By Chidi Oti Obihara
Just last month my borough in London Docklands declared that it was calling a climate change emergency. It then emerged that on the 29th April 2019, the Welsh Government declared a climate change emergency. On the same day, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party (SNP), also called for a climate change emergency.
Since then, millions witnessed the Extinction Rebellion demos in London over Easter and on the 1st of May 2019. I was in Parliament Square when the UK Parliament passed an opposition early day motion calling for the declaration of a UK wide #ClimateChangeEmergency. A beautiful energy permeated proceedings when the Labour #GreenNewDeal contingent stood up and spoke in a way no other had spoken before them that night. Their focus… a Green New Deal is about both economic and environmental justice. The atmosphere was electric.
On the 10th of May 2019, the Irish Parliament declared a climate change emergency too. With that the phenomenon became international.
Amateur environmentalists, as well as the professionals, saw eye to eye for the first time in a long time. Green politics, it appears, has gone mainstream. Disappointment with a historically dismal awareness of the green movement in the UK for decades had evaporated in the 2 weeks prior.
Our unified train of thought had meant that London traffic and Docklands light railway, for example, had come to a halt. Metaphorical bridges were being built just as the five central London bridges had been blocked off. But the movement isn’t driven by these ironies.
This mass movement of ideas has been brought together by the need to do something. Anything… after numerous UN sponsored warnings of pending climate breakdown. But it is extinction rebellion, the group most believe planned and executed the most effective non-violent civil disobedience movement in modern UK history, that is to be praised.
XR, for short, defined its goals as three demands from government.
• Tell the truth Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
• Act Now Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
• Make a decision Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.
So far so good. But not all climate change emergencies are equal.
To comply with XR’s request the BBC can choose between the artistic spectacle and beauty of showing another David Attenborough documentary. “Blue Planet”, for example. Or it can show Franny Armstrong’s film, “Age of stupid”.
The first is entertaining, while the other shows a global ecological emergency in its full dystopian reality. But routinely the BBC still does not show you the correct context – Igbo people being harassed or killed by the Nigerian military in the oil rich Niger Delta – or other indigenous people across Brazil and South America being gunned down by wealthy industrialists, miners and farmers. Perhaps because that would be telling the whole truth against corporate wishes.
A global net zero by 2030 can be achieved by cutting the sources of carbon only. With a determined prohibition of all fossil fuel consumption, with the commensurate new renewable energy sources of wind and solar (whose prices have fallen massively).
Or it can be brought about by creating carbon sustainable sinks.
By stopping the massive deforestation of the planet and reversing it by planting billions of trees. Land is cheap… there are many deserts waiting to be reforested.
Of course, both fewer sources and more sinks are ideal. Making NET carbon zero by 2025 or 2030 more easily achievable.
If a WWII effort started and 10 or 20% of GDP is focused on this “Green New Deal”, with today’s technology, a massive extractive effort would follow. The Wind turbines, Photovoltaic cells and Solar panels crafted will need Lithium, Copper, Magnesium and Aluminium on a planetary scale.
However, in the London Independent newspaper of the 4th of May 2019, Asad Rehman, executive director of global justice charity, War on Want, wrote:
“The OECD’s Global Resources Outlook to 2060, modelled on an annual 2.8 per cent global growth in GDP, estimates that extracted resources would increase from 79 to 167 billion tonnes (per annum). This is a 111 per cent increase overall with a 150 per cent increase in metals and a 135 per cent increase in minerals. Resource extraction is responsible for 50 per cent of global emissions, with minerals and metal mining responsible for 20 per cent of emissions even before the manufacturing stage.”
With this and many other points, he highlights that without global co-operation we cannot make a global #climatechangeemergency sustainable, or even workable.
Another article by a wide group of environmentalists published on redpeppers.org.uk goes further. In an open letter to Extinction Rebellion, many grassroots organisations demand that we push to pass a Global Green New Deal.
“The fight for climate justice is the fight of our lives, and we need to do it right,” notes Wretched of The Earth, a grassroots collective for indigenous, black, brown and diaspora groups and individuals demanding climate justice and acting in solidarity with local communities, in the UK and in the Global South; along with many others including, Black Lives Matter UK, BP or not BP, Bolivian Platform on Climate Change, Bristol Rising Tide, Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), Coal Action Network, Concrete Action, Decolonising Environmentalism, Decolonising our Minds, Disabled People Against the Cuts, Earth in Brackets, Edge Fund, End Deportations, Ende Gelände, GAIA – Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Global Forest Coalition, Gentle Radical, Grow Heath, Hambach Forest occupation, Healing Justice London, War on Want, among many others.
A model International People’s Assembly or the real thing?
Effectively, alternative voices are saying that the real push must be to align the global economy better. Away from a polluter benefits principle that has delivered resource gains to the global north as the prize for hundreds of years of imperialism, at the expense of the global south; and towards a polluter pays principle.
