Event summary by Shobhan Dhir
Covid-19 has sparked the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression, and has dramatically altered our way of life for the foreseeable future. Given the pressure governments are under to keep people safe and recover the economy, what will be the implications of this crisis on climate policy going forward? How will future climate negotiations be impacted? And what are the most effective climate policies which are viable in this new political climate, and could any actually facilitate economic recovery?
Professor Jim Skea is the Co-chair of Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), leading their work on climate change mitigation. The IPCC is the world's highest authority on climate change science - advising governments on all scientific information related to climate change, its impacts, and its mitigation so they can develop effective climate policy. Jim Skea is also Professor of Sustainable Energy at Imperial College London's Centre for Environmental Policy, and he was a founding member of the UK's Committee on Climate Change.
Kevin Anderson is Professor of Energy and Climate Change, holding a joint chair at Manchester and Uppsala University. He was also the director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. He has contributed to the development of Paris-compliant carbon budgets for Sweden, and his analysis contributed to the framing of the UK’s Climate Change Act and the development of national carbon budgets.
Jim opened by saying how most of us are interested in how Covid will affect the climate agenda, but that policymakers are interested in the reverse – how will climate action support a response to Covid-19, especially the economic recovery as we come out of lockdown? He explains that policymakers are looking for three key things from actions in a recovery:
Jim then explained that there are a host of climate actions which fit these criteria, such as retrofitting homes to be more energy efficient, tree planting and restoration, and rearranging urban landscapes to encourage more active travel, such as cycling. However, he noted that many of the worst hit sectors are the most carbon-intensive, such as airlines and car manufacturers, and that these industries will also be queuing at the doors of government to make their case for support. Therefore, cases for a green recovery need to be made very effectively. He identified five key priorities:
Kevin’s presentation focused on how Covid-19 demonstrates the inequalities which exist in our society, and the ways the system ought to change in the aftermath, where recovery from Covid-19 should be seen as an opportunity for change. He drew on the ideas of Robert Tressel, understanding key workers as the ‘Ragged Philanthropists’ of the modern day. Originally these ‘ragged philanthropists’ referred to those whose toil, struggles, and often mortal sacrifices working in the factories, built the modern world. Now, Kevin argued that the term could be used to speak about today’s Covid-19 key workers who give up their time, health and often their life, to save the high emitters of today.
One of the most stark facts from Kevin’s presentation was that 50% of all CO2 emissions are caused by the richest 10% of the world’s population. If regulations forced the top 10% of global emitters to reduce their carbon footprint to that of the average EU citizen (hardly too onerous a demand) - and the other 90% of the population made no change, we would reduce global emissions by a third. The pledges submitted under the Paris agreement are projected to result in almost no emissions reduction by 2030, demonstrating how resistant our societies are to changing the lifestyle of the high emitters and how committed to maintaining the status quo. Kevin said this needs to change: labour and resources spent furnishing the lifestyle of the high emitters must be used elsewhere, and these high consumers must change their lifestyles. Kevin concluded by saying we need new narratives on:
The feasibility and risk of carbon capture and storage (CCS) being used by policymakers as an excuse to avoid early action was addressed, with Jim explaining we need to throw everything at the problem. He said he doesn’t see how we can get to Net Zero without removing something from the atmosphere, as some sources of emissions are very difficult to eliminate. Kevin, however, warned of the significantly higher lifecycle emissions from CCS at power stations, with these being many times higher than that of renewables or nuclear, demonstrating that this technology is still far too high in emissions to be compliant with the Paris Agreement. However, for cement, CCS could be very effective. He said direct capture is preferable, but that CCS is a long way off. He also said we should address mitigation policies on the assumption that CCS won’t work, due the high uncertainty involved with the technology at large scale, and the number of feedbacks in the climate system. He also identified the fact that every pound spent on CCS is an opportunity cost elsewhere.
On the topic of stimulus policies, both agreed regulations are very effective and should be pushed. Jim provided the example policy of ‘no gas going into homes after 2023/24’, a tool that can really shift the system to electrify. He also added that with oil prices so low, it is a great time to add a carbon price without consumer resistance. Kevin had a much greater preference for regulation rather than prices, because prices don’t give as definite an outcome. He spoke of setting maximum CO2 emissions limits for fossil fuel companies and car manufacturers, which are reduced each year, letting the companies identify the best way to achieve this. Both agreed that all policies need to be screened for social equity.
