THE LONG READ: Why Europe’s reaction to the ‘migrant crisis’ casts a grave, genocidal shadow for future refugees

Written by Lewis Dale (@__ldale)

“You can’t blame someone for wanting a better life.” 

My uncle wished to reiterate before draining his beer. We sat across from each other in a popular bar chain on Deansgate, Manchester – bellies swelling full of half-digested pizza and effervescing, gurgling ale.

He was visiting the north for work, and following a very tongue-in-cheek series of emails ignited by a thinkpiece I’d published on the notion of Britishness we’d agreed to meet for a catch up and the kind of politically hued conversations only a sociopath could enjoy in the UK, 2019.  He’s a Tory (“no no, not a Tory. Just someone who voted Conservative”), and voted for Brexit; I, formerly Labour though more recently Green and a Remainer. I daresay it was the most productive and well-mannered back and forth in these isles since 2016. Enjoyable even. During the evening he told me detailed and colourful yarns of a life since lived; of climbing Mount Kenya, and his assistance in the delivery of one of the local tribespeople’s pregnancies some thirty plus years ago; how he’d never felt so fulfilled in a job than in that moment. I told him I was worried about the future, of my frustration rooted in an institutional poker face, playing a poor hand of human lives across a table of brinkman-faced bluffers. 

“You can’t blame someone for wanting a better life.”

We found common ground that evening with our pitchforked tongues eschewing the throat of the failings of current political systems in place. A symptom of breathing blackened city air. A symptom of broken party politicking, of a nationwide dissatisfaction manifested somewhere between thumbs ablaze in 240 character frenzies and a weary “change the channel” sodden malaise. With regards to the EU, I conceded that the institution, while beneficial, is far from perfect. With regards to migration, it became very clear that his socio-economic concerns appeared conflicted by his clearly drawn desire to help those who ‘rather sensibly’ wish to help themselves. 

A symptom of humanity. You can’t blame someone for wanting a better life.

PUBLIC OPINION AND THE MIGRATION ‘CRISIS’

According to the European Commission’s Eurobarometer reports, the spring of 2015 saw a major shift in where EU citizens placed their political priorities. For the first time, immigration overtook the economy, as well as unemployment and the state of member states’ public finances as the most important concerns facing the EU between August 2014 and September 2015. This is a significant shakeup of public opinion. Europe at this time was still recovering from the 2008 global recession, which saw the continent yo-yo between negative and positive growth for over half a decade. Independent nation states entered periods of crisis, mass unemployment and political fissuring, the aftershocks of which can still be felt today. 

This public concern was born of the ongoing ‘migrant crisis’, where 2015 saw an increased influx of refugees displaced mostly from a Syria embroiled within a famously brutal civil war, which according to the Migrant Data Portal created some 4.9 million refugees in 2015 alone, although they were mostly sheltered in neighbouring states of Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Nevertheless, by the end of 2015, just shy of 900,000 refugees had been distributed between EU states, and Syria had overtaken Afghanistan as the world leading source of refugees, breaking a 3 decade long streak that began in 1981.

Following this trend, in 2014 Libya entered their second civil war within the decade, and according to some reports almost a third of the population had fled, mostly to neighbouring Tunisia. In 2015, six of the ten largest national populations of refugees were from Sub-Saharan African states, and as of March 2018 there has been almost a million legal Sub-Saharan asylum applicants accepted to Europe, with the most dramatic increase taking place between 2013 and 2015, rising from 91 thousand to 164 thousand annually on the back of a series of localised conflicts and ecological disasters. Though not every African or Middle Eastern nation were undergoing periods of strife during this time, the draw of a stable (save for the obvious exception of Ukraine) and a now economically progressing Europe was overwhelming, especially when being pushed from your homeland for your own safety.

Nevertheless, the 2015 Eurobarometer showed that 73% of Europeans were in favour of a common policy on migration, though 56% were negative about immigration from outside the EU.

EU LEGAL AND DIPLOMATIC REACTION TO THE MIGRANT CRISIS

It’s worth pointing out that studies have shown that it is unusual for a refugee to leap eagerly to travelling across the world, to enter a foreign culture, a new way of life of unknown customs and minimal points of contact, without attempting first to relocate and shelter locally.

It’s similarly worth pointing out that it is rare that refugees have a destination in mind upon setting off, and journeys have taken on average 1.7 years, and are often directed by the profitable human trafficking market. 

It’s also worth pointing out that in a 2016 study by UNHCR, every single Afghan refugee across Europe interviewed admitted that they had been physically abused, faced acts of violence against them, or witnessed death, accidental or otherwise on their journey.

Migrants and asylum seekers attempting to enter Europe have historically had a choice of three routes; West Europe, a land and sea route between Morocco and Spain, the Eastern route, via land and sea through Turkey and into Greece, and the perilous Central route, across the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, usually from Libya and into Greece or Italy. 

