Climate summits are too big and key voices are being crowded out – here’s a better solution

Conference room at COP28
Conference room at COP28

Every year, the official UN climate summits are getting bigger. In 2021 at COP26 in Glasgow there were around 40,000 participants, COP27 in 2022 in Sharm el-Sheikh had 50,000.

But this year blew all previous records out of the water. More than 97,000 participants had badges to attend COP28 in Dubai in person. This raises questions about who is attending COPs and what they are doing there, who gets their voices heard and, on a more practical note, how this affects the negotiations.

For those not familiar with the COP setup, there are two “worlds” that exist side by side. One is the negotiations, which are run under the UN’s climate change body the UNFCCC, and the other is a very long list of talks and social events. These take place in pavilion exhibition spaces and are open to anyone attending, in contrast to the negotiations which are often closed to the media and sometimes closed to observers.

There is a stark difference between these worlds, with pavilion spaces featuring elaborate and inviting settings, particularly if they are well funded, while negotiations often happen in windowless rooms.

A growing sense exists among those invested in the “traditional” side of the COPs that many delegates have no intention of observing the climate talks themselves, and instead spend their time networking in the pavilions.

Indigenous people visiting COP28 from Brazilian Amazon.
Indigenous people visiting COP28 from Brazilian Amazon.

In terms of who attends, at COP28 there were around 25,000 “party” (country) delegates, 27,000 “party overflow” delegates (usually guests, sponsors, or advisors), 900 UNFCCC secretariat members (who run the COPs), 600 “UN overflow”, and 1,350 from “specialised agencies” such as the World Health Organization or World Bank and their overflows. That makes up just under 55,000 or half of the attendees.

The rest are intergovernmental organisations (2,000), UN Global Climate Action award winners (600), host country guests (5,000), temporary passes (500 – many issued to big private companies), NGOs (14,000 – including one of us, as part of a university delegation), and media (4,000). This is according to the UNFCCC, which places the number of attendees closer to 80,000.

The “party overflow” badges are particularly concerning. The number of delegates connected to the oil and gas industries has quadrupled from last year to around 2,400, many of whom were invited as part of country delegations. As another example, meat industry representatives became part of Brazil’s delegation, while dairy associations organised official COP side events. In the official programme, the Energy and Industry, Just Transition, and Indigenous Peoples Day featured more events by industrial giant Siemens than by indigenous people.

Practically speaking, huge numbers cause problems – this year for example there were delayed meetings, long queues, and several negotiation rooms were beyond capacity with observers and even party delegates asked to limit their numbers and leave.

Even with access to an observer badge, there is little one can contribute to negotiations. The negotiating positions are decided long before the COPs begin, and observers are rarely permitted to speak in negotiations. In addition, a lot of the negotiations are either conducted behind closed doors (called “informal-informals” with no access for the UN or observers) or even in the corridors, where negotiators meet informally to cement positions. The negotiations you can (silently) observe are usually a series of prepared statements, rather than a discussion.

So if COPs are too big and bloated, what is the alternative?

Smaller and more online

One alternative is being a virtual delegate, which one of us tried. This year’s COP trialled live streams and recordings of some of the negotiations, side events and press conferences on an official UNFCCC virtual platform for the first time. The option is a long overdue, but welcome addition. It reduces travel emissions and makes it more accessible, for instance for people with caring responsibilities and others who are unable to travel (or perhaps who refuse to fly).

Some technical teething problems are to be expected. Yet when we queried why the virtual platform didn’t livestream many of the sessions, the COP28 support team pointed us to the official COP28 app. Our employer, the University of Bristol, had advised us not to download the app because of security concerns, which again raises serious issues around transparency and accountability in UNFCCC spaces, as well as freedom of speech and assembly in COP host countries.

Not being there in person also has downsides. As a virtual observer, it’s harder to judge the atmosphere in a negotiation room, to stumble upon and observe spontaneous negotiations happening in corridors, or participate in or observe protests. While indigenous voices were rarely heard in the livestreamed negotiations and events, the Indigenous People’s Pavilion offered a chance to hear them – but only if you were in Dubai. The virtual alternative is a good option to observe negotiations, but it means missing out on some of the civil society lifeblood of COP.

