December 12, 2020, will be the 5th anniversary of the adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement. This analysis provides important materials and pursues the questions: Where do we stand in dealing with the climate crisis? What false solutions must be avoided? And how can we push the urgently needed radical course change in pursuit of climate justice?
Paris, December 12, 2015. Waiting can be grueling. It took hours back then in cold grey Paris before the results of COP 15 were announced and the Paris Climate Agreement was sealed with the hit of a gavel. What followed was a mixture of jubilation and sadness, but above all great confusion: was the agreement a great success or a catastrophic defeat? Added to this was a hunch that we would have to keep an eye on those who prevented a success in Copenhagen in 2009 and now suddenly wanted to celebrate 2015 the Paris Agreement with the whole world.
December 12, 2020, marks the 5th anniversary of this historic day. For us, this is less a cause for light-hearted jubilation than a moment to ponder and reflect. What were the topics that caused us great concerns 5 years ago and what has become of them? What new tricks has the lobby of big polluters pulled off and used in the last few years in an effort to avoid taking responsibility? Which are the arguments and fights are we now faced with? With this article, which compiles a large number and variety of analyses, reports, data, facts and educational material received and elaborated through our work and our networks (which, by necessity can only be incomplete), we venture a small review, take stock and also a look into the future.
What were the big questions?
Looking back, memories of the many climate conferences of the last two and a half decades fuse together. An insane amount has happened - and yet we have been at a standstill on many points. Quite frequently, the political work of civil society at COPs focuses on preventing even worse things from happening. It is remarkable that it took a generation of climate advocates protectors who were socialized and politicized at the UN COPs quite a while to understand: The climate is not protected through those these big conferences. And yet, despite all the question marks and concerns: without a multilateral, rights-based climate policy anchored in international law, we will not succeed either.
The Heinrich Böll Foundation has been following the UN Climate Conferences very closely since 2007, and together with our colleagues and partners we have presented a very detailed political analysis at the end of each COP. These analyses are still available online. The headlines give an impression of the mood of these years.
Preparations for COP 26 in Glasgow
Now it is 2020 and COP 26 in Glasgow, Scotland, originally scheduled for November 2020, has been postponed by one year. This conference is regarded as the most important since Paris five years ago, because Glasgow will show whether the Paris Agreement works as planned: It stipulates that every five years the countries will present new, and above all more ambitious, climate plans. The preparations so far have been bumpy: at the beginning of the year, for example, Prime Minister Boris Johnson dismissed the conference's president, former Climate and Energy Minister Claire O'Neill, who had strongly criticized how climate diplomacy was conducted. The COP26 team, which was then newly formed, is made up exclusively of men. In addition, the chaotic Brexit overshadows the negotiations in the United Kingdom.
Will Xi and Biden save us?
Many now expect new impulses and dynamics for international climate policy to come from China on the one hand and from the USA on the other.
With regard to the USA, it can be said that the USA's re-entry into the Paris Climate Agreement is beyond question. However, it is not clear to what extent this will also be a truly ambitious further development of international climate policy under Obama, especially since Biden's appointments also draws on "old forces" from the Obama era (keyword: John Kerry as presidential special climate envoy with cabinet rank). This is not acceptable 5 years after Paris. It needs more than a "Back to the Future". Some American climate NGOs are therefore also calling for a clear US climate-related foreign policy, i.e. a commitment to integrate climate concerns into trade and security dealings and engagements. It is also not clear whether Biden's re-entry into the Paris Climate Agreement also means a full re-entry into international climate financing. The USA still owes USD 2 billion for the original financing phase of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) out of the USD 3 billion promised under President Obama, and has not yet made any commitment to the first replenishment phase of the GCF.
It is also concerning that under a Biden government there will be more support for CCS and nuclear power and a lot of support for carbon markets and emissions trading (nationally and internationally (for a more detailed critical analysis of Biden’s international climate policy see here)
And China? Many were hopeful about the surprising announcement of China's head of state Xi Jinping before the UN General Assembly in September, where he declared that his country would become climate neutral by 2060 at the latest. As Xi said in his speech, China wants to reach the peak of its emissions before 2030. This is a clear sharpening of the previous goals. China is responsible for around a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. Implementing this announcement could reduce global warming by an estimated 0.2 to 0.3 degrees Celsius by 2100. However, it remains unclear how China will actually tackle these goals - and with which technologies. Here, too, there is reason to suspect that CCS, among other things, will be used.
