Tag Archives: Climate change

What is Britain’s place in the world? Climate resilience and soft power

green future smallThis is not a story about Brexit. Outside the febrile corridors of Westminster, the 99.1% of the global population that isn’t British is only occasionally perplexed by the quixotic story of Brexit. Instead, the British story in the world continues to be told by its network of embassies and governmental organisations, like Ordnance Survey, the BBC, the Met Office and the NHS. What may surprise many is to learn that a central part of the UK’s story about its place in the world is its role in addressing climate change.

I know this because I had the opportunity to speak at a conference for young leaders in South Africa, last month, on climate resilience, hosted by Wilton Park and the Foreign Office in partnership with the Africa Climate Reality Project. It was set up following the prime minister’s commitment, last September, to lead international efforts on climate resilience for the UN Climate Summit in 2019. Theresa May’s decision for the UK to lead in spite of the chaos of British political life speaks to a national mission which has remained unchanged through a dozen governments and the greatest political crisis in a generation.

This constancy is essential to the UK’s much vaunted soft power, as is the campaigning mission it embodies. I saw why in person: my fellow conference participants were all under 40 and came from 11 countries across Africa. For them, climate change is happening right now. In Zimbabwe, 80 per cent of rural people depend on agriculture fed by increasingly unreliable rains. In Kenya, unpredictable new storm patterns threaten the lives of people who used to know when it was safe to head out to fish. In South Africa, Namibia and Botswana regional climate dynamics double global temperature rises, meaning that these countries are living in a two degrees world already, reducing their people’s ability to do physical work (including farming), and are on track to hit at least four degrees of warming, a level which will see lethal peak summer temperatures for a population roughly equal to that of the UK. During the conference, Cyclone Idai reached land in Mozambique, destroying 90 per cent of the buildings in Beira and spreading as yet untold misery.

Ranged against this are a set of British climate resilience partners: BBC Media Action is working out how best to communicate weather risk to rural people to enable them to move when necessary. The Met Office is helping national weather agencies to forecast more accurately and meaningfully. Ordnance Survey is helping planners across Africa to map flood risk. The NHS is lending its expertise in disaster mortality risk reduction. These partnerships are creating real climate resilience today.

All this effort, some funded as part of the UK’s commitment to overseas development aid, bolsters the UK’s credibility in international climate negotiations. It also has a human dimension: just as the fact that one in four heads of state were educated in the UK means these leaders will have fond memories of the UK, the real improvements these interventions make to people’s lives across the world, in the face of climate disruption, generates soft power. As these countries prosper in spite of environmental disruption, they will remember the UK for its role in stopping, and adapting to, climate change.

This matters. I was struck by the fact that I, still somewhat under 40, have grown up in societies in which the baby boom generation dominated politics. Their concerns and beliefs have shaped the art of the politically possible. But, in the room with 40 young African leaders, I realised that these are the new baby boom. They will shape the politics of Africa for the next 40 years. And they will do so in the context of a rapidly changing climate.

The UK has started to work with them to co-create climate resilience, but this has to go beyond just disaster relief and into clean growth. This was the core of my argument at the conference, which I’ll flesh out in a blog to follow. The take home message, though, viewed from outside the UK, is that Britain’s place in the world is being defined by its approach to climate change. If there is to be a global Britain, it will be green.

A Green New Deal for the UK? Part 5

GND 5 small.pngWe asked individuals from environmental and social justice groups, politics, academia, businesses and young people to tell us what they think it might mean for the UK. This is the last in our series of posts featuring their replies.

 

 

 

Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion
ClucasOver the past eight years, successive governments have built a bonfire out of the measures designed to cut emissions. Zero carbon homes was scrapped. Onshore wind has been effectively banned. Solar power has been shafted. The Green Investment Bank has been flogged off. And, whilst MPs grasp the severity of this situation, we know there are still many glaring inconsistencies in mainstream political thinking. For example, we cannot tackle climate change and build new runways, or prop up North Sea oil and gas, or spend billions on new roads. We cannot tackle climate change with an economy built on the assumption that precious minerals, fresh air, clean water and rare species can magically regenerate themselves in an instant, that somehow the Earth will expand to meet our voracious appetite for new stuff. If we are to truly avoid climate catastrophe, we must go beyond what is considered politically possible. We must change the debate.

A Green New Deal would do just that. It would mobilise resources on a scale unprecedented in peacetime, to tackle the climate emergency and address spiralling inequality. It would involve huge investment in clean energy, warm homes and affordable public transport, delivering a decent, well paid job to hundreds of thousands of people across the country. It would rebuild once proud communities that have been hollowed out by deindustrialisation and austerity, allowing them to thrive as part of a collective endeavour to protect the planet. And it would protect and restore threatened habitats and carbon sinks like forests, wild places, soils and oceans. Anything less simply won’t be enough.