Another option is to limit access to COPs – for example, limiting the in-person negotiations only to the most vital participants. Party tickets could be limited, with lobbyists from fossil fuel industries tightly controlled and priority given to climate victims, indigenous communities and underrepresented countries. Side events and pavilions could take place a few months before the COPs, increasing the chances of influencing negotiations, since positions are cemented early. There is no reason these only need to happen in one place once a year, there could be regional meetups in between, allowing for formal contact more often.

These issues of access, transparency and influence have serious implications on negotiation outcomes and climate action. After undergoing various draft iterations that offered options ranging from “no text” to “phasing out” or “down” fossil fuels, this year’s final agreement does not include a commitment to phasing out. This watered-down agreement reflects the inability of indigenous peoples and the most climate vulnerable countries to meaningfully participate in the negotiations – future COPs must trim down to make their voices heard.

 


This blog is written by Cabot Institute for the Environment members, Drs Alix Dietzel, Senior Lecturer in Climate Justice, University of Bristol and Katharina Richter, Lecturer in Climate Change, Politics and Society, University of Bristol.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Katharina Richter
Dr Katharina Richter
Dr Alix Dietzel
Dr Alix Dietzel

Loss and Damage: fears, vulnerabilities, emotions and compensation in the face of climate change

Artwork by Andy Council on loss and damage
Artwork by Andy Council on loss and damage. Image credit: Amanda Woodman-Hardy. View the artwork in high resolution.

In July 2023, the Cabot Institute for the Environment and Universities UK Climate Network hosted an event focusing on loss and damage.

Loss and damage captures the adverse impacts and irreversible harm caused by climate-related events and changes, particularly in vulnerable and disadvantaged communities. It recognizes that some effects of climate change cannot be fully mitigated or adapted to, leading to tangible and intangible losses such as loss of lives, livelihoods, cultural heritage, and ecosystems.

Loss and damage has become a significant topic in international climate negotiations, with discussions focusing on how to address and compensate for unavoidable consequences of climate change, often in the context of financial support and liability for those responsible.

Participants at Loss and Damage event.
Participants at Loss and Damage event.

Participants at the workshop were encouraged to speak openly about their emotions around climate change losses and what it might look like to be compensated. They spoke openly and with great vulnerability about what they feared and hoped for.

post it notes denoting peoples feelings around loss and damage

Artist Andy Council was on hand to take notes and created a stunning piece of art to reflect our conversations – centering around greed, grief, injustice, and anger.

post it notes about compensation with regards to loss and damage

Andy said ‘When I attended the event, I heard different thoughts on the issues raised and I wanted to get as many of these into my artwork piece as possible. I wanted to get the different ideas as smaller components into a larger image, a symbol: the dollar sign. It seemed relevant as unfortunately things come down to money – profit from industry over climate change and habitat loss, money put towards preserving prestigious artefacts, less industrialised nations bearing the brunt of climate change and the funding to compensate for the loss and damage. The artwork is overall quite dark and gloomy, however there are elements of hope within the piece with images of resistance and preservation of the world’s natural landscape.’

Artist Andy Council looking at post it notes on the floor
Artist Andy Council reading post it notes.

Art has the unique ability to transcend language and cultural barriers, making it a powerful tool for raising awareness and fostering understanding of complex global issues like loss and damage. Climate change often feels abstract and distant, but through art, it can become tangible and emotionally resonant. Art can also convey the urgency and gravity of the issue, bridging gaps between different communities and fostering a sense of shared responsibility.

The UK Climate network said ‘we are keen to make sure that our research connects to people and action outside the academic world. It was great to see Dr Alix Dietzel engaging the public on this topic and bringing the conversation to life through art.’

COP27 established a Loss and Damage Fund that aims to provide financial assistance to nations most vulnerable and impacted by the effects of climate change. However, the UNFCCC has not yet specified which countries should contribute to the fund, and who will be eligible to receive help. As we head into COP28, all eyes will be on the negotiations to see whether these aspects of the fund can be nailed down.

COP27: What really happened on finance, justice and Loss and Damage?

