The UN tells us that we’re locked into rising carbon emissions. Not a single G20 country is in line with the Paris agreement on climate. But there is no time to give in to despair. Because even though 1.5°C is a matter of climate policy for the Global North, governments, and even the UN? For the MAPA (Most Affected Peoples and Areas), 1.5°C is a matter of life and death.
Climate news all month isn’t exactly reassuring…
Earlier this month, a UN analysis revealed that under various governments’ plans put forth since the start of 2020, global emissions will certainly rise 16% by 2030. This “puts the world ruinously off track for the 45% cut that climate scientists say is needed to meet the Paris agreement’s goal”. Executive Director of Greenpeace International, Jennifer Morgan, said that this doesn’t “paint a hopeful picture of progress”. Instead of “serving the global community”, she commented, “governments are letting vested interests call the climate shots”.
Just a day before that, climate watchdog Climate Action Tracker (CAT), which analyses the climate policies of countries and governments around the world, said that none of the world’s major economies, including the entire G20, have a climate plan that meets their obligations to the Paris agreement. Echoing the UN analysis, CAT found that these major economies are “off track”. These countries, making up 80% of the world’s emissions, and their lack of ambition, have cost, and are costing, lives.
Because while these governments are flailing about with incompetency and sheer lack of sufficient political will… the climate crisis rages on, mostly to the most marginalised and vulnerable communities. According to another report, that also came out this month, from the UN World Meteorological Organization? Climate change has helped to drive a fivefold increase in the number of weather-related disasters in the last 50 years. Of the 2 million deaths and $3.6 trillion in losses from 11,000 disasters documented between 1970 and 2019, over 91% of those occurred in “developing countries”. In an accompanying statement, the WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas warned that as the climate crisis continues, the numbers will only climb.
The truth is, we’ve been taking climate action, but…
But aren’t we taking action on climate? Hasn’t there been a consistent series of announcements from governments that they’re doing something about the climate crisis? Didn’t we hear about governments declaring climate emergencies last year, and the year before that? Why then, is the climate crisis not letting up? And how are we still locked into rising emissions?
The truth is that alongside all the talk around climate change, there’s also a whole lot of greenwashing. The CAT analysis points out that despite having submitted pledges under the Paris agreement, countries failed to submit the required updates by July this year. And for those who did, many submitted updates without increasing their pledges. Worst of all, some even updated with less ambitious targets than they put forth in 2015.
There are many reasons for the above lack of action, though CAT pointed specifically to the continuing addiction to coal. Countries such as China, Japan, South Korea, and notably Australia are still going ahead with coal. And if not coal, there’s also the transition to natural gas. Which is anything but natural. The CAT remarked that it’s being falsely sold to us as a “bridging fuel”, though it isn’t sustainable at all. It’s still, ultimately, a fossil fuel. And countries like Singapore, Australia, and various EU member states are still committing themselves to new gas infrastructure as we speak.
As much as these governments would like to convince us that they’re working towards “net-zero”, the dissonance is deeply concerning. Even the term “net-zero” has been co-opted, bastardised, void of its meaning. The term refers to a point when the amount of greenhouse gas emitted is no greater than the amount removed. The point of that term, to begin with, was to emphasise the significance of 1.5°C. That is: in order for us to keep warming within 1.5°C, the world needs to reach net-zero by 2050. It was what governments agreed to do, in principle, back in 2015, and that agreement was a hard-fought win.
Yet, today, the CAT finds, even if all of the countries followed up on their current pledges, warming would still reach 2°C. If they stuck with business-as-usual, rather than live up to their pledges, it’s more likely to be 2.4°C. (Presently, we’re already around 1.2°C, so “room for error is very limited”.) So why is it that even though they’ve agreed to net-zero, and even though they’ve come out with pledges, we’re still stuck here? The answer, again: greenwashing.
The fossil fuel industry, for example, has come out with plans to pay for offsets instead of actually reducing emissions. When it comes to commitments from governments and companies, researchers found, some of them don’t have interim targets and reporting mechanisms to keep them on track. This means that they can agree to doing it, but not actually follow up. Unsurprisingly, some climate activists have come out to denounce “net-zero” as meaningless, delusional marketing.
But this doesn’t mean we can dump “net-zero” now
But dumping “net-zero” means dumping the fight for 1.5°C. And in order to hold governments accountable for what they’ve done, and continue to do? We can’t afford to dump it now. As climate activist Disha Ravi tweeted: “Politicians will tell [us] that 1.5 degrees is ambitious & we need to shoot for 2 degrees. The 0.5 difference in degrees is whether the Global South lives & dies.” As “realists”, “pragmatists”, politicians and the governments they represent, succumb to climate doomism? We ought to remember that they are choosing to maintain the status quo. Business-as-usual. And the system. Over real lives and communities. Over MAPA, a term coined to name the Most Affected Peoples and Areas.
We may feel dreadful, disappointed, and angry, but this is no time to despair. The MAPA have been here, and will continue to be here. Despair, doomism and inaction represent nothing but a failure to enact global justice and solidarity. There is a way out, and there is a path towards accountability, and it is, and must be, led by the MAPA. This year’s Global Climate Strike is an invitation to listen and centre, and fight alongside the MAPA.
It’s time we refused to allow governments, and the corporations enabling and hiding behind them, to continue the system. A system that enacts violence upon the MAPA, while hypocritically criminalising the violence of resistance—2020 was a year of a record-high number of murders of environment and land defenders everywhere.
We must fight for 1.5°C, and we must uproot this system. There is no time to despair. Join the Global Climate Strike this Friday: find out where your nearest strike is, or register your own.
FEATURED IMAGE: Via Fridays For Future | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: a collage-style edit, featuring a green background with the words “GLOBAL CLIMATE STRIKE” in various languages, with an image of the Earth (coloured in white and orange), and images of various protests from around the world (signs are in Chinese and English) overlayed on top, with drawings of lightning and fire; the activists featured most prominently in the image are holding a banner which reads “DEAD PLANET SOON, ACT NOW! SYSTEM CHANGE, NOT CLIMATE CHANGE!”
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