“How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just 'business as usual'” A summary of the UN climate summit
By Celine Barclay
UN secretary General Antonio Guterres convened a climate summit inviting —Leaders from government, business, and civil society to announce their “plans, not speeches” for scaling up efforts to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. The conference also gave a platform for young people to share their solutions at the Youth summit on the Saturday.
In 2015 the Paris Climate Agreement took a bottom up approach to climate action, with countries making self-determined targets (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDC’s). As of 2020, these targets are to come into force, becoming Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC’s) which will be reviewed and scaled up every 5 years to “reflect its highest possible ambition"). However, current commitments fall far short and will struggle to hold warming below 3C by the end of the century. Antonio Guterres hoped to ignite a spirit of ambitious collaboration with the summit in New York.
What was the layout of the summit?
Leaders were invited to showcase initiatives organised under 9 Action Areas listed below:
Did the announcements deliver?
In short…no. Greta’s damming speech at the summit, reprimanded leaders “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.”
Here is a quick summary of the main announcements and their wider implications.
Firstly, we must mention the absence of announcements of any sort from 3 key carbon emitters: USA, Australia and Brazil who did not participate.
Broadly speaking, developed nations did not make meaningful changes to their existing pledges to reduce carbon emissions compared to countries with smaller economies.
One of the few countries who seems to be honouring the commitment to set targets reflecting their “highest possible ambition” was Slovakia which has made a “politically unthinkable decision to close our coal mines.” Given that Slovakia is part of the Visegrád group which has worked to block EU climate ambitions, this decision to phase out coal mines by 2023 is significant. It sets an example of the prioritisation of environmental over economic concerns that needs to be made globally in order for warming to be kept below 1.5 degrees.
There is an existing global inequality with respect to vulnerability to and responsibility for climate change; some developing nations are facing more serious and immediate consequences than the developed countries responsible. They are less equipped to mitigate the consequences, yet the summit demonstrated their commitment to making comparatively significant contributions. The president of Bhutan announced that all 47 countries in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) group he leads would commit to net zero emissions by 2050.
Indonesia also pledged to stop subsidising fossil fuels and develop a green finance facility. Such contributions from less developed nations will rely on funding from developed countries.
There were some significant financial commitments made to this end. Boris Johnson announced the UK would double contributions to the Green Climate Fund alongside France, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Korea and Germany. The Climate Investment Platform will seek to directly mobilize US$1 trillion in clean energy investment by 2025 in 20 least developed countries
However, the west can’t simply throw money at developing nations in the hope they will bear the brunt of carbon emission reduction. To truly help the most vulnerable to climate change, developed nations need to make more ambitious commitments to reducing their own emissions to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees. The recent hurricane in the Bahamas which has left 70,000 homeless is surely proof that 1.5 degrees is not a luxury but a necessity.
It therefore came as quite a blow when China Turkey and India, the heaviest carbon emitters, made no announcement regarding their reliance on coal. China repeated its emissions target from the Paris Agreement without making a more ambitious pledge whilst Turkey still refuses to ratify the Paris Agreement unless it is classified as a developing country. Russia however, announced it would ratify the agreement.
Whilst pledges from individual countries were on the whole disappointing there were some positive announcements from coalitions such as the ‘Three percent club’ a group of countries, businesses and institutions promising to increase their energy efficiency by 3%. This is a key strategy that reconciles the climate change targets with economic prosperity.
Another significant announcement concerned the shipping industry with Maersk and partners committing to “commercially-viable” zero emissions vessels on deep sea trade routes by 2030.
However, as the secretary general said, “we have a long way to go”.
For more details of specific announcements, here is a link to the UN climate summit website:
Author: Celine Barclay
Walking round tents pitched on the most polluted road in Manchester, I looked up and saw the traffic lights turn from red to green. But there were no cars. The irony of the moment struck me- instead of inviting the usual belch of car exhaust fumes, the changing of the lights signaled a truly “green” movement: the occupation of Deansgate by Extinction Rebellion.
Last Sunday I joined my family on a shopping trip into the centre of Manchester only half conscious of the Extinction Rebellion protest happening that weekend. What could have been a day browsing the shops quickly turned into quite the opposite. My diversion from the shops symbolically achieved the turn away from the excessive consumption which Extinction Rebellion insists must be halted if we are to avoid a climate disaster. More explicitly, they protested against the exploitative impact of fast fashion by staging a “die-in” outside Primark. Each of the five “die-ins” some of which targeted banks for their investment in fossil fuels, involved protesters lying as though dead on the floor to represent looming species extinction.
The tone was not unbendingly morbid however; Deansgate was very much alive with the sounds of reggae, impassioned speakers and the smell of free Vegan food enjoyed by those drawn to the event. A highlight was the invitation of a man from an Amazonian tribe onto the main stage. He sang and lead us in a traditional dance inspired by the Boa constrictor which creates spirals of huge symbolic significance for his people. Instructed to form a line by putting our hands on the shoulders of the person in front, we were to “avoid breaking the chain at all costs”. Such a mantra surely rings true for global climate action also? The dance only took shape through collective participation, an elegant analogy for the collective not individual actions that are required to enact radical changes to our approach to climate change.
Whilst one can praise the symbolism of the protests and the evident enjoyment of the participants, what can be said for the success of the methods pursued by Extinction Rebellion? Many fear that their disruptive methods alienate people otherwise sympathetic to the cause rather than rally them round it. In Manchester the responses were generally positive-many saw the pedestrianization of the road as more of a positive than an inconvenience. When asked by my grandparents whether ‘those protests’ caused any trouble, my dad replied that that in fact they made the dreaded trip to the centre much more pleasant! Who can deny the benefits of the cleaner air, safety and relative calm of a pedestrianized main road?
There were inevitably negative responses- a headline announcing that a “Restaurant 'lost £7,000 in business' last night” or an disgruntled tweet about protestors being “a load of hypocrites creating massive traffic jams and large clouds of exhaust gasses. total toss pots." It is a shame that the press should should focus on such a minor aspect of an overwhelmingly positive event for the sake of scandalising its readers. The true scandal lies in the weak accusations of hypocrisy against a movement that is doing its very best to address the system that makes such hypocrisy unavoidable.