On the question of what people can do whilst waiting for leaders to act, Jim said flying less and eating less meat are the two biggest things we can do to reduce our carbon footprint. Kevin said we should not wait for leadership, but must see ourselves as part of the process of leadership. We should all take an active role discussing with friends, families, and colleagues; and engaging at the local and national level or on social media, adding our ideas and thoughts to the debate. He added that the leadership of the last 30 years has collectively failed, as we have not succeeded in mitigating climate change, and are not on track, so we need input and leadership from young people on how to make change.
On how to impact high consumers without affecting ‘Tressel’s workers’, Kevin said frequent flier levies with geometric pricing would work, producing a situation where ticket prices rapidly increase with the number of tickets purchased. Also, standards such as limitations on the size of homes could work. Jim said we need to be careful about unintended consequences, for example people with multiple passports taking advantage of flying levies. Finally both emphasised the critical importance of taking a risk-based approach in assessing climate change solutions and policies, rather than a cost-benefit analysis, which fails for large scale issues with complex variables. Jim said the IPCC have been firm that cost-benefit analyses does not help with climate change policy.
To hear a more in depth exploration of the impacts of Covid-19 on Climate Policy and for many more fascinating discussions and questions, head to our YouTube channel for the event video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGxOxiCFJ3A&t=4926s
By Olivia Oldham
The Agriculture Bill
Earlier this month, the UK’s new Agriculture Bill, an important piece of legislation that sets out post-Brexit law for the food system, passed its 3rd reading in the House of Commons. Unfortunately, despite advocacy from sustainable farming organisations such as the Landworkers’ Alliance and the Soil Association, an amendment requiring imported food to meet the same standards as British producers was dropped.
So what does this mean? For British farmers, it means they will be more easily undercut by imported products, which have not had to adhere to the same standards of production, and which will therefore be less expensive. For those who want to farm in ways that exceed the minimum legal requirements--who want to actively contribute to the regeneration of the land and the wellbeing of animals and consumers, this effect will be even more stark.
The Bill, if passed, will also likely contribute to nutritional inequality amongst eaters here in the UK. As mentioned in a previous blog, a 2019 Parliamentary Select Committee report found that between 1.97 and 3 million people in the UK are undernourished. Unsurprisingly, poverty is described as a major cause of malnutrition and food insecurity. What is not mentioned by the report, though, is the relationship between race and socioeconomic deprivation--according to government statistics, Black people and Asian people are the most likely to live in the most socioeconomically deprived areas of the country, while White people are the least likely to do so. In the United States, the situation of food injustice is so severe that it is referred to as ‘food apartheid’.
In this context, it is predominantly wealthy and, correlatedly, white, people who are able to afford to support farmers and producers trying to do the right thing by nature and by their workers, and whose produce is often more expensive due to the increased costs of producing food this way. With the passage of the Bill, these producers may be forced to put their prices up to survive, thanks to competition from lower quality exports. The result? Fewer and fewer people will be able to afford to buy food produced in this way, and more and more eaters will be driven to consume cheaper, lower quality imports in a vicious cycle which segregates society into two nutritional classes: those fortunate few able to buy sourdough from their local bakery and fresh vegetables from their farmers market, and everyone else.
Thirdly, for non-British farmers, this Bill effectively signals the outsourcing of ecological destruction. It allows Britain to stand up on the international stage and announce its adherence to the strong environmental and welfare standards in farming, while at the same time permitting and encouraging damaging and harmful practices to continue abroad. In this way, the UK benefits from improved soil quality and higher animal welfare at home, while continuing to allow and perpetuate their degradation abroad.
The Wuhan wild animal ban
Meanwhile, soon after the third reading of the Agriculture Bill, the local administration in Wuhan announced a ban on eating and hunting wild animals within its sphere of influence. Breeders of wild animals are being offered a pay-out as an incentive to cease their activities. But while this ban recognises and attempts to address the likely direct source of the virus (that is, a wild animal such as a bat or pangolin sold at a wet market), it completely fails to address the more remote factors that led to the growth of wild animal farming in the first place. According to Spinney, the increase in industrial food production in China in the 1990s as part of the country’s rapid transition to a market economy pushed small-scale farmers out, both economically and geographically. For many, the alternative that enabled them to survive was to begin farming wild animals. Their farms were located closer and closer to forested areas inhabited by bats, increasing the likelihood that viruses might be transmitted from these wild populations to the newly farmed ‘wild’ animals.
There are those who contest that the virus even originated at the infamous wet market, including the authors of a paper published in Nature Medicine in March. They claim it is possible that the virus evolved in an animal host living in circumstances of high population density, such as pangolins or civets, but also sheep, goats and pigs, among others. Hubei Province is one of the five largest producers of pigs in China; and as described above, small scale farms have been replaced in recent years by large-scale industrial operations containing thousands of genetically uniform pigs, confined in high-density, enclosed environments--perfect conditions for the rapid mutation and evolution of a zoonotic virus (that is, that jumps from a non-human to a human) such as Covid-19.