What are the big questions that (will) drive us in climate policy in the 2020s? This outlook focuses on three main propositions:
Proposition 1: We need a quick exit not only from coal, but also from fossil oil and gas.
Proposition 2: Instead of dealing with the climate crisis with correct, appropriate and fair solutions, governments and industry are constantly looking for (and finding) new excuses, diversionary tactics and supposed shortcuts that rely on risky large-scale technologies or market mechanisms.
Proposition 3: It is feasible to limit global warming to 1.5°C and thereby make a good life possible for all. This requires a clear commitment to something we call "radical realism". In other words, a rapid and consistent implementation of a socio-ecological transformation that is oriented towards ecological and social justice, human rights and democracy.
Proposition 1: We need a quick exit not only from coal, but also from oil & fossil gas. This means that we must not build any new fossil infrastructure and must terminate or close down existing fossil projects early.
In international parlance, this is known as "managed decline" and is now loudly demanded by well over 500 organizations worldwide. And no, the German coal phase-out by 2038 is not enough - "too little, too late" is perhaps the best way to sum up the criticism. At the same time, we must promote fair structural change in the regions affected (international debate: "Just Transition"). There is also a broad and diverse discourse on this issue.
The fossil bonanza continues (almost) unbroken
Unfortunately, we do not see any fundamental trend reversal since Paris 2015. The fossil fuel bonanza continues (almost) unbroken. However, it is becoming clear - not least due to the multiple crises that the Covid pandemic has highlighted - that the fossil industry is structurally in crisis and that it will only be a matter of time before its business model has finally become obsolete. In the meantime, there are mounting bankruptcies in the fossil fuel industries, including in fracking. However, in view of the dramatic global warming, change is still not happening fast enough and a huge effort is needed to break the power of the fossil lobby and its influence on political decision-making processes. For even though the oil industry is in a massive crisis, these corporations are pushing the development of new fossil deposits in many parts of the world and governments are investing massively in the expansion of new infrastructure - often with reference to the new miracle cure hydrogen, which is known to come in all colors of the rainbow.
What about temperature and emission trends?
The global average temperature in 2019 was about 1.1 (+/- 0.1)°C above pre-industrial levels. The year 2019 is probably the second warmest year since records began. The last five years are the hottest since measurements began, and the last decade of 2010-2019 is also the hottest decade (WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2019).
The IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C stated in 2018 that the global average temperature is currently rising by about 0.2 degrees per decade. This means that global warming will reach the critical value of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels between 2030 and 2052, unless the rate of warming is slowed by drastic emission reductions (IPCC 2018, Summary for Policy Makers, A1).
At the same time, the concentrations of key greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere - such as CO2, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) - will continue to rise in 2019 and 2020. Global fossil CO2 emissions reached a new all-time high of 36.7 gigatons (Gt) in 2019 - an incredible 62% higher than in 1990 (WMO: United in Science 2020).
With the global rise in temperature, extreme weather events have also become stronger and more frequent. At the same time, sea levels are rising - even more than the long-term trend would have led us to expect, since the melting of the ice caps is also accelerating and driving sea-level rise (WMO: United in Science 2020).
Especially harmful to the climate: methane
When it comes to assessing the climate impact of various greenhouse gases, the effect of methane is often underestimated. In many places (such as in Germany), an outdated factor is used to calculate the CO2 equivalents of methane, thus obscuring the significant role of natural gas (which is, after all, mainly made up of methane). According to current figures from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the greenhouse effect of natural gas is up to 87 times stronger than that of CO2 in the first 20 years and up to 36 times stronger in the first 100 years. If, in addition to the CO2 emissions produced during combustion, the methane leaks that occur during extraction, transport and storage are also taken into account when considering natural gas, the climate balance of natural gas - especially that produced through fracking- is as bad as that of coal. According to a recent study by Prof. Howarth, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA, shale gas and oil production is responsible for around 33% of the total global increase in methane emissions and thus contributes significantly to global warming.
How are different countries reacting to the urgency of the situation?
On December 9, UNEP's annual Emissions Gap Report was published, which compares how big the gap is between the scientific necessity and the political will (namely, the promised climate protection measures of countries). The emissions gap has not been narrowed compared with 2019 and is, as yet, unaffected by COVID-19. By 2030, annual emissions need to be 15 GtCO2e (range: 12–19 GtCO2e) lower than current unconditional Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) imply for a 2°C goal, and 32 GtCO2e (range: 29–36 GtCO2e) lower for the 1.5°C goal. The gap is so wide because it depends on whether one looks at 2°C or 1.5°C and depending on whether one counts in NDCs the goals that were only submitted conditional on international climate finance being available.