Those wishing to drown out Extinction Rebellion’s message resort to undermining the methods of communicating it. The fact that protestors decided to use a diesel generator to power their main stage instead of a solar panel is the type of logistical detail leapt upon by opponents of the movement. But as the organisers of the ‘Northern Rebellion’ pointed out, transporting the solar technology from London would have used 60 L of fuel, three times more fuel than was used by the diesel generator over the course of the 4 days. Another solar panel for the event would have cost £8000, money they simply didn’t have. This individual example typifies the catch 22 situation which our current system forces us to operate within. At the moment, sustainable choices are simply not viable. Coming clean about the use of a diesel generator therefore expounded rather than undermined their aims by proving the need to overhaul a system naturally geared towards damaging the environment.
From a broader perspective, regardless of whether the media attention is positive or negative, there is a sense in which “there is no such thing as bad publicity” when it comes to Extinction Rebellion. Regardless of whether “Extinction Rebellion” appears alongside words of praise or disparagement, the very ubiquity of the group’s name is a success in itself. Thanks to the disruption caused by protesters, climate change is increasingly framed in the urgent, apocalyptic terms connoted by the name of their organisation. This linguistic shift may seem insignificant but a discourse of urgency will precipitate the urgency of action required to tackle climate change.
The European elections are coming up on Thursday 23rd May, and it is likely that you, like me, did the easy part of triumphantly registering to vote, feeling righteous and enfranchised, whilst the actual conjecture of which box you would be crossing on the day, and what effect it will have, still remains slightly hazy in your mind.
General elections and referendums create such mainstream debate that it is hard to avoid knowing who or what you believe in or, failing that, who or what your mates believe in, and rolling with the homies (not recommended but, alas, a reality for many). However, for the European elections, the UK rarely has a voter turnout higher than 35 percent, compared to the 2014 EU average of 42.61 percent. As these elections will greatly affect both the future of our life in the European Union, the migrant crisis, our environmental laws, and the growth or demise of certain fringe parties from the left to the far-right, it is imperative that we all educate ourselves on the key issues and get out and vote this year. And this guide is here to make you feel informed enough to do that.
SO, here it is. The OCS’ best attempt at a comprehensive guide to what the European elections are, who you can vote for, what they are promising, how likely they are to make an impact and what they are likely to do to respond to the climate crisis. The headings are set out as clearly as possible so you can skip straight to the parts you’re interested in, be it the mechanics of the electoral system, UKIP’s top candidates or the difference between Lib Dem and Green environmental targets. Happy voting!
WTF ARE THE EUROPEAN ELECTIONS?
The UK elects 73 members (MEPs) to the European parliament, which is made up of 751 MEPs elected by the 28 member states of the EU. (So yes, this may be the last time we will ever put forward candidates, if the Brexit process finishes before the human species becomes extinct. Unlikely?)
The UK is split into 12 European electoral regions, and each region is represented by 3-10 MEPs. Those elected as MEPs on 23rd May will represent the UK when the new European parliament assembles on 1st July, until we cease to be a member of the European Union.
WHO CAN I VOTE FOR?
You can find out who is standing for election in your area here. Assuming you are voting in Oxford, you are in the South East region, which has 10 candidate options for each of the following parties: Change UK - The Independent Group, the Conservatives, the Green Party, The Socialist Party of Great Britain, The Brexit Party, UKIP, Labour and Liberal Democrats; as well as three independent candidates (i.e. not affiliated to a party), and two from the UK European Union Party (UKEUP). More about what each is promising later.
HOW DOES MY VOTE WORK?
In England, Scotland and Wales, voters can choose to vote for one party or individual, and the D’Hondt method of proportional representation is used to calculate how many seats each party or individual receives (see footnote for brief explanation).
What’s both great and awful about this system is that, unlike First Past the Post which is used for General Elections, fringe parties can gain a substantial number of seats even if they are not the first or second most-voted-for party. This is good as it means we don’t have to shy away from voting Green or Lib Dem in favour of a tactical vote, in the fear that our first choice inevitably will not be able to compete with the two major parties and our vote will be discounted if we go with who we want. But proportional representation is also what gives extremist parties a platform. Of all the minority parties in the UK in recent years, UKIP has done best from Proportional Representation. As a result of the D’Hondt system, which fairly translates votes into seats, UKIP gained 27.5% of the vote in the 2014 European elections, translating into 24 MEP seats, making them the biggest party ahead of Labour and Conservative, as opposed to their faring under the FPTP system in the 2015 General Election where they gained 12.6% of the vote, but only one seat, as their vote was spread across constituencies.
This danger of extremist fringe parties gaining traction is particularly pressing in these upcoming elections, which are expected to see establishment parties across the continent suffer, at the hands of the populist-Right as well as resurgent liberal parties. Current polling suggests that support for the Conservatives has slumped to 11%, less than a third of what the Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party is polling. The latest polling shows that Nigel Farage's Brexit Party is likely to gain the most seats in the UK. (YELP). So, if you’re going to get out and vote for any reason, maybe just as a protest to deflate Nigel’s puce, nationalist ego, might be one of them? Just an idea.
 Boiled down, the system works like this: the party with the most votes wins a seat for the candidate at the top of its list. In the second round of counting the winning party's vote is divided by two, and whichever party comes out on top in the re-ordered results wins a seat for their top candidate. The process repeats itself, with the original vote of the winning party in each round being divided by one plus their running total of MEPs, until all the seats for the region have been taken.
HOW TO DECIDE WHO TO VOTE FOR
WHY SHOULD MY VOTE BE WITH THE ENVIRONMENT / CLIMATE CRISIS?
Recent scientific analysis has found there is only a narrow window to keep global heating levels to less than 2C as required in the Paris agreement. The study published in Nature Climate Change suggests carbon emissions must reach zero by 2030 in every country in the world to meet the below 2C target for warming by 2100. To avoid a catastrophe beyond our country, continent and world’s management capabilities, we must prioritise politics now that commits to mitigating the causes and effects of the climate crisis.
