We're just 23 days away from COP 26, the United Nations climate conference which will be held in Glasgow from 31st October to 12th November. We’ve just come to the end of the Conservative party conference here in the UK; the party in government. A conference where the Home Secretary promised draconian measures to criminalise protesters, including those who are urging the government to take urgent action to address the climate emergency.
COP26 and Insulate Britain. These are the two key issues I’ll discuss today. I’ll also tell you about plans for extra editions of the Sustainable Futures Report, coming soon.
Some say it is the most important conference ever, others are already writing it off. The truth is that it is fundamentally important that the parties at the conference, the 195 countries, agree to take action, to take sufficient action and to take sufficiently prompt action.
Another IPCC report back in August sounded the alarm (again). The Lancet issued a “Call for emergency action to limit global temperature increases, restore biodiversity, and protect health”
Launching a paper entitled Raising climate ambition at COP26, the think tank Chatham House said:
The COP26 climate change summit takes place at the beginning of the crucial decade for climate action. All regions of the world are already dealing with increasingly severe climate change impacts, and every additional increment of warming escalates the risks to people, ecosystems and communities. To have a chance of keeping global warming to 1.5°C – and avoiding the most disastrous consequences – emissions need to halve by 2030 and reach ‘net zero’ by 2050. COP26 has a critical role to play in putting the world on a safer path.”
This follows their Climate change risk assessment 2021, headlined:
The risks are compounding, and without immediate action the impacts will be devastating.
Johnson and Kermit
Preparations and preliminary talks have been going on for months. Back in April Joe Biden convened his own climate conference. In September Prime Minister Johnson addressed the UN in his own inimitable style. There have been comments about his light-hearted style and his quoting of Kermit the frog, but here are some of the more important things that he said:
We trash our habitats again and again with the inductive reasoning that we have got away with it so far, and therefore we will get away with it again.
We are approaching that critical turning point – in less than two months – when we must show that we are capable of learning, and maturing, and finally taking responsibility for the destruction we are inflicting, not just upon our planet but ourselves.
It is time for humanity to grow up.
It is time for us to listen to the warnings of the scientists
The Glasgow COP26 summit is the turning point for humanity.
We must limit the rise in temperatures – whose appalling effects were visible even this summer – to 1.5 degrees.
We must come together in a collective coming of age.
We must show we have the maturity and wisdom to act.
And we can.
He went on to reiterate the consequences of not acting, to describe the technological solutions to the crisis and the vast sums of private capital available to provide investment.
Thunberg and Johnson
Speaking at the Youth4Climate in Milan, Greta Thunberg was sceptical.
"Build back better, blah blah blah. Green economy, blah blah blah. Net zero by 2050, blah blah blah. Climate neutral, blah blah blah.
"This is all we hear from our so-called leaders. Words that sound great, but so far have led to no action."
But of course the debate is not whether or not the UK will make an adequate response to the climate crisis, it’s about whether the whole world will join together to do enough and do it in time.
We need the developed world to support the developing world. At the United Nations PM Johnson announced that pledges of aid to developing countries had almost reached the $100 billion target. Urgently fulfilling those pledges is the next priority. The fact that the UK government has broken a manifesto promise and cut foreign aid this year, ending some climate relief projects, does not sit well with demands to other nations to do more. The expected decision to approve a new coal mine in Northern England and the issue of additional oil exploration licences in Scottish waters are equally inconsistent with the race for zero carbon.
As Greta Thunberg implies, we cannot take comfort merely from the fact that 195 world leaders have come together (again) to discuss the problem. This is the time for action.
Members of Insulate Britain, an offshoot of Extinction Rebellion, have been protesting for the last few weeks by blocking motorways in the south of England. They have linked arms and glued themselves to the road surface causing lengthy traffic delays and requiring scores of police to remove them. Their demand is that the government should insulate the UK’s housing stock which is the worst in Europe for wasting heat. Wasting heat wastes energy and the nation’s carbon footprint is directly proportional to energy use. Home heating is one of the major uses of energy in the UK and therefore a major component of our carbon footprint.