In 2014 the Spanish and Moroccan governments attracted criticism from human rights groups for reinforcing and extending a series of barbed wire and concrete anti-migrant fortifications along the border of Melilla, the Spanish enclave in North Africa. A video report on the wall by Vox media points out that Morocco has Advanced Status Partnership with the EU, affording them economic and political advantages in trade and international relations. Considering that the EU accounts for over half of Morocco’s international trade, and they supply aid to the North African nation, Spain have since been able to outsource much of the anti-migrant effort to Morocco themselves. It’s been pointed out that this does not act as a deterrent to migrants, but rather forces them to take more perilous procedures to find a better life.

In the East, the EU and Turkey struck a deal in 2016 wherein EU nations would be able to remove non-asylum status refugees to Turkey, who will in turn act as host wherein they will be placed at the back of the asylum applicant queue. In return, the application process for Turkey to enter the EU as a member was sped up, visa restrictions on Turkish nationals entering Europe were eased, and a financial incentive of upwards of 6 billion euros was promised. This too was criticised by human rights groups.

If the central route was not already difficult enough, as the EU began to develop the diplomatic infrastructure to push refugees onto its neighbours in the East and West route, so they have sought to create further barriers than the length of the Central Mediterranean. A policy beginning in 2017 saw the Italy sign a “memoriam of understanding” with the United Nations-supported Libyan Government of National Accord, wherein search and rescue operations by the EU were reduced, in favour of increased action by the Libyan coastguard in return for funding and political favour. Libya is not a signatory of the 1951 refugee convention, and as such do not recognise the status of refugee, and as such, ‘in a system that does not assess refugee claims, this will inevitably result in a high record of refoulement or chain-refoulement put in practice by Libyan authorities.’

There have since been reports of systemic failings of subsequent search and rescue attempts, reports of immediate violence against migrants upon rescue, incarceration in concentration camps upon retrieval, in many cases leading to rape, torture and murder. As such, there are stories of migrants diving from boats as the Libyan coastguard become visible on the horizon, preferring to drown in the Mediterranean than face the reprieves that await. Since the memoriam of understanding has been signed, attempts to cross the sea have dropped, though the number of deaths per crossing attempt has risen dramatically. Italy are not unaware of this. Though gauging accurate numbers on crossing deaths is practically impossible, the Guardian were able to report:

in 2014, there were around 1,700 deaths recorded in and off the coast of Africa ascribed to migrants trying to get to Europe; by 2017 this had almost doubled, while deaths in Europe halved over the same period.

It is not just by diplomatic means that Europe has begun to safeguard themselves from any direct responsibility for the wellbeing and burden of migration for years to come. Now legal and authoritative measures are being implemented. Last week, Italian authorities revealed that they wish to bring charges against Pia Klemp, a German ship master who rescued over a thousand drowning migrants in compliance of Article 33 of the SOLAS accord

The captain of the Iuventa, a former fishing vessel owned and operated by an NGO that was seized in 2017 by Italian authorities, and her crew of 9 could face up to 20 years in jail each. They are accused of collaborating with migrant groups, suggesting that her actions are even encouraging more migrants to attempt the crossing, in the hope that they are picked up. An independent research group led by academics at Goldsmiths University in London have since stated that there is no evidence to support this. Nevertheless, Matteo Salvini, Italy’s far-right backed interior minister is maintaining that they are seeking to press charges, in an attempt to deter future NGO humanitarian attempts to save refugees from drowning, or face abuses of their rights. 

Unfortunately, the EU’s policy of holding responsibility at arm’s length, even if that means placing refugees in regions that frequently breach human rights legislation, is better for PR and requires less effort on their part. While the policies of EU member states are not as high profile and visibly despicable as the concentration camps employed by the USA on US territory to hold Central American migrants along the US/Mexico border, as award-winning humanitarian and migration journalist Sally Hayden points out, this policy is sentencing migrants to death. This will be the legacy of such short sighted and dismissive migrant policy of the EU. 

With such barriers firmly cemented in place, it’s a good job that there isn’t any reason to believe that soon the world will face mass displacement in the foreseeable future, or else these actions could be contributing to an impending genocide.

PROJECTED CLIMATE CHANGE-FORCED DISPLACEMENT

2015 saw the first ever legal case of ‘climate refugee’ seeking refuge in a host nation. Ioane Teitiota, sought refuge in New Zealand for fears of rising sea levels already affecting his low lying island home. Climate change is threatening to displace the islanders of Kiribati; not only are the rising tides swallowing the land, but destroying crop growing land, polluting their fresh water supplies, and increasing storm damage. 

