Cop-Out at COP27: Still No Agreement to Even Reduce the Use of Fossil Fuels, As the 1.5°C Target for Global Temperature Rise Fades Away


A protest by Ocean Rebellion outside the headquarters of the International Maritime Organisation in London on November 21, 2022 (Photo: Guy Reece).

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It’s been a while since I last wrote about the most pressing crisis that any of us have faced in our lifetimes — the ever-increasing fossil fuel emissions that threaten the very viability of life on this extraordinary planet, where, uniquely in the universe, as far as we know, the chemical balance of the atmosphere has allowed an extraordinary abundance of life, including our own, to blossom over tens of millions of years (or, in our case, the last 300,000 years).

In summer, as, for two days, the UK baked in the hottest temperatures ever recorded, I wrote two articles, Our Climate Crisis Paralysis: How, in the Face of Unprecedented Signs of Climate Collapse, We’re Still Being Failed by Politicians, the Media and Ourselves, and “Human Kind Cannot Bear Very Much Reality”, Doing Nothing While the World Burns and Extinction Looms, in which I added my voice to the many other concerned global citizens trying to wake people up to the unique gravity of the crisis we face, whereby the emissions caused through our profligate use of fossil fuels are already beginning to turn the earth from a generally bountiful garden into somewhere inhospitable.

This year really ought to have been a wake-up call — not just because of 40 degree heat in the UK, but also because of similar record-breaking temperatures around the world, leading to rivers drying up, wildfires on an unprecedented scale, and widespread drought, which has involved vast areas of agricultural land being rendered useless.

Along with the heat, other places have suffered from extreme rainfall, also caused by climate change, as in Pakistan, where a third of the country was inundated, a situation made worse by melting glaciers in the Himalayas, which, added to unprecedented ice loss at the poles, suggests that we should expect sea levels to start rising, threatening the homes of hundreds of millions of people — if not billions — around the world. Flooding also wipes out crops, of course, and, between the heat and the floods, 2023 looks likely to be the first year in our lifetimes that food shortages will become widespread globally.

Given the scale with which catastrophic climate change is impacting on the viability of a functioning atmosphere — even quicker than many experts expected — there ought to have been a commensurate response from politicians and businesses (and particularly the fossil fuel industry), but, as was revealed at the latest global climate summit (COP27, held in Egypt, which ran from November 6 to 18), vested interests (the fossil fuel companies) and the general paralysis or indifference of politicians meant that, for the 27th time, since the first COP was held in 1995, “no mention of phasing out fossil fuels” was made, and even the bold target agreed at COP21 in Paris in 2015 — “to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels” — was barely mentioned, as Laurence Tubiana, one of the architects of the Paris agreement, who is now the chief executive of the European Climate Foundation, explained.

People on the dried-out riverbed of the Yangtze River in China (Photo: Ren Yong / SOPA Images / Getty).

So what do we do now? 30 years since 154 countries signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the Rio Earth Summit in June 1992, promising “to achieve stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”, the best efforts of the the UN, and of climate scientists and activists, have failed to implement the changes necessary to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a safe level.

This year’s climate disasters have occurred at just 1.15°C above pre-industrial levels (as part of an alarming trend whereby the last eight years have been the hottest ever recorded), and yet the Paris agreement’s 1.5°C target now looks completely unattainable, as does the higher target of 2°C. Without immediate and drastic action to reduce emissions, as experts warned last month, the plans submitted by governments after the COP26 summit in Glasgow last year will “lead to a temperature rise of between 2.1°C and 2.9°C, with the best estimate about 2.5°C.”

These figures may appear abstract, but what they mean should be obvious. 2022, at 1.15°C above pre-industrial levels, has been a disastrous year in terms of catastrophic climate change, and it should now be obvious that, when the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned in 2018 that we had only 12 years left to keep the global temperature rise to a maximum of 1.5°C, to avoid catastrophic environmental breakdown, their alarm bells — which helped to raise climate change as the most important issue facing all of us — may well have underestimated how much time we have left to act.

Perhaps the timescale of all this is beyond most people’s comprehension, as it involves projections based on an increase in temperature to the end of this century, when most of us will be dead — and particularly those making the crucial decisions. However, no one should be distracted from focusing on the immediate requirement for action to prevent even these hideously damaging temperature rises from being exceeded. As last month’s reporting from the UN made clear, greenhouse gas emissions are still increasing, with current projections showing an increase of about 10.6% by 2030 compared with 2010 levels, whereas what is required, for the 1.5°C target to remain even vaguely viable, is for emissions to fall by 45% by 2030 compared with 2010 levels.