MIGRATION AND THE ECONOMY
In 2016, the Brexit campaign was won largely by Leave’s crusade of anti-immigration promises. With a removal of free movement between us and other EU countries, voters were vowed tighter borders, fewer immigrants, and thus more ‘security’ for Britain from being involved in the migrant crisis, which has been, until now, mainly driven by war in Syria and the Middle East. Whether or not you voted Leave, or believe in those values, it is generally accepted that the migrant crisis is a subject at the forefront of European politics, and an issue every country is keen to alleviate, with the migrants themselves being by far the most devastated of anyone affected, by their necessity to leave their homes and livelihoods behind for reasons out of their control and seek asylum in foreign countries, often having to remain for long periods in liminal spaces such as refugee camps.
In 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlighted that the greatest single impact of climate change could be on human migration—with millions of people displaced by shoreline erosion, coastal flooding and agricultural disruption involving the inevitable effects of climate change: droughts, harvest failures, disease epidemics and famine. Since then, analysts (of whom Norman Myers of Oxford University is perhaps best known) have tried to put numbers on future flows of climate migrants - the most widely repeated prediction being 200 million by 2050.
Unfortunately, this number is not just a looming figure of an ominous future. In 2015, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, there were 244 million international migrants, 40% more than in 2000. In the same year, over 19 million people were internally displaced because of natural disasters. Between 2008 and 2015, an average of 26 million people have been displaced annually by climate or weather-related disasters. Due to the growing frequency of tropical storms, hurricanes, droughts, and floods in many parts of the world, and in wake of the devastating impact of natural disasters on the lives and livelihoods of climate-vulnerable communities, climate migration is already happening, and it is only going to get worse. It is important here to stress that by referring to natural disasters in these cases, ‘natural’ means existing in, rather than deriving from, nature; these disasters are a result of a climate change that has been and still is being brought about by human actions.
The climate displacement issue is worst in areas around Asia and the Pacific, where more than 42 million people were displaced during 2010 and 2011, but even on our own shores we are seeing the effects of climate change on our homes. Only last weekend was a piece written in the Guardian about the Welsh town of Fairbourne, which, sandwiched between mountains and the beach, is being returned to the waves, with residents unable to sell, or get mortgages to buy, houses in the area. The government does not have enough money to subsidise those whose homes will be lost to climate disaster and rising sea levels, and many will be left destitute. So, if your vote is for the economy and a prosperous Britain, this issue is in your best interests.
Our agricultural systems, NHS and housing crisis will not be able to weather the strain of climate migration and, with so many parts of the globe unliveable, the immigration debate and crisis will be stormier and more divisive than ever. Sadly, stricter immigration laws and less friendly neighbours are not going to allay the issue. We need to halt climate breakdown.
ENVIRONMENTAL AND HEALTH LAWS, BETTER OFF IN THE EU
The greatest issue being fought in this election is regarding Brexit. Some parties are fighting for a second referendum, some a ‘hard Brexit’, and others have no idea just as long as it’s not Theresa May’s Withdrawal Bill. Brexit will mean a radical shift of laws that have been in place in Britain as a result of our EU membership, and it is thus imperative for voters to be familiar with what will change and how it will affect the climate crisis, when making our decisions of whom to vote for.
Currently, the vast majority of the UK's environmental laws and policies are based on European laws. The UK presently has a Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which is an independent advisory body, so it does not have the power to penalise the government for falling short of targets such as emissions reductions (read more about the limitations of the CCC’s power in the Conservative briefing). The European Commission holds member states accountable when they breach environmental standards or act in opposition to the targets of the Paris Agreement, and has competence to legislate on environmental matters, with a track record of being very active in this area. The amount of renewable energy produced in the EU grew by two-thirds between 2007 and 2017 as a result of EU legislation agreed by all member states (including the UK) as part of its obligations to the Kyoto protocols. The Paris accords have led to the European Commission prioritising climate change with the development of policies, frameworks and strategies for 2020, 2030 and 2050. Over the past forty years or so, it has introduced policies and laws dealing with issues including industrial and agricultural pollution, waste, water quality, air quality, nature conservation, environmental damage and climate change. EU laws were crucial in cleaning up British beaches and bathing waters with the Water Framework Directive. It was the EU that took the British government to court for failing to enforce rules on air pollution. Just to name a few examples.
HOW BREXIT WILL CHANGE OUR ENVIRONMENTAL AND HEALTH POLICY
If we were to implement a ‘soft Brexit’, with the UK staying within the European Economic Area, there would be less change to our environmental standards because we would still have to apply most EU environmental laws. However, out of the Union, obviously, the UK would have little influence over the content of new EU environmental laws, and thus would be liable to laws made without our own participation.
With a hard Brexit, our commitment to the Paris agreement and general environmental security will be in a very precarious situation. Parliament are currently in the process of drafting a new Environmental Bill (which OCS will be going into depth with at our event on election day, this Thursday) which is to replace EU environment law after Brexit, a draft for which was released in December. The House of Commons committee has expressed ‘serious’ reservations about the draft Bill, saying that it ‘lacks coherence’, ‘falls woefully short’ of necessary environmental aims, and is set to leave many government departments unaccountable when it comes to hitting environmental targets. The bill would set up a supposedly independent watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), to create environmental principles for policymaking and ensure the government sets out long-term environment plans and reports on its progress. However, according to the draft, the environment secretary (currently Michael Gove, a policymaker with climate issues very low down on his agenda, as you can read below in the Conservative briefing) would have the power to appoint the OEP’s chair and two to five other non-executive members. The secretary would also fund the office and decide how much is ‘reasonably sufficient’ to do its work: cue austerity and urgent climate breakdown solutions being deemed ‘expensive’ and shoved to the bottom of spending priorities.
‘Everyone has to watch for that,’ Richard Macrory, emeritus professor of environmental law at University College London, said of the new system. ‘They’ll start with an independent chair [of the OEP]… and the next time you get a slightly more compliant [to the government] chair.’ With recent news of the government’s reluctance to abide by environmental standards, such as Liam Fox, the UK trade secretary, declining to rule out allowing imports of chlorine-washed chicken or beef raised using growth hormones into the UK after Brexit, it seems a dangerous gamble with pressing environmental and climate breakdown issues to give the UK government ministers so much control over our environmental policy.
