?

He went onto argue (and this is where it gets interesting), that a more equal society is not just better for the wider population, but also for the rich.  In the book “Spirit level” they show that the top earners are happier in fairer societies.  We could make bankers happier by taking their bonuses off them – a nice thought!

I left the evening excited, confused but most certainly motivated to do something! If there was one idea the evening cemented into me, was that the Green party are different.  They are coming up with alternatives to the evidently crumbling system.  I find it exciting and challenging.

If you fancy more of the same, Martin Whiteside is holding a Q and A session at the Prince Albert pub in Rodbourgh on 8th March at 7:30.  A good excuse to have a beer and a debate! Hopefully see you there!

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Filed under Climate Change, Gloucestershire, Politics

Climate change, the challenge ahead for human rights

Zia Pits in Kenya

Going into 2010 we can see human rights violations occurring daily across the globe.  While there have been some significant steps in the right direction there have also been significant set-backs.  Human rights as a concept, continues however, to serve an incredibly important purpose.  It can shed light on some of the darkest situations.  It can provide a mechanism to help individuals hold governments and corporations to account. For human rights to continue to be a useful tool in building a better future, those who work with it such as human rights NGO’s need to ensure they fall down the right line of the defining political debate of the 21st century.

George Monbiot wrote recently how the world can be divided into two broad camps; those who believe that any restraint on personal freedoms is a restriction on their liberty and those who believe that human behaviour needs to be restricted for the greater good.  He states:

Humanity is no longer split between conservatives and liberals, reactionaries and progressives… Today the battle lines are drawn between expanders and restrainers; those who believe that there should be no impediments and those who believe that we must live within limits (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cif-green/2009/dec/14/climate-change-battle-redefine-humanity)

Traditionally, human rights activists have fallen down the side of the liberals, seeing restraint and restrictions as a way of restricting fundamental freedoms.  Human rights both in practice and academically has grappled with the question of to what extent rights should be restricted and come out stronger on the other side.  There is however, something unique to the 21st century that human rights are struggling to reconcile with – the acknowledgement of climate change.

We can see now, more than ever, that human behaviour needs to be restricted.  We have consumed more resources, released more carbon dioxide and destroyed more eco-systems in the last few hundred years than our ancestors did for the previous millennium.  As a result of this uncontrolled behaviour, with expansionism being pushed at every angle, we have propelled our selves towards a greater threat than humanity has ever faced before.

Amnesty International has acknowledged climate change to be a human rights issue.  They tackle it as part of their economic, social and cultural rights campaign.  With millions loosing homes, food systems collapsing and forced migration spiralling, we can see that the aim to ensure everyone has access to an “adequate standard of living” (article 25) may prove to be extremely difficult.  The right to safe access to water will be a growing issue in many “stressed areas” of the world.  Currently, Amnesty International has not researched or put forward any position or policy recommendations on how they think we can avoid the negative consequences of climate change.  Will they advocate enforced carbon emission reductions? Will they advocate a restriction on travel (in direct contradiction to Article 13 – freedom of movement)?

There are three potential responses to this conundrum that human rights advocates (including myself) could take.  One, you could argue that that human rights should focus on civil and political rights (torture, death penalty etc) and this way you need not get caught up in the complexity of working on climate change.  Regardless of what terror climate change is causing, you can still universally condemn torture.  Two, you can acknowledge climate change to be an issue, but focus on it pointing to other more qualified NGO’s working on it.  This could leave you open to the very obvious criticism…”why do you not become specialised in the issue which will affect human rights more than anything else”? Three, you advocate a curtailment of individuals rights on the basis it is protecting the most fundamental of rights of other people.  For example, advocate a restriction on air-travel, arguing that it directly affects others right to life and livelihoods.

I would argue the latter.  Human rights have always come with restrictions.  Human rights as a discourse have never advocated full unimpeded action.  Human rights come with restrictions and responsibility.   If we acknowledge that certain action is pushing other people (maybe future generations) into such peril that they can no longer justify continuing that action, it is surely the States responsibility to curtail that behaviour.  The tricky bit here is that we do not know exactly what the consequences of our actions today will be on future generations.  We can not say for sure that xx tons of carbon dioxide released now will kill xx number of people.  Life is not that simple.  Increasingly however, it is looking pretty dire (see my earlier blog https://stevehynd.wordpress.com/2009/12/08/copenhagen-and-the-2-degree-guard-rail-the-wrong-goal-missed/). If we continue living as we are, we are effectively ensuring that billions of people in the coming century will not have sufficient access to food, water and shelter.

Is it possible for the human rights discourse to push such a complex message? It has to be.  I consider engaging human rights with the issue of climate change as perhaps the last chance saloon for civilisation as we know it.  To lead this debate, we need internationally recognised human rights actors to stand up and state exactly what we need to aim for (opposed to what is politically acceptable) and exactly how we are going to reach these targets.  Anything short of this is synonymous with standing by and watching the greatest human rights abuse of our age un-fold.  Climate change is a human rights imperative that can not be ignored.

