From an activist perspective, looking beyond COP 25

Pedro Perez is a climate justice activist with a background in Human Rights and working with indigenous  Communities in Latin America.   He was in Madrid for COP 25 – in this article he reflects on the recent COP and considers the implications for COP26 in Glasgow.

This paper is a reflection of my experience during COP25 in Madrid:

COP 25 will go down in history as one of the most inconsequential conferences on climate change. A summit characterized by disagreements, a lack of consensus, and no significant agreements being reached to respond to the climate crisis. Civil society and social organizations that demanded climate justice and more action from industrialized countries, could not hide their disappointment and frustration at the end of the summit. There were those who considered COP 25 as shameful, while others described it as a failure.

The outcome of COP 25 is yet another reflection of how these large conferences have been organized and managed. Hosted by the United Nations, they are under the leadership of the countries of the global north and in part are financed with funds from large corporations.

The domination of the industrialized countries is clearly evident; they are the ones who lead and benefit from the summits. In practical terms, it could be said that COP 25 was a failure because significant agreements were not reached to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. From a media perspective, the summit represented a success for industrialized countries and large corporations, which, exercising control over the media, used them to greenwash their image and continue to manipulate society with false messages. They took advantage of the summit, as a sporsor, to give the impression they are committed to respecting the environment and nature while their economic activities continue to destroy the planet, causing climate, social and economic injustice.

Corporations such as Nestlé, Coca-Cola, the energy sector and the financial world welcomed COP25. This double standard was evident in some of the publications (newspapers) on COP25 financed by Spanish corporations in the energy sector and distributed free of charge. Articles on climate change, had adverts from a travel company offered discounts on airline tickets. In another, Coca-Cola subtly transferred to the consumers of its products, the responsibility of recycling the millions of plastic bottles that the company produces every day.

At the initiative of Spain, COP25 was divided into two Zones, next to each other: the Blue and Green. zones. The Blue Zone was reserved for meetings of the scientific community, politicians and representatives of countries, corporations and, as observers, the accredited civil society. It is here that the countries of the global north and corporations assert their interest by creating powerful lobbies, which divides and creates blocks of countries, making it difficult to reach consensus and agreements on fundamental issues.

The Green Zone was a space open to the public in which Spain wanted to facilitate the participation of civil society from the global south and north and create a space to raise awareness and promote education on environmental issues related to climate change. However, the sponsors also had space here and took advantage to greenwash their image and present themselves as the standard bearers of innovation, science, transferable technology, capacity building and nature-based solutions. To show themselves as the leaders of the growing renewable energy market in the context of the neoliberal capitalist economic model which is beginning to be monopolized by energy corporations. That was a priority for Spain and an important area of ​​the Green Zone was used for that purpose.

In the Green Zone, social issues such as environmental justice and the agenda of the peoples of the global south were secondary, consigned to the background. While for example, the indigenous representatives of Chile, the host country, did have a presence here, it was not the most appropriate space to address the agenda of indigenous communities in any meaningful depth.

Spain’s lack of genuine interest in the agenda of the peoples of the global south and the demands of the movements and social organizations of the global north, led to the organization of a counter-summit, an alternative summit, the Social Summit with the support of environmentalists. The UGT union and the Complutense University of Madrid provided the spaces for it to take place.

The Social Summit for Climate convened a large demonstration in which thousands of people took to the streets of Madrid. It was attended by the Indigenous “Minga”, young people inspired by Greta Thunberg, human rights defenders, activists of the ecological movements and civil disobedience platforms, like Extinction Rebellion. The purpose was to draw the attention of governments and corporations, to the urgent need to assume a change in attitude and behavior, so that they recognize and assume responsibilities for the climate crisis that is caused by their economically motivated destructive activities. With a demand for environmental justice.

