Climate x Politics: April 2020


("too long didn't read" - a summary for people with no time to spare)

Covid-19 pandemic has mixed implications for climate action. Showing the change that can be achieved when people are sufficiently motivated, but also the potential for economic concerns to distract from meaningful progress.
UK government begins consultation on transport policy with ambitious rhetoric

Climate and Coronavirus

Current events have been dominated by the global Covid-19 pandemic. This does not mean that climate change has stopped being a problem. In fact the two existential issues are intrinsically linked. Globalisation and exploitation of the environment contribute to both issues. The response to Covid-19 has led to reductions in both local pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions. The same response also shows that dramatic changes in the way society works are possible on very short timescales, and thus that similar changes in response to the climate crisis may be possible.

The implications of the Covid-19 crisis for climate change

Reduced economic activity has led to lower GHG emissions and lower levels of pollution. Although this shows promise for hopes of positive climate and environmental outcomes in the future, it must be noted that previous slowdowns have been followed by a bounce back in emissions as energy intensive economic stimuli are implemented.

Both wildlife and humans have seen benefits to their health from reduced local pollution. We must show that humans are not separate from nature but part of it. Our success is reliant on the success of nature.

In several cases the pandemic has been met with the waving of environmental regulations to ease the stress on business. Also the global crisis has been used as a distraction to pass unfavourable legislation, be it rolling back regulations permanently, or cracking down on environmental protest rights.

Many commentators have pointed out that the Covid-19 crisis is symptomatic of wider problems, in some cases the same ones which underpin the climate crisis. Therefore, avoiding future outbreaks will require some of the same actions as improving our climate future.

Large scale government action can be effective in solving problems.

Business as usual should not be the goal at the end of the crisis, since it is that which got us into it in the first place.

We live in an intimately connected world. It is no longer possible to make good decisions with a narrow outlook. Global heating and other existential risks must be taken into account when making all decisions, not only those that seem most directly relevant.

The economic downturn will be met with stimulus packages restart growth. This presents an opportunity for positive climate action as new investment can be steered towards climate positive projects like renewable energy, and retrofitting efficiency measures. It is essential to avoid this investment being directed towards unsustainable practices which will then be locked in for years to come.

This is an opportunity to reject symbolic incremental change in favour of large scale systemic change.

People's behaviour has been seen to have undergone rapid dramatic changes at scale, such as WFH. This gives hope that similar changes favourable to the climate and environment may be possible given the correct leadership.

By emphasising that large changes are proven to be possible, we can alleviate much of the hopelessness seen in response to climate change.

The fact we can change shows there was always an alternative and should no longer believe people when they say the market is the only way to solve issues.

Covid- 19 has emphasized that the poorest and most vulnerable are those most affected by crisis and disaster. Global heating has had a disproportionate effect on the global south, and it is essential that we take this imbalance in costs into account when implementing actions against climate change.

Big companies have suffered in this crisis. Now is an opportunity to make support for them conditional on the fair treatment of their employees and customers.

UK Government publishes plans to radically change transport policy

The government’s Decarbonising Transport Consultation was quietly published at the end of March 2020.

In the forward Transport Sec Grant Shapps writes: “Public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities. … we will use cars less and be able to rely on a convenient, cost effective and coherent public transport network”

The rhetoric here is positive. This is something we could jump on, support, and try to help steer in the right direction. Whilst demanding that promises are kept, and the policies are kept accountable to meaningful targets.

“2020 will be the year that transport emissions are tackled”

The plan for aviation seems to rely on technology to reduce emissions, rather than more proactive measures. Call them out on this.

Emphasis is placed on more ambition being required. This aligns well with our ethos, so let’s support this and make sure they follow through

Call for “Clean economic growth”. Still the issue is being framed in capitalist terms, this could be something to quietly push back against, perhaps a key moment to introduce the possibility of other ways to measure economic/ societal success.

Events will be hosted throughout this year to allow people to have their say on the plan for transport policy.

This is starting to sound a bit like a citizens assembly - GREAT, let's support that and show how beneficial and effective it can be.

It is important that transport receives proportional attention and does not distract from other areas in which equal, or greater impact can be had. So let's not allow them to use this step forward on transport to distract from short falls in other areas.

Document calls for the UK to be an international leader in sustainability.

The full Transport Decarbonisation Plan will be released later this year. This is something that we need to keep an eye on and influence if possible, the consultation process may be the place to do this.

“Ensure that people in the UK benefit from the opportunities that decarbonisation presents” - Why not expand this to just all people, this is a mindset that we really need to push back against. That of benefiting ourselves rather than people/ the world as a whole.

Other News

  • Study shows that as concentration of CFCs in the stratosphere began to decline in 2000 the Southern Hemisphere Circulation stopped expanding polewards. Reversing climate change is possible!

  • Total energy production in the UK is down 0.5% in 2019 compared to 2018. Renewables output is now 15x that of coal

  • Defra Urban tree planting fund announced

  • Global renewable power sources impact protected environmental areas.

  • Globally the rich (per capita) contribute disproportionately to climate change

  • Summer heat wave in antarctica. Full paper.

  • Alberta govt subsidies pipeline despite huge cuts to teaching jobs

  • BMJ report call for warning labels on carbon intensive products. (This is a good thing to write letters about)

  • Global trend of legislation against climate protesting continues

  • Barkleys bows to investor pressure over its climate track record and announces plans to shrink its carbon footprint to net zero by 2050.


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