To get a current overview of the inadequacy of NDCs one can look at the Climate Action Tracker. It gives a new overview of what temperature can be expected by 2100 if all governments keep their promises: 2.1°C - sounds better than 2.7°C for now (that's what it looked like just a few months ago). But the figures should be treated with caution, as the commitments are problematic and unclear in some cases (see below on "Net Zero") and have a very long time horizon (2100!). So it should by no means be read as the all-clear - rather as an encouragement.
Overall, the distribution of burden in international climate protection efforts continues to be very unfair and disproportionally placed on the poorest countries which are worst affected but have contributed the least in historic emissions. The topic of equity is and will remain a permanent fixture in international climate policy. Relevant background information, analyses and information can be found at EcoEquity and in the last major Civil Society Review (2015), among others.
And what is the EU doing?
The Climate Action Tracker looks at the issue of "fair share" in its country NDC analyses and states with regard to the EU NDC: The EU27+UK target is insufficient, as it is not compatible with the goals of the Paris Agreement of limiting global warming to well below 2°C or even 1.5°C. If all countries were to emulate the EU in terms of ambition, we would end up between 2°C and 3°C!
The EU, like everyone else, must submit its new greenhouse gas emissions target to the UNFCCC by the end of the year. This takes the form of the EU Climate Change Act, the core of the European Green Deal, which sets the EU Commission’s goal to make Europe climate-neutral by 2050. The EU wants to significantly raise its interim target for 2030: Compared to the 1990 level, greenhouse gas emissions are to be reduced by 50-55% (from the previous only 40% reduction commitment) according to the Commission's initial proposal in March 2020. According to calculations by the United Nations, all countries would have to reduce their emissions by 7.6% annually in order to still reach the 1.5 degree target. Applied to the EU, this would mean a reduction of at least 65% by 2030, but only, if on disregards the responsibility for historical emissions and equity considerations under a climate justice perspective.
In October, the EU Parliament voted for a 60% reduction target by 2030. The heads of state and government have not yet been able to agree on such a target. Currently 17 countries are in favor of a climate target of at least 55% net reduction, including Germany.
Some points still need to be clarified in the trilogue negotiations between European Commission, Council and Parliament that began on 30 November 2020, such as the consideration of sinks in the achievement of targets, the phasing out of direct and indirect subsidies for fossil fuels, a CO2 budget and the creation of an independent climate council. In addition, clear rules on how this goal is to be achieved are needed. In the end, it is also a question of money in the EU, which is why the climate negotiations are held alongside the budget negotiations and the discussion for a reconstruction fund. Countries such as Poland are pushing for more money to support a higher target in order to restructure their still heavily coal-based economy.
Climate financing: No money, no dice
When it comes to international climate protection, the old saying that "money makes the world go round" applies to a lack of sufficient financing too: “no money, no dice”! Rich industrialized countries not only have the (moral and legal) obligation to finance mitigation and adaptation efforts in the developing countries most affected, they also have the (financial) capacities. Unfortunately, it is already apparent: The industrialized countries will probably miss the target of US$ 100 billion per year by 2020 in international climate financing they have set themselves in 2009. And while Germany is on track with fulfilling its promise of doubling climate financing by 2020, new financial commitments for the period after 2020 are still lacking.
Updates on the German contribution to international climate financing can be found at www.deutscheklimafinanzierung.de; and an overview of the status of dedicated multilateral climate funds, as well as a series of targeted briefings on climate finance by theme and region, the Climate Finance Fundamentals (CFF series) can be found at www.climatefundsupdate.org. Further analysis, including on the developments of the Green Climate Fund, can be found here.
Fossil Fuels - The supply side debate in climate policy
The 2020Production Gap Report: Special Report on Covid-19 , which takes a look at "supply side climate policy" every year by focusing on the polluter side, i.e. the extraction and provision of fossil fuels , states: "The world will need to reduce fossil fuel production by about 6% per year between 2020 and 2030 to meet the Paris climate targets. Specifically broken down by individual fossil fuels, this means that coal production (&-consumption) will have to shrink by 11% per year over the next decade, oil by 4% and natural gas by 3%. Instead, governments plan an average annual increase of 2%, which would lead to more than a doubling of production by 2030! This is compatible with the 1.5°C temperature limit.
