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The new radicals

Whilst good progress was made in Bonn, the important question is was it good enough? There is only one answer to this question: no. The pace of progress is disappointing and in fact quite frightening. But this pace is not the result of complex technical barriers that we must wait to overcome. The current pace of negotiations is dictated by the specific political decisions of specific countries.

We discovered in Bonn that the least culpable and less capable developing countries are pushing ahead with emissions reductions whilst the most culpable and capable developed nations sit back. The 60:40 split between developing country and developed country commitments demonstrates that developed countries such as the US, Japan and Canada are actively choosing to ignore their responsibilities.

While countries continue to make unjust political choices, blame will continue to serve an important function at the UNFCCC. The principle of shared but DIFERENTIATED responsibility, central to a fair and binding agreement, requires that we name those countries that fail to take their responsibilities seriously.

But blame has never been enough to inspire action. In order to push the negotiations towards a fair and binding deal, campaigners in Bonn have spent as much time building the ambition of constructive parties as calling out those who stand in the way of progress.

I wrote in my previous blog about the “Fossil of the Day” awards. As a positive compliment to these ‘awards’ a team from the UK Youth Climate Coalition and other youth NGOs spent some time during the last week of Bonn working as “Ambition Motivators”, thanking countries that have made a positive contribution in Bonn. Awards went to the UK and Norway for their world leading domestic targets and to the Alliance of Small Island States for their consistent advocacy for mitigation to cap warming at 1.5C.

For the young people who attended Bonn and worked eighteen hours a day to make the negotiations better the difference between a good and a bad outcome is clear. A good outcome protects the lives of our generation. A bad outcome does not. We know that most negotiators get this. We also know that many are held back by the short-termism of governments who don’t.

For this reason NGOs and hundreds of young people have united around a campaign called Push Europe. The campaign focuses on how a 30% emissions reduction target for 2020 would secure a faster and fairer economic recovery throughout the EU. Stronger targets are the foundation for a stronger economy in the short term and would enable the EU to renew its much needed leadership role in Durban.

We must ensure that the progress made in Bonn translates into stronger commitments before Durban. This won’t be possible without leadership from the EU.

When some countries fail to act responsibly others must recognise that this is exactly the time for them to step up. This is not about being radical it’s about being responsible. The radicals are the one’s who choose to continue fundamentally altering the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere.

6 Responses to “The new radicals”

  1. Rosi says:

    Isn’t it always the same old depressing story? “Yes, let’s be ambitious and cut CO2 emissions and at least slow down the pace of CC, but then “let’s not lose sight of the job at hand!!“. Governments are too short-sighted in their political goals, too dependent on acting in the voice of the majority who in times of economic crisis just can’t look past their own nose, and, especially in Germany, still too dependent on the FUNDING of large energy companies. Having been extremely occupied with the mess going on in Germany about making an Exit out of Nuclear Power, the extremes to which the government prostitutes itself in order to gain public sympathy is grotesque. A month after Fokushima Merkel had announced that Germany will shut down the last Nuclear Power Plant in 2050, now even 2022. Whereas she announced that Germany would EXTEND its funding and dependency on it to at least 2070 only a few months BEFORE Fokushima. Why this change of pace? This change of face? It is just too clear that politics has become nothing more than a beauty-contest for public votes. So what about Germany’s ambitious CO2 targets? All out the window! Fokushima was a disaster, YES, but hey, scrapping our CO2 goals in favour of making an exit out of Nuclear Power is just WRONG. Cutting out Nuclear out of our energy supply will leave a hole of 23% to fill. 23% that WILL BE FILLED with coal and gas. That’s 18 million tonnes of CO2 for gas, and 36 million tonnes for coal that will be emitted into the atmosphere EXTRA per year. Reaching our 750 million tonnes goal by 2020, when we’re at approximately 960 million now (and have already emitted 38 million tonnes more in 2010 than in 2009), is just UTOPIAN. What does this tell us? First of all to pour ourselves another glass of wine, but second of all that democracy just doesn’t work in times of crisis. The collapse of Greece is an excellent example for this, IN TIMES LIKE NOW – THE ASS CAN’T RULE THE BRAIN!!!!