In the alternative summit they discussed among other issues: the causes that are giving rise to the climate crisis; the hidden face of the energy transition – the increase in the damaging extraction of the natural resources necessary for renewable technologies. The oil and gas fracking that remain the cheapest options to maintain economic “growth” and unlimited “progress”. False solutions such as carbon markets and REDDs; the neoliberal, patriarchal and neo-colonial capitalist economic model responsible for the environmental crisis, in which the solutions offered in the Blue and Green zones disastrously remain.

The alternative summit, which did not attract the attention of the official media, in practical terms was a success. Being a space for meeting and exchanging experiences, living together and joining the bonds of solidarity between the movements of the South and the global north. Strengthening the cohesion of the social movement that is growing significantly globally. A space for initiatives, of new plans and strategies to promote more ambitious actions ahead of COP26.

COP 26, Glasgow 2020 will have to assume the climatic emergency; pay attention to the gap between the global north and the global south that is widening significantly; respond to the social movement that is growing globally and that demands social justice and a more ambitious action to face the climatic emergency.

While the topics that will occupy the official agenda of the COP26, will be marked by a strengthening of the Paris Agreement that makes its implementation possible and has the capacity to assume the commitments of the Kyoto protocol that reaches its completion. But also, carbon market, update the NDCs and set new decarbonization goals.

COP26 in Glasgow will be the reflection of the commitment to the climate emergency and society. Its ambition will depend on the spaces assigned to civil society. COP26 can’t be used to greenwash the image and promote the lucrative interests of the corporations. It must be a space for radical approaches to climate and social justice and equality, diversity in participation of communities in the global north and genuine inclusion of the global south agendas and dialogue between all to create actions and solutions.

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Image from WikiMedia

Glasgow XR meeting on North Sea Oil and Gas

Following actions in Dundee (see video) and at First Ministers Questions Glasgow XR held a well attended meeting on the 25th January.   The meeting began with contributions from XR activists, Friends of the Earth Scotland and ScotE3, before breaking into discussion groups.  The remainder of the post reproduces the text of the ScotE3  contribution in which we shared some thoughts on strategies for achieving a just transition to a zero carbon economy.

ScotE3 campaigns for the importance of climate jobs.  Jobs that are critical to the economic transformation that is needed to prevent a climate catastrophe.   In Scotland  100,000 of these jobs are needed .  However, to date we are not doing well.  According to the Office of National Statistics the UK’s green economy has shrunk since 2014.  The number of people employed has declined as has the number of green businesses.  This is true UK wide and in Scotland.  It’s no wonder that some representatives of unions that organise workers in the hydrocarbon sector pour scorn on talk of a just transition.

The Sea Change report makes it clear that unless we phase out North Sea Oil and Gas the UK will produce far more green house gas emissions than is compatible with restricting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.  But we have a huge challenge; the big energy companies are still committed to maximising extraction of oil and gas and so are the Holyrood and Westminster governments.  Just a year ago when the discovery of new oil and gas reserves east of Aberdeen was announced energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse highlighted,

 the significant potential for oil and gas which still exists beneath Scotland’s waters.

He added:

Scotland’s offshore oil and gas industry has an important role to play with up to 20 billion barrels of oil equivalent remaining under the North Sea and in the wider basin and discoveries such as this help to support security of supply as we make the transition to a low carbon energy system.

 Just this week the Africa summit in London ended with the Westminster Government pledging £2 billion to projects concerned with fossil fuel extraction.

From the outset North Sea has been a bonanza for the oil companies.  Nigel Lawson, now a prominent climate change denier, was Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1986 and said then

the whole outstanding success of the North Sea is based on the fact that it is the freest petroleum province in the world

He meant of course almost complete freedom for the oil companies – few if any benefits accrued to society as a whole and even centres of the industry like Aberdeen were then, and remain, centres of acute inequality.

So we need a rapid phasing out of North sea Oil and Gas.   How can we overcome the powerful vested interests that oppose this and at the same time protect the lives and livelihoods of the workers in the industry.  Theer is no evidence that the private sector can lead such a transition.  The public sector has to take the initiative – and in Scotland that means a much more ambitious role for a state energy company and the new national investment bank.  However, for this to happen we need a powerful movement of movements that has deep roots throughout Scotland.

