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The Political Responsibility in the Collapse of Our Planet
Roberto Savio is founder of IPS Inter Press Service and President Emeritus
- On 20 December, Europe’s 28 Ministers of Environment met in Brussels, to discuss the plan for reducing emissions prepared by the Commission, to comply with the Paris Agreement on climate change. Well, it is now clear that we have lost the battle in keeping the planet as we have known it. Now, of course, this can be considered a personal opinion of mine, devoid of objectivity.
Therefore I will bring a lot of data, history and facts, to make it concrete. Data and facts have good value: they focus any debate, while ideas do not. So those who do not like facts, please stop reading here. You will escape a boring article, as probably all of mine are, because I am not looking to entertain, but to create awareness. If you stop reading, you will also lose a chance to know our sad destiny.
As common in politics now, interests have won over values and vision. The ministers decided (with some resistance from Denmark and Portugal), to reduce Europe’s commitment. This is going in the Trump direction, who left the Paris Agreement, to privilege American interests, without any attention to the planet. So, Europe is just following.
Of course, those alive now will not pay any price: the next generations will be the victims of a world more and more inhospitable. Few of the people who made to Paris in 2015, solemn engagements in the name of all humankind to save the planet, will be alive 30 years from now, when the change will become irreversible. And it will be also clear that humans are the only animals who do not defend nor protect their habitat.
While we talk on how to reduce the use of fossils, we are doing the opposite. At this very moment, we spend 10 million dollars per minute, to subsidize the fossils industry. Just counting direct subsidies, they are between 775 billion dollars to 1 trillion, according to the UNFirst of all, the Paris’ Agreement was adopted by the 195 participating countries, of which 171 have already subscribed to the treaty, in just two years. Which is fine, except that the treaty is just a collection of good wishes, without any concrete engagement.
To start with, it does not set up specific and verifiable engagements. Every country will set its own targets, and will be responsible for its implementation. It is like to ask all citizens of a country to decide how much taxes they want to pay, and leave to them to comply, without any possible sanction.
Europe engaged in Paris in 2015, to reach 27% of renewable energies (by scaling down the use of fossils), fixing a target of 20% for 2020. Well, from 27%, it went down to 24.3%. In addition, the ministers decided to keep subsidies for the fossils industry, until 2030 instead of 2020, as planned. And while the proposal of the Commission was that fossils plants would lose subsidies if they did not cut their emissions to 500 grams of CO2 per ton by 2020, the ministers extended subsidies until 2025.
Finally, the Commission proposed to cut biofuels (fuels made with products for human consumption, like palm oil) to 3.8%. Well, the ministers, in spite of all their declarations about the fight against hunger in the world, decided to double that, at 7%.
Now let us go back to the real flaw of the Paris Agreement. Scientists took two decades to conclude with certitude that climate change is caused by human activities, despite a strong and well financed fight by the coal and fuel industry, to say otherwise.
The International Panel on Climate Change, is an organization under the auspices of the UN, whose members are 194 countries, but its strength comes from the more than 2.000 scientists from 154 countries who work together on climate. It took them from 1988, (when the IPCC was established), to 2013, to reach a definitive conclusion: the only way to stop the planet deteriorating more rapidly, emissions should not exceed 1.5 centigrade over what was the Earth’ temperature in 1850.
In other words, our planet is deteriorating already, and we cannot revert that. We have emitted too much gas and pollution, that are at work already. But by halting this process, we can stabilize it, but never cancel what we did cause, at least for thousands of years.
The Industrial revolution is considered to start in 1746, when industrial mills replaced individual weavers. But it started in great scale in the second half of the 19th century, with the second industrial revolution.
This involved the use of science in the production, by inventing engines, railways, creating factories, and other means of industrial production. We started to register temperatures in 1850, when this was done with thermometers.
So, we can see how coal, fossils and other fuels started to interact with the atmosphere. What the scientists concluded was that if we went over 1,5 centigrade of the 1.850’s temperature, we would irreversibly cross a red line: we will not be able to change the trend, and climate will be out of control, with very dramatic consequences for the planet.
Paris conference is a final act of a process who started in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, with the Conference on Environment and Development, where two leaders have now passe away, Boutros Boutros Ghali and Maurice Strong, ran the first summit of heads of state on the issue of environment.
Incidentally, it is worth remembering that Strong, a man who spent all his life to make environment a central issue, did open up the conference for the first time to representatives of civil society, beyond governmental delegations. Over 20.000 organizations, academicians, activist come to Rio, starting the creation of a global civil society recognized by the international community.
