Planetary heating reaching tipping points

Photo: Daisy Pearson

Nigel Doggett says human rights must also be an issue in Egypt as climate justice campaigners gear up for COP27 

This year, any momentum from COP26 in Glasgow has been overshadowed by the war in Ukraine and the UK economic crisis. Here in England, Boris Johnson’s ‘cakeism’ gave us some ambitious targets and initiatives such as the nascent environmental land management schemes (ELMS) but no credible net-zero strategy. We saw Truss’s quixotic quest for fracked shale gas, a dose of magical thinking on growth, a review of ELMS and a threatened bonfire of EU legacy environmental regulations. As I write, it’s unclear if such environmental vandalism will continue under Rishi Sunak, and (Oxford comma intended) grammar pedant Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey. Meanwhile, neither Government nor media are paying sustained attention to COP27, which started in Eqypt on November 6th, with Rishi Sunak initially saying he was “too busy” to attend.

We cannot afford to delay grasping the nettle of climate action: mean global temperature rises are likely to exceed 1.0°C this year, and late last month, the UN environment agency reported there is “no credible pathway to 1.5C in place”, projecting an eventual 2.5°C rise as nations failed to upgrade their emissions targets since COP26. The latest IPCC Assessment Report (AR6 WGII [pdf]) on impacts says:Global warming, reaching 1.5°C in the near-term, would cause unavoidable increases in multiple climate hazards and present multiple risks to ecosystems and humans…” And in case anyone thinks it’s too late, UCL emeritus professor Bill McGuire’s 12th September opinion piece in the Guardian was subtitled: “the 1.5°C global heating target is arbitrary and now unachievable – yet working to prevent every 0.1°C rise can still give us hope.” We risk reaching sudden tipping points such as in the Amazon rainforests or Greenland ice shelf at any time, but these are not yet likely to seal the fate of our climate.

This year, extreme climate events struck all the populated continents. Beyond Britain’s summer drought, an unprecedented heatwave triggered wildfires in Spain and Portugal with over 100 deaths, and Pakistan still struggles in the aftermath of devastating floods that killed well over 1,500 people and affected 33 million people (sic) out of 235 million. There is no longer any doubt of the cause, as the IPCC report confirms: “Human-induced climate change, including more frequent and intense extreme events, has caused widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people, beyond natural climate variability.”

It is more urgent than ever to campaign for mitigation – ongoing reductions in carbon emissions by both reducing energy demand (eg, insulation and efficiency) and replacing fossil fuels by renewable electricity with storage facilities. If there was any positive result of Putin’s campaign of terror, the gas supply shut-offs galvanised European governments to accelerate the phasing out of gas.

We see a tragic cascade effect where failure to mitigate emissions jeopardises adaptation measures, which worsens ‘loss and damage’ (L&D) from major disasters. So, as I argued in the Chartist 318’s International Supplement, we need to focus more on impacts and the concept of L&D. Existing climate funding is available for both mitigation and adaptation, but not for dealing with the aftermath of disasters.

For years, while poorer nations suffer the worst disasters, governments in the global north have evaded any suggestion that they should accept responsibility for accumulated greenhouse gases. Whilst evidence for global heating only emerged late in the 20th century, emissions were a by-product of industrialisation, and the over-exploitation of the earth was apparent in the early 1970s Limits to Growth report. These carried on regardless, with energy multinationals such as Exxon and BP in the forefront of obfuscation and denial. Climate negotiations are now complicated by rising carbon emissions in the BRICS and other fast-developing nations who resist pressure to halt new fossil fuel developments, joined by new entrants such as Nigeria.

This theme has been raised ever since the 1989 Malé Declaration at a small states conference on sea level rise. The L&D name, coined in 1991, first gained prominence at the 2009 Copenhagen COP.

At COP26, the ‘Glasgow Dialogue’ was established “to discuss the arrangements for the funding of activities to avert, minimise and address loss and damage associated with the adverse impacts of climate change”, running until 2024. 

So, what exactly is L&D? Loss is defined as irreversible, such as destroyed infrastructure and agricultural land, whereas damage is repairable, categorised as either economic or non-economic. Economic damage counts the financially measurable, favouring richer nations and regions, but intangible ‘non-economic’ damage such as mortality and mental illness can be more fundamental and also causes indirect huge economic costs.

As the case for decarbonisation has become mainstream in theory but not yet in practice, outright obstruction is led from the far right: assorted climate deniers, populists, culture warriors and authoritarians from the UKIP/Tory fringes through US Republicans, to Bolsonaro in Brazil, Orban’s Hungary, Putin’s Russia and Saudi Arabia. International solidarity, climate justice and economic justice are inextricably linked.

Last month in the Guardian, Naomi Klein described how the Sisi regime in Egypt promotes, with a fantasy video, COP27 venue Sharm El-Sheikh as a ‘green city’ while crushing any dissent, including climate campaigners. And in “greenwashing a police state”, what you might call a 21st-century Potemkin village, Sisi is no doubt hoping a new generation of ‘useful idiots’ will fail to highlight the repression behind the façade. So campaigners including the UK Climate Justice Coalition organised a Day of Action across the country on November 12th for Climate Justice in solidarity with Egyptian groups at COP27.

Climate campaigners are lined up alongside community activists in defence of nature, human rights and liberty. Divisions between greens and the mainstream left are dissolving as it is clear there is no alternative: either we ride the green wave, or we drown.

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