By the way: There is also an equity perspective to the complex of Supply Side & Fossil Fuels. In their contribution "Equity, climate justice and fossil fuel extraction: principles for a managed phase out", Greg Muttitt and Sivan Kartha ask for criteria that would have to be applied for a fair global phase-out of coal, oil and gas production.
Green Recovery? Brown is the new green!
Although the economic lockdowns in large parts of the global economy gave a minimal respite in emissions this year, the temporary reduction in emissions was still negligible compared to the greenhouse gases already accumulated in the atmosphere and also compared to the overall necessary emission reductions. The lockdown therefore had no positive effect on atmospheric CO2 concentrations or the climate crisis.
To make matters worse, the economic and financial recovery package that governments have put together in response to lockdowns and the looming economic crisis failed to shift the climate trajectory of the economy, on the contrary: they allocated much more money to fossil-fuel projects than to clean energy - over $230 billion according to the Production Gap Report, and that is unfortunately a conservative estimate.
A few helpful data sources track and illustrate this unfortunate trend:
- Energy Policy Tracker von IISD, IGES, OCI, ODI, SEI und Columbia University
- From a feminist and gender policy perspective, we recommend the following analyses of the economic stimulus package in Germany and the Green Deal in the USA
- A study by Vivid Economics: Greenness of Stimulus Index
- A good overview from the Guardian of November 2020
- And of course the Bailout Watch
Proposition 2: Instead of dealing with the climate crisis with correct, appropriate and fair solutions, governments and industry are constantly looking for (and finding) new excuses, diversionary tactics and supposed shortcuts that rely on risky large-scale technologies or market mechanisms
These climate policy solutions are false and point in the wrong direction by ensuring that scarce and valuable resources and political attention end up in the wrong channels. They also marginalize the real solutions and weaken the negotiating position of those who argue for them. Some of the biggest mis-directions and false solutions are explained below:
Focus on "net zero" and climate neutrality
Global emissions must be reduced globally to zero by around 2050. To achieve this, we must first and foremost urgently stop using and burning fossil fuels for our energy production, in the transport sector and in all other economic sectors. However, the terms "climate neutrality" or "net zero" mean something else: they only describe a balance of emissions at a certain point in time. The term does not shed light on how much emissions have actually been reduced and how much emphasis is placed on offsetting (compensation), market mechanisms and/or risky large-scale technologies to compensate for excess emissions. At the same time, proliferating net zero and climate neutrality targets set by governments as well as large corporations give the impression that an ambitious goal is being pursued, as the following examples illustrate:
- the international network Global Forest Coalition analyzes Shell's Net-Zero plans
- DeSmog blog looks at the oil companies' forest offset projects
- Amazon promises to become "net negative" until 2040
Probably the best overview of such - in large parts rather dubious - plans and strategies is currently provided by the Carbon Removal Corporate Action Tracker of the Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy.
In principle, the concept of "net zero" is a rather problematic "moving target": the longer emissions continue to rise, the greater the proportion that is ultimately to be compensated or "removed" from the atmosphere. The discursive step towards "net zero" or "climate neutrality" enables governments and companies to present themselves as protecting the climate, while postponing and evading the immediate pressure to act.
Overshoot first overshoot, and then use carbon removal for net zero emissions?
Important bases for this argumentation are so-called overshoot scenarios. In the meantime, the concept of "temperature overshoot" has crept into the debate about achieving the 1.5 degree target: In this interpretation of the internationally set goal, it is sufficient if global warming "again" reaches 1.5 degrees by the end of the 21st century, and this value is exceeded for several decades in the meantime. However, such "overshoot" scenarios are very dangerous as they require large-scale carbon dioxide removal (CDR), i.e. the large-scale removal of CO2 from the atmosphere, usually by technological means (see below).
At the same time, the global climate system is not simply a machine whose temperature we can turn up and down at will. It is unclear whether the global climate would even "regress" linearly after an "overshoot". In addition, there is the risk that during this overshoot, tipping points in the climate system will be exceeded, which would cause the global climate to tilt into a completely new, unknown state that could not simply be reversed. There is also the risk of irreversible damage to people and ecosystems during such an overshoot.