With the failures of the COP summits — of our political leaders and of the fossil fuel companies, and their backers and bankers — laid bare, the question that everyone awake to the severity of the climate crisis needs to face right now, and every day from now on, is how we can use the next few years to do what our leaders and the vested interests they represent won’t do: increase awareness of the unprecedented existential threat we face, and, one way or another, dismantle the capitalist system that continues to prioritise its short-term profits over the very viability of life on earth.

One route to achieve change, as it always has been, is protest, as was made clear in 2018 and 2019, when Extinction Rebellion’s occupations of central London and Greta Thunberg’s School Strike for Climate helped the climate crisis to rise up the political agenda.

Widespread actions over the last two months

Over the last few months, numerous activists — all prepared to be arrested for their actions — have undertaken actions in the UK, across Europe and elsewhere aimed at raising awareness of the climate crisis, in the absence of the required action by our leaders, the fossil fuel industry and their backers. All have involved individuals driven to do so by their own passion, or anger, as they struggle, on a daily basis, to understand how so many other people are doing nothing, despite a widespread recognition of the scale of the crisis.

The most high-profile actions have involved protests involving celebrated artworks — most notably, on October 14, when two activists with the direct action protest group Just Stop Oil, Phoebe Plummer and Anna Holland, threw the contents of a can of Heinz Tomato Soup on Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Fifteen Sunflowers’ in the National Gallery in London (the painting, it should be noted, was unharmed). Their actions followed a succession of activists glueing themselves to artworks in the UK, Italy, Germany and Australia, as Artnet reported, and the Van Gogh protest was followed by similar protests in Germany, Italy and Austria, while further glueing incidents took place in the Netherlands and Spain, and a hybrid paint/glueing protest took place in Canada.

Just Stop Oil’s Phoebe Plummer and Anna Holland, photographed just after they threw the contents of a can of Heinz Tomato Soup on Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Fifteen Sunflowers’ in the National Gallery in London on October 14, 2022. The painting was unharmed.

These protests certainly achieved their aim of securing prominent mainstream media coverage, although not everyone shared Artnet’s conclusion that “[s]taging a spectacle before a famous artwork won’t reanimate wiped out animal species or force water levels to recede, but it might shake audiences free from our status quo.” Outraged commentators took to social media and the mainstream media to condemn the activists, even though none of the artworks were actually harmed, and all of these apoplectic commentators seemed to forget just quite how tame these interventions are compared to the violence undertaken by, for example, the Suffragettes over a hundred years ago.

Outside of the world of art, Just Stop Oil protestors stopped traffic for several weeks — first in central London, where scenes were regularly filmed of irate drivers dragging them off the road and stopping just short of assault — each action only serving to confirm that, when it comes to the use of polluting vehicles, drivers’ sense of entitlement seemingly knows no bounds.

On October 17, two protestors climbed up the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge and blocked the Dartford Crossing on the M25 for two days, and just two weeks ago protestors climbed gantries on the M25, bringing London’s orbital motorway to a halt yet again, bringing their protests to a halt on Remembrance Day, to allow Rishi Sunak “to honour all those who served and loved their country” by ensuring a “liveable future.”

Morgan Trowland, a bridge design engineer, and one of the two men who climbed the Dartford bridge, said of his action, “As a professional civil engineer, each year as I renew my registration I commit to acting within our code of ethics, which requires me to safeguard human life and welfare and the environment. Our government has enacted suicidal laws to accelerate oil production, killing human life and destroying our environment. I can’t challenge this madness in my desk job, designing bridges, so I’m taking direct action, occupying the QEII bridge until the government stops all new oil.”

There were also numerous actions in other countries. Two weeks ago, protests against private jets — highlighting the extraordinary emissions produced by the very wealthy — took place at 17 different locations worldwide, coordinated by Scientist Rebellion, a powerful XR offshoot involving scientists who have recognised that taking direct action is the only way to get their voices heard after decades of inaction. At Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, over a hundred activists cycled around the runways, evading police, before staging a sit-in to prevent planes from flying, while in the US, at Charlotte Douglas International Airport’s private jet terminal, four protestors, including two climate scientists, were arrested after chaining themselves to the airport’s entrance.