Moreover, in terms of health, as opposed to the Leave campaign’s claim that our NHS would be better off out of the EU (they suggested implicitly that this would be due to less immigration), the current state of the Brexit negotiations, and particularly a no-deal scenario, puts the health of UK populations at much greater risk. There will be delays in medicines supply chains, it would exacerbate the NHS staffing crisis and undermine our ability to collaborate effectively with EU partners on matters such as medicines regulation.
In terms of health, Brexit is also likely to increase the UK’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. Many economic analyses suggest that Brexit is likely to exacerbate poverty and increase inequality in the UK, thus reducing capacity to adapt and increasing the health impacts of climate-related shocks such as flooding and climate-driven rises in food prices. Additionally, if collaboration with EU member states on health protection is weakened by Brexit—with several options for our future relationship with the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) likely to be less effective than retaining our current membership—the UK will be at greater risk from the spread of climate-sensitive infectious diseases, which have been reported in the IPCC report to be one of the major most deadly consequences of global heating.
For these reasons, voting for a party that wants to sever ties completely with the European Union will, all other policies aside, be a vote against environmental measures and climate breakdown solution. Voting for a party that puts climate breakdown high up on its agenda is the only way of alleviating the ensuing refugee crisis, and the food, disease and housing catastrophes that will follow global heating, if it is not prevented. For this reason, OCS urge you to read the briefing on whichever parties you are considering, and choose wisely according to their solutions for the climate breakdown.
WHAT ARE THE PARTIES AND THEIR CANDIDATES PROMISING?
CONSERVATIVES & UNIONIST PARTY
What have the Conservatives promised in general / regarding Brexit?
Not a whole lot. Extremely frustratingly, not all parties have published a full manifesto: the Conservatives have only produced a leaflet. The absence of a manifesto could suggest an inability to agree upon a platform for an election that the majority of its members believe should not be held.
Rather than outlining a coherent plan for climate change mitigation or Brexit strategy, Theresa May has used the party’s official leaflet for the European elections to target those who voted down her Brexit agreement, directing recipients to a website exposing MPs who voted against her Brexit deal, including 34 Conservatives, telling readers to ‘tell your MP to back the deal’. Feels a bit like that snot-nosed kid whispering in your ear to ‘tell your Mum’ about a skipping-rope sharing grievance with Billy from Year 2, doesn’t it? Using a European election campaign to beg the public to resolve her own party’s infighting not only exposes a weak and ineffective leader, but also crucially reveals the party’s stark lack of initiative or imagination on the key issues this election raises.
The leaflet states the need to ‘get Brexit done’, and mostly consists of defensively justifying the Withdrawal Agreement, urging the electorate to tell their MPs to support it. It states that they heavily oppose any referendum ‘re-run’. Their current candidates for South East are by and large Brexit campaigners from 2016.
It is no wonder that even Michael Heseltine, a Conservative peer, has decided to vote elsewhere.
What have the Conservatives promised regarding climate change or environmental strategy in their leaflet, having just called a national climate emergency in parliament?
Nada. Zilch. Rien. NOTHING. Not even a nod. A mention. A holler. U still there, Conservatives? It’s me, Earth.
What have the top choices for the South East MEP Candidates for the Conservatives done or promised regarding climate change?
Daniel Hannan, the number one candidate for Conservatives in the South East region (i.e. the first person that will be elected if the Conservatives get enough votes for a seat), has said in a video on his own YouTube channel (entitled ‘Global warming: scientists are not always the right experts’ – wonderful), that the government should not bother spending money to try and prevent climate change. He is the founder of the Institute for Free Trade, which supports the idea that the best way to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change is to make everyone rich – an idea rejected by many economists.
Both Daniel Hannan and the second candidate, Nirj Deva, have spoken at events for the climate-science-denying US thinktank, the Heritage Foundation, ‘joining forces’ with climate science denying pressure groups such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). Deva used an official European Parliament trip to Barbados in 2009 to promote Symphony Environmental Technologies, a company from which he receives £43,000 a year for being its chairman. Though it is encouraging to see that he is on the board of a company which develops alternative oxo-biodegradable plastic, his political record doesn’t show much in the way of climate change interest, and his directorship of eight other of Sri Lanka's largest companies, show perhaps that it is more his entrepreneurial expertise, and large salary incentives, rather than climate change activism, that put him there.
What have the Conservatives in government recently done to execute strategies to mitigate climate change or respond to the climate emergency?
Last Wednesday, Michael Gove, our Secretary of State for Environment, when pressed on by Holyrood's environment committee to discuss the impact of Brexit and state when the UK government would respond to the CCC report, refused to commit to climate change guidance to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 – five years later than the deadline the Scottish Government has set. He shifted the responsibility onto his colleague Greg Clark's department (business, energy and industrial strategy), saying that ‘the official government response will come later and from Greg’. Thanks, Michael. Talk to you later when we’re all dying of a heatdeath.
When pushed for an answer on ruling out a third runway at Heathrow, which will enable Heathrow to add 260,000 flights a year to its current 480,000 capacity, Mr Gove said: ‘The proposal to develop a new runway has been carried forward by Heathrow and by the department of transport in a way that is sensitive to climate change and to air quality.’ This comes amid new findings that air pollution may be damaging every organ and virtually every cell in the human body, according to a comprehensive new global review. And the already widely-known fact that for every flight to New York, 1.2t of CO2 is emitted per passenger, which compares to an average British personal annual total of 7.1t (2013). 260,000 flights not very ‘sensitive to climate change’, if you ask me, Michael. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that the warming effect of aircraft emissions is about 1.9 times that of carbon dioxide alone, due to the other gases produced by planes (radiative forcing), such as water vapour at high levels which forms thin clouds that have a warming effect (we can see trails visibly blanketing the earth). Furthermore, the ability of the UK to meet the lower 2050 aviation emissions target to abide by the Paris Agreement, already requires other industries and sectors to reduce their emissions by 85%, which is “at the limit of what is feasible [for other sectors], with limited confidence about the scope for going beyond this”. Thanks, Michael.