In this landmark case, the New Zealand courts saw fit to return Teitiota back to Kiribati, a nation made up of 33 islands, and home to over 100, 000 people and growing. The highest point of the Kiribati islands is little over 2 meters above sea level. The nation is so alarmed by their future prospects that they bought a plot of land on Fiji. It is estimated that in the case of emergency, this estate could hold between 60, 000 and 70, 000 people although this has not been met with scepticism from the inhabitants of Kiribati and the Natoavatu Estate, as the Atlantic reported:

Two-thirds of the property, called the Natoavatu Estate, was covered by impenetrable forest and the rest was an abandoned coconut plantation where some 270 Solomon Islanders practice subsistence agriculture…The Solomon Islanders said they didn’t think the land could feed more than a couple of hundred more people.

Extreme weather patterns and rising sea levels will not only displace the pacific populations of low lying islands. Over 700,000 Bangladeshis have been displaced annually, internally or externally, for the last decade, and it has been recommended that the Bangladesh government need to begin embedding climate migration and national plans at the forefront of their future policies going forward. 

The nation lies largely at sea level, and at the height of the wet season over a fifth of the nation can be underwater. A report by the World Bank estimated that by 2050, there will be 13.3 million displaced native to Bangladesh alone. That same report highlighted three regions: Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America, as being the most at risk, with conservative estimates suggesting that 143 million will be displaced internally (86, 40, and 17 million respectively). 

Global climate change does not only displace via unpredictable and unstable weather patterns; it has been noted by scholars that the socio-political events that led to the aforementioned Syrian Civil War were exacerbated by an increase in seasonal drought intensity in a region that historically has seen much conflict over access to fresh water resources and crop failures. This is not the first instance of climate change fanning the flames of discontentment into violent warfare. Ban Ki Moon attributes the 2007 Sudanese civil war to being the first “climate change conflict”, such was the effect of the water scarcity in the region caused by abnormal rainfall patterns, something still affecting South Sudan today. It’s been thought that by 2050 there could be up to 1 billion climate migrants displaced internally or across borders.

DEFINING MIGRANT/REFUGEE IN THE AGE OF CLIMATE CHANGE

In popular discourse, ‘migrant’, ‘asylum seeker’ and ‘refugee’ are often utilized interchangeably, fleetingly, with little concern for the differences between each term. 

Me too.

The terms often overlap; after all, technically a refugee is a migrant, and was once an asylum seeker, and besides: nobody at the dinner table is about to pull you up on a lack of specificity or a semantic difference (unless your dinners are considerably livelier than mine, which for your sake I hope isn’t the case). However legally speaking there is an enormous difference – a migrant is often said to be everything between refugee or an economic migrant who has moved from state to state off the back of a better paid job; basically anyone who crosses borders indefinitely, which isn’t the case. 

In the interest of clarity, I’ll quickly explain the difference between each:

Refugee – As defined in the 1951 Refugee Convention, is a person forced to flee their home because of a threat of persecution based on “race, religion, nationality, or membership of a particular social group/political opinion”, and who has had their appeal for refuge/asylum verified and accepted by a host nation.

Asylum seeker – An asylum seeker is a potential refugee who has not yet had their claim verified and accepted by the host nation, although it is pending.

Migrant – Officially, this is defined as someone who does not move for fear of persecution, but rather to improve their quality of life.

Legally this matters. Migration is dealt with on a national government level, and as such the restrictions are very rarely affected by international law other than the obvious human rights laws. On the other hand refugee crises are. While these lines are blurred, refugees are afforded extra legal protection, which can be a cause for great distress or suffering should the two be conflated. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to determine between the two.

This is why it is especially reprehensible that what should have been called a ‘refugee crisis’ was widely dubbed a ‘migrant’ crisis on an institutional level, whether from the media or governmental bodies. While there were/are refugees attempting to make their way into Europe by the same means as migrants, the predominant nationalities attempting to enter Europe were from the likes of Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, South Sudan, and Somalia among others – all war torn nations divided by social, religious or political lines, and as such ought to have been afforded the special legal protection.

This is just the start of it, however.

As you just read, a refugee is only defined as someone living in credible fear of violence based on “race, religion, nationality, or membership of a particular social group/political opinion”. As such, there is no such thing, legally speaking, as an environmental/climate refugee. This is something that the EU was briefed upon in 2018 and 2019. In the case of environmental disaster, if someone manages to reach Europe safely, they have next to no legal protection from being turned around at the border for being migrants, not asylum seekers, even if they have no home to return to. 

In the brief, it is pointed out that:

In his 2015 State of the Union speech, European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, said: ‘Climate change is one of the root causes of a new migration phenomenon. Climate refugees will become a new challenge – if we do not act swiftly’.

It goes on to point out ways that the EU have already committed to combatting the issue, which includes

A strategy paper for a European Commission project with a €179 million budget over the 2011–2013 period, which included funds for ‘cooperation with third countries in the areas of migration and asylum’, explicitly committed to working more on the nexus between climate change and migration.

Beyond this, many nations called for climate refugees to be granted refugee status, though individual nation states protested, and as such this was not granted. Instead, in 2017 the EU took the mind that they ought to continue addressing the ‘root causes’ of migration, aligning economic migration along with climate changed-forced displacement, and ‘swiftly’ signed the Paris Agreement, a deal that is neither legally binding nor effective enough in combating irreversible climate change.