The Cabot Institute for the Environment sent three delegates to the recent Conference of the Parties 27 (COP27). Drs Alix Dietzel (Sociology, Politics and International Studies); Colin Nolden (Bristol Law School); and Rachel James (Geographical Sciences) were present for most of the first week and Colin was there for the full two weeks. As the Institute has observer status with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Alix, Rachel and Colin had the chance to engage with policy makers and climate policy experts from around the world to help promote climate action which is informed by the best evidence and research.

We asked them to give an update on their experience at COP27 and as a result, whether the pledges made at COP27 would mean that 1.5C is still achievable.

Drs Colin Nolden and Alix Dietzel at COP27.

Climate finance – Dr Colin Nolden

Colin’s research interests span sustainable energy policy, regulation and business models and interactions with secondary markets such as carbon markets and other sectors such as mobility. COP27 was an opportunity for him to talk directly to policymakers about implementing the Paris Agreement and to people directly affected by climate policy decisions.

Here are Colin’s post-COP thoughts:

“Alongside Loss and Damage, the main issue discussed at COP is climate finance for decarbonisation. The $100bn/yr pledged in Paris has never materialised and to add injury to insult, rich countries can borrow at 4%, whereas poor countries borrow at 14%, as Mia Motley, Prime Minister of Barbados, pointed out in her speech on Day 1. Under these conditions, investments in fossil fuel infrastructures pay off, but investments in renewables do not. An endless number of panel discussions and side events on ‘climate finance’ and ‘accelerating the clean energy/net zero transition’ are testament to this gap.

“Article 6 of the Paris Agreement is a mechanism to overcome this funding gap by providing the legal foundation to finance decarbonisation projects in a country in exchange for carbon credits provided by another. Whether these should lead to according adjustments in emissions inventories, as is the case under bilateral agreements using Article 6.2, is controversial. How Article 6.4 will deal with this issue is still unclear and is unlikely to be agreed on at successive COPs. Negotiations on Article 6 will determine the climate credit and finance architecture for years to come.”

Climate justice – Dr Alix Dietzel

Alix is Associate Director for Impact and Innovation at the Cabot Institute for the Environment and an environmental justice scholar. Her role at COP27 was to observe the negotiations and critically reflect on whose voices were heard and whose were left out of the discussion, as well as concentrating on whether topics such as Loss and Damage and just transition were being given adequate space and time during the negotiations.

Dr Alix Dietzel at COP27.

Here are Alix’s reflections from COP27:

“Despite much excitement over a new Loss and Damage fund, there is backsliding on commitments to lower emissions and phasing out fossil fuels. As an academic expert in just transition who went along this year hoping to make a difference, I share the anger felt around the world about this outcome.

“Attendance at COPs is strictly regulated. Parties (negotiating teams), the media, and observers (NGOs, IGOs, and UN Agencies) must all be pre-approved. Observers have access to the main plenaries and ceremonies, the pavilion exhibition spaces, and side-events. The negotiation rooms, however, are largely off limits. Most of the day is spent listening to speeches, networking, and asking questions at side-events. The main role of observers, then, is to apply indirect pressure on negotiators, report on what is happening, and network. Meaningful impact on and participation in negotiations seemed out of reach for many of the passionate people I met.

“It has long been known that who gets a say in climate change governance is skewed. As someone working on fair decision making as part of just transition, it is clear that only the most powerful voices are reflected in treaties such as the Paris Agreement. Despite being advertised as ‘Africa’s COP’, COP27 has further hampered inclusion. The run up was dogged by accusations of inflated hotel prices and concerns over surveillance, no chance to organize protests, and warnings about Egypt’s brutal police state.

“Arriving in Sharm El Sheik, there was an air of intimidation starting at the airport, where military personnel scrutinized passports. Police roadblocks featured heavily on our way to the hotel, and military officials surrounded the COP venue the next morning. Inside the venue, there were rumours we were being watched and observers were urged not to download the official app. More minor issues included voices literally not being heard due to unreliable microphones and the constant drone of airplanes overhead. Food queues were huge, and it was difficult to access water to refill our bottles. Sponsored by Coca Cola, we could buy soft drinks. Outside of COP, unless I was accompanied by a man, I faced near constant sexual harassment, hampering my ability to come and go freely.