The Conservatives banned onshore wind projects and scrapped warm homes standards in 2015, in 2016 scrapped subsidies for solar energy, in 2017 sold off the Green Investment Bank, and in 2018 forced fracking on local communities.
Michael Gove, their appointed environment secretary, has consistently voted for selling England’s state owned forests, generally voted against financial incentives for low carbon emission electricity generation methods, and generally voted against measures to prevent climate change. A round of applause for Michael!
So, um, just in case we’re not clear, can we trust the Conservative MEPs with the climate crisis?
No. Non. Nej. Nein.
Or with much else, if we’re going to go by their shockingly sparse election leaflet or look to the EU parliamentary statistics. As of December 2018, Daniel Hannan (their top MEP) ranks 738 out of 751 MEPs for his participation in roll call votes in the European Parliament. Too busy updating his YouTube channel with climate denial videos. Shame.
What are Labour promising?
Their 15-page manifesto, entitled ‘Transforming Britain and Europe: for the many not the few’, is a variant of the same slogan they ran the 2017 General election on. And overwhelmingly, they seem to be repeating themselves on many of their points and alluding more to a chance of winning a UK general election than seats in the EU parliament.
Labour’s main promises are:
Encouraging promises when put in bullet form, but the manifesto seems to read strangely. Instead of detailing Labour’s part to play in the EU parliament, most information included in the manifesto refer to under ‘the next UK Labour government’, and much wordcount is spent denouncing the inefficacy of the current UK Conservative government, making one feel that the Labour party are at best confused, at worst not really bothered, about their stake in Europe and these European elections. Indeed, the party’s machine is focusing instead on the Peterborough byelection on 6 June, with little leafletting and campaigning going into the European elections, and little support rallied for their candidates. Apart from Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry, no shadow cabinet members seem to be on the campaign trail – and even when they do appear, no press coverage has been arranged.
What are they saying about Brexit?
Sticking to its fudged position on Brexit despite demands (of party members, Labour MPs, and figures in the shadow cabinet) for an unconditional commitment to a confirmatory vote on any deal, mean it will be a hard won election fought on a Brexit position that satisfies no one, in the same way that Theresa May’s deal satisfies no one. Hardcore leavers will vote for the Brexit party. Remainers will vote for overtly remain parties.
What are they saying about the climate crisis?
Labour have promised to ‘fight to make sure the UK is a leader for action in Europe’, promising to ‘commit to ‘60% of the UK’s energy supply from renewable or low-carbon sources by 2030, and net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest’. These numbers fall short of what scientists have unanimously declared we need to alleviate the climate crisis, as upheld by the Green Party’s manifesto in their urgent call for carbon neutrality by 2030.
The Labour manifesto has promised to ‘support a clear commitment to the Paris climate agreement’ and also to ban fracking, a vital measure that otherwise will see our carbon output increase. Additionally, it vows to ‘introduce a new clean air act, creating a network of clean air zones’, a vague commitment but important acknowledgement of the air pollution emergency which WHO have declared an emergency, now it is said to be killing more people than tobacco does.
Despite perhaps being ‘on the fence’ with their Brexit stance, the manifesto importantly acknowledges that ‘The EU has the highest food and animal welfare standards in the world. Labour will continue to work with others to not just maintain these standards but improve on them where necessary – and we would never allow food or animal welfare standards be cut as part of any future trade arrangement.’
SO can we trust Labour with the climate crisis?
These are all great policies, but hypothetical ones under the embedded heading of ‘the next UK Labour government’. So, a vote for Labour MEPs will be a vote in line with climate solutions, unlike the Conservatives, UKIP or the Brexit party, but it will not commit them to the climate mitigation strategies detailed in their manifesto until the speculative notion of a Labour majority win at the next General election.
What have the top South East MEP Candidates for Labour done or promised regarding the climate crisis?
John Howarth, the number one Labour MEP candidate on the party list for this election, has written extensively supporting climate action and detailing his participation in climate measures within the EU Parliament. Cathy Shutt, the second candidate, is an academic for international development at Sussex University and has claimed to value ‘the UK's position in or in a close relationship with the EU as vital for addressing global challenges such as climate change’, but not much record exists of climate action. Other candidates do not return any searches related to the climate crisis.
What have UKIP promised?
Sadly not much better than the Conservatives on the old word count, the UKIP manifesto is two pages long. According to the first page of their manifesto, ‘A vote for UKIP is a vote against uncontrolled and unlimited immigration’. Yet their manifesto contains nothing about the climate emergency which, as we have covered in some detail, will be the greatest driver of migration from this point onwards. Not having quite enough space to spare a thought for the climate crisis, one of the five bullet points to outline UKIP’s standpoint on this election is graciously given to their stand ‘against political correctness’. At least when half the globe is unliveable, we can still use racial slurs! Phew! Thanks, UKIP!
Their Brexit strategy is laid out on page 2/2 of the manifesto, declaring ‘Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration’ as ‘a complete surrender’. They outline that a ‘patriotic Government’ would ‘reject Article 50’, ‘Repeal the European Communities Act (1972)’, ‘Offer the EU continued tariff-free trade’ and ‘reciprocal citizens’ rights for EU and UK citizens’, and ‘repeal or amend EU derived legislation in accordance with our priorities and timescale’. UKIP are positing at least more of a coherent idea of what they want from Brexit than the Conservatives, though that is easier to do as a fringe party who will not have to deliver on their demands, which seem a little quixotic in their ‘best of both worlds’ approach.
It is unlikely that Theresa May, an original Remainer, did not wish all these favourable terms to be included in the Brexit bill she reluctantly negotiated, but she learnt the hard way that we cannot demand this ‘best of both worlds’ from EU whilst withdrawing our membership. The EU will surely be least sympathetic to negotiation if we put a bunch of MEPs in European parliament from the party who formed and exist purely on anti-EU rhetoric.