The ‘migrant crisis’ could be viewed as a brutal litmus test for the impending challenges of the EU will face, a test which in outsourcing the rescuing of refugees to nations who did not sign the refugee convention, or nations that have repeatedly violated human rights legislation, or nations that are themselves facing mass displacement on account of political instability/civil war, and actively seeking legally to keep its citizens from helping refugees, they have failed and failed miserably. Instead of working together to develop a relevant and necessary political infrastructure that could save millions of lives in the future, they have condemned thousands already to face atrocity and death. Here, the EU’s mask has slipped dramatically. It is not a bastion of freedom, safety and security. It does not believe that human rights exist outside of its borders.

I am not suggesting that the responsibility was Europe’s and Europe’s alone, but it must be recognised that this was never going to be the case anyway. In 2015, according to the migration data portal, neither the UNHCR estimates nor UN DESA estimates show a single European nation above the likes of Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, South Africa, Iran, Ethiopia, or Uganda, the world leading destinations for refugees. Only one of these nations  (Turkey) make the top 20 largest economies in the world in 2015. Six EU nations did. Nevertheless, this is the case until 2017, where the UN DESA estimates place Germany fifth, although this is not corroborated by UNHCR statistics.  My point is simply this:

If Europe does not soon develop and agree upon the necessary infrastructure to aid refugees in relocating inside and outside of Europe, instead of shirking responsibility to less developed nations while continuing to contribute heavily, albeit directly or indirectly, to the factors leading to such displacement, it will be responsible for the deaths of millions. 

It will be committing an incidental genocide. 

Furthermore, on this topic: Just recently, Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said in a report that drastic climate change is likely to undermine both basic human rights, as well as democracy and the rule of law. Alston claimed that the steps taken by the UN have been “patently inadequate”, and “entirely disproportionate to the magnitude of the threat”. The report further condemns the Trump administration for silencing the climate science and policy organisations, and Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro for rolling back protections on the Amazon rainforest, opening it up to minin companies. Read more about Alston’s report here.

 

You can read more of Lewis Dale’s work on his site by clicking here.

‘Food in the Anthropocene’: new ‘plant-focused’ diet could save the planet

A new diet report, created by the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health, has been proposed as a diet that could both poor global nutrition and avert environmental disaster caused by present-day food production methods.

The report states, “Because much of the world’s population is inadequately nourished and many environmental systems and processes are pushed beyond safe boundaries by food production, a global transformation of the food system is urgently needed.”

Key tenets of the diet include a radical change in food production, a great reduction in red meat consumption in traditional western diets, and a reduction in sugar consumption.

“Transformation to healthy diets by 2050 will require substantial dietary shifts.” said Prof. Walter Willet, one of the leaders of the commission. “Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50%. A diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits.”

The main bulk of the report itself is devoted to three sections, the goal, the targets, and the strategies. The goal stated by the EAT-Lancet Commission is ‘To achieve planetary health diets for nearly 10 billion people by 2050″. The targets include and require red meat and sugar consumption to be cut in half globally, while the consumption of vegetables, pulses, fruit, and nuts, must double. This range is not universal, but geographically specific, stating that instead of halving their red meat intake, North Americans need to eat 84% less, and up their bean and lentil consumption six times. In Europe, we must reduce our red meat consumption by 77%.

The report is wise in it’s differing estimations, noting that “some populations worldwide depend on agropastoral livelihoods and animal protein from livestock. In addition, many populations continue to face significant burdens of undernutrition and obtaining adequate quantities of micronutrients from plant source foods alone can be difficult” 

The introduction of the report stated that their were four scenarios that could develop in the future; win-win, win-lose, lose-win, and lose-lose. According to the scientists behind the report, win-win would prevent the deaths of 11 million people worldwide, and prevent the collapse of the natural world, which is currently under an immense amount of pressure.

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An example of the plant-focused, flexitarian plates that the report endorses. Source: EAT-Lancet Commission Summary Report

Our global food system is inherently broken, with distribution favouring wealthier countries, who both consume more than they need, and waste much. There are also issues with physical production, in terms of the environmental degradation caused by overfishing, and the footprint of the meat industry. Reducing meat and dairy products, or avoiding them altogether, may be the greatest way the individual can reduce their environmental footprint.

In a report published by Springmann et al, it was stated that a 90% drop in red meat consumption and reductions in other meat categories were essential to introduce into our lifestyles in an attempt to avoid the effects of climate breakdown.

“Humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet,” said Prof Johan Rockström at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden, another author of the report. “[This requires] nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution.” The ‘planetary health diet’ strongly recommends only one portion of red meat per week, the size of an average beefburger, and stresses that most protein should come from plant alternatives. The steep rise in plant-based and vegan diets in the last two years has shown that, at least in western countries, this change in protein source is highly possible, and no longer a ‘radical’ idea.