“Who was there and who was most represented at COP27 also concerned me. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) registered the largest party delegation with more than 1,000 people, almost twice the size of the next biggest delegation, Brazil. Oil and gas lobby representatives were registered in the national delegations of 29 different countries and were larger than any single national delegation (outside of the UAE). At least 636 of those attending were lobbyists for the fossil-fuel industry. Despite the promise that COP27 would foreground African interests, the fossil lobby outnumbers any delegation from Africa. These numbers give a sense of who has power and say at these negotiations, and who does not.

“All this to say, I am not surprised at the outcomes. There is some good news in the form of a new fund for Loss and Damage – but there is no agreement yet on how much money should be paid in, by whom, and on what basis. More worryingly, the outcome document makes no mention of phasing out fossil fuels, and scant reference to the 1.5C target. Laurence Tubiana, one of the architects of the Paris Agreement, blamed the host country, Egypt, for the final decision.

“COP27 produced a text that clearly protects oil and gas petro-states and the fossil fuel industry. The final outcomes demonstrate that despite the thousands who were there to advocate for climate justice, it was the fossil fuel lobby who had most influence. As a climate justice scholar, I am deeply worried about the processes at COPs, especially given next year’s destination: The United Arab Emirates. Time is running out and watered-down commitments on emissions are at this stage deeply unjust and frankly dangerous.”

Loss and Damage – Dr Rachel James

Rachel is a climate scientist, focusing on African climate systems and developing climate science to inform and advance climate change policy. Her previous research has been designed to progress international climate policy discussions, including the COP process, and she has analysed the impacts of global mitigation goals, comparing different warming scenarios (1.5°C, 2°C and beyond).  At COP27, she engaged in adaptation discussions, to learn more about how science can support national adaptation planning, to guide her new research programme “Salient”, a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship to improve climate information for adaptation, primarily in southern Africa.

Dr Rachel James (fourth from right) at COP27.

In her previous work, Dr James has also looked at how science can support policy discussions about  ‘Loss and Damage’, from climate change, and at COP27 she followed discussions on Loss and Damage, as well as taking part in a workshop to establish a network of African researchers focusing on Loss and Damage. Rachel reflects on her experience of COP and the Loss and Damage discussions:

“The COP is now a huge event, with hundreds of discussions happening simultaneously, and many thousands of people, (almost) all pushing for climate action, and acting on it in their own ways. There are lots of things going on, deals being struck, collaborations forming, alongside the official UNFCCC business.

“This was supposed to be the “COP of implementation”, as the Paris Agreement and the rulebook are already in place. Some said we were largely beyond negotiation.

“However, the Global South came ready to negotiate, particularly on Loss and Damage. They wanted a finance facility on Loss and Damage to be established. Negotiations began in the weekend before the COP, and – after negotiating all night with no food – the developing countries succeeded in getting this onto the formal agenda.

“Over the two weeks of the COP, my perception was that there was a huge shift on Loss and Damage. Once it was on the official agenda, it was much easier to talk about. It has been a very contentious issue. Broadly, the most vulnerable countries have called for mechanisms to address the fact that they are, and will continue to, experience loss and damage from climate change impacts like sea level rise and extreme weather. Those countries who have emitted the most fear this could lead to unlimited liability. When I first started working on it I’d often get a worried look when I mentioned the topic.

“In a side event during the first week at Sharm El Sheikh, I heard someone say “some magic has happened” and we can now talk about this in the mainstream. We also saw a series of announcements from countries committing finance for Loss and Damage.  Then, finally, after two weeks of negotiations ran into extra time, countries agreed to establish a fund for Loss and Damage.

“This was a huge victory for the developing countries. Lots of questions remain about how it will work, who will pay into it, and who will benefit, but nevertheless it marks a big step. Developing countries (especially AOSIS, the Alliance of Small Island States) have been working on this for decades. The negotiators work so hard, often into the night, it’s incredible.

“My overall view is that COP continues to be a difficult process, but it is shifting, maybe substantially. Many view COP as a talk shop and suggest it’s a waste of time, but I disagree. Although the process is tortuous, slow, and frustrating, it is the best one we have, and still vital. Progress is way too slow but there is progress. Every country is represented, and we don’t have any other process on climate change where that is the case. The developing countries have power in numbers at the COP that I am not sure they have in any other forum on climate change.”