One was NASA scientist Peter Kalmus, who studies biodiversity and ecological forecasting, and who tweets incessantly about the climate crisis, eloquently urging people to put aside their ignorance, or their apathy, or their denial, and recognise the scale of the problem. He was previously arrested in April “after he and other protesters chained themselves to the door of a JP Morgan Chase bank building in Los Angeles”, as a US radio station’s website explained.

As Kalmus said, That action went pretty viral, and I think raised a lot of awareness about how JPMorgan Chase is the institution on our planet that does the most to fund new fossil fuel projects.” As the radio station’s article noted, however, “Kalmus has not faced any repercussions from his job as a government scientist, but he also worries about it. When doing interviews like this he’s careful to say that he’s speaking only for himself. But he still worries.”

As Kalmus said, “The first action on April 6, I thought there was a very, very good chance I’d get fired. It just feels very weird that I have to do this, that it’s gotten to this point. But I do feel a responsibility to do all I can to raise awareness. I feel desperate. I feel like doing this for the planet, and for my kids and for young people is, frankly, more important than being safe in my career. So I do everything I can not to jeopardize my job. But sometimes there’s, you know, basically a higher calling.”

In Germany, meanwhile, other Scientist Rebellion protestors — “mathematicians, physicists, environmental scientists, computer scientists, biotechnology experts and engineers in environmental protection and telecommunications”, according to a press release — targeted the luxury car showroom of BMW’s headquarters in Munich, where they delivered a powerful message as they glued themselves to the floor and threw paint over vehicles.

Those bankrolling fossil fuel companies have also come under fire, with the New York headquarters of BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset manager, targeted in September and October by coalitions of numerous climate activist groups, and members of Debt for Climate and Scientist Rebellion occupying BlackRock’s Munich offices on October 25. In a press release, the organisations stated that “they forced their way into the building and 12 scientists and scientists glued themselves to the ground in its interior”, while “two other people used artificial oil to represent the deadly consequences of fossil fuel investments for the Global South.” As they also stated, “Larry Flint, the CEO of BlackRock, is one of the men who bear the greatest responsibility for the climate and environmental catastrophe that is threatening the whole of humanity. BlackRock is the world’s largest fund manager and no state can control it.”

I highlighted the responsibility of a number of banks and other financial institutions in funding fossil fuel companies in an article in September 2021, Photos and Report: Extinction Rebellion’s Two Weeks of Timely and Urgent Actions Calling on Banks to End All Fossil Fuel Investments Now, following a fortnight of actions targeting the City of London, and it remains hugely important that the homicidal role of these many banks and other organisations continues to be highlighted.

November 21: London activists stage a massive day of action in response to COP27’s failures

On November 21, marking the failure of COP27 to achieve anything other than a vague promise by rich nations to help the poorer nations suffering the worst effects of climate change through no fault of their own, Extinction Rebellion and number of aligned groups targeted the London headquarters of a number of major polluters and their facilitators, including JP Morgan, “the world’s biggest fossil fuel financiers”, where “Doctors for XR glued themselves to the windows [and] pasted images to the front facade of the building depicting scenes of climate breakdown both here in the UK and overseas”, BP, where “XR South East used fire extinguishers to spray fake oil” on the British-based fossil fuel company’s headquarters, and Schlumberger, described as “a secretive & evil corporation busy extracting every last drop of oil from over 120 countries.”

Other headquarters targeted were those of INEOS, where “Plastics Rebellion sprayed fake oil outside the offices of one of the world’s largest petrochemical producers and a significant player in the oil and gas market”, Hill+Knowlton Strategies, where “XR Cymru splattered fake oil over the offices of [the] public relations consultancy”, which “has worked for fossil fuel companies ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron and Saudi Aramco”, and Eversheds Sutherland, where “HS2 Rebellion sprayed the offices of [the] multinational law firm with fake oil, and where XR noted that, “As solicitors for HS2 and Esso, Eversheds Sutherland have been forerunners in criminalising nonviolent environmental protest through the use of injunctions.”

Other protests took place at the headquarters of the International Maritime Organisation, where Ocean Rebellion held performances illustrating “the UN shipping body’s refusal to regulate shipping emissions”, at the offices of BAE Systems, who “supply weaponry to conflicts which increase the vulnerability of people living on the front lines of climate change”, and at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, where “XR South West sprayed fake oil to protest against its plans to issue more than 100 new licences for exploration and extraction of oil and gas in the North Sea.”