Our atmosphere, for example, is a global common space. A full pollutions legacy audit is needed.
We need to be truly local AND global. Crucially, governments together can and should call for a global climate change emergency by aligning themselves to the sustainable development goals set out by the UN. And then, embark on a massive WWII style change of every country’s transport and energy infrastructure.
But in a coordinated way, helping change the world together.
For example, new transcontinental railways will not be possible if poor transit countries don’t have the resources to complete their bits. We need a different funding model to gain the massive positive externalities that it will bring us all.
Showing that unless cities, countries, regions and continents pull together we will not be able to achieve what the world can achieve with a determined unified push.
Because it’s the same planet that we share, we must hold hands, link arms, confer; but just work together to face this emergency as one, human race.
After decades of cuts, the UN is needed more than ever to help co-ordinate global efforts to maximise our response to an obviously global problem, not just its local symptoms.
Resource wars dominate arms sales now. But troublingly, many versions of the Green New Deal may make this worse.
One of the hidden political facts here is that Environmentalism is a middle class pursuit in the West. But in the global south, it is pursued by the poorest people – those who live off the land, with indigenous lifestyles, vilified by a post-colonial orthodoxy that is ironically worse than some accounts of colonial occupation. Hence our global climate change emergency has to be driven by environmentalists from the global north whose reigns on power are strong.
Simultaneously, it has to uphold the knowledge leadership of indigenous people everywhere – our true earth guardians.
In the next phase of global #ClimateChangeEmergencies, China, Russia, the US and Europe, all hoping to convert to green technology, will be competing for access to the sources of rare earths, primarily in Africa.
These individual efforts will invariably cause or increase conflict.
Hence, what we need is to call for a #GlobalGreenNewDeal and a #GlobalClimateChangeEmergency declaration to achieve it. Specifically, we from the global south demand ten policies.
1. Outlaw all government subsidies on all fossil fuel projects. The IMF, in a working paper titled, “Global Fossil Fuel Subsidies Remain Large: An Update Based on Country-Level Estimates”, estimates that over $4.7 – $5.2 trillion or over 6.3%-6.5% of global GDP are at the low range of figures. We must divert all these funds (ring fenced) to a global UN fund for the #GlobalClimateChangeEmergency.
2. Stop fossil fuel use. Stop all new exploration activity from 2020. Keep all new oil and gas in the ground. Close the article totally to fossil fuel exploration.
3. Ban deforestation and reverse it with a fully funded annual 1 Trillion fast growth tree planting programme by 2025. CNN estimates that there are currently 3 trillion trees on earth. Adding 25% to that number in 5 -10 years is achievable.
4. Implement a global 50% increase in #polluter pays taxation as a default in all taxes – Income tax, Value added tax and capital gains tax.
5. Global ban on use of Neonicotinoids and Glyphosate. Establish a noxious chemicals commission to review global pesticide use.
6. Give the International Criminal Court new powers to prosecute pollution and Ecocide as a crime committed by governments, companies and individuals alike, including their ministers, directors and shareholders/owners.
7. Build a dedicated global research fund and competition for the development of more efficient photovoltaic cells, next generation Graphene or other non-toxic battery technology to support global energy needs and to create new standards.
8. Implement a global ban on the mass manufacture and fabrication or ANY product that cannot be recycled or cannot decompose by a globally agreed standard time. Also create global standards for glass or plastic containers so that all new manufactures are more easily recyclable and reusable.
9. Expansion of the FairTrade franchise to include organic farmers and smallholder ore miners. We need to get fair employment and trade practices bedded in now. And stop the use of toxic chemicals and military coercion.
10. Establish a mandatory short (one week to one month) #NewEarthGuardians training programme to educate all presidents and prime ministers of UN member states.
With this Extinction rebellion needs to loudly acknowledge that we cannot fight for biodiversity or against ALL extinctions alone. One of our founding assumptions is that human inter-dependence on this planet is fixed and hence above politics. It can’t be ignored.
Similarly, the ecosphere is linked. If we cause insect extinction, birds may eventually follow. Crops without pollinators will fail, so more fauna follows. And humans may follow too.
If Vanuatu disappears, as sea level rises engulf it, many European, African and American coastal cities will drown too.
We cannot argue loudly about the xxx tonnes of carbon pumped into the atmosphere by cars in Western Europe, and then ignore the over one billion cubic metres of methane flared off by Anglo-Dutch oil giant, Shell and other oil majors in the Niger Delta of Nigeria, with a carbon footprint just as big.
Let’s make this rebellion against all extinctions, not just one. The #GlobalClimateChangeEmergency is the most important next step for this movement.
And Extinction rebellion cannot be about one country. XR is global.
Chidi Oti Obihara is a London based former banker and former finance co-ordinator of
Green Party of England and Wales.