Willett emphasises that this is not a diet of ‘depravation’, but rather “a way of eating that can be healthy, flavourful and enjoyable.”

To keep in line with the 2C limit of global warming set by the Paris Agreement we can assume that “world agriculture will transition toward sustainable food production, leading to a shift from land use being a net source of carbon to becoming a net sink of carbon. “

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“Actions considered for reducing environmental impacts from food production.” Source: EAT-Lancet Commission Summary Report

“Global food production threatens climate stability and ecosystem resilience.” said Prof. Johan Rockström, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research & Stockholm Resilience Centre. “It constitutes the single largest driver of environmental degradation and transgression of planetary boundaries. Taken together the outcome is dire. A radical transformation of the global food system is urgently needed. Without action, the world risks failing to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.”

In all, the report advocates the ‘Great Food Transformation’. “The data are both sufficient and strong enough to warrant immediate action. Delaying action will only increase the likelihood of serious, even disastrous, consequences. ” The report outlines five strategies for this immense change:

  1. Seek international and national commitment to shift toward healthy diets
  2. Reorient agricultural priorities from producing high quantities of food to producing healthy food
  3. Sustainably intensify food production to increase high-quality output
  4. Strong and coordinated governance of land and oceans
  5. At least halve food losses and waste, in line with UN Sustainable Development Goals

The report goes on to state that food will be the “defining issue of the 21st Century”. Richard Horton and Tamara Lucas, editors at Lancet, wrote “Civilisation is in crisis. We can no longer feed our population a healthy diet while balancing planetary resources. If we can eat in a way that works for our planet as well as our bodies, the natural balance will be restored.”

 

 

 

 

EU report names the UK as largest contributor of fossil fuel subsidies

A new report published by the European Commission, has shown that the UK has the largest amount of fossil fuel subsides in the EU, finding that £10.5 billion a year supports fossil fuels in the UK. This is in contrast to the £7.2 billion given to renewable energy. These remain at the same level as 2008.

What these subsidies do is act as an hindrance to what both the EU and the G20 pledged  in 2009 to do; phase out subsidies for fossil fuels in efforts to transition to renewable green energy.

While such policies are being pursued with intent to cut carbon emissions in an effort to meet the 2C warming limit set by the Paris Climate Agreement, fossil fuel subsidies within the EU have not decreased. The report stated that “EU and national policies might need to be reinforced to phase out such subsidies.”

“Spiralling climate change is going to cost people and our economy huge sums of money, through the damage, disruption and instability it causes.” said Friends of the Earth CEO Craig Bennett. “It’s astonishing that the UK government is still throwing taxpayers’ money at some of the world’s largest oil and gas companies. Ministers must switch funding to rapidly boost energy efficiency and renewables.”

The report stated that €55bn was given as fossil fuel subsidies in 2016, and that “Overall European energy subsidies have increased in recent years, from EUR 148 bn in 2008 to EUR 169 bn in 2016”. The UK, France, The Netherlands, Sweden, and Ireland gave the most in subsidies to fossil fuels, while Germany provided the highest amount for renewables, at €27bn.

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Financial support to fossil fuels in the EU- Source: EC, Trinomics

While the news of the UK’s fossil fuel obsession is bleak, the renewable sector is looking promising. “The increase was driven by the growth in renewable energy subsidies which reached EUR 76 bn in 2016.” stated the report. 45% of the subsidies over the EU went to renewable energy, compared to 33% for fossil fuels.

“Renewable energy growth also plays a direct role in mitigating and diminishing the negative impact of uncertain global fossil fuel prices and exchange rate risks. Thus, the ambitious 2030 renewable energy and energy efficiency targets recently agreed will help reduce the EU’s dependence on fossil fuel imports and vulnerability to global fossil fuel price shocks and uncertainty.”

“At the same time, energy efficiency and renewable energy investments set the EU on the path to compliance with the Paris Agreement and will stimulate the innovation needed to achieve the energy transformation.”

“We do not subsidise fossil fuels,” a government spokeswoman said. “We’re firmly committed to tackling climate change by using renewables, storage, interconnectors, new nuclear and more to deliver a secure and dynamic energy market at the least possible cost for consumers.” This claim is based on how the UK government defines ‘subsidy’. It is however, false. The WTO definition of ‘subsidy’ includes the definition “government revenue that is otherwise due, foregone or not collected”.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond, said in September that the UK government had ‘forgone’ around £46 billion after it chose not to implement a scheduled rise in fuel duty, in apparent efforts to keep bills down. Germany and Italy call tax breaks, such as this decision to not raise fuel duties, ‘subsidies’. Providing a semantic smokescreen for fossil fuel subsidies is nothing more than “playing games”, as put by Shelagh Whitley of the Overseas Development Institute, who went on to say that the government’s claim of providing no fossil fuel subsidies was simply “continuing to prop up a centuries old energy system.”