What this means is that it is possible that the source of Covid is not the much-vilified wet markets or the survival strategies of smallholders, but rather the expansion of industrial agriculture. And this expansion has been driven not only by internal changes to the Chinese economy, but by foreign investment; for example, after the great recession in the late 2000s, Goldman Sachs invested heavily in Chinese poultry farms.
What does any of this have to do with the UK’s failure to maintain high import standards in its Agriculture Bill? In a nutshell, they are two examples of how the global North is trying to have its cake and eat it too when it comes to the environmental and welfare standards of agriculture. Increasingly, Western consumers push for regulatory protections of the environment in agriculture, such as through laws enshrining high welfare standards for livestock, or promoting on-farm biodiversity through measures such as the banning of glyphosate (the main chemical in the common herbicide Round-Up). But at the same time, we fail to address and indeed encourage the perpetuation of these self-same problems in the majority world through measures such as uneven import standards (as in the Agriculture Bill) or investment (as with the investment in Chinese pig farms), or both. The end result is both domestic and global food and environmental inequality and injustice.
What, then, shall we do?
Alternatives do exist, though. The UK Agriculture Bill still needs to go through the House of Lords before it can become law. There is still the chance, then, to achieve a positive end-result. This is critically important: we need, where we are able, to engage as food citizens--that is, as people who have the interdependent power to shape and participate in the food system as more than just passive consumers in a “linear supply chain”.
Beyond lobbying Parliament, those of us who are fortunate enough to have the means can also support local producers who are trying to make food in ways that are good for the environment, socially just and nutritionally sound. Numerous initiatives have sprung up in response to Covid-19 and the weaknesses it has exposed in the industrial food model and the supermarket supply chains that support it. For example, Farms to Feed Us is a project that has created a database of regenerative producers who have started (and many who already were) selling food directly to their communities during this crisis. Where we can, we should support these initiatives and the farmers and producers they are lifting up; and we should do this not only now, but we should keep doing it once the moment of crisis has passed.
Thinking more broadly, we can also stand in solidarity with food sovereignty movements around the world. La Via Campesina, for example, is an international organisation fighting for the rights of people across the globe to produce their own food in an environmentally sustainable and culturally appropriate way. It fights giant industrial agriculture projects like those which likely contributed to the Covid-19 outbreak, and which are creating misery for people and animals around the world. The Landworkers Alliance are members of LVC in the UK--supporting their work is incredibly important, now more than ever.
Food is political, and to pretend that it isn’t directly contributes to the injustice of the status quo. To this end, if we care about a fair and regenerative food system, we need to accept that it’s about more than only food: it’s about social justice more broadly. Only when all people live with dignity--and this includes being able to afford good, nutritious food for their families--can we consider the goal of fixing the food system to have been achieved.
Event summary by Celine Barclay
“The least responsible are disproportionately affected by climate change”. It’s taken a while, but the phrase is finally taking a hold in our consciousness and our conversations. Fittingly, OCS’s flagship event tackled the issue of climate justice with two truly inspiring speakers; Mary Robinson and Dr Vandana Shiva. They illuminated the various forms of injustice that have made the climate crisis a legacy of colonial and patriarchal structures. Crucially, the two speakers highlighted the need for a paradigmatic shift in our conception of “development” in order to confront the climate crisis fairly and effectively.
The first speaker, Mary Robinson, served as the first female president of Ireland. She went on to become the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, before setting up her own foundation ‘Climate Justice’ and publishing a book of the same name.
Dr Vandana Shiva is a leading human rights activist who founded Navdanya International (an organisation helping farmers protect seeds from the genetic patents of large corporations) and is the leader of the International Forum on Globalisation. She has authored over 20 books in which she defends traditional practices, helping to shift our idea of development in favour of acknowledging the value of small-scale farmers.
Mary Robinson took a structured approach by identifying 5 layers of climate injustice:
1) Responsibility: the first layer related to the phrase at the beginning of this post, that climate change disproportionately affects those least responsible for creating the problem, such as indigenous people and the inhabitants of small island states;
2) Gender: women are particularly vulnerable to climate change because of their different social roles, and because they often don’t have access to land rights or insurance. As with all intersecting levels of inequality, women in poorer countries are doubly vulnerable where these factors are concerned;
3) Intergenerational injustice: the injustice that future generations will suffer the consequences of inaction by the generation currently in leadership positions;
4) Pathways to development: industrialised countries historically built their wealth on fossil fuels. Poorer nations are currently attempting to follow the same path of development while also under pressure to transition to renewable energy. Richer countries have failed to provide the financial support for such a transition, leaving industrialising countries caught between fighting poverty on a national scale and fighting climate change on a global scale;
5) Nature: As a firm advocate for the nature-based approach, Mary signalled the injustice against nature that climate change has wrought, threatening as it does the survival of millions of species. It is interesting to note that she personified nature as a female, not only emphasising that the earth is living, as Dr Vadana would do, but also identifying the injustice to the earth in association with the gender dimension she mentioned above. She stressed the need to conserve at least 30% of land and oceans under the Convention on Biodiversity.