Dr Alix Dietzel (fourth from right on the back row) at COP27

 

Is 1.5C still alive?

Colin: “The International Energy Agency expects fossil fuel demand to peak as early as 2025. However, with all countries harbouring exploitable fossil fuel resources racing to extract them (with our former Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Rees-Mogg vowing in September 2022 to “squeeze every last drop of oil” out of the North Sea) and key initiatives such as the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero failing to deliver on their promises, fossil fuels will not be phased out anytime soon.

“At the same time, pinning our hopes on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is misguided as current capacities amount to four hours of global emissions and International Energy Agency projections suggest that capacities in 2030 will amount to 16 hours of emissions. This implies that in the absence of a sustained global financial commitment towards demand reduction or sustainable supply, limiting average global temperature rise to 1.5 above will be very difficult indeed.”

Rachel: “A key goal in Glasgow and in Sharm El Sheikh has been to keep 1.5°C alive. Some countries were attempting to backslide on mitigation goals during the final days, but in the end 1.5°C remained in the text. It’s disappointing that we didn’t see an increase in ambition from Glasgow, but 1.5°C is still there – even if “on life support”, as noted by Alok Sharma.

“It’s easy for us to do an academic analysis and speculate as to whether or not we think 1.5°C is politically feasible. But the IPCC has spelled it out clearly: every fraction of a degree of warming matters. What’s important is that we increase ambition to reduce emissions, and we phase out fossil fuels, so that we can limit global warming as much as possible.”

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This blog is written by Cabot Institute for the Environment members Dr Alix Dietzel, Dr Colin Nolden, Dr Rachel James and Amanda Woodman-Hardy.

Further reading

Read more about our experts at COP27.

Read Dr Alix Dietzel’s blog on COP27: how the fossil fuel lobby crowded out calls for climate justice

Read Dr Colin Nolden’s blog on After COP27: Is 1.5C still alive? 

COP27: how the fossil fuel lobby crowded out calls for climate justice

COP27 has just wrapped up. Despite much excitement over a new fund to address “loss and damage” caused by climate change, there is also anger about perceived backsliding on commitments to lower emissions and phase out fossil fuels.

As an academic expert in climate justice who went along this year, hoping to make a difference, I share this anger.

“Together for Implementation” was the message as COP27 got underway on November 6 and some 30,000 people descended on the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El Sheik. The UNFCCC strictly regulates who can attend negotiations. Parties (country negotiation teams), the media and observers (NGOs, IGOs and UN special agencies) must all be pre-approved.

I went along as an NGO observer, to represent the University of Bristol Cabot Institute for the Environment. Observers have access to the main plenaries and ceremonies, the pavilion exhibition spaces and side events. The negotiation rooms, however, are largely off limits. Most of the day is spent listening to speeches, networking and asking questions at side-events.

Woman sits in large conference room
The author at the COP27 opening plenary.
Colin Nolden, Author provided

The main role of observers, then, is to apply indirect pressure on negotiators, report on what is happening and network. Meaningful impact on and participation in negotiations seems out of reach for many of the passionate people I met.

Who does – and doesn’t – get a say

It has long been known that who gets a say in climate change governance is skewed. As someone working on fair decision making as part of a just transition to less carbon-intensive lifestyles and a climate change-adapted society, it is clear that only the most powerful voices are reflected in treaties such as the Paris Agreement. At last year’s COP26, men spoke 74% of the time, indigenous communities faced language barriers and racism and those who could not obtain visas were excluded entirely.

Despite being advertised as “Africa’s COP”, COP27 further hampered inclusion. The run up was dogged by accusations of inflated hotel prices and concerns over surveillance, and warnings about Egypt’s brutal police state. The right to protest was limited, with campaigners complaining of intimidation and censorship.

Conference area with 'AfricaCOP27' sign
Africa’s COP?
Alix Dietzel, Author provided

Arriving in Sharm El Sheik, there was an air of intimidation starting at the airport, where military personnel scrutinised passports. Police roadblocks featured heavily on our way to the hotel and military officials surrounded the COP venue the next morning.