For further reading on the topic of "Net Zero" we recommend this briefing, which has been compiled by several important Climate Justice Groups: "NOT ZERO: How 'net zero' targets disguise climate inaction".
Market mechanisms in the climate regime and Article 6 in the Paris Climate Convention
The balance of various emissions trading systems looks meagre to bleak. Perhaps it is precisely because those lobbying for an expansion of these mechanisms are primarily those who have no interest in a comprehensive transformation?
Here is the Green Finance Observatory's very readable fundamental criticism of this approach in three steps:
- First policy report - 50 shades of green: the rise of natural capital markets and sustainable finance
- Second policy report - 50 shades of green. Part. II: The fallacy of environmental markets
- Third policy report - 50 shades of green part. III: Sustainable finance 2.0
Carbon Market Watch also has extensive and very informative material, including on the negotiations surrounding Article 6 of the Paris Climate Change Convention, especially its Carbon Market 101 publication.
Two new carbon markets have been established under the Paris Agreement to replace the three Kyoto market mechanisms (Clean Development Mechanism / CDM, International Emissions Trading and Joint Implementation / JI). These markets are largely covered by Article 6 of the Paris Climate Convention. Since 2016, the negotiators have been discussing the detailed rules of these mechanisms. Until now, these issues have been among the open points of the so-called Paris Rulebook, which summarizes the implementation rules of the agreement.
Article 6 in turn is divided into two different market mechanisms: Article 6.2 and Article 6.4 (the latter is sometimes referred to as the "Sustainable Development Mechanism" or SDM). Article 6.2 establishes a carbon market that allows countries to sell any additional emission reductions they have achieved compared to their own targets. These credits are called International Transfered Mitigation Outcomes (ITMOs). The other market mechanism, Article 6.4, is much more similar to the Clean Development Mechanism, except that it will not be limited to projects implemented in developing countries. In this market, project developers are expected to generate emissions through specific actions in one country and then sell these emission reductions to another country/company/person.
Beyond Carbon - A New Economy of Nature
It quickly becomes clear that the trend towards the financialization of natural capital and its subsequent integration into markets with compensation mechanisms has long since ceased to be confined to climate policy, and is now affecting other areas of nature and environmental protection. Our dossier on the New Economy of Nature provides very detailed information on this.
Take REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries). The experience of integrating forests into climate protection through the REDD+ mechanism should teach us a lot about the pitfalls around nature-based solutions and market mechanisms... but few governments want to take these lessons seriously. Some critical materials around REDD+:
- Jutta Kill reflecting on her experience with REDD+ as a lost decade in nature conservation efforts
- Amazonia: Deforestation, "development" and resistance - the fight for the largest rain forest of the world
- Measured Nature - REDD: how climate policy is discovering and changing the forest
Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) - Saving the climate with nature?
In the course of the net-zero plans and objectives, the run on the land and forest sector to fulfill these promises is also taking off - both the promise of "negative emissions" and the offsets of fossil emissions. These, like REDD+ before, often lead to privatization and land grabbing, human and land rights violations, destruction of ecosystems and biodiversity through monocultures, and many other problems. The framing of "nature based solutions" (NBS) is far too open and vague to prevent it from being appropriated by industry interests and used for greenwashing. When companies speak of NBS, they may just as well mean reforestation with monocultures and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) - see the example of Microsoft.
For many organizations and networks, especially in the Global South, things are therefore quite clear. This is what the Global Forest Coalition says unequivocally: #OurNatureIsNotYourSolution!
This position was reaffirmed around the International Day of Biodiversity onMay22,2020 and in response to the theme of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity "Our solutions are in nature".
Several organizations have published critical analyses on the topic of nature based solutions, such as:
- Third World Network/African Centre for Biodiversity: Nature-based solutions or nature-based seductions? Unpacking the dangerous myth that nature-based solutions can sufficiently mitigate climate change
- Kate Dooley et al.: Carbon-dioxide Removal and Biodiversity: A Threat Identification Framework and in a blog post: Safeguarding biodiversity in carbon dioxide removal approaches
Missing Pathways: What role for nature & ecosystems in climate protection?
