Bad taste after Dubai COP28

Credit : Gary Knight

Dave Toke on blah, blah, blah

Despite a flurry of headline-jerking agreements at Dubai’s COP28, a UN Report suggests that global warming will reach three degrees Centigrade. This conclusion, issued by the UN Environment Programme’s “Emissions Gap Report” is based on the continuation of current policies. This assumes, for instance that in the UK and the USA, the targets for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 are not achieved.

This, by the way, is by no means an unreasonable assumption. In fact, it’s dead right! In order to achieve net zero we have to go a lot further than just achieving 100 per cent of our electricity from low carbon sources by 2030, something that is promised by the Labour Party.

Achieving the 2050 net zero target means that all heating, transport and industrial energy uses need to be decarbonised. Then the production of electricity will have to be greatly expanded. That, actually, is the easier task, if you consider for example, that the whole of the UK’s energy supply could be supplied by electricity from offshore windfarms occupying less than 10 per cent of the UK’s seawaters.

The more difficult tasks include changing the heating systems of all of the buildings of the country to use (mainly) heat pumps. It also includes decarbonising all of our transport.  Now that is possible, but apart from targets (which come and go with this Government) to do this, we need some serious investment programmes and also technological development. This is just nowhere near happening.

Even in the case of the targets for electric cars, the relaxed targets of this Government effectively ensure that there will still be a lot of fossil fuel use by motor vehicles by 2050. As for air travel, well, we need a revolution there, perhaps including a very rapid transition to electric battery planes which is not yet technologically possible, new types of decarbonised synthetic fuel derived from renewables and/or less air travel.

In the USA, of course, the situation is even worse from the point of view of achieving 2050 net zero targets. Given all of that it does seem likely (on the basis of the UN analysis) that we are facing a temperature increase of three degrees centigrade above industrial levels. Temperatures have now risen by one degree and the effects are apparent. Yes, these COP events are, as Greta Thunberg said, by and large, just “blah blah blah”.

Why citizen’s assemblies can be very good things

I must take exception to Victor Anderson’s view in Chartist 325 which was “sceptica” about citizens assemblies. He says, in essence, that “they might not come out with the right answers….it’s a gamble”. I think he’s missed the point about the problem with the current governmental decision-making systems.

The problem is that these systems give almost unbridled power to the big corporations to decide how to implement consensus policy objectives. This is almost inevitably going to give priority to policy solutions that benefit these incumbent interests. This is rather than what might benefit the public in general in terms of lower costs and greater benefits of services and environmental quality.

The point about well organised citizen’s assemblies, legitimised by being organised by governmental institutions is that they give an alternative view to that of the corporations. This is invariably going to be much closer to the “right answers” than just trying to argue things through the current corporate-oriented decision-making system. Setting up citizens assemblies, such as that organised in 2019 by the Committee on Climate Change (to consider how to achieve climate objectives), is not a “gamble”. It is an insurance against all power being given to the big corporations.

The sort of citizen’s assemblies I talk about here consist of utilising randomly selected people to take part in a series of informed deliberations. By informed I mean that all relevant interests, whether environmentalists, academics or corporate interests, have an equal opportunity to present information. The results of deliberations are then published and should act as an important piece of advice to Government. This certainly does not substitute for the role of Government in taking decisions. But it does give an alternative mode of advice to Government to that of the incumbent corporations. Indeed processes like this have taken place recently in France and Ireland. Of course, they reach recommendations that tend to coalesce with environmentalists rather than corporate interests. That is only to be expected.

I would add that this notion of well organised citizen’s assemblies is not to be confused with suggestions made by Extinction Rebellion for citizen’s assemblies. These amount to green soviets which may help promote propaganda, but which are not going to help to implement policies. Maybe this is what confused Victor.

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