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Filed under Climate Change, Human rights

The Real Green New Deal

At the moment every other political announcement seems to have the word “green” in it.  It is sometimes hard to tell the difference between progressive policies and simple greenwash.

What I recommend is to read the “Real” Green New Deal, put together by a collection of highly respected individuals including, Colin Hines, Tony Juniper and Andrew Simms (plus many more).  It highlights how we need to tackle climate change in conjunction with the economic crisis and peak oil.  It is the first piece of social policy that I have read for a very long time to actually excite me. 

It is from this document that I think you can begin to judge other political parties green commitments in the run-up to the next election.

It is downloadable from:

http://www.neweconomics.org/sites/neweconomics.org/files/A_Green_New_Deal_1.pdf

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UK Met office: We have no chance!

I blogged a few days ago about the need to ensure that the global temperature sticks well below the two degree rise many are aiming for (https://stevehynd.wordpress.com/2009/12/08/copenhagen-and-the-2-degree-guard-rail-the-wrong-goal-missed/).  I still stick by this.  This morning however I stumbled across this BBC article http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8405025.stm which states:

“Meeting the lower target of 1.5C favoured by some developing countries is virtually impossible, the UKMO says”.

It goes on to say:

“Even if emissions peaked in 2020, there would be a 50% chance of temperatures rising by more than 2C, the target adopted by the G8 at its July summit.”

Essentially, this is the UK met office saying…we are very unlikely to be able to stick to 2 degrees and we are almost definitely not going to be able to reach a safer target of a 1.5 degree rise in temperature.

I have to say…prospects for humanity are not looking too good right now!

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Copenhagen and the 2 degree guard-rail, the wrong goal missed

We are constantly told that if we want to avoid “serious” climate change then we have to stick to below two degrees. Have you ever wondered though where this mysterious 2 degree figure came from or who came up with it? In the next couple of weeks at Copenhagen anyone with any grasp on climate change will be trying to beg, borrow and steal their way to an agreement that would result in us (humans) limiting the average global temperatures to below 2 degrees from 1990 levels. Anything above this and we are doomed! It is thus slightly important to explain why even this target is wholly inadequate.

In 2001 the IPCC (Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change) came up with the 2 degrees figure using a very sensible method. Simply, they looked at the bad stuff that was likely to happen because of climate change (species extinction through to run-away climate change – this is when tipping points cause further tipping points (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkUaAltxUpg) and worked out how likely at different temperatures it was to happen. At 2 degrees they figured there was very little chance of runaway climate change occurring. There was however still a significant chance of species extinction (there were then events in between that varied in their likelihood of occurring). They considered this to be a “safe” level to aim for.

This all seems very sensible (what’s a few species in the grand scheme of things?). In the run-up to Copenhagen however, the University of Copenhagen produced a report (http://www.pik-potsdam.de/news/press-releases/files/synthesis-report-web.pdf) authored by many of the original IPCC authors highlighting why, in the light of the latest science since 2001, this 2 degree guardrail is wholly insufficient. Essentially they were saying that they had underestimated the temperature at which these reactions to temperature rise would occur. This is hugely problematic.

According to their latest estimates, sticking to 2 degrees would leave us with a moderate chance of experiencing run-away climate change. I cannot emphasize how scary this is. A moderate chance of plunging our entire species into starvation, mass migration, probable war and potential extinction! Why are we not in a state of emergency? Why have I been blogging about the death of the local pub, when soon we will not be able to grow the crops needed for brewing (let alone to feed ourselves)?

This is IF we meet our 2 degree target. What do you think…will our leaders unite together to make the sort of agreement that is needed to make lasting cuts in carbon emissions? I suggest not. Will our leaders buckle to economic and political pressure rather than scientific reality? I suspect so. What does this mean for us as a species…as a civilized society…a community…a family or even as an individuals?

It means that we are facing very very tough times ahead. How tough depends on how we (as a species) act now! How prepared we are for these tough times depends more on how we act as a community, family and individuals. To tackle this issue we need a collective effort like never before (think WW2 and multiply it…the enemy we face now is far scarier than the threat fascism ever posed to humanity…the millions that Hitler wiped out might look like small numbers if we do not act on climate change).

Think of climate change though not as something that is either happening or not happening but as something that is on a scale. I have no doubt that we will witness the extinction of many more species, but how far down this scale towards run-away climate change we slip is really up to us.

British Green MEP Caroline Lucas recently summed the situation up by stating that if we meet the EU’s most ambitious targets then we will leave ourselves a 50:50 chance of experiencing the worst consequences of climate change.  These are odds I am not willing to accept.

We can act now to limit to the consequences of climate change or we can go down in history as the only species that monitored itself into extinction.

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Filed under Climate Change, EU politics