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The World is on FIRE! COP26

August 10, 2021 5:59 PM
By Keith Melton
Originally published by Green Liberal Democrats

IPCC report is 'code red for humanity'

Keith Melton's Chair (Keith Melton)Yesterday`s IPCC report pulls no punches and has been flagged up as a 'code red for humanity'. It lays all of the global heating responsibility on we humans, so it is clearly up to us to put things right. Green Liberal Democrats have (no surprise!) been saying that for a long time now and as one commentator said, "people have apparently been listening - but not hearing!" On a similar theme, Doug Parr, chief scientist with Greenpeace UK, said "world leaders have done a terrible job of listening" to warnings about climate change. "This year, this has to change. We don't need more pledges, commitments and targets - we need real action right here, right now."

As practical politicians, we have to stay hopeful, of course, and specifically hope that UN Secretary General António Guterres is correct when he says: "If we combine forces now, we can avert climate catastrophe. But, as today's report makes clear, there is no time for delay and no room for excuses. I count on government leaders and all stakeholders to ensure COP26 is a success."

There is a real sense that the report`s publication has coincided with events which will convince most people that the threats covered actually represent a `clear and present danger`, rather than an abstract threat that might come to be if we don`t watch out. Whether that will be enough to make political leaders ACT rather than talk is something we will soon find out.

The UK government's climate chief Alok Sharma apparently recognises the danger, if you examine the words he uses. However, as a minister in the current UK Government, he bears a shared responsibility for their lack of real action to truly cut fossil fuel use. In fact, there are plans to tap a new oil field off Shetland. The government has also said more oil and gas wells can be drilled in the North Sea, and there are plans for a new coal mine in Cumbria (even though it has now been `called in` for a Government Inquiry.)

The World is on fire - literally!

The Greek island of Evia is on fire; Turkey is on fire; California is dealing with the second largest forest fire it has ever seen. There were reports earlier in the year about forest fires in Canada; in the Arctic Circle; and the Amazon Forest is releasing more CO2 than it is sequestering at the moment, due to man-made fires, threatening biodiversity loss as well as Climate Change.

Fires in turkey

Ironically, despite the fires and the droughts, we are also facing flooding and greater extremes of wet weather events in many parts of the world. This is because the heating effect also adds energy to the water cycle as the oceans become warmer - so warm in some cases that fish and crustaceans are literally being cooked to death. "'Heat dome' probably killed 1bn marine animals on Canada coast, experts say" https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jul/08/heat-dome-canada-pacific-northwest-animal-deaths

It is quite clear from the IPCC report that "Climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth are projected to increase with global warming of 1.5°C and increase further with 2°C." And that "Populations at disproportionately higher risk of adverse consequences with global warming of 1.5°C and beyond include disadvantaged and vulnerable populations, some indigenous peoples, and local communities dependent on agricultural or coastal livelihoods." And these are just two of the many sentences spelling out the threats in yesterday`s report.

You know all this. So, what can WE do?

But you know all this. Green Liberal Democrats have been reporting these gloomy facts and forecasts for years now. Do we bury our heads in our hands yet again and despair at the slow, the so desperately slow, response of our political classes? Well, probably, yes, we do! - but we also need to raise our heads and our voices.

We need to channel our frustration and despair into a positive force for change. We are not in power, so we have no hold on the levers of power (yet). But we can say (as loudly as possible) what we would do if those levers of power were ours to use and we can plan for the day when we might get to touch the levers of power, even if only with our fingertips to begin with. Remember, this is OUR topic and we need to keep explaining to whomever is listening that we have been right about this for longer than any other current political organisation! We have the ammunition to tackle politicians of all varieties, highlighting their weaknesses, hypocrisies, failures of policy and lack of action. Let us use such amunition as effectively as possible.

1 Lib Dem Conference

We need initially to concentrate our efforts on those things which we can most closely control or influence. In the first instance we need to ensure Liberal Democrat policies are appropriate and up to scratch for tackling Climate Change, as if we were to be in power now. There are two debates coming up at the Liberal Democrat autumn conference where we can probably have some positive inputs. These are:

F11 The Climate Change Conference and the UK Government … and

F12 Tackling the Climate Emergency: Proposals for Carbon Pricing (Carbon Pricing Policy Paper)

Both of these will be debated on Saturday morning (18th September), and we can, of course, submit amendments if we choose, so watch this space and our Facebook page for the chance to add your signature to GLD sponsored amendments (we are currently discussing possibilities!) Amendments must be submitted by 13.00 on 6th September.

