The climate movement is entering a new phase, and if we look back at last week, we can see the realities of the enormous challenges that lie before us. We can see the mountain we have to climb, but also the potential of what we can do if we truly step up.
In a credibility-busting move, European leaders failed to back an EU target to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. After talks at an EU summit in Brussels, European governments also passed up the last opportunity to raise the EU’s current 2030 targets ahead of a crucial UN climate summit in September. While a large majority of governments supported the 2050 target, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Estonia opposed it, with last-minute and lukewarm support from others, including Germany, contributing to the collapse of a deal.
They weren’t the only ones. According to reporting from The Guardian and Greenpeace UK’s investigative arm, Unearthed, the UK’s largest energy companies - despite publicly backing the EU’s proposed 2050 net-zero emissions goal - also withheld their support for the EU’s plans.
Both Shell and BP have voiced public support for the Paris Accord, with BP going as far as claiming its strategy is ‘consistent with the Paris goals.’ I was in Paris, and understand deeply the meaning and intent behind the words in that agreement. It’s time to set the record straight, stop fossil fuel companies using it as a permission slip for drilling for more oil, and remind leaders who claim to be climate champions what it actually means.
The Paris Agreement includes a long-term goal to move the world to a net zero carbon economy, one that keeps the global average temperature below a rise of 1.5°C, and a commitment to ratchet up ‘ambition’ until that goal is met. This term ‘ambition’ is how we define working commitments from both countries and industry towards achieving this goal.
This is crucial, as we are now already seeing what a one degree rise in temperature means in real terms. India is suffering its lowest rainfall ahead of a monsoon season in over 60 years, with almost half the country - home to more than 500 million people - experiencing blistering drought-like conditions. Villages are lying empty as thousands flee. Arctic ice, previously permanently frozen, is thawing before our eyes and releasing yet more carbon into our atmosphere.
There’s no longer any question that people are already dying, and homes and the natural world we are dependent upon and love are being lost because of the climate crisis.
Public awareness and frustration around the insincerity of industrial, corporate and political leadership claiming, on the one hand to be acting for the planet and people - and in line with the Paris Agreement - while on the other failing to follow through with any kind of action, is reaching a crescendo.
This is one reason Greenpeace UK spent the last two weeks blocking BP from drilling for 30 million barrels of new oil in the North Sea.
BP claims its strategy is ‘consistent with the Paris goals’ but climate scientists have been very clear about what is needed to avoid a full-blown climate crisis. Reaching targets under the Paris Agreement would mean shrinking emissions starting right now. According to one pathway proposed by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to reach the 1.5°C target with a reasonable probability, global oil use has to decline by 37% between 2010 and 2030, and by 87% by 2050.
This is clearly incompatible with the expansion plans of the fossil fuel industry. Over the next decade, oil companies are planning to spend an estimated $4.9 trillion (€4.3 trillion) on new oil and gas fields. We cannot burn any of that if we’re going to be consistent with the Paris goals. In 2018, out of its $15-16 billion capital investment programme, BP was only planning to invest $0.5 billion (€439 million) into clean energy.
As well as withholding support for ambitious climate targets, major oil corporations have also spent $1 billion (€878 million) since Paris on lobbying and undermining climate policies.
Does this sound as though their strategy is consistent with Paris’ goals?
The problem doesn’t just lie with the fossil fuel industry. As research last week showed, only a fraction of the world’s largest companies is anywhere near in line with the agreement’s targets.
Let’s be clear: for fossil fuel companies, governments or any corporation to be consistent with the agreement, they would need to move now to transition their business model away from fossil fuels altogether, and drive towards a new economic model that can bring benefits to millions, and avoid catastrophe for even more. The opportunities in the renewable energy transition are significant and bring extraordinary benefits for people around the world.
People will not stand by and watch companies and governments claim they are in line with the Paris Agreement when there is no evidence that they are doing nearly enough. For instance, while last week saw a wealth of failure, inaction, frustration and doublespeak in the face of the climate emergency, we’ve also seen a handful of courageous activists manage to throw the enormous BP off their game for 12 days. If that is what a few brave people can do, what could we achieve if we worked together?
We are watching, as are millions of others. The Pope spoke very clearly about the climate emergency and called for a radical energy transformation. The student strikes are also marking a clear pathway. It’s time for fossil fuel companies and governments to face up to their responsibility. Paris-compliant means no new oil, no new coal and no new gas. A climate emergency means a rapid, fair and just transition to net-zero economies by 2040, for industrialised countries, at the latest.
Change is coming and there is no turning back. People are sick of hypocrisy and see that they can make a difference if they step up. When industry targets us with paperwork aimed at restraining us, silencing us, tying our hands, we will respond in kind - with so-called 'climate Injunctions' for fossil fuel exploration. When democratically elected leaders fail to follow through on the demands of the people, we will take to the streets and vote for candidates who have a plan to respond to the climate emergency.
The window for action is closing. Governments and businesses have a responsibility to invest in a just transition to a safer, fairer, cleaner energy system, and ecosystem restoration and recovery.
This is what working towards Paris really means, and until we see it in action, we will not stop.
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