To grow the movement and force the pace of change clarity of ideas is essential.   We don’t have all the answers but the core issues around climate jobs and just transition are clear.  So we need to patiently and persistently explain why hydrocarbons need to stay in the ground, why we need zero carbon, why the counter proposals from the industry are a dangerous diversion and how a just transition would have a positive impact on working people.

Reaching the audience we need goes hand in hand with maximising pressure on the energy corporations and local and national government.  Much of this will be through all kinds of direct action.  There have been some brilliant examples already but we need much more.

Direct action is necessary but not enough.  The power to force a transition can only come from a mass movement and to build the movement we need to win hearts and minds.  This means reaching out into unions, communities and community organisations with a vision of just transition that goes beyond simply defending existing jobs and embraces practical steps that have direct and understandable benefits for working class people across Scotland and beyond.   We need win people to a positive vision of transition, but more than that we need to win them to be active agents in the transition: part of a movement of rebels, not just on the streets, but in workplaces and communities.  So as we plan actions we always need to think about how to reach new audiences – through stalls, street leafleting, public and workplace meetings and patient door to door leafleting debate and discussion.  It may be that some of those who work in the industry will be the last to be convinced (although that’s not inevitable – our opponents are the same corporations that drive down their wages and conditions and play fast and loose with health and safety).  But if they are unconvinced we need to aim for a situation where climate justice is common sense to millions and where the people that oil workers meet in the pub, out shopping, their kids and relatives, are all won to the need for transition.

With the COP being held in Glasgow this year we have a huge opportunity to build outwards and take a massive step forward in creating a campaign for transition that is unstoppable.

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North Sea Oil Rig by Gary Bembridge, CC BY SA 2.0

Notes from our January organising meeting

You can read the full notes from the meeting as a PDF here.  What follows are some of the main points that were discussed.

We started with a discussion on the likely impact of the general election result.  It’s likely that there will be detrimental changes to regulations and standards – areas that could be effected include energy from waste, devolved powers, outsourcing and tendering, nuclear policy, targets and subsidies, energy distribution and supply and workers rights. There is a likelihood for heightened tension between Westminster and Holyrood over many of these issues.  The big issues in the Scottish context include Oil and Gas (particularly INEOS), Public Transport, Housing and the opportunities and challenges presented by the COP being held in Glasgow.

We resolved to do all we can encourage discussion and action in workplaces and community settings. Wherever possible we will do this in partnership. We will encourage requests to help set up or provide resources for events. We agreed to prioritise setting up events in Fife, Falkirk and Aberdeen and with the Construction Rank and File group.

We agreed to work on four new briefings (we are always open for suggestions of amendments to existing briefings and suggestions for new ones) – working titles for the new additions are:

‘Is nuclear part of a sustainable solution’,

‘Organising at work’,

‘Hydrogen’,

‘What is the ‘COP’’.

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Disaster Environmentalism

The People and Nature blog has just published three really thought proving articles.

The first ‘Disaster environmentalism looking the future in the face’ takes a critical look at recent writing by Rupert Read, Jem Bendell and others that argues that civilisational collapse as a result of climate change is inevitable and for approaches to dealing with collapse that require ‘deep adaptation’.

The second ‘Disaster environmentalism: roads to a post-growth economy’ is a contribution to the debate on Degrowth.   It argues that ‘“Economic growth”, as manifested by global capitalism, is completely unsustainable. “Green growth”, or “socialist growth”, are no substitutes. Our challenge to the economic system must open the way for a society based on human happiness and fulfillment, values completely at odds with – and distorted and defaced by – the rich-country consumerist ideology that helps to justify ever-expanding material production’.

The final post ‘Disaster environmentalism: what to do’ explores the political implications of the positions outlined in the first two posts and takes a sharp look at the politics and practice of social change.