The author Toby Litt with a flare outside the offices of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) in London, where XR Writers Rebel spilled fake oil on the doorstep of the fake ‘think-tank’, which is actually a lobbying group for climate change deniers and other unsavoury but undisclosed organisations.

XR Writers Rebel also targeted the Institute of Economic Affairs, close to Westminster, which is connected to the Tufton Street lobbying groups, disguised as ‘think-tanks’ and allowed to function as charities, who pump out a ‘far-right libertarian’ agenda, and have massively infiltrated Parliament and the mainstream media, despite refusing to reveal who funds them. As XR noted, the IEA, like its Tufton Street neighbours, “has received money from fossil fuel companies, regularly publishes materials questioning the consensus on climate science and has huge influence on politicians.”

The author Natasha Walter, who took part in the protest, which involved reading from the works of William Blake and pouring fake oil on the IEA’s doorstep, wrote a Twitter thread here about why she and other writers took part, and another author, Toby LItt, also posted a thread that began, “Just after 11am yesterday I was arrested for the first time in my life”, and asked, “If you were to transport William Blake or any writer from the past to today’s world — show them the state of the place, explain the economics — wouldn’t they be filled with terror, grief and questions. How did it get this bad? What were people doing?”

All of the above (which is only a partial list of the actions that have been taking place over the last two months) not only shows massive commitment on the part of numerous individuals, who have been driven to risk arrest (or even to guarantee it), just so that they can been seen to make a stand, and hopefully to amplify the message that we are running out of time; it also clearly demonstrates quite how many legitimate targets there are, from massive banks and investment companies, to the fossil fuel companies themselves, and all the many organisations, including government departments, that facilitate and support them.

Increasing authoritarianism

However, a worrying trend is developing when it comes to the response of governments to these actions. In Germany, as the World Socialist Web Site reported last week, activists are being imprisoned under the Police Powers Act, passed in 2018 despite massive protests against it, which “gives the police the right to take people into preventive custody whom they suspect of committing or intending to continue committing ‘an administrative offence of considerable significance to the general public.’”

In the UK, too, repressive anti-protest measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, passed in April this year despite massive protests, and dreamt up by Boris Johnson’s bigoted, racist and troublingly authoritarian home secretary Priti Patel, are also causing problems. During the M25 protests, Hertfordshire Police arrested four journalists, including LBC’s Charlotte Hall, although the force has now conducted a review, and has recognised, as Chief Constable Charlie Hall explained today, that the arrests “were not justified.”

However, on October 21, the Metropolitan Police also appeared to cross a line, arresting protestors who were not actively taking part in the actions against polluters, but were, instead, either holding banners or handing out leaflets.

Perhaps most worryingly — and largely unmentioned in the mainstream media — the Metropolitan Police and other forces “launched a major pre-emptive operation” on November 6 “to arrest those suspected of planning to take part in Just Stop Oil demonstrations” on the M25 in the following week. One of those arrested — out of eight in total, “charged with conspiracy to cause a public nuisance after planning to cause disruption on the M25”, as ITV News explained — was XR co-founder Roger Hallam, who was taken to court with two others on November 8. As ITV News reported, “The judge sent their cases to Crown Court and all three will be remanded in custody” until their court date, in December, adding, impassively, “If convicted in the crown court, they face a maximum penalty of five years in prison.”

It remains to be seen whether these arrests will also be regarded as disproportionate, but it’s a worrying sign of “mission creep”, justified by Patel’s vile legislation, and matters will only get worse if her successor, the equally vile Suella Braverman, succeeds in getting Parliament to pass the Public Order Bill, under whose provisions, as George Monbiot explained in an article last month, “anyone who has protested in the previous five years, or has encouraged other people to protest, can be forced to ‘submit to … being fitted with, or the installation of, any necessary apparatus’ to monitor their movements.” As Monbiot added, “In other words, if you attend or support any protest in which ‘serious disruption to two or more individuals or to an organisation’ occurs, you can be forced to wear an electronic tag.” For clarification, he added that “‘serious disruption’ was redefined by the 2022 Police Act to include noise.”