In 1997, as a result of Rio Conference, the Kyoto Treaty was adopted, with the aim to reduce emissions. The results show that during the nearly two decades bringing to Paris, the results are very modest. Coal went from 45,05% in 1950, to 28.64 in 2016, also because of new technologies, but petrol increased from19.46, to 33.91 and renewables were a negligible reality.
So, Paris was left with a very urgent task, after having lost already two decades. And according to the World Bank, in 2014 , there are 1,017 billion people without electricity, with Africa where only 20% of people has access to electricity. For all these people we should provide renewable energy, to avoid a dramatic increase of emissions.
Paris was supposed to be really a global agreement, unlike Tokyo. So, to bring as many countries as possible on board, it is a little known dirty secret that the UN decided to put as a goal not the very tight 1,5 centigrade as a target, but a more palatable 2 centigrade. But unfortunately, the consensus is that we have already passed the 1.5 centigrade. And the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), has estimated that the engagements taken by the countries in Paris, if not changed, will bring us to 6 centigrade, an increase that according to the scientific community would make a large part of the earth inhabitable.
In fact, in the last four years we had the hottest summers since 1850. And in 2017 we have the highest record of emissions in history, because they have reached 41.5 gigatons. Of those, 90% comes from activities related to human actions, while renewables (cost for which has now become competitive with fossils), still cover only 18% of the energy consumed in the world. And now let us move to another important dirty secret.
While we talk on how to reduce the use of fossils, we are doing the opposite. At this very moment, we spend 10 million dollars per minute, to subsidize the fossils industry.
Just counting direct subsidies, they are between 775 billion dollars to 1 trillion, according to the UN. The official figure just in the G20 is 444 billion. But then, the International Monetary Fund accepted the economists’ view that subsidies are not only cash: it is the use of the earth and society, like destruction of soil, use of water, political tariffs (the so-called externalities, the cost which exists but are external to the budget of the companies).
If we do that, we reach the staggering amount of 5.3 trillion: they were 4.9 trillion in 2013. That is 6.5% of the global Gross National Product…and that is what it costs to governments, society and earth, to use fossils.
That was nowhere in in the news media. Few know the strength of the fossils industry. Trump wants to reopen the mines, not only because that brings him votes by those who lost an obsolete job, but because the fossils industry is a strong backer of the Republican party.
The billionaire Koch brothers, the largest owners of coal mines in the US, have declared that they have spent 800 million dollars in the last electoral campaign. Someone might say: these things happen in the US but according to the respected Transparency International, there are over 40.000 lobbyists in Europe, working to exercise political influence.
The Corporate Europe Observatory, which studies the financial sector, found out that it spends just in Brussels 120 million a year, and employs 1.700 lobbyists. It found that they lobbied against regulations, with more than 700 organizations, which outnumbered trade unions and civil society organizations, by a factor of seven.
The power of the fossils industry explains why in 2009 governments helped the sector with 557 billion dollars, and only 43 to 46 billion dollars to all renewable industry (International Energy Agency estimates).
It is clear that citizens have no idea that a part of their money is going to keep alive, with good profits, a sector which is well aware that they are key in the destruction of our planet.
A sector that knows well that they are now emitting 400 particles of CO2 per million, when the red line was considered 350 particles PM. But people do not know, and this is a spectacular feast of hypocrisy that goes on.
The UN, in 2015, conducted an extensive poll, with the participation of 9.7 million people. They were asked to choose as their priorities six themes out of 16. The first of the themes presented was climate change. Well, the first one chosen, with 6.5 million of preferences, was “a good education”. The second and third, with over 5 million of preferences, were “a better health system”, and “better opportunities for work”. The last of the 16 themes, with less than 2 million, was the “climate change. “And this was also in the preferences of the least developed countries, who are going to be the major victims of climate change.
The 4.3 millions poorest participants, from the least developed countries, put again education first (3 million preferences); climate change was last, with 561.000 votes…Not even in Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia, islands which could disappear, climate change was at the first place. This is an ample proof that people do not realize where we are: at a threshold of the survival of our planet, as we have known it for several thousand years.
So, if citizens are not aware, and therefore not concerned, why should the politicians be? The answer is because they are elected by citizens to represent their interests, and they can make more informed decisions.How does this ring in your ears? With lobbyist all over fighting for interests, what can be well sold as jobs and stability?
And now, let us bring a last dirty secret, to show how far we are from really addressing the control of our climate. In addition to what we said, there is a very important issue, that has even been discussed in Paris: the agreements are entirely about the reduction of emissions by the fossils’ industry. Other emissions have been left entirely out.