    • Tom Lafford says:

      Hi Rosi,

      Thanks for your comment. Whilst I share your frustrations I disagree with your conclusions.

      Germany’s recent decisions on energy policy are troubling and will certainly make reaching what is already an inadequate target more difficult.

      But this decision is no more an example of failure of democracy than any other bad decision made by democratically elected politicians under the heavy influence of special interests and a tight election cycle.

      I agree that CC is a problem of a different order and therefore requires a new scale of solutions but I would make 3 points:

      1. CC is also a time limited problem. Can we hold warming bellow 1.5C and transition to a new system? If so what and how?

      2. Democracy is not just made of citizen and elected politicians. If you want to change something voting is not enough, you have to work for the change you want to make. Whilst you cannot vote out the special interest groups blocking solutions to CC you can shift the balance of power by campaigning against them.

      3. Your example is an argument against specific decisions by specific politicians in one country. It is not an argument against democracy.

      Working to hold CC within ‘acceptable’ limits may seem like a battle against unwinnable odds. But unless you engage with political realities its a battle you’re not even fighting.

      Any more thoughts from yourself?

      Thanks again!

      • Rosi says:

        Hi Tom, thanks for the reply.

        First of all yes my comment was quite focused on Germany (pretty much due to my current stay here). However, its political status quo still serves as a valid example to how political agenda fluctuates drastically according to “what’s hot”, endangering many goals in terms of emission cuts that we have worked for so hard. And yes, I do believe it is in a sense a failure of temporary democracy, not a failure of the theory of democracy per se (which I strongly believe in) but the PR show it turned into, ruled completely by, as you named it, time pressure, tight election cycles and trying to “please everyone at once”.

        Of course CC is of a different. It’s a long-term problem, and of completely different nature than other social, economic and now heavy issues of foreign affairs.My solution to keeping warming below 1.5C? Start setting political PRIORITIES, exactly my criticism about the evolving patterns seen in temporary democracy. One of the biggest contributors to Global Warming is housing; badly insulated housing in the UK even is the nr. 1 cause at the moment. The EU commission in Brussels now tried to enforce an insulation-policy onto EU states, where houses that are inadequately insulated HAVE to be refurbished. But obviously most EU states voted against this law. It’s now VOLUNTARY….and we all know what voluntary means.

        Of course democracy isn’t just about voters and politicians, and I do believe activism is A step forward, however, what seems to be synonymous to Power and Influence now is, yeah, Money. Activism gets you out of communism, Not out of democracy as it is now. By saying that one should engage with political realities could sound as if anarchist visions of a better global structure that would save the planet from its definite end is …a waste of time?

        Interesting debate!

        Rosi xx

        • Tom Lafford says:

          Hi Rosi, thanks for replying.

          I want to address your points about housing and activism.

          On housing I agree that the voluntary commitments are a problem. The UK’s progress on household emissions is a mixed bag. The Green Deal, Renewable Heat Incentive and Feed in Tariff combined with a 26% GHG reduction projection for 2025 are positive. But the weakening of regulation on new build in favour of a “presumption in favour of sustainable development” is a sign of the wrong priorities and demonstrates the failure to take the hard decisions needed to effectively de-carbonise the UK economy.

          On your point about activism, no movement pushing for a more sustainable world is a waste of time. Personally, I want to see a transition to sustainability that thoroughly alters our society.

          However, where my vision of the ideal society conflicts with progress to avert catastrophic climate change I am forced to be pragmatic. Yes there will always be an alternative to the dominant form of politics. Yet, whilst the dominant politics of today has put us on a pathway to a 4C warming, I am convinced that our best hope lies in strengthening what’s good about the current system rather than removing ourselves from it. We need to strengthen the more accountable institutions such as the UNFCCC that are capable of putting us on the right path.