As it is, those who have been arrested for protesting are already facing punitive measures. Although the courts are, admirably, still refusing for the most part to imprison those trying to keep the earth habitable, and, in recent polling, 66% of people supported taking non-violent direct action on the climate crisis, many of those arrested are being held in remand for at least six months before trial dates are set, and, with similar responses reported in other countries, it is obviously of concern that some of these protestors may lose their jobs as a result.

Velvet revolution

Obviously, nothing is going to stop committed protestors from getting arrested, but it does seem that what we actually need is a mass movement of dissent, out on the streets, that is too big to be arrested — a velvet revolution, of the kind that toppled the Communist government in Czechoslovakia in 1989.

In 2003, a velvet revolution would have been possible in the UK, if the two million people who turned up in central London to protest against the imminent, UK-backed, illegal US-led invasion of Iraq had not all gone home again at the end of the day. Instead, Tony Blair swatted aside the biggest protest in British history as though it was nothing but an annoying fly.

For many people, this quashed their belief in protest, but for others — myself included — the failure of the biggest protest ever to effect change only demonstrated that what was needed instead was occupation rather than turning up and going home again. This fed into the global Occupy movement in 2011, although that, arguably, eventually collapsed under the weight of occupying public spaces without a further aim, as well as intractable problems involving dealing with people who were homeless, who had mental health issues, and/or who had issues of substance dependency, which organisers weren’t qualified to deal with.

Extinction Rebellion are clearly hoping to foment a velvet revolution on April 21 next year, when they hope to get 100,000 people to surround the Houses of Parliament to effect change. As they explain on their website, “There is a threshold of numbers, human energy, above which people power cannot be stopped. Gathering peacefully in such large numbers at the nation’s seat of power will create a positive, irreversible, societal tipping point.”

Are they right? I don’t know, but it certainly seems possible. The problem, of course, is actually getting 100,000 people to commit to turn up. If you care, please sign up, and please also organise with others to actually turn up, and not go shopping instead, or watch the football.

Brave leader

The only other option for the change we need would seem to be for one brave leader of a major economy to break ranks with their fossil fuel masters, and to take a stand, as I explained in a recent exchange on Twitter with Bill McGuire, the author of Hothouse Earth. “What we should be seeing”, I wrote, “is at least one major country prepared to say to their citizens that we need to cut all emissions by 6 to 7% a year from now on, to undertake a massive public education programme, and to implement new laws, but no one’s prepared to make the move.” I added, Just one leader needs to say, “Many of you, who are in denial, are going to hate me for this, and you’re going to say that you won’t vote for me again in 4/5 years’ time, but by then I’ll have been proved right.”

As that seems unlikely, however, and as I really don’t want to slip into a dystopian future in a state of amnesia, I recommend the velvet revolution route as our best hope, because, after all, “we” outnumber “them” so massively that it’s no wonder that “they” — those with the power and the money and the suicidal disregard for the future — devote so much effort to keeping us disempowered, through the tried and tested route of “bread and circuses”, the threat of violence, and the establishment of imaginary enemies (the EU, immigrants, protestors) to keep us distracted.

Let’s prove them wrong, shall we?

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer (of an ongoing photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London’), film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.50).

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the struggle for housing justice — and against environmental destruction — continues.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

23 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, a detailed report about the failures of the COP27 climate summit, the implausibility of keeping the global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the widespread actions by protestors over the last two months, and the need for a velvet revolution to bring about the change we need, in the face of paralysis from our leaders.

    It’s the first article I’ve written for many months about the catastrophic climate crisis that is already underway, but it’s something I think about every single day. I’m full of admiration for those risking – or even guaranteeing – arrest to highlight our leaders’ inaction, and the ongoing crimes of the fossil fuel companies and others implicated in maintaining the deadly status quo of late capitalism, but it seems to me that we really do need to start working on mobilising as many people as possible to gather together in our capital cities to demand change – and to refuse to leave until our demands for urgent action to curb emissions are met.

    Extinction Rebellion is already working to get 100,000 people to come to Parliament Square on April 21. Will you sign up and agree to come, and get others to agree to come, and mobilise support from as many other groups as possible? What other option do we have?

