By Bridget Stuart
It is a fact that we need to limit the increase in global temperatures to below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels as soon as possible, but certainly before 2050. When I say ‘we’, I mean the governments of the world, and in particular the governments of wealthy countries in the Global North, who have particular responsibility for both causing the problem, and therefore for solving it. Unfortunately, it is already too late to prevent dangerous climate change, and it is unlikely the 1.5 degrees target will be achieved. Therefore, the more pertinent question asked by the climate scientist Kevin Anderson is how long we have between dangerous climate change and extremely dangerous climate change .
COVID-19 has created a mean 7% decline in CO2 emissions, as well as a decline in other toxic air pollutants from the transport and industrial sectors . Unfortunately, it appears that this decline will only be temporary, and that emissions will rebound as the economy does. For example, China’s emissions have already rebounded past their 2019 levels . However, this need not be the case if countries work to ‘build back better’ and create a just transition to a low-carbon, green economy.
This is where the ‘green recovery’ comes in. In their recovery packages responding to the pandemic-induced economic crisis, many governments have included ‘green recovery’ measures. Such measures include investments, grants and loans for projects directed at improving green transport, clean energy, the circular economy, and research & development. Other initiatives focus on creating green jobs, and the conservation of ecosystems. The OECD estimates the overall funds directed towards 'green recovery' programmes currently total USD312 billion, with the focus being predominantly directed towards the energy and transport sectors. For example, Boris Johnson has promised a £12billion government investment, with a potential private sector of three times that amount, projected to create 250,000 green jobs .
However, the announced green recovery packages remain insufficient. It has been estimated that an investment of USD6.3 trillion will be needed annually until 2030, a figure far beyond what has currently been promised . This, coupled with widespread lack of ambition in implementation and the active rolling back of existing environmental regulations to bolster the failing fossil-fuel industry in some countries, the outlook is far from promising. Therefore, it is important that countries’ progress is monitored to ensure accountability and that they actually implement the pledges they have made.
It is important that countries who are able to do so set strong examples and show a concerted effort to tackle climate change. The USA re-joining the Paris Agreement under the Biden administration and its renewed presence at COP26 next year could be a real symbol of change. If the USA invest enough money in R&D innovation projects, this could herald a new suite of green technology advances.
To leverage real sustained green change in the long-term, we need to invest in a workable Green New Deal (GND) within G20 economies. As individuals, we must be sure to use our electoral power to vote in the governments and policies which have a sincere focus on a GND. Fortunately, Biden’s election in the US does shine out as a beacon of hope in this respect.
It is also important to highlight that the green recovery will look very different depending on the country. For countries in the Global South, the focus will be primarily on alleviating poverty and suffering through sustainable methods. However, international economic assistance may be necessary for green initiatives to be feasible. In light of the inequality of historical emissions’ and colonial legacies, international acts of climate justice must be woven into the cloth of the green recovery. For example, Biden’s proposed ‘Green Marshall Plan’ or the UK’s £64 million package to support Colombia to combat deforestation and build back a cleaner economy in the wake of the pandemic, could be good places to start.
Overall, we need to speed-up a rapid, yet just transition to a low-emissions, green economy. COVID-19 has been and continues to be a great threat to humankind and has required unprecedented collective action to fight it. Miraculously, through a period of extreme suffering, it seems as if the world may have overcome it. However, climate change represents a threat on an incomparable order of magnitude. It is here, and we can no longer discount or ignore it. In this immediate post-COVID era, there is a unique opportunity not just for a recovery but for a transformation towards a green, inclusive and socially just future.
Event summary by Nayah Thu
Dr. Ellen Quigley and Dr. Jonathan Porritt spoke at this week’s discussion about divestment.
As effective legislation often comes from a place of moral indignation, Dr. Quigley asserted that we need to stigmatise the fossil-fuel industry in order to make abstract climate-change dangers seem more concrete. She mentioned the symbolic effects of divestment, which popularises ideas about fossil-fuel free societies.
