The divestment campaign has been a great way for campaigners to target local government, universities and charitable foundations and our communities have been doing their own things to address the challenges we face, but as we now approach Paris the spotlight needs to swing back onto our national governments once again.
We are facing a climate crisis that will cause increasing global instability, famine, poverty, environmental degradation and loss of species, and we are aware that the pledges made by the governments around the world fall far short of what is needed to avert this crisis.
We are taking action at a community level to address climate change and we know that this problem can be solved, but where should our focus now turn and what should we be demanding from our Government?
The UK joined up with the rest of the EU back in March in putting forward their collective Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), which was to achieve an at least 40% domestic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2030.
The interesting word there is ‘domestic’. Emissions come from a number of sources, such as the energy supply and transport sectors, but emissions are measured at the point in which they are produced, such as from a power station or from a road vehicle. The problem with this is that countries like the UK are net importers of goods. A great deal of what we consume has been manufactured or grown abroad. We are therefore effectively outsourcing our emissions, making it harder for countries who manufacture, grow and export more to make similar commitments.
So whilst the European Commission gloated that the INDC puts the EU “on a cost-effective pathway towards long term domestic emission reductions of 80%” by 2050 and that the goal put the bloc on track for a 60% cut v 2010 levels by 2050, which was “at the upper end” of the IPCC’s range of 40-70% emission reductions necessary worldwide to limit global temperature to 2C, it clearly ignores this issue of outsourcing of our emissions based on our high consumption levels.
Even based on this pledge from the EU, as is the case also with China, Mexico, Norway, Switzerland and the US, it could only be considered sufficient if all other countries put forward a similar level of ambition. This of course hasn’t happened, with countries like Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Russia all falling a long way short. Then of course there is the fact that over history we are responsible for most of the carbon in the atmosphere and should shoulder most of the responsibility for putting things right.
As things stand, when combined, the promises made so far by governments to cut greenhouse gas emissions come nowhere near what is required to stop global warming rising above the 2C so-called dangerous level.
So what now?
Well now that these commitments have been submitted, I can’t imagine that our Government or the EU as a whole are going to revise their pledge between now and the Paris talks, with the deadline for submitting having already passed. EU leaders patted themselves on the back over their 40% reduction pledge and certainly it’s more of a commitment than many other major players among the big economic powers.
It could be argued that whilst the combined INDCs are nowhere near the level they need to be, the important thing that needs to come out of COP21 is for world leaders to agree on a legally binding mechanism for improving their INDCs periodically until we do get to a point where they are sufficient.
From a UK point of view we could ask our government to openly call for such an agreement ahead of the talks and to commit to fight for the same in Paris. We have to be realistic though. This is the Tories. They won’t lead the way in this respect. In fact, let’s face it, we need to fear the opposite.
Should we start by questioning the UK’s commitment to 40%?
Based on the last two months activity from Osborne and Cameron, we should be seriously concerned that the UK may try to lead a deviation from this EU commitment. Certainly beyond Paris you could envisage this government backtracking on previous commitments agreed through the EU on the basis of UK sovereignty from Europe.
Between now and Paris it may be unlikely that we would deviate from the EU INDC in the short term, but there’s certainly concern that the majority think it’s an adequate pledge. We need to keep up the pressure and ensure the UK supports the EU commitment as a minimum and gets behind the the legally binding deal that has been drafted.
We want a global agreement that will measure up to the size of the crisis we face. Nothing less will do.