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Tamzin Jans wrote:

    😔 I felt it was a charade as they sent financial advisors and specialists there. Charles III should have been allowed to go there and Greta Thunberg should have been part of the conference, but she knew, wisely, that no proper decision except to hand out money, would be reached against pollution.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Hence my reasons for thinking that we need to mobilise as many people as possible for April 21, Tamzin. Our leaders have failed, again and again, and their failure persists even as the crisis grows ever more alarming. I hope to get people to sign up, to get them to get others to sign up, to get people to promise to actually turn up, and to get as many other groups as possible involved. The biggest protest since the Iraq War – with people promising not to go home at the end of the day – would be very powerful.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    And the protests continue. From XR: “At 8am on Friday November 25th, a group of scientists pasted posters on the windows of the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) to highlight the state of nature in the UK and the failure of the government to protect it. The scientists who took part in the action and risked arrest included leading experts in ecology and conservation science who have previously worked for or advised Defra.”

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    The COP27 climate summit is over, but the equally important biodiversity summit, COP15, begins in Montreal on December 7. Shamefully, however, although the UN Convention on Biological Diversity was agreed at the Rio Summit in 1992 (when the climate change convention was also first agreed), “Governments have never met any of the targets they have set in the history of the UN convention on biological diversity”, despite its critical importance to life on earth.

    As the Guardian explains, “Biodiversity … is the variety of life on Earth, from the tiniest bacteria to the largest mammals. The air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat all rely on it; without plants there would be no oxygen and without bees to pollinate there would be no fruit or nuts … Biodiversity is also the foundation of the global economy. More than half of global GDP – equal to $41.7tn (£34.6tn) – is dependent on the healthy functioning of the natural world, according to estimates by the insurance group Swiss Re.”

    However, “Earth is experiencing the largest loss of life since the dinosaurs, and humans are to blame. The way we mine, pollute, hunt, farm, build and travel is putting at least one million species at risk of extinction, according to scientists. The sixth mass extinction in geological history has already begun, some scientists assert, with billions of individual populations being lost … Unlike changes to the climate, which could be reversible even if it takes thousands of years, extinctions are permanent. Those extinctions have huge knock-on effects. Species need to be working together in harmony to thrive and in turn to provide the essential services humans need to survive. For example, 95% of the food we eat is produced in the soil. Yet up to 40% of the world’s land is severely degraded by unsustainable agricultural practices, according to the UN.”

    In addition, “We are seeing huge declines in wildlife across the board. According to scientists, insect numbers are plummeting, with some saying we are living through an “insect apocalypse”; more than 500 species of land animals are on the brink of extinction and likely to be lost within 20 years; one in five reptiles are facing extinction; one in eight bird species are threatened; and 40% of the world’s plant species are at risk.”

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    In the run-up to the COP15 biodiversity summit, here’s Phoebe Weston in the Guardian with a powerful history of humanity’s long war on the crucial biodiversity of life on earth:

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    The beloved conservationist Chris Packham is urging Rushi Sunak to attend COP15, which most world leaders, Sunak included, can’t even be bothered with. Packham told the Guardian, “Sunak ought to be looking further into the future, to protect the planet, not for himself, but for his great-grandchildren, if he’s in that way motivated, because environmental care isn’t about the next five minutes, it’s about the next 500 years. And that’s what none of these numpties can grasp, or want to grasp. Because all they can see is short-termism, which is about making short-term fixes so that they can get another short term of power, if they can possibly get their grubby hands on it.”

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    In the meantime, as a reminder of when the UK had Prime Ministers who were actually intelligent, Gordon Brown, who is now the World Health Organisation’s ambassador for global health financing, sets out how COP27’s only breakthrough – the establishment of global loss and damage fund, which is a recognition by the world’s richer countries that they must “right historical wrongs by compensating climate-hit developing countries” – can actually deliver on its promises.

    As Gordon Brown suggests, “About $2tn (£1.75tn) will be needed each year by 2030 to help developing countries cut their greenhouse gas emissions. This could be paid for, if necessary, by raising global taxes like the airline levies pioneered by France and the UK. As the pathbreaking Bridgetown declaration, inspired by the prime minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, recommends, $100bn of special drawing rights (the international money issued by the IMF) should immediately be redistributed from rich to poor countries, with half going to finance green projects. President Macron’s June summit on climate finance should cancel the unpayable debt of low-income countries in return for those countries taking action on the climate. For those who can pay, debt repayments should be varied in the event of climate disasters.”