Divestment must apply to all asset classes, and Dr. Quigley criticised the Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) initiative, for misleading people with “ethical” funds. Selling stocks in the secondary market has no substantial effect on firms’ capital costs or actions, as their operations are mostly financed by debt. A very small minority of banks finance most fossil-fuel production, with Barclays Bank being the worst offender in Europe. To be effective, ESG would need to expand beyond public equity and into venture capital, private equity, and bonds. Otherwise, one is effectively “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic”.
Drawing a parallel with the anti-apartheid movement, Dr. Quigley confirmed that we need a broad mix of techniques to enact change, including civil society pressure and shareholder aggression.
Dr. Porritt seconded this, calling universities’ failure to act on the existential risk of climate change “one of the most disgraceful failings of moral leadership I have ever seen”. He challenged the hypocrisy of commitments with no time constraints, and advocated leading by example.
Porritt introduced the “inevitable policy response initiative”, which posits that politicians will eventually be forced to go into “climate emergency mode”, facing an increasingly binary choice between crashing the economy and ending life on earth – neither of which they want. He emphasised the importance of short-term plans: actions by 2025 are needed to reach 2050 goals. Both agreed that insurance markets are instrumental in achieving divestment, by increasingly pricing assets as 'too risky'.
How does the global pandemic affect the case for divestment?
How best can we accelerate political change to build the legislation needed?
To hear more of this fascinating conversation, please head to the OCS YouTube channel, where you can watch the recording in full.
Event summary by Bridget Stuart
A week before the US 2020 Presidential Election, we heard from three inspiring experts from within the field of Climate Policy: Maggie Thomas, Julian Brave NoiseCat, and Kate Guy.
Julian Brave NoiseCat, VP of Policy and Strategy at Data for Progress, drew a clear distinction between the two candidates. Donald Trump, who thinks climate change is ‘a hoax’, has repealed Obama administration climate policies and condemned the US to exiting the Paris Agreement on November 4th (the day after the election). Joe Biden, however, was the first Senator to introduce legislation on the greenhouse effect, has committed to 100% clean and carbon pollution free electricity by 2035, pledged to invest $2 trillion in a clean energy economy transition, and specified that 40% of this fund ($800 million) will go directly to the frontline communities being most affected.
While, overall, climate is not a top priority issue for voters, it is high up on people’s agendas. This counts against Trump, with all voters trusting Biden significantly more on matters of climate – meaning climate could not only mobilise Biden's base, but could help him to pick up swing voters, younger voters and voters of Latino ethnicity.
Maggie Thomas, former Climate Policy Advisor to Senator Elizabeth Warren and Policy Director at Evergreen Action, spoke about her experience working on Governor Jay Inslee’s campaign, which was unique for its strong focus and large team working on climate policy. This campaign, while failing, did bring climate to the fore of other candidates agendas. She said that the 2020 election is a climate election, with the Biden campaign setting out to win the election on climate issues. She also spoke of the crucial importance of federal government climate policy in addressing clean energy, green investments and environmental justice.
Kate Guy, Senior Fellow at the Centre for Climate and Security, focused on topics of international action and national security. In this regard, Trump has teamed up with other so-called ‘climate arsonists’, to use Biden's words, to impede global action on climate change, and has turned his back on climate alliances. Biden’s approach is the opposite: he has pledged to re-join the Paris agreement on day 1, hold a summit of the biggest emitters as soon as possible, and use US power to push other countries into further action.
Further points made during questions & discussion:
· Climate action by the President alone could create real on-the-ground changes.
· Climate policy needs to be popular, maximise job creation on a short time scale, maximise emissions reductions, maximise environmental justice.
· China’s ambitious climate policy may represent its goal to become a global leader on climate action, ahead of the US. This could act to encourage the US to double-down on actions in a ‘race-to-the-top’ on climate.
· Wall Street must be held accountable for its contribution to climate breakdown and be regulated.
OCS Media Team
The latest in climate science and policy from the OCS team.