At the same time, the protection and cautious ecological restoration of natural ecosystems - first and foremost forests, but also other ecosystems on land and in the oceans - are absolutely central to countering the climate and biodiversity crises. A variety of "real solutions" that can contribute to climate justice in agriculture and the land sector are described, for example, in the "Missing Pathways to 1.5°C" (2018) of the Climate, Land, Ambition Rights Alliance (CLARA). However, they should not be used to "offset" emissions or environmental destruction elsewhere. Instead, we urgently need to reduce our fossil and industrial emissions to zero, and in addition, we need to promote sustainable, near-natural management of global ecosystems. This also applies to the agricultural sector, which with today's agro-industrial methods of cultivation is a cause and driver of the climate crisis. By switching to agro-ecological agriculture, not only could emissions be reduced, but CO2 could also be bound to agricultural ecosystems again.
Geoengineering – relying on technology to fix it
When climate activist in an international lobby letter in Paris in December 2015 warned that we should not blindly accept the testing and application of dangerous geoengineering technologies as a way to reach the 1.5°C target, they were met with a great deal of criticism and treated like the Grinch who stole Christmas clouding the general mood of celebration. Looking back, unfortunately the initial uneasiness and worries have meanwhile been surpassed by reality. Geoengineering - the idea of large-scale interventions in the global climate system using largely untested technologies - has become mainstream in the climate debate in recent years, in which a lot has happened. While the de facto moratorium of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 2010 seemed like a sensible, early regulatory step and individual geoengineering experiments could be stopped by public mobilization, the field has become more than confusing today.
Our interactive world map of geoengineering projects and experiments, for example, provides information on this. While the original world map (then in static poster form) documented around 300 experiments and projects in 2012, this number rose to over 800 in 2017. By the end of 2020, our database contains almost 1,400 geoengineering projects!
For more information on geoengineering, the technologies, the risks and impacts, the players*, financial flows and regulatory approaches, we recommend you
- the GeoengineeringMonitor, the central civil society information platform on geoengineering
- the geoengineering dossier on boell.de
- and our explanatory films on land-based geoengineering, marine geoengineering and atmospheric geoengineering (each with subtitles in different languages!)
- Podcasts about Geoengineering in the Global South and Geoengineering and Decolonization
Where is the geoengineering debate currently heading?
Today, millions of dollars are being invested in the development of geoengineering technologies, both by the private sector (especially the climate-destroying industries, large technology companies and wealthy individuals and by governments (for example in the Unites States).
At the same time, the issue is increasingly pushing its way onto the political agenda. Especially in the context of climate neutrality goals and "net zero" plans (see above), technologies of large-scale Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) play an increasingly important role. The social, ecological and political risks these technologies entail tend to remain little discussed.
From our point of view, the longstanding involvement of the fossil industry in the research and development of geoengineering technologies, but also other sources of finance from Silicon Valley and from the governments of some oil-producing countries, is a major problem and clearly shows in whose interest these technologies are and who will benefit from them: Climate-destroying industries and governments that want to maintain the status quo.
In the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), geoengineering is also repeatedly the subject of (controversial) debates: While the Special Report on 1.5°C found very critical words and focused on ambitious climate paths without "overshoot", geoengineering will also play a greater role in the next major Assessment Report AR6, which is expected in 2021/2022.
But international civil society is also not inactive and organizes itself in the Hands Off Mother Earth (H.O.M.E.) campaign.
Proposition 3: For all the urgency and drama, it is feasible to limit global warming to 1.5°C while ensuring a good life for all. This does not require risky technofixes (geoengineering) nor ignoring other ecological planetary boundaries. Instead we need a clear commitment to something we call "radical realism" (#RadicalRealism). In other words, a rapid and consistent implementation of a social-ecological transformation that is oriented towards ecological and social justice, human rights and democracy
What we really need: Radical Realism!
A 2018 a compilation of proposals on Radical Realism - published in parallel to the 1.5°C report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) -- shows in 8 articles how the transformation towards a 1.5°C-compatible world can be achieved: With a radical departure from our resource-intensive and wasteful patterns of production and consumption and a democratic restructuring of central sectors, with post-growth in the Global North, with intersectional social organization, and with the comprehensive but cautious restoration and renaturation of our global ecosystems, with the protection of human rights, land rights and the rights of indigenous communities.
The publication brings together the knowledge, experience and expertise of a wide range of international organizations, networks and scholars who have developed these transformative paths in their political demands, political practice and academic research.
Recently we have edited three of these contributions again in the form of short, animated explanatory videos:
- Radical Realism: A Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production
- Radical Realism: From Linear Economy to a Zero Waste Society
- Radical Realism: From Industrial Agriculture to Peasant Agroecology
Everything else about Radical Realism can be found in our related Radical Realism Dossier.
