We are nearing a climate ‘point of no return’ – climate activists are not terrorists!
17 January 2020
Many know by now that another two-weeks long United Nations negotiation on climate change ended with the world’s richest countries and biggest emitters of greenhouse gasses blocking agreements on mitigation, adaptation and recovery. Close to 27,000 representatives from 200 countries, including dozens of heads of states convened in Madrid from 2-13 December for the 25th Conference of Parties on Climate Change (COP25). As the number implies, it was the 25th of such annual sessions under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process. It is the only international legal forum that discusses how to solve the climate crisis that is partly open to observers.
COP25 was supposed to prepare for the important stock-taking process on the 2015 Paris Agreement, which is scheduled to happen in COP26 to be held from 9-19 November in Glasgow this year. Studies now show that existing commitments under the Paris Agreement are likely to shoot global average temperatures up by 3.3°C by the end of this century instead of the target of below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels. The plea from vulnerable developing countries in that session five years ago to keep global warming to 1.5°C for the majority to stay alive, which was placed in the preamble of the agreement, is obviously not being heeded. The current track will leave major coastal cities and whole nations underwater and lead to collapsing food yield globally.
Before the start of the Madrid talks, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had already spoken of concerns that the inadequacy of current actions could lead global warming to pass the “point of no return”. On the first week of the negotiations half a million people protested against the lack of proper actions and demanded more ambitious climate policies from governments just up the road from the venue. On the crucial last days of the negotiation before the two-day extension, some 300 climate justice campaigners, many of them veterans of the COP, were shut out from the talks.
Is radical environmental activism attracting climate fascism?
The increased level of recognition of the climate emergency, as well as the mounting frustration over the lack of appropriate actions to match the severity of ongoing and future impacts of climate change from government authorities and powerful businesses, have contributed to recent dramatic and huge climate-related protests and mobilisations held in major cities. The youth-led Friday strikes and paralysing protests by the environmental network Extinction Rebellion made climate change one of the major election issues in this country for the first time last year.
Extinction Rebellion was recently listed by British counter-terrorism police alongside violent neo-Nazi and Islamist groups in a guide to “extremist ideologies”. The guide document is issued to schools and includes instructions on what to look out for among those who use “strong or emotive terms” when discussing climate change or pollution. Some may argue that if a group or network call themselves a “rebellion” and demand fundamental change from powerful forces like the state and corporations, they are opening themselves to certain responses from the security arm of the state. The stakes are high in forcing climate actions and will be a threat to those whose wealth and power are based on polluting and thrashing the planet.
The crackdown on and persecution of environmental activists - and the impunity with which this has been carried out - can be seen in clear violations of human rights like the high-profile murders of Berta Caceres in Honduras 2016 and Gloria Capitan in the Philippines in the same year. In the past even northern environmentalists like Petra Kelly have been killed in Germany. As the ecological breakdown deepens and more people sympathise with, and are encouraged to join, direct climate actions, security forces worldwide are beginning to use more stringent measures against movements for environmental protection.
This brings the question, why is the force of the state more focused on those who are wishing to prevent the destruction of life on this planet and the future of humankind than against those who are profiting from causing them?
Corporate-influenced climate politics has long failed the environment
Protests and walk-outs (even by official climate negotiators from developing countries) have been part of the climate negotiations for more than a decade now. In 2009, the Copenhagen climate talks (COP15) collapsed due to wealthy countries’ refusal to follow on years of work on the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which acknowledges as a fundamental principle the common but differentiated responsibilities of countries that are party to the convention to lower emissions that causes global warming. The Copenhagen Accord that emerged from COP15 started the reversal of agreements and lowering of ambitions.
Fast forward to 2019: major loopholes and the corporate-influenced climate politics gave polluters a way out to keep on with business as usual. Climate negotiators failed in their goals in Madrid to strengthen targets to cut emissions or to create a global carbon-trading system, which are the two main goals of the 2015 Paris accord. The conference ended without setting new emissions targets before next year’s COP in Glasgow or creating a framework to reward and encourage efforts to cut emissions. The main sticking point is about how much the US, as the world’s largest historical emitter of fossil fuels, owes to the global south. The country’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement doesn’t absolve it of its huge responsibilities.
Wealthy countries owe a climate debt to poor and climate vulnerable nations that will require financial and technical assistance to sustainably build decarbonised and resilient economies to deal with climate impacts that are already happening. It must be recognised that the prosperity enjoyed by wealthy countries now was achieved by emitting greenhouse gases through burning fossil fuels and extracting resources from the global south (especially, in the UK, in its former colonies) and exporting our waste and pollution-causing manufacturing to the south. That historic and continuing responsibility limits the future development of poor countries. Our continuing disproportionate emissions and abdication of responsibilities are making the problems worse.
Under the Paris Agreement, all countries are required to make nationally determined contributions, which means what each country is prepared to do and not what must be done which produced the significant gap between pledges and what’s needed. The US together with other rich country polluters – which include the UK – blocked the nonbinding discussions in Madrid encouraging more ambitious targets. The debate on loss and damage, defined in the UNFCCC as harms resulting from sudden-onset events (climate disasters, such as cyclones) as well as slow-onset processes (such as sea level rise) that impact on the ecology as well as lives and livelihoods, will continue in Glasgow.
As groups gear up to protest against this farce, will the climate justice movement experience further repression from the state?
Photo: Julia Hawkins/Flickr