It was hard to miss the British Pavilion at COP24 this year – but the truth of the ‘Green Is Great’ slogan was as shallow as the printers’ ink.
The Conference of the Parties 24 – or COP24, as the branding goes – opened with an emotion-grabbing call on world leaders by Sir David Attenborough.
But at the end of the first week, the mood of optimism went into a spasm when it was clear that the United States, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, would oppose accepting the recent report by the IPCC stating that the difference between a global average heating of 1.5°C and 2°C is the difference between two very different worlds that climate change will deliver.
Of course, whether we accept a report or not does not change its validity. In fact, in a UK Met Office presentation at the COP, Dr Richard Betts stated that currently, we are on track for around 3.3°C, a death knell for many of the world’s poorest people and a likely scenario of the collapse of the global economy, agriculture and general human well being.
Professor John Schellnhuber, a German climate scientist speaking at the same session as Betts, started his talk with the following: “If you thought this conference can deliver on [the less safe] 2°C then you have been fooled!”
All this brings us back to that tawdry slogan smeared like cream across the British Pavilion. Green may indeed be great but to imply in any way that we are honouring our Paris Agreement commitments is a barefaced lie.
This lie was made very explicit to me by British climate scientist, Professor Kevin Anderson.
He passed the stand and said: “Why don’t you go and ask them about the new Clair Ridge oil platform coming online, that the Energy and Clean Growth Minister, Claire Perry, has been celebrating?
“That is something like 50,000 tonnes of CO2 every single day from that one platform in the North Sea. They expect it to have 640 million barrels of recoverable oil for the duration of its life, equal to a quarter of a billion tonnes [of CO2 pollution].”
This is the same government that continues in its efforts to pursue shale gas from fracking, while at the same time refusing to back renewable energy projects such as the tidal energy project in Swansea and placing a moratorium on onshore wind power, despite record growth.
It is not only the low-carbon energy potential that they have thrown out of the window, but it is also the lead position we have held in these industries that attract investments, leading to more jobs and a brighter future.
In this context, it is hard to see how Green Is Great, or even the open bragging of The Climate Change Act can be more than barefaced lying, both to the British people and again here at COP to delegates looking for hope in a dark place.
Road to hell
The fossil fuel energy pathway this government is locking us into for decades to come will contribute significantly to shattering the myth that we will avert dangerous climate change.
Combined with all the lies of other developed nations, including those in Scandinavia, Germany, and Canada, not to mention China and India, our global emissions are set to keep rising and with it, the cost to all life on Earth.
This was expressed in the morning while talking to the scientist, Christoph Thiel from Greenpeace: “we don’t just have a climate change problem, we are also into the first human-caused mass extinction!”
People like me
People like me feel a sense of sadness and anger when Russia or the US deny obvious truths, especially on existential issues such as climate change. Yet, in reality, there is very little difference between what UK policy is doing underlying banners such as Green Is Great. The reason they can get away with it is because we all know they are doing it and choose to turn a blind eye in case it impacts our own way of life.
There is now clear evidence that the top 10 per cent of society’s highest emitters are responsible for 50 per cent of global emissions. Kevin Anderson raised this point numerous times over various presentations both in and out of the COP. Within this group emissions from flying drastically impact our individual carbon footprints and Anderson cites frequent flying as being emblematic of the kind of lifestyle that speaks much louder than rhetoric on climate action:
“The airports are full of frequent fliers, who are the wealthy people in our society. Emissions across the board are being driven by a relatively small cohort of very high emitters.
“At the global level, we know that 50% of emissions come from 10 per cent of the population and it looks like the UK is not dissimilar to that, nor is the US. In the US the top one per cent emit around 300-350 tonnes of CO2 pollution [per person] each year, and yet the average in the US is around 23 tonnes. In the EU, it’s nearer 13 tonnes. But I bet you there are a lot of poorer people in the EU who are running well below the average at about 4-8 tonnes!”
Axis of Evil?
All of this sheds light on why the UK, US, and pretty much all other governments in developed nations, ignore their Paris Agreement commitments and focus on the job of keeping us in the profligate and destructive lives that we have become accustomed too.
At an individual level, it is the choices that we make every day that collectively make up the staggering true cost of climate change. As Anderson puts it:
“Emissions relate very closely to income and that is because we use a lot more energy, but also then, above a certain threshold, it means we consume lots more goods. That stuff uses lots of energy; the raw material, the manufacturing of it, and then to import it.”
The consequences of every decision
Scientists have created a set of carbon budgets that tell us how much carbon we can emit depending on whether we are aiming to achieve a global warming of 1.5ºC, 2ºC, or anywhere over 3.3ºC. These budgets are very tight and, yet, this year global emissions rose 2.7 per cent – much larger than last years 1.6 per cent.
After 24 years of COP’s, to achieve an international agreement that no one is honouring, and the wealthy people, who have the power to change, are ignoring, is a disgrace. The decisions I make going forward, from flying to eating meat, or air-freighted avocados, they all consume another part of that carbon budget that is rightly the property of the poorer people in the global society, who have emitted virtually nothing but face the worst consequences.
In addition, careful consideration should be given to our children and grandchildren who will have to try and live in the environmental mess that we have created for them. It should not surprise anyone as to why they are taking to the streets and will continue to do so as the crisis worsens.
Anderson ends leaving this question hanging in the air: “What’s worse, Russia, America, and Saudi Arabia being honest about their rejection of the science, or us, lying about it so we can go on doing what we are doing?”