Mary then gave her assessment of the current state of global action on climate change. She managed to find hope in response to the current Covid-19 crisis, which she credits with teaching us various lessons that can be carried forward in our future approach. Compliance with the lock-down has shown us the collective power of simultaneous changes in our behaviour. Just as we have stayed at home to protect the most vulnerable to the virus, we must shift our behaviour to protect those most vulnerable to climate change. It has also demonstrated the importance of good government, science and compassion.
Mary finished by expressing hope that we will take the opportunity to create a new beginning. Covid-19 has taught us to learn what we can do without and to make radical changes to our lifestyle, two lessons that are essential if we are to throw away our ‘throw away culture’ and embrace nature-based solutions.
Yes, this will require large scale investment, borrowing from future generations, but only in order to safeguard their future. So Mary is less worried now than she was at the beginning of the year: “Covid has broken the system that wasn’t working anyway”.
The unanimity between the two speakers was clear the moment Dr Vadana took her turn to speak. Chuckling warmly, she noted that she had also identified 5 layers of injustice:
1) Picking up where Mary left off, she raised the injustice against nature as part of a history of colonialism and exploitation. The glorification of conquest in colonial times is a model for our relationship with the earth as dead matter to be possessed and exploited. She passionately insisted that we must revoke this mentality and recognise not only that the earth is alive, but that it regulates its own systems.
Her speech was incredibly powerful, drawing an analogy between the fossil age and the fossilisation of our minds and hearts that has resulted from extracting fossil fuels. Dr Vadana sees a comparison between mechanisation and industrialisation and the development of a mechanical mind, closed off to human empathy and capable of wreaking such destruction on human communities. Yet we have erroneously believed developing the technologies for extraction demonstrated our intellectual superiority;
2) This led Dr Vandana to speak of the injustice against those who lead ecological ways of living. Vandana grew up in India and related how India was called barbaric in colonial times within a discourse of ‘development that propped up the colonial regime. In the 80s she observed that behind every ecological disaster there seemed to be a loan from the World Bank financing some project in the name of “development”’. When she investigated the loans, she found that ‘under-development’ meant not using plastic or pesticides, and adhering to the hydrological cycle. But it is the promotion of these rationalised “developed” techniques of agriculture which have caused the ecological destruction we see today;
3) This damaging approach to agriculture is itself linked to a third layer of injustice: that the most vulnerable are disproportionately affected. Vandana said drought “is the single biggest crisis” and a result of a false definition of development that, for instance, promotes the use of fertilisers and neglects to replenish organic matter in the soil;
4) Her fourth injustice was the injustice of false solutions. She denounced the ‘voluntary’ approach to emissions reduction commitments characteristic of the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement.
She identified 3 unjust false solutions: geo-engineering, genetic engineering, and the “disease” of offsetting. Geo-engineering falls short because it fails to take into account how the earth functions as a system. Genetic engineering fails to recognise that resilient traits are in the plants and not in the gene that is extracted.
Vandana then railed against offsetting which she compared to the Roman Catholic sales of indulgences. Like unrepentant sinners who bribe the church to keep on sinning, rich countries can continue emitting by “offsetting”, a solution that in no way tackles the root of the problem. In fact, after the Kyoto protocol, emissions increased by 15% and the economic inequality between countries increased.
Vandana concluded by emphasising that the injustices framing the climate crisis can only be resolved by removing the colonisation paradigm and the concomitant definitions of “productivity” “efficiency” and “development”. Her research shows that when we work with nature and biodiversity, we can produce more food by healing broken carbon and nitrogen cycles. Doing so will end the injustice of labelling ecological ways of living as primitive and be part of a shift from an economy that measures GDP to one that measures happiness. Returning to the repeated theme of earth and life cycles, Vandana identified this as a “shift from the circulation of money to circulation of life.”
This was truly a highlight of the term card; it was inspiring to hear from such passionate and experienced speakers. Their long history of collaboration was testament to the central theme of the discussion: the intersectionality of the injustices within the climate crisis which must be addressed.
OCS Media Team
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