Taken together the three posts are an important contribution to debate in the climate movement and recommended reading for climate activists.

Typhoon Ondoy Aftermath

Typhoon Ondoy Aftermath CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Towards Net Zero?

On the 7th February 2019 Edinburgh City Council resolved to declare a climate emergency. On the 25th October Edinburgh City Council’s Policy and Sustainability met to consider a draft report from the Place-Based Climate Action Network (P-CAN) research project on Achieving Net Zero in the City of Edinburgh. The report will form the basis for discussion of an action plan at the February 2020 meeting of the committee.

In this post Pete Cannell gives a personal response to the report. We hope to publish further contributions on this important topic and we welcome comments, responses to the questions he poses and further contributions.

It’s important and encouraging that, in response to pressure from the School Student strikers, XR and the wider movement, Edinburgh City Council is set to discus actions to reduce carbon emissions. This post takes a critical look at the report that forms the basis for the council’s discussions.

‘Achieving Net Zero in the City of Edinburgh’ is a technical report that summarises research undertaken by the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI), drawing on expertise from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Leeds. Net zero means that carbon emissions from activity in Edinburgh are balanced by an equal amount of carbon being removed from the atmosphere. The net zero target applies to emissions from within the local authority boundaries. Critically, however, some emissions, most notably those from aviation are not included.

The cost-benefit analysis used by the research team is based on the same methodology that was used in the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change that was published in 2006.

The report notes that Edinburgh’s baseline emissions have declined by 40.3% since 2001. This reduction is almost entirely a result of changes in the way that Scotland’s electricity is generated with coal fired power stations closing down and replacement by renewables – primarily wind. Renewables are now such an important part of the grid that there is little scope for further reduction from this source.

The report models three scenarios for how much energy use and emissions could be reduced by 2030:

1. A 56% reduction in carbon emissions as a result of ‘cost effective’ investments amounting to £3.976 billion over the next 11 years. The savings resulting from these investments would repay the investment in 7.5 years and continue to generate savings thereafter.

2. A 62% reduction as a result of ‘cost neutral’ investments of £7.492 billion over the 11 years to 2030 that would be paid back in savings over 12.5 years.

3. A 67% reduction exploiting the full technical potential of the different mitigation measures proposed. This is estimated to require investment of at least £8.135 billion with the cost neutral pay back extending to 16.1 years.

The figures aggregate emission reduction strategies across multiple sectors – commercial, transport, domestic and industrial and the report provides some detailed proposals for the kinds of investment that needs to be made in each of these.

The report is honest about the scale of the technical and investment challenge but confines consideration of politics and strategy to the observation that:

Whilst the opportunities outlined here are all feasible and ‘win-wins’ for stakeholder groups across the city, they will require near-immediate and unequivocal support from institutions and the public.

Will the City Council’s action plan be framed in a way that faces up to the urgency of the crisis and wins unequivocal support? And will it address the gap between the reductions proposed in the report and net zero? Climate campaigners have a critical role to play here. We have a responsibility to build a movement embedded in working class communities across the city that is active, restless, rebellious and probes, questions and criticizes at every stage and every step. And we need to develop a collective understanding of how actions to reduce emissions and the unequivocal support of the mass of the population are achieved and built through democratic engagement and a focus on social justice.

There are a host of questions that we need to address. In the hope of starting a debate I’ll mention just a few!

The activities of the city council are responsible for only a small percentage of Edinburgh’s emissions. So how does an effective action plan ensure that the investment into emissions reductions envisaged by ‘Towards Net Zero’ take place across all areas of energy consumption? How does a council action plan leverage action across the whole city? Clearly there’s a role for regulation – for example imposing building regulations that mandate carbon neutral new builds. There’s also a case for investment in large-scale public initiatives – for example building insulation.

‘Towards Net Zero’ focuses on a cost benefit approach together with the implementation of existing low carbon technologies – and holds out the promise that in future emerging technologies will bridge the gap to net zero. Is this an appropriate methodology in the face of an existential crisis? Can it actually work? It’s not business as usual but it suggests that conventional methods together with technology can achieve net zero. So is net zero achievable without system change? And if it’s not, what does system change look like?