 

 

 

200 cross-party MPs pledge to divest parliament from fossil fuels

Around 200 MPs and former MPs have come together to sign the Divest Parliament Pledge, a pledge calling on the MP’s Pension Fund to divest from fossil fuel companies.

This announcement comes at the same time as global leaders meet for COP24, the climate change summit in Katowice, Poland, to develop plans to actualise on the global heating limitations set out in the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. As the recent IPCC report stated that we only have 12 years to mitigate the worst of greenhouse gas emissions and global heating, this act from MPs is greatly welcomed.

“We’re now a 200 strong cohort of cross-party MPs who believe it is morally indefensible for Parliamentarians to be investing in companies which profit from wrecking our planet.” Said Green Party MP for Brighton Palivion. “MPs have a duty to take action to prevent the worst of climate change. One simple step we can take is ditching our investments in fossil fuels – and instead invest in clean, renewable energy, and low-carbon technologies”.

If this Divest Parliament Pledge is successful, Parliament would join the Irish National Infrastructure Fund, The New York State Pension fun, and two-thirds of UK universities committed to fossil fuel divestment.

Amongst those MPs that have signed the pledge are Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, SNP MP Mhairi Black, Labour MP David Lammy, and former conservative MP Lord Deben. You can find a full list of MPs who have signed the pledge here, and use the site to inform your local MP if they have not already signed.

“Preventing disastrous climate change will be the defining challenge of the next decade for world leaders.” Said Lord Deben. “The UK must show leadership by demonstrating that we are prepared to make the necessary choices. This includes moving investment out of fossil fuels and towards renewables that are already proving that they can be built at the scale needed to power our homes and businesses. Moving quickly towards the Paris goals is the best way to protect our health and our prosperity for many generations to come.”

Since December 2017, the amount of MPs signing the pledge has doubled, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn being the 100th person to sign. 23 out of 25 SNP MPs have signed, alongside 11 out of 12 Liberal Democrat MPs, including party leader Sir Vince Cable.

Of the MPs that have signed the pledge, roughly 59% are Labour. Conservatives make up roughly 7%, Liberal Democrats 8%, SNP members make up 15%, and other parties make up 20%.

The campaign itself was started in 2014, by a small group of MPs that included Caroline Lucas. The campaign’s first success was to ensure that the trustees of the MPs Pension Fund disclosed its investments. This revealed that the largest individual holding is in British Petroleum, valued at £7.33 million. It also revealed investments in Royal Dutch Shell A at £3.67 million, Rio Tinto at £3.67 million, Royal Dutch Shell B at £2.93 million, and Total SA at £2.93 million, amongst others.

The campaign for transforming our current economy into a green economy had been rhetoric for some time, but now is seemingly becoming actualised, however slowly. Carbon-based fossil fuels drove the first industrial revolution, but have no become part of our downfall, as global temperatures rise, extreme weather events becomes more and more often, and refugees are forced from their homes at the hands of climate breakdown. What we need is a new energy revolution. Divestment is the first step towards this.

The current UK government may employ a green rhetoric, but it’s record is far from clean. Only recently did the Conservative government ratify Caudrilla’s bid to frack for shale gas in the northern county of Lancashire, despite the local council’s attempts to block it. Fortunately, more and more conservative party members seem to be turning away from Fracking.

The government’s Clean Growth Strategy admitted that the measures it had recommended to fulfil the fourth and fifth carbon budgets set by the Paris Climate Agreement would not be enough. This is a legally binding contract, limiting by law the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that can be emitted in a five-year period.

This campaign is the fastest growing divestment movement of all time, which has seen more than $5tn of assets divested across more than 800 institutions.” writes Rebecca Long-Bailey, MP for Salford & Eccles. “Campaigning for our universities, workplaces, unions, and pension funds to divest is one important way we can help to build a more sustainable society. Parliament must play its part.

 

Sir David Attenborough: “Our greatest threat in thousands of years: Climate Change”

On Monday, World-famous environmentalist Sir David Attenborough addressed the UN Climate Change Summit in Poland, appealing to those present that “together we can make real change happen”.

Attenborough’s message “Leaders of the world, you must lead”, was given alongside a gathering of messages from all over the world, pat of the UN’s people’s seat initiative. These messages were presented to the delegates of almost 200 nations who are currently in Katowice, Poland, planning the actualisation of the Paris Climate Agreement agreed three years ago.

In the speech, Attenborough references the UN’s new ActNow Chatbot, a device created to help ordinary people change their lives through taking individual personal action against climate breakdown. The ChatBot, which is open to use through Facebook Messenger, is part of a social media campaign that encourages people to talk about climate breakdown, and gives them ideas and information about how they can alter their lives to make them more eco-friendly.