What have the top South East MEP Candidates for UKIP done or promised regarding the climate crisis?
Nothing. But the party does have an extensive history of anti-environmentalism and climate denial under their former leader, Nigel Farage, which is detailed in the ‘Brexit Party’ briefing below.
Can we trust the UKIP MEPs with the climate crisis?
About as much as you can trust an anti-UKIPper wielding a strawberry milkshake.
And if you’re a woman, homosexual, person of colour, immigrant or other minority, you probably can’t trust them either. Carl Benjamin, Ukip’s chosen MEP candidate for the southwest – an anti-feminist YouTuber known as Sargon of Akkad, has recently made headlines by refusing to apologise for tweeting ‘I wouldn’t even rape you’ at the Labour MP Jess Phillips (even adding to his comment last month on YouTube: ‘I suppose with enough pressure I might cave, but let’s be honest nobody’s got that much beer’). He has also defended using the n-word, saying he finds “racist jokes funny”, and his videos contain other slurs (including “retard” and “faggot”). Lovely.
THE BREXIT PARTY
Nigel Farage is the founder and number one South East candidate for the new ‘Brexit Party’, a party he set up ahead of this European election, having stood down from his original party UKIP after the 2016 referendum, saying his ‘political ambition [had] been achieved.' Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Farage said his former party, UKIP, had allowed ‘the far right to join it and take it over and I'm afraid the brand is now tarnished,’ whilst claiming that there was ‘no difference’ in terms of policy between the two parties.
What has Nigel Farage said about the climate crisis?
Here are some of the highlights of *Big Nige on climate change*:
What are the other Brexit party MEP candidates saying?
Among the 70 candidates selected to stand was Annunziata Rees-Mogg, sister of the pro-Brexit, climate science denying Conservative MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg. The rest seem to be a sea of indistinguishable white faces infatuated with their cult leader, Nigel. Not much more to report here.
The Bottom Line
If you don’t want a global migrant crisis, don’t vote Brexit Party. If you don’t want food shortages, natural disasters and disease epidemics, don’t vote Brexit Party. A vote for the Brexit Party is a vote for climate breakdown. Nige will go down in blissful ignorance, but we hope you won’t too.
This will be the first electoral test for the breakaway group of anti-Brexit Labour and Conservative MPs, who clubbed together to form The Independent Group in February.
What have they promised?
In an eight-page Charter for Remain, Change set forth their campaign for a referendum to stop Brexit. The party says it will push for any Brexit deal negotiated by the government to be voted on at a referendum, or "People's Vote", in which it would campaign for the UK to remain in the EU. It says there is "no Brexit deal" possible which is better for the UK than remaining a member.
The party says it would vote to revoke Article 50 in the face of a no-deal exit, in order to "stop the clock and make time" for a referendum to take place. It has also pledged that its elected MEPs in the European Parliament would refuse to ratify any Brexit deal that had not been "approved" by the public.
What are they saying about the climate crisis?
Like Labour, they have acknowledged that we are in a climate emergency, and have promised an EU target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, a date that is maybe more ‘politically feasible’, but not enough to alleviate the major effects of the climate crisis. They want to work with industry to phase out non-essential single-use plastics by 2025; advocate higher standards for new-build, with all new stock built to carbon neutral standards by 2025, incorporating tough new regulations on energy and water efficiency. They also call for an increase in the areas designated for nature protection across the UK and EU – and commit to improving our natural environment and high-carbon natural habitats.
Can we trust them with the climate crisis?
More than others, yes. Though this is a party of several defectors from the Labour party with the single issue focus of remaining in the EU. With no electoral or parliamentary record to go by, we don’t know how much of this inchoate party’s climate promises are simply following the current Thunbergian zeitgeist in order to build support.
What are they standing for?
The core issue at the heart of the Lib Dem campaign and manifesto, like Change UK, is remaining in the EU. Their manifesto sets out a ‘vision for Britain [as] a country that has remained at the heart of a dynamic European Union’. Their first subsection is titled ‘European values are Liberal Democrat values’, and most of the ensuing policies and aims follow this idea, defining their campaign as the direct opposition to the Brexit Party. They are not entirely un-sceptical, however, and look towards EU reform, setting out a ‘want to see a greater degree of transparency of negotiations and voting within the European Council, and the Council of the EU’.
What are they saying about the climate crisis?
Their fifth subsection is ‘Working together to tackle the climate emergency’, wherein they detail a zero-carbon target by the year 2045, a whole 15 years after the Green target which has been corroborated by reports like the IPCC, and 5 years before Labour’s.
Many of their policies are very positive, with a plan for an EU-wide ban on fracking, development of carbon capture and storage for industrial processes, reforesting and infrastructure transitioning to climate efficient models.
Some ideas seem a bit half-baked, such as the claim for the need to ‘reduce the consumption of commodities associated with the destruction of global forests such as… soya’, without any nod to addressing the problem with the meat industry, which sees 90% of soya grown worldwide fed to livestock. In general, their climate strategy is positive and proactive, and in close tie with Labour’s MEPs as second to the Green party in specificity, rigour and expertise regarding climate breakdown solutions.
Can we trust the Lib Dems with the climate crisis?
Yes. The number one MEP choice for the South East, Catherine Bearder, has addressed climate justice at international meetings, though, along with the party line, she mainly focuses on Brexit-centric strategies with slogans like ‘Save our Environment from Brexit’. Their second candidate doesn’t return much for a search about the climate crisis, but their third, Judith Bunting, is a chemist who has been outspoken about the need to address the climate emergency. The Lib Dems’ targets are not quite as ambitious or rigorous as the Greens, though, and it is only the Greens that match the demands laid out by scientific reports like the IPCC in their policy strategy.
What are the Green party promising?
Unsurprisingly, the Green party are dedicated to fighting against climate change. They also emphasise remaining in the EU (their slogan is STOP BREXIT, FIGHT CLIMATE CHANGE), again not shockingly, considering the damage Brexit could cause on our environmental laws and policies (as discussed above).