Treating carbon reduction as an issue about investment and technology may also hide real issues of policy. So for example business and tourism planning in Edinburgh have both had huge impact on how and where we live, the distances we travel to work and how we travel. As Edinburgh’s workforce is pushed further outside the city boundaries to find affordable accommodation the carbon footprint of our daily working lives has grown. But the ‘Towards Net Zero’ effectively excludes these issues, as it does the massive rise in aviation emissions, which are so strongly linked to current planning priorities. So while we can commend the City Council’s steps towards an action plan there is a powerful case for integrated planning across the region and for new policy frameworks for housing, health, work, transport and tourism that centre on zero carbon and social justice.

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Image: Pete Cannell, CC0

There is an opportunity to discuss the issues raised in this post at the  Scot.E3 conference that takes place on 16th November.  Book for the conference on Eventbrite and email triple.e.scot@gmail.com if you want to book one or more crèche places.

Building Worker Power

On the Wednesday following the ScotE3 conference on Saturday 16th November the Scottish Trades Union Congress is holding an important event in Glasgow. Contact Louise Ireland, lireland@stuc.org.uk for booking details,

 Building Worker Power in the Context of the Climate Crisis: An STUC Energy Conference

 Wednesday 20th November, 2019

9.00 am – 4.30 pm

The Lighthouse, Mitchell Lane, Glasgow

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Common Weal launch Green New Deal

This Saturday Common Weal is launching their report on a Green New Deal for Scotland.  The event is at The Arches in Glasgow – more details and booking via Eventbrite through this link.  This promises to be an important contribution to the developing debate on how we tackle the climate crisis.

Jonathan Shafi from Common Weal is one of the speakers at the Scot.E3 conference on 16th November.  Book for the conference on Eventbrite and email triple.e.scot@gmail.com if you want to book one or more crèche places.

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Degrowth and the Green New Deal

Gareth Dale spoke on this topic in Edinburgh earlier in the month at an event organised by the Edinburgh World Justice Festival.  You can watch a video of the talk here.  He has now published an essay on the same topic on the Ecologist website.  It’s well worth reading.

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Image by nrkbeta CC BY SA 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/nrkbeta/47300368512 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez @ SXSW 2019

Saturday 16th November is the Scot.E3 conference. Check out the details on the ScotE3 home page. Bookings can be made on Eventbrite at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/just-transition-employment-energy-and-environment-2019-tickets-68768192515  and there’s also a Facebook Event at  https://www.facebook.com/events/1133891030332559/  If you are in position to share the event it would be really helpful.

 

Draft conference programme available

The programme for the Scot.E3 conference on Saturday 16th November is now available for viewing and download.

Bookings can be made on Eventbrite at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/just-transition-employment-energy-and-environment-2019-tickets-68768192515  and there’s also a Facebook Event at  https://www.facebook.com/events/1133891030332559/  If you are in position to share the event it would be really helpful.

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New Briefing on BECCS

The latest ScotE3 takes a critical look at BECCS – Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage.  Like all the ScotE3 briefings it is designed as a short, and hopefully clear, introduction to the topic.  We welcome feedback and ideas for improvement.

You can read the text of the briefing below and download the full pdf from the resources page.

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What is BECCS?

When people talk about BECCS in relation to the climate emergency they are referring to ‘Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage’.   Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is a range of technologies that can be used to extract Carbon Dioxide from other gases.  The separated carbon dioxide is then stored under the surface of the earth in geological formations that trap the gas long-term.  So carbon that would otherwise be adding to the earth’s atmosphere is locked away.

BECCS adds another stage to the CCS process.  Fast growing woody plants, which take carbon from the atmosphere as they grow, are chopped down, the biomass is burnt in a power station to generate energy, and CCS is used to separate out and store the carbon.  CCS and BECCS are often referred to as Negative Emissions Technology or NET.