How do we get there? What strategies are needed? One thing is clear: There is no one big master plan, but a multitude of ideas and solutions! There is no lack of knowledge and ideas, but rather a lack of the will to implement, a lack, of power and of the necessary political majorities.
Here are three strategic considerations how this could change in the next few years - if we tackle it:
1. Climate movement: more, more diverse and more radical
The climate (justice) movement has once again grown considerably in the past two years - also with newly emerging actors such as Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion. The movement has become larger and more diverse - and aware, as well as raising awarenesss that there is no other way than to address the climate crisis at its systemic and structural causes.
Even though the climate movement in many industrialized countries still consists very much of white dominated spaces and contexts, the debate about (anti-)racism in society and the movement is increasing and puts (post-)colonial continuities in the climate crisis into the spotlight.
At the same time, it is becoming increasingly clear that environmentalists are being threatened, criminalized, persecuted and even murdered. In its global analysis for the year 2019, the organization Front Line Defenders states that 304 human rights defenders lost their lives. The number of unreported cases is probably much higher. Especially land and environmental activists are at risk; 40 percent of those killed were engaged in this area. According to Global Witness, 64 environmental activists were killed in Colombia in 2019, 43 in the Philippines, 24 in Brazil, and 18 in Mexico. Therefore, today more than ever, if you want to protect the environment, you must protect those who defend their territories and rights. If necessary, even in court.
2. Lawsuits and other rights-based strategies
In view of the worsening climate crisis, more and more actors (affected persons, environmental associations, cities and municipalities, etc.) are deciding to take legal action. But can you save the climate with litigation? So-called climate lawsuits are designed to urge national governments to pursue more ambitious climate goals. They make violations of fundamental rights by climate change visible. There are lawsuits against major polluters/emitters, for example to hold them liable for losses and damage caused by their products or to make them share the costs of necessary adaptation measures.
In recent years, the use of litigation as a means of combating environmental destruction has proven to be extremely effective in Germany, Europe and other parts of the world. Dozens of coal-fired power plants have been prevented, nature reserves have been saved and livelihoods have been protected. There are climate complaints before the European Court of Justice, complaints before the Federal Constitutional Court, administrative and civil courts (the Huaraz case against RWE) and many more. The law is in a state of upheaval - but it is also having an impact on the transformation we are undergoing. The climate movement will no longer be satisfied with good-sounding but largely empty voluntary commitments, but will insist on the enforceability of fundamental rights.
- This report from the LSE in summer 2020 provides a good overview of global climate change trends.
- The Sabin Center at Columbia University has a database for international climate complaints and one for climate complaints in the USA.
- The Union of Concerned Scientists collects the scientific basis for climate litigation in its Climate Litigation Science Hub.
- The Climate Justice Fund mobilizes money for climate and environmental complaints in the global South.
A group of activists and lawyers is also working on these issues from a criminal law perspective and is calling, among other things, for a change in the statute of the International Criminal Court in order to be able to punish "Ecocide" as a potential international crime. Recently, Swedish parliamentarians have convened a panel of experts to develop such a legal definition. Politically, such an initiative is supported by the Pacific islands, among others (see, for example, Vanuatu's speech at the ICC last year).
3. New approach to multilateral climate policy
After the COP is before the COP - this also applies in times of a global pandemic. The British government is busy preparing for COP 26 in Glasgow in November 2021. And it almost seems a bit like Business As Usual how the various actors - including international civil society - prepare for "yet another COP". Knowing full well that the main focus will be on damage limitation.
But another multilateral climate policy is conceivable. An interesting and inspiring new advance in this direction is the idea of a "Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty" - analogous to the Nuclear Weapons Non-Proliferation Treaty, which prohibits the international proliferation and proliferation of nuclear weapons.
The first step of such an agreement would be to prevent the expansion and spread of fossil energy and its infrastructure. On this basis, existing fossil energy production and infrastructure would be dismantled and discontinued. However, this process must necessarily be accompanied by a "Just Transition" for the workers in the fossil industry and the regions and countries economically dependent on it.
Sounds unrealistic? It probably is - under given political conditions. However, these are the very conditions that have brought into the multiple crises and the climate emergency we are now in. And it is precisely these political parameters that must now be changed – with radical realism, lots of courage for new ideas and broad, strong alliances - on the streets and in the negotiation corridors and video conference channels.