- Prepared on 13th March

At the March gathering of the What Next? Climate Change subgroup meeting, a group of arts and cultural professionals gathered to discuss the topic of Climate Justice. Below is a highlight of the policy update as prepared by Chiara Badiali, along with a selection of the resources shared by our speakers.

POLICY, POLITICS, AND ATTITUDES

  • The UN has announced the dates for the next international climate change talks – COP25 – which will take place 2nd - 13th December in Santiago, Chile. (There was originally talk of postponing them to January 2021).
  • The 15th March is set to be a big date in the school strike movement sweeping the globe. Kicked off by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who has been striking from school every Friday since last autumn, the movement has seen young people take to the streets all across the world (across 92 countries). In some countries, only a few individual students, in others, over 30,000 at a time. See more and follow #FridaysForFuture for more info.
  • In the US, a Yale/George Mason University survey suggests that 69% of Americans are ‘somewhat worried’ about climate change, and 29% are ‘very worried’ – the highest since the survey began in 2008, and with the highest ever jump of people who are ‘very worried’ (8% since April 2018). But the concern is not yet reflected in whether (and how much) people would be willing to pay to address climate change, nor is it necessarily translating into policies (for example voters in Washington State recently rejected a carbon tax).
  • As the World Economic Forum convened its annual meeting in Davos in January, one particular point of friction were taxes, philanthropy, and how best to pay to address some of the world’s critical problems. Philanthropy came under particular scrutiny as a way to distract from extractive business models and tax avoidance. Simultaneously, in the US, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (or AOC) is gaining a huge amount of ground with her ‘Green New Deal’ – an idea that originated in the UK over a decade ago – to be paid for at least in part through higher marginal taxes on the super rich.
  • Norway’s Sovereign Wealth Fund is divesting from companies that only do oil and gas exploration and production. The fund manages $1 trillion in assets, of which it will be selling off $7.5 billion in oil and gas stocks. It will keep its stakes in companies like BP and Shell that have renewable energy divisions.

UK

  • Philip Hammond’s spring statement this week included a focus on the environment and contained a range of new green policy measures, apparently in response to the school strikes. They include:
    • a ban on gas boilers in new build homes from 2025
    • some talk of stricter insulation standards, including consideration of whether higher standard offsets should have to be offered by all airline companies, and ways to increase the proportion of ‘green gas’ coming into the grid.
    • Hammond said: “As with the challenge of adapting to the digital age, so with the challenge of shaping the carbon neutral economy of the future, we must apply the creativity of the marketplace to deliver solutions to one of the most complex problems of our time, climate change.”
    • Despite these clear statements, there has been criticism that this response is tinkering along the edges, especially considering the conservatives originally ditched a key zero carbon homes standard in 2015.
  • Carbon emissions in the UK are continuing to fall – but the speed of reduction is slowing as the easy win of phasing out coal slows. Overall, the rate of emissions has dropped by 39% since 1990 – we are now at levels last seen in the late 19th century.
  • According to a report by the European Commission, the UK gives the biggest subsidies to the fossil fuel industry among EU member states: it gives €12bn or £10.5bn annually (compared to €8.3bn for renewables). The UK denies giving any fossil fuel subsidies based on its own definition and that of the IEA, for example it doesn’t count the reduced 5% VAT tax rate on domestic gas and electricity, or tax breaks given to oil and gas companies in the North Sea. The report also found that despite pledges to phase out fossil fuel subsidies by EU member states, total EU subsidies for oil/gas/coal have actually remained the same since 2008.

ENVIRONMENT AND CLIMATE IMPACTS

  • A new UN Environment study finds that ‘extraction industries’, which include mining for sand and gravel, extraction of oil and gas, as well as farming, are behind half of global carbon emissions, and 80% of the world’s biodiversity loss. The study also says that resources are being extracted more than three times faster today than in 1970, even though the global population has only doubled since then.
  • We will all have noted the heatwave that swept the UK in February -
    • Australia sweltered in a record-breaking heatwave in January, with temperatures as high as 49.5 degrees C. Simultaneously, Canada and the midwestern US suffered from a severe cold snap as the polar vortex split and plunged southwards, with some areas facing below -30°C and colder temperatures than Antarctica.
    • A study in the New England Journal of Medicine thinks that previous estimates of global warming leading to 250,000 extra deaths every year could be conservative. The report estimates that climate change could force 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030, undoing decades or progress on human health.
  • A study that came out this week in the USA finds that air pollution in the United States is mainly caused by white people’s consumption of goods and services – but that it is mainly black and Hispanic Americans who breathe the polluted air. That there is inequity in who is exposed to air pollution has long been known, but this is the first study to try and look at who causes it.
  • A new UCL study suggests that European colonisation of the Americas and resulting genocide contributed to the Little Ice Age in 1500 – 1600. The deaths of up to 90% of the indigenous population (ca. 55 million people), caused mainly through imported diseases, led to the abandonment of 56 million hectares of farmed land. The subsequent regrowth of plants and trees drew enough CO2 out of the air to contribute to global cooling – but would be equivalent to just 2 years of present-day emissions.


Speakers

Malini Mehra introduced some of the e​​vents planned for the inaugural London Climate Action Week.

Lucy Neale introduced the Culture Declares Emergency initiative.

Sholeh Johnston shared findings from her research into culture and climate justice in South Africa that can be found here.

Jo Ram spoke about the Voices that Shake! network, Platform's work generally, and the mPower project.

Judy Ling-Wong talked about the National Park City Festival and initiative and her work with the Black Environment Network.