The main point of their manifesto is that ‘There is a Climate Emergency and we must be Carbon Neutral by 2030’. They promise to help establish an EU-wide Green New Deal to accelerate the sustainability transition and create high-skilled jobs across communities, acknowledging that an ‘EU carbon budget and a carbon tax are needed to accelerate the climate transition.’ They detail phasing out all fossil fuels, removing tax advantages for the aviation industry and making subsidies to fossil fuels illegal. They promote energy efficiency and a move to 100% renewables. They also look to ending EU financing that impacts negatively on the environment or on wildlife (implicitly a nod to divestment from fossil fuels), expanding marine protected areas until they cover 20% of our seas, and banning non-recyclable plastics.
They also show a heavy commitment to social justice, detailing their past wins and future aims of fighting against tax evasion, developing a fair and practical ‘Citizen Basic Income’, and ensuring the Commission draws up a common framework of EU core standards for the protection of minorities. The manifesto promotes a commitment to the EU adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and ‘follow[ing] through with the processes to hold the Hungarian Government to account in the protection of ethnic minorities and other human right breaches.’ To name a few.
What are the South East MEP candidates for the Greens saying?
Alexandra Phillips is the first on the list (ironically, the Brexit Party second candidate for the South East has the same name; don’t confuse the two). She was Brighton’s youngest ever councillor at the age of 24 in 2009 for the Greens, and since then has worked for Caroline Lucas during her time as a MEP, attending the European Greens Congress in 2011 when the Paris Declaration was drawn up. Other candidates delineate similar commitment to social and climate justice as is outlined in the manifesto.
How are the Greens faring across Europe?
More than 30 national parties make up the European Green party, campaigning on a common core platform across national borders. Europe’s Greens are on course for their strongest showing to date in next week’s European elections – and could find themselves ‘kingmakers’ in a newly fragmented EU parliament. Support for Green parties, particularly in northern Europe, has surged as progressive voters are increasingly drawn to their pro-EU stance, humane approach to migration and clear positions on the climate crisis and sustainability. Last year, Green parties doubled their vote in Bavaria to become the conservative German state’s second party, won several Brussels districts in Belgian local elections with a 30% vote share, and boosted their tally of MPs in Luxembourg by 50%.
Can we trust the Greens with the climate crisis?
Um, can you trust Brian May with a baby hedgehog?
(Yes. Yes, you can.)
SO WHO SHOULD I VOTE FOR IN THE INTERESTS OF CLIMATE AND ENVIRONMENTALISM
We don’t want to tell you who to vote for. But we will say that the growth of the Conservative, UKIP or Brexit Party in this election will accelerate climate breakdown. Voting for any of the other minor candidates (such as The Socialist Party of Great Britain, UK European Union Party (UKEUP) or the independents) will do little to nothing to alleviate the climate crisis.
It is important to not treat this like a General election, where one is likely to vote for the party whose governments or domestic policies have served them best in the past. This election is more a strategic move in the national and international debate regarding Brexit, the rapidly growing far-right, and the climate crisis. It is thus vital to vote in consideration of parties’ attitudes, track record and manifesto promises in regard to these single issues, rather than their broader domestic policies or history.
A vote for Green, Labour, Change UK or Liberal Democrats will see a dynamic fight against the far right in Europe, and a fight against the forces exacerbating the climate crisis. Voting Labour or Change UK is a vote with a nod of respect to environmental issues, and is understandable if your loyalty lies overwhelmingly with them for other reasons. Liberal Democrats is a stronger vote for remaining in the EU and alleviating the climate crisis, with a promising headway in the polls and good middle ground support. But if the climate crisis is the primary influencer on where you are placing your vote, and you would like to see a growing movement of cross-continent consensus on solving the climate emergency and the spread of extremism and inequality, the Greens are the obvious choice.
Most of us are now aware of the impact of climate change on the environment, yet more of us need to acknowledge that its social impact is far from uniform across the globe. Climate change is a universal issue, yet a community or country’s vulnerability to it depends on their socio-economic situation. Existing global inequalities skew the impacts of climate change such that the poorest countries not only feel them sooner, but more dramatically. This injustice is only deepened by the fact the most vulnerable to climate change, are the ones least responsible for causing it.
This inescapable truth was the recurring theme of the panel discussion “Climate change and neo-colonialism” hosted by Oxford’s Common ground last Tuesday. The event brought together three speakers equally insistent that climate change can only be tackled fairly by acknowledging the legacy of global inequality left by colonialism. The three speakers started the event by introducing themselves and explaining their engagement with climate justice before responding to questions from the host and an audience that exceeded the capacity of the room!
Gabriella Rutherford works with Survival International, an organization aiming to bring the voices of tribal peoples to the forefront of climate change negotiations and policy making. She expressed her frustration that tribal peoples are on the margins of discussion about protecting the environment despite being “the first conservationists”. We should be following their example rather than continuing down the destructive path of over-consumption which Gabriella identified as the root cause of climate change and its consequences for indigenous peoples.
Harpreet Kaur Paul acquiesced on the problem of over-consumption as part of the greater capitalist and colonial system which underpins climate change. She represented the Wretched of the Earth Collective, which unites grassroots Indigenous, black, brown and diaspora groups acting in solidarity with oppressed communities in the Global South and Indigenous North. She gave a fascinating account of the People’s Climate March for Justice and Jobs which indigenous delegates were invited to join after the attacks in Paris meant they could not attend there. The front of the march was initially reserved for these delegates but at the last moment was given to a group dressed in animal headgear. As Harpreet Jaur Paul explained, this decision reflects how the global north conceives of climate change as impacting animals and plants in the short term and people in the long term. This self-centered perspective overlooks the fact that whilst climate change will only threaten the survival of the global north in the future, it is already threatening lives across the world in poorer countries. Denying indigenous delegates their rightful place at the front of the march was highlighted as a continuation of a history of colonial erasure of oppressed communities.