The past few years have seen the hottest yearly average temperatures recorded since 1850. Since 2000, we’ve had 17 of the hottest years, each increasing since the last. Studies show that an climate-warming El Nino event is likely to occur in 2019, with the possibility to further warm that year.

“Climate change is running faster than we are and we must catch up sooner rather than later before it is too late,” said the UN Secretary General António Guterres. “For many, people, regions and even countries this is already a matter of life or death.” The secretary general also touched upon the move towards sustainable green economies, “Climate action offers a compelling path to transform our world for the better. Governments and investors need to bet on the green economy, not the grey.” This echoes the actions taken by the World Bank recently, who pledged $200bn to combat climate breakdown.

David Attenborough has recently been accused by writer and Guardian columnist George Monbiot of betraying ‘the living world he loves‘ though ‘downplaying our environmental crisis’.

“Knowingly creating a false impression of the world: this is a serious matter.” Writes Monbiot. “It is more serious still when the BBC does it, and yet worse when the presenter is “the most trusted man in Britain”. But, as his latest interview with the Observer reveals, David Attenborough sticks to his line that fully representing environmental issues is a “turn-off”.” Does this speech come as part-response to Monbiot’s comments? It is difficult to say exactly, but we view it as a welcome use of activism considering Attenborough’s large platform.

COP24 has also had it’s fair share of criticism. The summit itself is being sponsored by a Polish company. This act in itself “raises a middle finger to the climate” according to Friends of the Earth International. The Polish president Andrzej Duda, speaking at the opening of the summit, said the use of “efficient” coal processes and technology could be undertaken with no contradiction to taking climate action. While more energy efficient technology has been employed in the country, resulting in a cut of 30% to it’s carbon emissions since 1988, this type of talk is dangerous, although it does not represent the official stance of the Polish government as a whole.

“Safeguarding and creating sustainable employment and decent work are crucial to ensure public support for long-term emission reductions,” states the Silesia Declaration on Solidarity and Just Transition, which is a goal for the Polish government, who want to provide job security to workers in fossil fuel industries as the energy industry changes to more renewables.

We have transcribed Sir David Attenborough’s speech here:

“Right now, we’re facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years: Climate Change. If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations, and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon. The United Nations provides a unique platform that can unite the whole world, and as the Paris Agreement proved, together we can make real change happen.”

“The world’s people have spoken. Their message is clear. Time is running out. They want you, the decision makers, to act now. They’re behind you, along with civil society represented here today. Supporting you, in making tough decisions, but also willing to make sacrifices in their daily lives. To help make change happen, the United Nations is launching the ActNow bot, helping people to discover simple everyday actions that they can make, because they recognise that they too must play their part. The people have spoken. Leaders of the world, you must lead. The continuation of our civilisations, and the natural world upon which we depend, is in your hands.”

Atmospheric greenhouse gas levels at all time high, says UN

In a new report by the World Meteorological Organization, the UN’s meteorology experts, it states that the greenhouse gas emissions that are currently causing global climate breakdown are at an all time high.

The levels of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are far above their pre-industrial level counterparts, with seemingly no reversal of their upward trend. In 2017, the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere rose to a global average of 405.5 parts per million, which is 2.5x higher than levels before the industrial revolution. Methane, a gas which has a heating capability 25x that of CO2 and is responsible for around 17% of global warming, now has levels that are 3.5x higher than before the industrial revolution. This rise has mostly been caused by agricultural practices such as large-scale industrial cattle farming.

“The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3-5m years ago, when the temperature was 2-3C warmer and sea level was 10-20 metres higher than now,” said the WMO secretary general, Petteri Taalas. “The science is clear. Without rapid cuts in CO2 and other greenhouse gases, climate change will have increasingly destructive and irreversible impacts on life on Earth. The window of opportunity for action is almost closed.”

The internationally-ratified Paris Climate Agreement aims to curb the rise of global heating at 2C, yet the more hopeful number is 1.5C. It must however, be stated that this number is itself somewhat arbitrary. It is impossible to say what the actual damage will be at 1.5 or 2C. The recent IPCC Report on the effects of 1.5C of heating, stated that there would be incredibly severe consequences for human life at this level.

This report, with it’s 91 separate authors and review editors from 40 countries, explores “a number of climate change impacts that could be avoided by limiting global warming to 1.5ºC compared to 2ºC, or more. For instance, by 2100, global sea level rise would be 10 cm lower with global warming of 1.5°C compared with 2°C. The likelihood of an Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer would be once per century with global warming of 1.5°C, compared with at least once per decade with 2°C. Coral reefs would decline by 70-90 percent with global warming of 1.5°C, whereas virtually all (> 99 percent) would be lost with 2ºC.”

“Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5ºC or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II.

“Every fraction of a degree of global warming matters, and so does every part per million of greenhouse gases,” said the WMO deputy secretary general, Elena Manaenkova. “CO2 remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years and in the oceans for even longer. There is currently no magic wand to remove all the excess CO2 from the atmosphere.”