Inside the venue, there were rumours we were being watched and observers were urged not to download the official app. More minor issues included voices literally not being heard due to unreliable microphones and the constant drone of aeroplanes overhead, and a scarcity of food with queues sometimes taking an hour or more. Sponsored by Coca Cola, it was also difficult to access water to refill our bottles. We were sold soft drinks instead.

Outside of the venue, unless I was with a male colleague, I faced near constant sexual harassment, hampering my ability to come and go from the summit. All these issues, major and minor, affect who is able to contribute at COP.

Fossil fuel interests dominated

In terms of numbers, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) registered the largest party delegation with more than 1,000 people. The oil and gas-rich nation of just 9 million people had a delegation almost twice the size of the next biggest, Brazil. More troublingly, the oil and gas lobby representatives were registered in the national delegations of 29 different countries and were larger than any single national delegation (outside of the UAE). According to one NGO, at least 636 of those attending COP27 were lobbyists for the fossil-fuel industry.

Large oil tanker goes past city skyline
The UAE has some of the world’s largest reserves of both oil and gas.
Nick Fox / shutterstock

Despite the promise that COP27 would foreground African interests, the fossil lobby outnumbers any delegation from Africa. These numbers give a sense of who has power and say at these negotiations, and who does not.

Protecting the petrostates

The main outcomes of COP27 are a good illustration of the power dynamics at play. There is some good news on loss and damage, which was added to the agenda at the last moment. Nearly 200 countries agreed that a fund for loss and damage, which would pay out to rescue and rebuild the physical and social infrastructure of countries ravaged by extreme weather events, should be set up within the next year. However, there is no agreement yet on how much money should be paid in, by whom, and on what basis.

Much more worryingly, there had been a push to phase out all fossil fuels by countries including some of the biggest producers: the EU, Australia, India, Canada, the US and Norway. However, with China, Russia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Iran pushing back, several commitments made at COP26 in Glasgow were dropped, including a target for global emissions to peak by 2025. The outcome was widely judged a failure on efforts to cut emissions: the final agreed text from the summit makes no mention of phasing out fossil fuels and scant reference to the 1.5℃ target.

Laurence Tubiana, one of the architects of the Paris Agreement, blamed the host country, Egypt, for allowing its regional alliances to sway the final decision, producing a text that clearly protects oil and gas petrostates and the fossil fuel industries.

The final outcomes demonstrate that, despite the thousands who were there to advocate for climate justice, it was the fossil fuel lobby that had most influence. As a climate justice scholar, I am deeply worried about the processes at COPs, especially given next year’s destination: Dubai. It remains to be seen what happens with the loss and damage fund, but time is running out and watered down commitments on emissions are at this stage deeply unjust and frankly dangerous.The Conversation

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This blog is written by Cabot Institute for the Environment member Dr Alix Dietzel, Senior Lecturer in Climate Justice, University of BristolThis article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Three reasons a weak pound is bad news for the environment

 

Dragon Claws / shutterstock

The day before new UK chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget plan for economic growth, a pound would buy you about $1.13. After financial markets rejected the plan, the pound suddenly sunk to around $1.07. Though it has since rallied thanks to major intervention from the Bank of England, the currency remains volatile and far below its value earlier this year.

A lot has been written about how this will affect people’s incomes, the housing market or overall political and economic conditions. But we want to look at why the weak pound is bad news for the UK’s natural environment and its ability to hit climate targets.

1. The low-carbon economy just became a lot more expensive

The fall in sterling’s value partly signals a loss in confidence in the value of UK assets following the unfunded tax commitments contained in the mini-budget. The government’s aim to achieve net zero by 2050 requires substantial public and private investment in energy technologies such as solar and wind as well as carbon storage, insulation and electric cars.

But the loss in investor confidence threatens to derail these investments, because firms may be unwilling to commit the substantial budgets required in an uncertain economic environment. The cost of these investments may also rise as a result of the falling pound because many of the materials and inputs needed for these technologies, such as batteries, are imported and a falling pound increases their prices.

