Climate Justice Now! In Defense of Mother Earth

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Godwin Ojo, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria asks why, after all the damage Shell has caused in Nigeria and to the world’s environment, do they get space at the UN climate talks?

By Mary Church from Friends of the Earth Scotland. Mary is blogging from Lima, Peru at the UN climate talks for Bella, she is part of the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland delegation to the UNFCCC. Follow the latest from Lima on Twitter: @sccscot

While negotiations continue inside the conference centre today, outside many thousands of people are taking to the street of Lima, on human rights day, in the World March in Defense of Mother Earth.

From the well-documented atrocities of fossil fuel companies like Shell in the Niger Delta to the murders of indigenous people defending their rainforest and livelihoods here in Peru, the links between human rights and climate justice are stark and grim.

The UN Climate Convention which sets the framework for the current negotiations recognises and makes provision for another critical link between climate change and human rights. ‘Common but differentiated responsibility’ – the recognition that the burden of responsibility for tackling climate change sits heavier on those countries who are most responsible for the historical emissions that have brought the climate to the brink – is enshrined in the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement to curb emissions up to 2020 (the Paris deal is for emissions post 2020).

In effect this recognition of the climate debt owed by rich to poor nations requires countries in the global North to do more to mitigate climate change, and assist Southern countries to adapt to the impacts (as well as stem their own emissions), through the provision of finance and sharing of technology.

Talk of an ‘optimistic mood’ in Lima must be taken with a very large pinch of salt indeed when this core principle is undergoing concerted attack by developed countries. Any optimism is unlikely to be shared by representatives of those countries already experiencing the effects of global warming and ever more extreme and unpredictable weather, living with the consequences of 20 years of feet dragging by rich polluters.

The two papers approach taken by the co-chairs in Lima – one decision paper on mitigation only, a second paper on elements for negotiations in Paris (finance, adaptation, loss and damage, technology, transparency i.e. everything else) – appears to be an effort to pave the way for an outcome in Paris based on emissions reductions only.

Removing mitigation from the context of the other elements and taking forward these discussions without reference to questions of historical responsibility and capacity to act would destroy any hope of a fair and just deal in Paris. This is the key fight inside negotiations in Lima, and one that is being taken up vigorously by developing countries, particularly the Africa Group.

Meanwhile, the key fight outside the talks is far simpler, but equally challenging: stopping new fossil fuel projects. In a world where big energy companies have 5 times as many fossil fuels on their balance sheets as it would take to tip the climate over the critical 2o warming threshold, its pretty clear we need to leave most of them in the ground.

In recent years Scotland has led the way amongst developed nations, recognising its moral responsibility as a historical polluter to tackle climate change, not only by passing the most ambitious Climate Act in the world, but also establishing a Climate Justice Fund to assist vulnerable nations.

A good start, but not enough. Our fair share of the climate effort means not only having a great Climate Act, but putting in place effective, funded policies to meet the targets in it. It means transforming our energy system to renewables and phasing out fossil fuels entirely by around 2030. It means weaning ourselves off north sea oil, and it means stopping fracking in its tracks. If the Scottish Government wants to show true leadership on climate, that’s the challenge that lies ahead.



Categories: Environmental Justice

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9 replies

  1. “In a world where big energy companies have 5 times as many fossil fuels on their balance sheets as it would take to tip the climate over the critical 2o warming threshold, its pretty clear we need to leave most of them in the ground.”

    This is where it gets difficult. In a country with foodbanks I can’t see the SNP, or any other party in power, demanding that industry leaves 80% of the remaining hydrocarbons in the North Sea, or 100% of any new discoveries west of Shetland or on the west coast.

    • Exactly. Although I applaud the Scottish Government’s Climate Act, there’s more than a touch of hypocrisy in its simultaneous commitment to encouraging the North Sea oil industry – i.e. exporting the problem to other countries while seeking to reserve the moral high ground for itself.

      No wonder poor nations despair.

  2. There is plenty of wealth to go round to meet everyone’s needs and not tip the climate over the edge but it requires:

    (1) redistribution so that there are NO foodbanks etc, or maybe it just requires that we stop redistributing wealth upwards to those wealthy people and companies who avoid tax or are simply not taxed in the first place by their mates in Westminster etc (from hunting estates to Amazon); and

    (2) recognising that this isn’t an environmental issue so much as an issue of power and survival. My friends in the Green Party don’t like me talking like this, they take the Transition approach I love so much which is to show how much better all our lives can be if we change society and so reduce emissions, rather than focus on the present and looming chaos. But I reckon we have to also be honest with ourselves: there is a war on, the corporate system answers only to profit (legally it is allowed to do nothing else) and is steamrollering communities and democracy and lives and ecosystems across the world. If we don’t stop it, we’re finished.