    The former PM also highlights the importance of mobilising private finance to help. He follows up on “a seminal 2015 report from the IMF and the development banks”, which proposed that governments”should put in place the right incentives to encourage private finance to invest in climate breakdown and development. Indeed, the SDGs’ [sustainable development goals] funding needs could be met if we mobilised just 1% each year of the $400tn financial assets held by banks, institutional investors and fund managers.”

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    As for the public response, I’m absolutely serious about the need for everyone concerned with the climate crisis to support Extinction Rebellion’s efforts to mobilise 100,000 people to turn up in Parliament Square on Friday April 21 to demand the change we need: the swift dismantling of everything that constitutes “business as usual”, and that continues to hurl us, ever faster, towards an unlivable planet – and to refuse to go home again until that change begins. Our politicians have failed us, so we must act instead. As XR explain, “Gathering peacefully in such large numbers at the nation’s seat of power will create a positive, irreversible, societal tipping point.”

    Please sign up here, and please persuade your friends and family to sign up to, and to commit to attending, even if – or perhaps especially if – they have never engaged in protest before:

    I understand that not everyone likes XR, but we can no longer afford to be divided when we should be united. Unions need to support this. Conservation charities need to support this. Every organisation that isn’t intimately tied in to the exploitation of the planet for profit needs to support this. All Green Party members need to be there, but so too do supporters of any of the other main political parties who recognise that the climate crisis is the most important existential crisis that any of us have ever faced, and that, without dismantling the current capitalist system, we face an inhospitable world within our lifetimes – death on a colossal scale, an unprecedented refugee crisis, food shortages, water shortages. We can’t wish it away. We – humans – have created this disaster, over the last 70 years in particular, and we can’t run away from it, or hide from it. Money won’t save us, and hiding from it only means that, the next time we pay attention, the crisis will be even worse.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Tamzin Jans wrote:

    😔 We don’t have leaders. We have global corporatists (as Jean Ziegler pointed out years ago) and all they think about is how rich they can get.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, when it comes to preserving the capitalist status quo, Tamzin, our elected leaders are definitely in thrall to the vested interests that are hell-bent on propelling us as fast as possible down the road to oblivion.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Tamzin Jans wrote:

    Andy, it’s always the argument of profits over people and planet.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Which is what’s so infuriating, Tamzin. Did you watch the BBC’s three-part documentary series ‘Big Oil vs. the World’?

    It made the case very well, I thought, for how the oil company executives who, since the ’80s, knew about climate change and their huge role in creating it (because they’d commissioned research that proved it), but then buried that information and began a sustained campaign of misinformation, ought to be held accountable for what are crimes against humanity.

    If only the late Polly Higgins had succeeded in her efforts to get ecocide declared a crime ….

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Tamzin Jans wrote:

    Thank you for your optimism and your energy and your desire to make this planet a better place.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    We have to have hope, Tamzin; otherwise, we face an even bleaker future, I think. I’m already fearful that nihilism is taking root amongst people who see the peril we’re in, but see no solution. I suppose what I’m trying to commit to right now is getting as many people as possible who recognise the crisis to act on it, and not to brush it aside, or to think that they don’t count and that there’s nothing they can really do.

    I looked up “Hope dies last”, and found a great quote from the great American historian of the people, Studs Terkel, from 2004. “Hope has never trickled down. It has always sprung up. That’s what Jessie de la Cruz [a retired farm worker, who was recounting the days before farm workers formed a union] meant when she said, ‘I feel there’s gonna be a change, but we’re the ones gonna do it, not the government. With us, there’s a saying, “La esperanza muere ultima. Hope dies last.” You can’t lose hope. If you lose hope, you lose everything.'”

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Tamzin Jans wrote, in response to 13, above:

    Andy, I don’t think I did watch this. I must admit I’m rather miffed with BBC reportage these days as I see so much bias about things I do know. I wonder what else they are wrong about?

    Here’s the thing, however: my husband did work for an oil company so I do know that there are ecologists and environmentalists who work for these companies. Oil production and exploitation has greatly changed since the beginning and it is much more safety and planet oriented than ever before. This said, they do indeed, stop any other research into other forms of energies.

    Also, we still need fossil fuels for many other things than just transport. Even if we set up solar panels and windmills, they have to be produced and workers have to get to the spot. Installing and getting these to work needs some petrol. Our roads are petrol based. All our synthetics are petrol based. The medical world, the dentistry world need petrol. Our homes are painted with petrol based products as the previous ones were toxic.