The last speaker, Chuks Okereke a professor at the University of the Reading and a visiting fellow at the Environmental Change Institute reiterated the need to frame climate change as an issue of justice rather than viewing it narrowly as a market problem or an issue to be resolved solely with technical solutions. In a clever play on the name of the event organisers, he stressed the need to consider the planet as “common ground” in order to combat climate change fairly. His interest in political philosophy was evident in his presentation of common ownership as the necessary alternative to a conception borrowed from Hobbes of the world as a resource which belongs to no-one and invites the strongest to claim possession of.
Unanimous in their agreement on the need to dismantle capitalist and colonialist systems to combat climate change, the three panelists discussed the question of how to bring this about as well as how to radically integrate the voices of the victims of these systems in climate action.
Chuks emphasised the need to challenge capitalist discourses on the level of intellectual argument. The three panelists opposed ‘sustainable development’ that does not do so as meaningless self-congratulation; climate change can’t be dealt with from within the existing capitalist system which must be confronted head on. As Harpreet Kaur Paul pointed out, economies are encouraged to grow 3% annually yet growth is incompatible with combating climate change. ‘Sustainable development’ only puts a plaster on an increasingly gaping wound. Dismantling an economic system that is so ubiquitous is of course easier said than done however. The need to enact change by re-calibrating our value system, by dissociating our notion of well-being from consumption and possession is frustratingly intangible. But politicians avoid radical change for fear it would be too unpopular for them to remain in power long enough to implement it.
Strike action is one tactic for change discussed during the event, with particular focus on extinction rebellion Whilst they praised the energy and momentum it is generating, they tempered their enthusiasm with a reminder of the need to consider the dimension of climate justice as well as the problems associated with the glorification of arrest as a political tactic given black and brown protesters have been disproportionately targeted by the police. On a more positive note, Harpreet Kaur Paul praised how organisers within extinction rebellion were very open to criticism and stressed the need to “promote each other’s spaces and tactics”.
For such a global and wide-reaching issue, a single tactic is perhaps not enough to enact the radical change required. She stressed the need for pluralism and the promotion of different theories of change and a diversity of approaches.
Alexandria Fletcher-Flynn Herr
Thousands of youth protestors in more than 60 different cities around the United Kingdom joined in on a ‘school strike’ against climate change on Friday, February 15th. In Oxford, a normally sleepy university town, a surging mass of schoolchildren and teenagers gathered in Bonn square. A young girl in a maroon crop top stood on top of a garbage can, leading the crowd in a chant: “Hey! Ho! Climate Change has got to go!” She was brandishing a cardboard sign overhead, which read in block capital letters: "I'm too young to watch porn, but I'm still seeing our planet get f*cked!" Other signs in the crowd added teen twists onto traditional eco-protest slogans: “If you can get teenagers out of bed you know there’s a problem,” read another.
Down under, Australia has been sweltering away in baking hot temperatures, with mean January temperatures of over 30°C making it the hottest month on record. On the other side of the planet, parts of the US are currently in the grip of a deep freeze as the polar vortex, a circulation of high-altitude Arctic winds, extended southwards, bringing temperatures of -30°C to Chicago. There has been much discussion in the media about whether climate change has a role in all this, with one of the most prominent sceptics, Donald Trump, in a recent tweet asking ‘What the hell is going on with Global Warming?’ A good question, so without further ado, here’s a handy explanation which (hopefully) will clarify how exactly climate change is involved in extreme weather across the planet.
The Oxford Climate Society was delighted to have Professor Kevin Anderson, current chair of energy and climate change at the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering (MACE) at the University of Manchester, speak on how we can deliver on the Paris Agreement’s 2°C target through cogency, tenacity and courage. The choice to pursue the 2°C instead of the 1.5°C target is may appear strange, given how the former has worse ecological consequences, but it sets the tone in how we need to focus on more achievable targets before pursuing more ambitious ones. In turn, this centers the discussion on how we need to question our existing assumptions (cogency), refocus our priorities (tenacity), and take a reality-check on our current progress (courage).
This interview was conducted by Oxford Sustainability with Oxford Climate Society.
So, who are you?
Anisha Faruk: Anisha Faruk, History, She/Her, Queen’s.
Ellie Milne-Brown: I’m Ellie, I use she/her pronouns, and I’m a third year English student at Exeter College. I’ve been on Exeter’s JCR committee for two years, until the end of 2018, first as Secretary and then as President.
Ivy Manning: My name’s Ivy (she/her), I study PPE at Wadham.
Do you consider yourself an environmentalist? Why?
Anisha: I’m an environmentalist because I am invested in the future of our planet. The welfare of our environment has a direct impact on socioeconomic inequality across the world. Fighting economic injustice is one of my key motivations and this cannot be done without also fighting for environmental causes.
Ellie: Absolutely. I think safeguarding the environment is vital to our continued existence as a species, and even if it weren’t, protecting the natural world around us is essential. I’m really passionate about engaging with environmental issues and making a difference in the world around us, and I think Oxford SU is an incredible tool to do just that. I keep talking about ensuring students thrive at Oxford and improving access beyond admissions – I don’t think there’s any access or any thriving without putting the environment first.
Ivy: Yes, 100%. The environment is so important. It’s one of the most politically neglected issues facing us as a society. I’m really lucky that my parents are committed environmentalists; it’s always been something on my agenda. My dad took me to see this documentary film the Age of Stupid when I was quite young: it’s about the last man alive in 2055, looking back and asking why we didn’t stop climate change when we had the chance. It terrified me but that’s useful, I think, to realise that the worst case scenario is really awful. We try not to let it scare us because in our minds it’s only affecting future generations, but that’s totally the wrong approach.
Alexandria Fletcher-Flynn Herr
The sentiment I often hear when I talk with friends about climate change is hopelessness. The recent news that CO2 emissions have hit an all-time high in 2018 and the bleak forecasts of the 1.5-degree report are enough to send anyone into despair. The problem is that hopelessness breeds passivity, which is the opposite of what’s needed in the face of climate change. Individual action can seem daunting in the face of such a mammoth problem, but it does matter, and it doesn’t require you to move off the grid onto a solar farm on the woods. Here are three new year’s resolutions everyone can make for 2019 to help stop climate change.
OCS Media and Research Team
The latest in climate science and policy from the OCS team.