Now, a new documentary, the Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, produced by Leonardo di Caprio, has ordered several data presented by vegans, on the impact of animals in the climate change. They are considered somehow exaggerated. But their dimensions are so big, that they add anyhow another nail to our coffin.
Animals emit not CO2, but methane which is at least 25 % more damaging than C02. There is recognition by the UN, that while all means of transportation, from cars to planes, contribute to 13% of emissions, cows do with 18%…
And the real problem is the use of water, a key theme that we have no way to address in this article. Water is considered even by military strategist to be soon the cause of conflicts, as petrol has been for a long time.
One pound of beef uses 2.500 gallons of water. That means that a hamburger is the equivalent of two months of showers…! And to have 1 gallon of milk, you need 100 gallons of water. And people worldwide, use one tenth of what cows need.
Cattle uses 33% of all water, 45% of the earth, and are the cause of 91% of the Amazon deforestation. They also produce waste 130 times more than human beings. Pig raising in the Netherlands is creating serious problems because theirs waste acidity is reducing usable land. And consumption of meat is increasing in Asia and Africa, very fast,it is considered a mark of reaching the choices of rich societies.
Beside this serious impact on the planet, there is also a strong paradox of sustainability for our human population. We are now 7.5 billion people, and we will reach soon 9 billion. The total food production worldwide could feed 13 to 14 billion people. Of this a considerable part goes wasted, and does not reach people (theme for an article by itself). But the food for animals could feed 6 billion people.
And we have one billion people starving. This is proof how far we are from using resources rationally for the people living on earth. We have enough resources for everybody, but we cannot administer them rationally. The number of obese has reached the number of those starving.
The logical solution in this situation would be to reach an agreement on a global governance, in the interest of the planet of humankind. Well, we are going in the opposite direction. The international system is besieged by nationalism, who make increasingly impossible to reach meaningful solutions.
Let us conclude with a last example: overfishing. Its now two decades that the World Trade Organization (which is not part of the UN, and was built against the UN) tries to reach an agreement on over- fishing with mega nets, who scoop up an enormous quantity of fishe: 2.7 trillion, of which they keep only one fifth, and they throw back four fifth.
Well, at the last WTO conference on the 13 December in Buenos Aires, governments were again not able to reach an agreement on how to limit illicit fishing. Big fishes are now down at 10% of 1970.And we are exploiting one third of all stocks.
It is estimated that illegal fishing puts between 10 billion and 23 billion on the black market, according to a study by 17 specialized agencies, with a full list of names. And again, governments spend 20 billion per year to finance the increase of their fishing industry…another example of how interest win on the common good.
I think now we have enough data, to realize the inability of governments to take seriously their responsibilities, because they have the necessary information to know that we are going toward a disaster.
In a normal world, Trump’s declaration that Climate control is a Chinese hoax, and it is invented against the interest of United States, should have caused more global emotion.
Also, because while Trump’s internal policies are an American question, climate is affecting all the 7.5 billion in the planet, and Trump was elected by less than a quarter of eligible voters: nearly 63 million. Too little to take decisions which affect all humankind.
And now European ministers are following, as a proverb says, money speaks and ideas murmur.. And there are many who are preparing to speculate on climate change. Now that we have lost 70% of the ice of the North Pole, the maritime industry is gearing to use the Northern Route, which will cut cost and time by a 17%.
And the British wine industry, since the warming of the planet, is increasing production by 5% each year. The vineyards planted in Kent or Sussex, with a calcar soil, are now bought from producers of Champagne, who plan to move there. The UK is already producing 5 million bottles of wine and sparkling wines, which are all sold. This Christmas, local sparkling wine will exceed champagnes, caves, prosecco and other traditional Christmas drinks.
We have all seen, at no avail, the increase of hurricanes and storms, also in Europe, and a record spread of wildfires. The UN estimates that at least 800 million people will be displaced by climate change making uninhabitable several parts of the world. Where they will go? Not to the United States or Europe, where they are seen as invaders.
We forget that the Syrian crisis came after four years of drought (1996-2000) which displaced over a million peasants to the towns. The ensuing discontent fuelled the war, with now 400.000 dead and six million refugees.
When citizens will awake to the damages, it will be too late. Scientists think that it will become clearly evident after thirty years. So why do we worry now ? That is a problem for the next generation, and companies will continue to make money until the last minute, with complicity of governments and their support,so, let us ride the climate change tide.
Let us buy a good bottle of British champagne, let us drink it on a luxury cruise line over the Pole, and let the orchestra play, as they did in the Titanic until the last minute!
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