Insulating homes as the campaign demands will not only save energy and reduce emissions but it will relieve fuel poverty, surely an aim directly in line with the government’s levelling up policies.
The government has made attempts in the past to tackle the problem. The latest scheme, the Green Homes Grant, was prematurely cancelled earlier this year. Like previous schemes which collapsed amid mismanagement, it had made little impression on the problem.
Criminal Disruption Prevention Orders
Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, has been described as viscerally opposed to climate activists. In her Conservative party conference speech this week she complained that Insulate Britain activists were “trampling over our way of life and draining police resources”.
She is believed to be planning to introduce “criminal disruption prevention orders”. These are modelled on football banning orders, used to tackle violent hooligans, or criminal behaviour orders, used to tackle antisocial behaviour. Writing in The Independent newspaper, Ian Dunt warns that while those orders prevent people from going to football matches or engaging in misconduct, these proposed orders will prevent people from exercising their democratic rights to protest. These new orders will give courts the power to prevent individuals from travelling to attend protests.
The idea came originally from the Metropolitan Police, proposing “protest banning orders”. The Home Office and some senior police officers opposed the idea, one saying that it would be “a massive civil liberty infringement.” There is a world of difference between violent football fans and peaceful protesters but in future activists will be banned from travelling to protests merely for being considered likely to commit a crime. Some people are calling this “Thought Policing”.
The Case for Insulation
There is no doubt that Insulate Britain have a realistic case, but this is all part of a government policy of shooting the messenger. It starts with ridiculing the messenger. Back in 2019 the Prime Minister described climate activists as uncooperative crusties living in hemp-smelling tents. This year he’s calling them irresponsible crusties. In fact many of these people are highly intelligent, responsible citizens like Zoe Cohen who spoke to the Sustainable Futures Report in 2019. She’s a former FTSE100 director and she told me she’s doing this for the sake of a future for her 16-year-old daughter. These are the people who will be urging governments at Glasgow’s COP26 to do more to counter the threats from the climate emergency. Urging COP26 to greater success.
They are prepared to face arrest, prosecution, fines and imprisonment. Fortunately the UK is a civilised country. The BBC reports that elsewhere in the world a record number of environmental activists have been murdered for their actions.
Solving the Problem
How do we solve the Insulate Britain problem? Commentators say that the government cannot afford to accede to protesters’ demands as that would be a green light to all protestors. Protests would become more frequent and intense in the belief that the government would always eventually give way. Actually I believe that there are few activists who would have the courage to go to the lengths that Insulate Britain has done.
In this case there is a simple solution. Following the closure of the Green Homes Grant Scheme the government promised to publish, before COP26, a revised strategy for home insulation. When it does this it should include the Insulate Britain demands claiming that this was the government plan all along and not influenced at all by the protests. Both sides can then withdraw without loss of face.
We shall see.
“But what can I do?”
As COP26 approaches I hear the most difficult of questions, “But what can I do?” Be aware. Inform others. If you have the time, money and courage, demonstrate at COP26, lobby the government or your local MP, congressman or congresswoman or senator. Accept constructively the measures to meet the climate crisis if and when the government introduces them, but don’t be afraid to suggest improvements.
In the face of this enormous crisis it is easy to feel minuscule and powerless, and most of us are fully committed to the day to day responsibilities of our daily lives. I believe we can solve this crisis. I don’t believe it will be easy or that it will necessarily be fair. Don’t let our children say that we failed for want of trying!
And that’s it for this week.
I’m frequently approached by companies and organisations who want to be interviewed on the podcast to showcase their sustainability. I turn quite a lot away, but there are still many interesting ones. I’ve decided to publish them separately because otherwise these episodes get far too long. Look out for the first, next Wednesday 13th October.
This is not advertorial: the Sustainable Futures Report accepts no advertising, sponsorship or subsidies. I have total editorial control. Of course I am always grateful for the support of my patrons who pay a monthly contribution to help me cover my costs. If you would like to join their number you’re more than welcome. Find the details at patreon.com/sfr
I’m Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Until next time.