We need to consider whether the IPCC report may be sufficiently iconoclastic for us to consider a very strong amendment to F11 identifying that even the Liberal Democrat position is not sufficiently ambitious and pressing for substantially stronger and earlier targets than those defined in policy paper 139 on climate change https://www.libdems.org.uk/policy-papers-autumn-19

The flurry of recent research certainly supports this contention in my view. This blog-post is not the place to delve into these in detail, but a short list of articles may help to put things into context:

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01142-4

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-01-18/ocean-temperatures-reached-record-high-in-2020-study-finds/13062628

https://e360.yale.edu/digest/submarine-permafrost-has-been-overlooked-as-a-major-source-of-greenhouse-gases-scientists-warn

https://www.pnas.org/content/118/32/e2107632118

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/ticking-timebomb-siberia-thawing-permafrost-releases-more-methane-180978381/

http://nsidc.org/greenland-today/

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02116-8

2 COP26 Conference Glasgow

We are still not sure about the extent to which civil society may be able to interact with the Global Political community at the COP26 conference in Glasgow in November. We are making tentative plans to hold a small series of events to "bookend" the conference, so, say, three virtual meetings to detail what we believe ought to happen at COP26 in the way of political change. Then, after the conference, we will set up some meetings that will analyse and debate what actually went on in Glasgow. We are also talking with Glasgow based Lib Dems about potential events there.

Clearly, the perfect scenario would be to see the politicians press ahead with real and substantial cuts in the use of fossil fuels, agreeing to phase them out with much greater urgency and putting plans in place to support those countries whose lack of resources means that they will need substantial financial support to mitigate fossil fuel use and/or to build resilience to the inevitable impact upon them and their populations to those changes that are already under way and likely to continue, whatever short term cuts are made by richer nations.

I do not think it should seem too cynical to suggest that we may well, however, end up a considerable distance from the perfect scenario. The conclusion to COP20 in France when the whole conference community rose to their feet to applaud what became known as the Paris Agreement, seemed at the time to represent then, then, perfect scenario. Sadly, however, the last six years have shown that many governments have largely failed to live up to the ideals expressed in Paris.

Yes, progress has been made in reducing carbon emissions, but not by enough to change the trajectory of the content of CO2 in the atmosphere. The Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii has been continuously monitoring and collecting data related to atmospheric change since the 1950's. Although there is an annual cycle in CO2 emissions the rolling average parts per million figure has shown a continual and continuing increase since first observed in 1958.

Green Liberal Democrats can, at the very least, add our voices to the calls upon political leaders to begin to ACT rather than merely talk.

3 Changing the Economic debate - Call to ACTION

It has been clear to most people in the broader green movement that we cannot expect to tackle Climate Change without changing the nature of the debate on Economics. The natural response from the Conservatives is, of course, to leave it mostly to the free market to reach an equilibrium as market pressures from concerned environmentally concerned customers drive change. This relies a little too much on `enlightened self-interest` but, if nothing else, the pandemic has shown that self-interest is not always enlightened!

Both Labour and the Green Party rely on command and control from the centre as the primary mechanism of regulating economic activity if it threatens the climate. Historically the Labour Party in Government was always rather heavy-handed and slow in reaction time until New Labour brought the party to such a `light-touch` stance that large sections of the party fell back to yearn for the old socialist ways. At the moment they still seem riven and unsure of how to categorise their economic offering. The Green Party, whilst clearly recognising the problem, does not seem always to recognise the limitations in real life of many of their supposed solutions.

Liberal Democrats just prior to, and during, the coalition with the Conservatives, moved too far towards a libertarian stance economically for us environmentalists and many of the more Social Liberals to be comfortable. Yet they did recognise that many environmental issues needed a much stronger regulatory framework in government and Ed Davey provided that in the key energy market, encouraging a much stronger renewable energy infrastructure than the senior coalition partner would have been able to muster if left to themselves.

It appears that many of the more libertarian-economic-thinking Lib Dems may now have left the party, or at least have largely vacated the internal economic debate. However, we are left with an external image of being a party of austerity and there is still a lack of trust in Lib Dem capacity to provide an economic stance which is both close to voters needs and wants, and yet still robust enough to tackle the strains of huge environmental pressures.

My "Call to Action", then, is to join our mission to create a new "Wellbeing Approach to the Economy" which recognises the boundaries which economic activity must not breach if we are to be `safe`. At the same time, we need to create an economic policy which is based around the notion that people everywhere should be capable of "Thriving". Let us be clear that this does NOT mean having more `stuff` - therefore you cannot measure the success or otherwise of economic planning by a simple measure such as GNP growth.

The first part of our new approach is built in to the constitutional amendment we have submitted to the autumn conference and I will be writing more about that shortly. The second, more detailed, part of our plan is to push for a rethink of the Party`s economic policies - but to do that will take some planning.

Developing a Wellbeing Economy

Keith Melton (Keith Melton)As many of you will know, we have created a number of Special Interest Groups (SIGs) - one of which is looking at "Developing a Wellbeing Economy". The next meeting of this SIG will take place on Thursday 19th August and zoom meeting details will soon be sent out. If you would like to be part of this discussion, please drop me an email at chair@greenlibdems.org.uk and I will add you to the list of participants.

Keith Melton