To negate this rise in emission levels, collective action needs to be put in place, such as investing in low-carbon or carbon neutral technologies; wind and solar energy needs to become rapidly mainstream. Pressure needs to be put on multinationals, whose business practices are responsible for a large percentage of global emissions.

Fortunately, it is becoming an increasingly poignant issue for people, with environmental demonstrations and campaigns taking place all over the world.  On Wednesday the Yearbook of Global Climate Action 2018 was published, finding that 9,000 cities in 128 countries had committed to some sort of climate action. This is alongside 240 states and regions in 40 other countries, and more than 6,000 businesses.

“On one hand, greenhouse gas emissions have yet to peak and countries struggle to maintain the concentrated attention and effort needed for a successful response to climate change. On the other hand, climate action is occurring, it is increasing and there is a will to do more. I highlight this because falling into despair and hopelessness is a danger equal to complacency, none of which we can afford.”, said Patricia Espinosa, head of the UN framework convention on climate change.

Fossil fuel subsidies from G20 countries risk 3.2C of global heating

According to research on progress towards the goals and deadlines of the Paris Climate Agreement, the emissions of 15 G20 nations have increased since last year. The Brown to Green Report, published by Climate Transparency, is the world’s most comprehensive review of G20 climate action. It shows that climate action is deeply lacking in all but one of the world’s largest economies.

Within these 15 countries, energy produced by coal, oil, and gas, still makes up 82% of all energy consumed. These industries have relied heavily on subsidies within the last 10 years, in a last ditch effort to compete with the increasingly cheaper and cleaner renewable energy sources.

The Paris Climate Agreement stipulated that countries would agree to work towards the goals set, phasing out fossil fuels, and yet their net contributions in the form of subsidies to those industries spent £114bn on subsidies in 2016, with current trends showing that the global temperatures will rise by 3.2C, in contrast to the 1.5C lower threshold set by the Paris Agreement.

The 1.5C threshold represents that line by which coral reefs will be able to survive, a threshold that will limit the damage to Arctic ecosystems, and hopefully prevent the displacement of hundreds of millions of people at risk of increased drought, flooding, forest fires, or dangerous summer temperatures. While a 1.7C gap does not seem very big, this actually represents countless changes to the way our modern societies function.

The Brown To Green Report allows you to compare and contrast the goals, policies, and actions of different countries. India is the only country within the G20 to be on course with staying below the upper limit threshold of 2C set by the Paris Climate Agreement. Other countries such as Russia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are on track with taking the world well past 4C of warming.

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The first page of the report on the United Kingdom’s Paris Agreement progress. You can see that while the energy intensity of the UK is well below the G20 average, the UK government has also cancelled several emission-reducing policies.

Indonesia, Brazil and Argentina have promised to cut deforestation but the destruction rate of forests shows no sign of reversing.

The UK has made the fastest transition amongst G20 countries, seeing a 7.7% decline in fossil fuel use between 2012 and 2015, yet both looming Brexit uncertainties and the cutting of several energy efficiency and zero-carbon home policies makes it likely that this progress could stall in the coming years.

The world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases, China, reduced its dependency on coal, which stabilised its carbon emissions for a number of years, but this trend was broken as it increased its coal consumption during 2017. Deforestation has also been a key topic for some countries such as Argentina, Brazil, and Indonesia, as forests are a major instrument in the sequestration of carbon. These countries promised to cut deforestation, but rates show no signs of dropping, and in fact, in Brazil research shows a 52% increase in deforestation rates from 2012 to 2017.

Yet all the good work being done is coming up against a brick wall, the subsidies given to fossil fuel companies from G20 countries. One of the Brown To Green Report authors, Jan Burck, said “There is a huge fight by the fossil fuel industry against cheap renewables. The old economy is well organised and they have put huge lobbying pressure on governments to spend tax money to subsidise the old world,”.

To avoid more than 1.5C of global heating (The term George Monbiot prefers us to use), emissions from G20 need to begin declining in the next two years, and be halved by 2030. Not one country has set a target credibly enough to see this through, and with the leaders of the US and Brazil, Trump and Bolsonaro, are hostile towards tackling climate breakdown, there seems to be little hope. On the brighter side, what inaction we see at a federal level, we see much action happening at a public, community level, with groups such as Greenpeace, the WWF, and even smaller organisations such as Extinction Rebellion leading the way.

“Global emissions need to peak in 2020. The Brown-to-Green report provides us with an independent stock-take on where we stand now. This is valuable information for countries when they declare their contribution in 2020.” said Christiana Figueres, the former executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Below are links to each specific country within the Brown To Green Report. Click through them to see your country’s data.

Argentina
Australia
Brazil
Canada
China 
The European Union
France
Germany
India
Indonesia
Italy
Japan
Mexico
Russia
Saudi Arabia
South Africa
South Korea
Turkey
United Kingdom
United States