    Though I agree that we need to limit the use of fossil fuels, there will not be a moment where we shall get rid of the use entirely.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    I can wholeheartedly recommend ‘Big Oil vs. the World’, Tamzin. It’s the kind of project I’ve been waiting a long time for the BBC to do.

    As for continued fossil fuel use, the key target that everyone needs to be focused on is cutting emissions globally by 45%, from 2010 levels, by 2030, but that’s simply not happening. As the IPCC stated in 2018, “limiting global warming to 1.5°C … require[s] rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems … These systems transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale, but not necessarily in terms of speed, and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant upscaling of investments in those options.”

    The task, then, is for campaigners to keep pushing the message that we need cuts in emissions, globally, to happen at around 7% a year every year for the rest of the decade. If we were to take this seriously, governments around the world would tell their citizens what our current emission are based on, and we could have urgent national conversations about which sectors would be best targeted – insulating homes would be high on the list, I’d suggest, as would an urgent shift to renewable energy, while the impact of other sectors may be open to discussion – how much, for example, does the construction industry need to be curtailed, or private car use, or flights? We need to demand that these conversations get started, because, as it currently stands, next to nothing is happening and emissions are still rising. If just one major country took the lead on this, the example could be used to put pressure on other countries to follow suit.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Ed Calipel wrote:

    Tamzin, please explain how petrol-based coatings for buildings are less toxic than, for example, limewash – and how effectively preventing a building from breathing could be conceived as being of benefit. I remind you that the Grenfell panels were oil-derived …

    Also, why champion the use of synthetics at all? While some natural fibres consume large volumes of water, others don’t and wool, for example, has (without wishing to open the animal exploitation can of worms) many superior qualities compared to synthetics; but of course it comes down to cost as it has been drummed into people that cheap (disposable) is best. Decades ago items were made to last – now they generally aren’t, even such simple things as a pair of socks (I have pairs of socks that are decades old yet when I purchase new socks now they literally last two or three wears). How exactly is petrol essential to dentistry?

    Quite simply, the modern world’s addiction to plastics and other oil derivatives is largely due to the undeniable fact that these by-products were foisted on the world by fossil fuel exploiters.

    It’s absurd to suggest fossil fuel companies are now “more safety and planet” oriented; perhaps that’s why vast tracts of land continue to be effectively destroyed by fracking and Big Oil planned to effectively destroy the undersea environment of Africa and Australia most recently.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    I have to agree, Ed, that “the modern world’s addiction to plastics and other oil derivatives is largely due to the undeniable fact that these by-products were foisted on the world by fossil fuel exploiters.” From the time of my childhood 50 years ago to now, the changes in almost every walk of life are astonishing – and astonishingly troubling: the rise of synthetics in clothing, the use of plastic packaging everywhere, and insane amounts of transportation, to name just three aspects of our fossil fuel addiction.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Tamzin Jans wrote:

    Andy, I understand and support your battle, but it is not going to be a winning battle on all fronts, given that there is a real addiction to products from petrol. There are still no choices when it comes to roads and other petrol products. I don’t think the industry is willing to give up their profits. Many people are not going to give up their cars.

    I asked my class what they would be willing to give up in order to save the planet. A few said “toaster”, another said a dryer, but everyone said they would never give up their cars.

    There is going to be a slow change and it will have to start at school.

    I’m not dismissing your actions but people are not ready and that is the reality that we shall have to deal with.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    I agree about people’s addiction to fossil fuels, Tamzin, but that’s why I’m advocating for as many people as possible who understand that our very survival depends on us weaning ourselves off fossil fuels to come together to put pressure on governments to show the leadership that is required. We need enforceable targets, a massive education programme, and new laws, not just here, but throughout the western world. Every year we wait – or waste – the crisis will only get worse. It’s not going away. As Antonio Guterres said at COP27, “We are in the fight of our lives and we are losing. Our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible. We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.”

  22. COP27 Continues the Climate Summit Ritual of Words Without Action, by Pete Dolack – Dandelion Salad says...

    […] Cop-Out at COP27: Still No Agreement to Even Reduce the Use of Fossil Fuels, As the 1.5°C Target fo… […]

  23. António Guterres, Just Stop Oil, Greta Thunberg And Climate Scientists – OpEd – Eurasia Review says...

    […] appears, however, that, despite unprecedented floods, wildfires and droughts,  melting polar ice and glaciers, and temperature […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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