          Thanks again for your comments.

  2. Ben says:

    Interesting line of argument on the radical/responsible dichotomy. I think this might be a slight misreading though.

    Those who do not wish to see more ambitious emissions targets (such as the Conservative MEPs who are currently rocking the boat in the EU parliament) don’t see themselves as radical – they see themselves adhering to a tradition of conservative realist pragmatism that is about as radical as a tin opener. They would like to be seen to be the responsible ones, because they supposedly care about our economic future more than pro-emissions targets people – according to them voluntarily forcing Europe to cut it’s carbon output is like putting on an economic straitjacket and swallowing the key, while the BRICS nations run around naked, footloose and fancy-free.

    However, the economic arguments for inaction on climate change just don’t stack up (as the Stern review showed) – and as the continuing fall in the price of renewable technologies is proving – wind, solar etc will be competitive with coal and oil in a few years, and the EU should be in a position to capitalize on that and build our economies around low or no carbon energy. Emissions targets will only hasten that prospect.

    In reality – you are right – the mentality of those Conservative MEPs and their ilk is the irresponsible one. I don’t for a second believe that the majority of those opposed to mandatory targets because of the economic cost/danger they say it poses to EU industry are really interested in our future – they only care about the present, and the profitable industries they’d like to protect from potentially ‘damaging’ emissions targets. More worryingly, behind all of this is a creeping and quite horrifyingly ignorant abuse of the facts which is putting the science of climate change into doubt – in fact some are quite actively denying climate change happens, or will happen as a result of human activity.

    It’s not just scepticism, it is an orchestrated attempt to derail both domestic, EU and international negotiations/frameworks designed to mitigate for and help the world adapt to climate change.

    They may think that their ‘scepticism’ is radical – it’s more of a head-in-the-sand reaction really. But it’s certainly irresponsible and it sends terrible messages to the populations of developed countries, who can be quite easily swayed by the baseless argument that our economic future is in peril if we *do* create mandatory targets.

    When people see so much disagreement and supposed controversy floating around the issue at the policy level, this just feeds into the misinformation and lies spun by deniers. When the story is always that we can’t decide on anything, that the international agreements are flawed etc – this undermines support in the whole process, and eats away at trust people have in leaders to act in their best interests. This just amplifies the notion that trying to deal with climate change is somehow *not* in our best interests.

    The UKYCC should be coralling cross-party and multilateral support for the COP process and for the science of climate change, and encouraging representatives at all levels to repeat the basic fact that the costs of *not* acting now are far less, even cumulatively, then the ones we’ll be faced with in two or three decades time if don’t act.

    Wanting to maintain the status quo, to keep going on a business-as-usual model is not radical, any way you look at it. The US, Canada and Japan pride themselves on having built advanced economies on innovative, progressive technologies. This did require truly radical ideas and long-term investment, as well as risk-taking.

    Let’s see that legacy in action and make sure that they continue to innovate so that we can factor out fossil fuels from the world economy and secure equitable, clean growth for the future. That means taking responsibility for a) past emissions, and b) the leadership needed to drive us forwards a zero-carbon future.

    Anything else is simply passing the buck.

    • Tom Lafford says:

      Thanks very much for the comment Ben.

      First, as you recognise, I agree with you completely.

      A few points:

      I think supporting the status quo and “passing the buck” is the most radical response you could possibly take to CC. Of course it is the easiest response in the short term and in that sense its entirely understandable. Denial and conservatism are typical jerk responses to truths that we don’t want to accept.

      But we expect more from our elected representatives. We expect them to represent the good and our best interests. A failure to act on CC is a radical failure of politicians to act responsibly. When this happens elsewhere we don’t feel it but every failure to act on CC speeds up CC. There is no such thing as inaction on CC. You are either working towards a just solution to CC or adding to the problem.

      The political failure is disheartening, but it is a political failure, specific choices by specific people which can be undone. But only if we act now.

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