    How do we bring the energy of Indyref Yes – an energy that was able to highlight and liberate the positive, while naming the utter negative we were/ are up against – to this much more all encompassing battle/ party?!

    One way is to not to see (a) emissions reduction and (b) climate mitigation and adaptation as different things.

    e.g.
    – if we can support forest communities in the Global South to secure their forests their lives improve and their forests are saved;
    – if we can support communities here to take back control of the resources around them, and stop the corporate/ lairded rip off,

    then we can meet our needs and leave enough oil in the ground to not spiral into unrescuable climate chaos, and leave enough around for others and our kids future.

    • Climate mitigation and reducing emissions are the same thing – tackling the problem at source. Adaptation is living with the problem.

      The challenge is that the majority of humans no longer lives in forests, they live in industrial societies, but need to get back to something approaching subsistence living in terms of environmental footprint – without sacrificing all of societal advances we’ve made.

      • Whoops, not sure how ‘mitigation’ clipped in there – thanks for the correction! My point is that if we mitigate in ways that enable us to adapt better that is a far better strategy than the current one of (unmet) targets and (diversionary) REDD.

        Actually a surprising number of humans live in commons regimes, about 2 billion, but I agree with your basic point.

  3. Idealism v Pragmatism
    Oil comes out of the ground based upon demand so having 5x the amount to exceed the “tipping point” is immaterial
    The Earths temperature has not increased since 1997 i.e. for the past 17 years and counting
    Contrary to Al Gore the ice caps have not melted and are “healthier” than for a long time
    Polar Bears are for the most part thriving trying to count them is the hardest part because they move around a lot
    I am not a scientist but I question science.
    Why don’t more Scientists question Science

  4. Fascinating piece by George Marshall called ‘Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change’ drawn from his very recent book of the same name:

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/23/why-our-brains-wired-ignore-climate-change-united-nations

  5. Anyone got any realistic and practical ideas how to “wean ourselves off oil”?

    How do you like it when your fridge/cooker/hot water fails? Can you voluntarily change your lifestyle so that you don’t use the washing machine and telly and shower and lights and microwave and computer all at the same time? A tiny minority may be able to but for most people this sort of change has to be forced upon them and that’s the key in my opinion, though good luck in getting the majority to accept it, even on a long term weaning programme. People want stuff, especially if other people have the stuff that they covet, so no population is likely to voluntarily suffer discomfort to go green.

    Take the basics of modern life – water supply, food growth and distribution, housing, clothing, electrical generation and distribution and transport …where would we be without oil?

    As for leaving the stuff in the ground – a great idea around a dinner table but ridiculous in reality. It’s a commodity that modern life demands and its highly lucrative to boot – why would anyone leave it in the ground and why would companies aim to cut back it’s use over the long term in order to wean mankind off of it? And you can’t answer “to save the planet/humankind” as they don’t believe in climate change (a bit like telling an atheist to stop living his life as he does cos he’s going to spend eternity in hell … yeah yeah, whatever).

    I think the planet will be fine with climate change – it’s just us humans that may die out. Much as that makes me feel bad for my kids and their kids we still use the car every day, are flying back to Scotland for xmas, burn oil to keep warm, use electricity etc etc.

    Or maybe I’m just having a particularly pessimistic day.

  6. Oil is a valuable and incredibly versatile resource. The problem is burning it, which we don’t need to on anything like the scale we do currently. It’s already far too volatile in price to use for electricity generation on any scale, so the idea of the lights going out for want of oil is a nonsense. In 15 years I doubt it will be possible in Europe to buy a new family car that runs exclusively on petroleum derivatives either, so that will reduce consumption massively too. Shipping and aviation may take a few decades longer but they’ll come.

    It’s not a religious experience so much as the same old economic reality of greed and exploitation. Smart businesses realise, as the likes of Philips did with lightbulbs, that adopting the new technology first offers a fantastic opportunity to print money, until the Chinese catch up. Then you need something better. If the Chinese get there first however… Game Over. Find something else to do. That’s your incentive, not “being nice.”

    In 10 years your flights and imported goods may also cost you a lot more, but I imagine skype will be better, as will the local economy. I’d also take an educated guess that the installation costs for thermal isolation and renewable energy will be less than the price of a single winter for the kind of pebbledash Southfork inspired bungalows, that currently litter the commutable hinterlands of Scotland burning oil. Needless to say, the terminally stubborn will just have to pull on an extra Pringle, whinge about the cost of living and take out a second mortgage to fill up the 4×4….. Alternatively…. take some moral responsibility, get a grip and cheer up. If we play this right you can still burn a yule log and as long as you plant a tree the grandkids will get their chance too when the time comes.

    Merry Christmas xxx

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