Aerial view of wind farm with forest and fields in background
UK wind power relies on lots of imported parts.
Richard Whitcombe / shutterstock

2. High interest rates may rule out large investment

To support the pound and to control inflation, interest rates are expected to rise further. The UK is already experiencing record levels of inflation, fuelled by pandemic-related spending and Russia’s war on Ukraine. Rising consumer prices developed into a full-blown cost of living crisis, with fuel and food poverty, financial hardship and the collapse of businesses looming large on this winter’s horizon.

While the anticipated increase in interest rates might ease the cost of living crisis, it also increases the cost of government borrowing at a time when we rapidly need to increase low-carbon investment for net zero by 2050. The government’s official climate change advisory committee estimates that an additional £4 billion to £6 billion of annual public spending will be needed by 2030.

Some of this money should be raised through carbon taxes. But in reality, at least for as long as the cost of living crisis is ongoing, if the government is serious about green investment it will have to borrow.

Rising interest rates will push up the cost of borrowing relentlessly and present a tough political choice that seemingly pits the environment against economic recovery. As any future incoming government will inherit these same rates, a falling pound threatens to make it much harder to take large-scale, rapid environmental action.

3. Imports will become pricier

In addition to increased supply prices for firms and rising borrowing costs, it will lead to a significant rise in import prices for consumers. Given the UK’s reliance on imports, this is likely to affect prices for food, clothing and manufactured goods.

At the consumer level, this will immediately impact marginal spending as necessary expenditures (housing, energy, basic food and so on) lower the budget available for products such as eco-friendly cleaning products, organic foods or ethically made clothes. Buying “greener” products typically cost a family of four around £2,000 a year.

Instead, people may have to rely on cheaper goods that also come with larger greenhouse gas footprints and wider impacts on the environment through pollution and increased waste. See this calculator for direct comparisons.

Of course, some spending changes will be positive for the environment, for example if people use their cars less or take fewer holidays abroad. However, high-income individuals who will benefit the most from the mini-budget tax cuts will be less affected by the falling pound and they tend to fly more, buy more things, and have multiple cars and bigger homes to heat.

This raises profound questions about inequality and injustice in UK society. Alongside increased fuel poverty and foodbank use, we will see an uptick in the purchasing power of the wealthiest.

What’s next

Interest rate rises increase the cost of servicing government debt as well as the cost of new borrowing. One estimate says that the combined cost to government of the new tax cuts and higher cost of borrowing is around £250 billion. This substantial loss in government income reduces the budget available for climate change mitigation and improvements to infrastructure.

The government’s growth plan also seems to be based on an increased use of fossil fuels through technologies such as fracking. Given the scant evidence for absolutely decoupling economic growth from resource use, the opposition’s “green growth” proposal is also unlikely to decarbonise at the rate required to get to net zero by 2050 and avert catastrophic climate change.

Therefore, rather than increasing the energy and materials going into the economy for the sake of GDP growth, we would argue the UK needs an economic reorientation that questions the need of growth for its own sake and orients it instead towards social equality and ecological sustainability.The Conversation

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This blog is written by Cabot Institute for the Environment members Dr Katharina Richter, Lecturer in Climate, Politics and Society, University of Bristol; Dr Alix Dietzel, Senior Lecturer in Climate Justice, University of Bristol, and Professor Alvin Birdi, Professor of Economics Education, University of Bristol. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Paris Agreement – where are we now?

Cabot Annual Lecture 2018

This year the Cabot Institute Annual Lecture posed a critical question: where are we with current efforts to tackle global climate change? The event brought together over 800 people to hear from leading Cabot Institute experts in climate science, policy, and justice, Dr Jo House, Dr Dann Mitchell, Dr Alix Dietzel and Professor Tony Payne. It was both an appraisal of the findings of the recently published report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and a grounded call to climate action.

Paris commitments

In 2015 world leaders adopted the Paris Agreement committing all parties to limiting global average temperatures to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5 °C. All countries undertook to achieve global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and to enact increasingly ambitious mitigation measures in line with the overarching temperature goals. The Paris Agreement, in contrast to the preceding Kyoto Protocol, is not based on legally binding reductions targets for developed countries, but on a voluntary system of pledges known as ‘nationally determined contributions’ for all parties which will be subject to a stocktake of global progress every five years, beginning in 2023.