Rebecca Willis, research fellow, Lancaster University
RebeccaWillis2048x3072The biggest impact of the Green New Deal on the UK could be symbolic, but highly significant: it could encourage, or even force, politicians to speak openly about climate change. In a way, President Trump paved the way for the Green New Deal in the US. His election – and with it, the blow to the cosy certainties of centrist politics – made it possible for his opponents to throw caution to the wind, and think bold. And that’s just what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has done. As a result, no Democratic presidential candidate can now afford to remain silent about climate action.

Compare that to the UK, where climate change is conspicuous by its absence in mainstream political debate. My research with members of parliament showed that politicians have been reluctant to speak out on climate change, shying away from discussion of radical action. It has suited them to keep quiet. It used to be like this in the US. But the Green New Deal has put climate back where it should be: as the defining political issue of our time. It may just provide the spark for a similar shift in the UK.

[Image: Sunrise movement in December 2018. Courtesy of Becker1999 via Flickr]

A Green New Deal for the UK? Part 4

no more excuses smallWe asked individuals from environmental and social justice groups, politics, academia, businesses, and young people to tell us what they think the Green New Deal might mean for the UK. This is the fourth in a series of blogs in which we feature their responses.

 

 

Fernanda Balata, senior researcher and programme manager, New Economics Foundation
Balata square
The Green New Deal is an incredible opportunity for the UK to deliver the transformative economic change that is needed, within the timeframe that we have, to avoid climate breakdown. There are a number of people, organisations and communities all over the UK who have been working to address social, economic and environmental injustice. For too long now, these efforts have remained at the margins of the heavily unbalanced and unfair UK economy.

Rather than making empty promises for a more sustainable and fair economy that works for everyone, whilst continuing to invest in what’s causing the problems in the first place, a Green New Deal is a coherent national framework and investment plan that tackles complex problems head on and shifts the value system of our economy towards what really matters to people and the planet. It’s not just about the outcome, it’s also about the process. The Green New Deal’s power for change should be rooted in places, effectively allowing us all to be a part of that conversation, to collectively make the important decisions which will affect our lives and those of future generations, and take urgent action to the benefit of happier and healthier planet for everyone.

Bryn Kewley, executive member, Socialist Environment and Resources Network
KewleyNothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come and the notion of a Green New Deal has arrived at the perfect moment. As the Brexit and Trump phenomena mature, we need more popular ideas rooted in good sense to re-establish trust in our institutions, our social contracts, and a rules-based consensus.

In the US it can be a tool to prove the political popularity of action on climate change and investing in our children’s future. In the UK, where for the first time not a single Conservative MP stood up to deny climate change during a recent debate in parliament, the Green New Deal idea has arrived at the confluence between rising climate awareness and an increasingly clear economic case.

The World Economic Forum says fighting climate change could add $26 trillion to the global economy by 2030. The economic opportunities are everywhere, but we’re doing little to drive them with an under supported renewable energy sector, opportunities to build electric vehicles rapidly diminishing and UK export finance focused on the fossil fuels of the past, rather than our growing renewables sector. We need ambitious policy commitments to drive a clean green future that we can all benefit from.

Labour have already announced bold policies in renewable energy, transport decarbonisation and a net zero economy, but also a serious and well-funded commitment to insulate homes which will cut bills and reduce fuel poverty. A UK based Green New Deal wouldn’t just mean good green jobs and better prospects, it’s also how politicians of all stripes prove that they’re listening and are bold enough to act.

Local politicians want to act on climate change, but need public support

town centre smallThis post is by Deb Joffe, co-founder of Swindon Climate Action Network. She co-runs The Climate Brief,  promoting climate change action among local politicians.

Local councillors from all parties have a strong appetite for discussion and action on climate change, but need to feel that the public support them, according to recent research. They also want reliable information about solutions they can implement. Read more

How carbon cutting could be a viable new income source for farmers and land managers

peat smallAs we hit the hottest winter temperatures ever in the UK, it‘s clear that the imperative to tackle climate change is becoming ever more urgent. We need to look at every aspect of how our economy is run to find new ways to cut carbon and attention is now turning to the role that land use and farming can play. Read more

Why we need an environment and climate watchdog

drought.pngThis blog was first published by Business Green.

The unprecedented, prolonged heatwave that Britain and much of the northern hemisphere is experiencing seems to have brought climate change, albeit temporarily, to the forefront of our public and political discourse. A timely report from the Environmental Audit Committee has warned there will be 7,000 heat-related deaths every year in the UK by 2050, triple today’s rate, if we do not take further action. Former energy and climate secretary Amber Rudd penned a Times op-ed stating climate change is here and rising global temperatures are already baked in. But the thrust of her argument was that a madcap approach to Brexit could unravel Britain’s ambitious climate goals. Addressing climate change, she said, requires “co-operation, shared sovereignty and internationalism.”

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