Why is it important?

CCS and BECCS really matter because currently almost all the carbon reduction targets set by institutions and governments around the world assume that CCS and BECCS can be implemented at large scale.  Typically targets talk about aiming for ‘net zero’ emissions.  The net here is not to be confused with Negative Emissions Technology! The assumption is that carbon emissions will continue, but what’s pushed out into the atmosphere will be exactly balanced by carbon that’s sucked in through CCS and safely captured.  It’s this assumption that allows the Scottish Government to talk about a climate emergency and set targets to reduce emissions while at the same time supporting continuing production of North Sea Oil and Gas and welcoming the development of new oil and gas fields.

The arguments against BECCS

So why should we be worried?  Surely a technology that allows us to reach net zero is to be welcomed?  Isn’t it a good thing that it’s the core component of the climate strategies advocated by the IPCC, the UK Committee on Climate Change and the Scottish Government?  In fact there are a lot of reasons to think that BECCS is a dangerous diversion that cannot achieve the results that many of its advocates suggest and that would have knock on effects that would be disastrous.

Maintaining the status quo?

The big energy companies are interested in BECCS because it allows them to continue business as usual; license to continue exploiting fossil fuels and to maintain their power and profitability.  The Scottish Centre for Carbon Capture and Storage takes a different view, arguing that there is a role for CCS in some specialised areas where it is hard to replace hydrocarbon fuels by electricity, but admitting that the technology is very expensive and should be one subsidiary strand of a transition to a sustainable economy.   Technologies for CCS exist in theory and have been trialled in laboratories but there are hardly any examples of it working in real life applications.  The UK Committee on Climate Change argues that Scotland is particularly suitable for growing biomass crops and that 32% of UK production could take place in Scotland.   But globally something like three times all the land currently in cultivation would need to be turned over to biomass.  Clearly this can’t happen, but even at much lower levels growing crops to be burned, as biomass would displace food crops and the prices of staple foods would increase forcing the poorest further into hunger and starvation.

Restoring ecosystems that capture carbon

Forests are a very important way in which carbon is removed from the atmosphere; about 25% of current emissions are taken up.  However, worldwide forests are under threat and clear cutting of forests to grow soya and other crops for meat production causes around 10% of global carbon emissions.   An end to deforestation and proactively working to re-establish natural forests could have a big impact on carbon reduction.  Trees are important but not just any trees.  When monoculture plantations replace trees – for example Palm Oil the same land area is much less efficient at absorbing carbon.  BECCS often assumes clearance of existing forest for monoculture cultivation of biomass.  And there are many other serious impacts: displacement of indigenous communities, destruction of ecosystems and of pesticides.

Separating out carbon dioxide from other gases or from the atmosphere is an energy intensive process so it’s expensive financially and in terms of our overall energy budget.   Operating at large scale might reduce the cost per ton of carbon but it would still need very large amounts of clean energy.

Scotland has a number of locations where the underground rock formations are suitable for underground storage of carbon dioxide.  Many parts of the world do not.  Proponents of CCS suggest that carbon storage could be a profitable new industry – however, long distance transport of captured gas would also require a lot of clean energy.

System change

Ultimately, however, the problem with BECCS and CCS is political.  Governments and corporations favour it as a solution because it seems to allow existing infrastructure and power relationships to be preserved.  It suggests that climate catastrophe can be averted by technical fixes.

Even if the technology works and can be introduced rapidly and at scale it seems highly unlikely that it can mitigate emissions sufficiently to avoid going well beyond a 1.5 degree rise.  However, for as long as CCS remains the main plank of mainstream strategies it diverts action and investment away from sustainable strategies that we know could work.  And it acts as a barrier to the systemic change that is required to save the planet.

All our material is published under a CC0 public domain license (unless otherwise stated.  You are welcome to share, reuse and reversion.  This briefing draws heavily on a FOE(S) and FOE(international) webinar.