Although the Paris Agreement initially offered great promise with pledges being made by both developed and developing countries, a report by the UN Environment Programme in November 2017 examining progress towards the global temperature goals found that even if all current pledges are honoured, we remain on track for some 3 °C of warming by 2100. In light of this, and under the Presidency of Fiji, the first Small Island State to preside over a Conference of the Parties at COP23 last year, the focus has been on building momentum for more urgent action through the facilitative ‘Talanoa dialogue’ and on hashing out the final operating procedures for the Agreement. The findings of the IPCC Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, published on 8 October represent a further important piece of the picture of global progress, which three of the Cabot speakers shed light upon as contributing authors.

Why 0.5°C of warming matters

The findings of the report are significant in illustrating the projected differences in climate change impacts between the 1.5°C and 2°C temperature thresholds. Dr Dann Mitchell outlined the evidence for increases in regional mean temperatures and for the increasing likelihood of temperature extremes of the kind witnessed during this summer’s European heatwave, which we could see occur almost every year at 2°C of warming. These extremes, together with the projected intensification of storms presented in the report, are closely linked to human risks to health, wellbeing and livelihoods.

Cabot Annual Lecture 2018
Dr Dann Mitchell

Professor Tony Payne echoed these concerns with respect to the findings of the report on sea-level rise which predict an extra 10cm rise between the 1.5°C and 2°C temperature thresholds, equating, in turn, to an additional 10 million people at risk of related impacts including inundation and displacement. The destabilisation of the ice sheets is set to become more likely beyond 1.5°C, entailing risks of much greater sea-level rise in the future. Professor Payne further outlined the strikingly severe consequences for coral reefs of the two temperature thresholds, with projections that at 2°C all coral in the oceans will die, while by limiting temperature to 1.5°C, some 10-30% of coral will survive. Reefs are not only crucial for the maintenance of healthy marine ecosystems, but also for the millions of people around the world who depend upon those ecosystems for their food security and livelihoods.

Cabot Annual Lecture 2018
Professor Tony Payne

A call for action

Against these stark warnings on the significance of limiting global temperatures to 1.5°C, Dr Jo House outlined some key recommendations for how we can get on track. The IPCC report sets out a number of pathways for action, each calling for changes across a broad spectrum of policy sectors with the aim of rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing the absorption of existing carbon in the atmosphere. These changes include moving away from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy, greening the transport sector, replanting forests, and investing in carbon capture and storage technologies. Dr House underlined the importance of action at all levels of governance to meet these goals. At the national level in the UK under the provisions of the Climate Change Act we are already committed to an 80% reduction on 1990 levels by 2050, while at the city level in Bristol, the Climate and Energy Security Framework commits to the same target, with a 50% reduction to be achieved by 2025.

Cabot Annual Lecture 2018
Dr Jo House

This action in climate policy is increasingly being driven by sub-state actors and Dr Alix Dietzel highlighted the crucial role that local government, civil society groups, citizens initiatives, corporations, and individuals are playing in this. Dr Dietzel expressed cause for hope in the reaction of sub-state actors to the announcement of the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement, with the ‘WE ARE STILL IN’ movement garnering support from city mayors, governors, tribal leaders, universities, and businesses for continuing commitment to the Paris goals. At the individual level, the actions we can all take within the boundaries of our own capabilities were discussed, outlining our capacity to affect change through our consumption and lifestyle choices. The need to consider the ethical questions surrounding our responsibilities as individuals and global citizens remains crucial, particularly in light of the disproportionately harmful effects that climate impacts will have upon those who have contributed least to the problem.

Cabot Annual Lecture 2018
Dr Alix Dietzel

The risks of inaction on the 1.5°C threshold were balanced against the opportunities and benefits of action by the panel. The successful lobbying efforts of climate-vulnerable states to embed the 1.5°C threshold within the Paris framework, alongside the commitment of many governments and sub-state actors to meet it, are cause for hope but we still have a long way to go.

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This blog was written by Cabot Institute member Alice Venn, a PhD Candidate in Environment, Energy & Resilience at the University of Bristol’s Law School.

Alice Venn

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