Category Archives: Governance

Laughing gas rise leaves climate science anxious

Atmospheric levels of laughing gas are on the increase, thanks to agriculture. This is no joke for climate change.

LONDON, 14 October, 2020 − If humans are to meet the global heating limits set by international agreement in 2015, they will have to think very hard about the effect of the supper table menu on laughing gas, more formally known as nitrous oxide.

That is because food production depends heavily on nitrogen fertilisers. But greenhouse gas emissions driven by agriculture are increasing atmospheric levels of nitrous oxide (N2O).

This is a greenhouse gas − popularly known as “laughing gas” − that is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and it tends to stay in the atmosphere, driving up the thermometer, for at least 100 years. And in the 200 years since the start of the Industrial Revolution, atmospheric levels of nitrous oxide have risen by 20%, and are still rising.

Nitrous oxide is one of the six greenhouse gases identified in the Kyoto Protocol, the pioneering global climate agreement, as a danger whose emissions should be reduced by all its signatories.

The ratio of N2O to other gases is tiny, a thousand times lower than carbon dioxide, for instance, but an increase can still make a significant difference. In 1750 the ratio stood at 270 parts per billion. In 2018 it had reached 331 ppb, with the fastest growth all in the last 50 years, thanks to humankind’s demand for food.

“There is a conflict between the way we are feeding people and stabilising the climate”

And this, say 57 scientists from 14 nations in a report in the journal Nature, now threatens to eliminate any hope of containing global heating to “well below” 2°C by the year 2100. This is the target set in the Paris Agreement in 2015 by 195 nations.

Right now, the world has already warmed by 1°C in the last century and on all the evidence so far it is heading by the end of the century to be at least 3°C hotter than the average for most of the last 10,000 years of human history.

“The dominant driver of the increase in atmospheric nitrous oxide comes from agriculture, and the growing demand for food and feed for animals will further increase global nitrous oxide emissions,” said Hanqin Tian, of Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences in Alabama in the US. “There is a conflict between the way we are feeding people and stabilising the climate.”

He and his colleagues call their research an inventory of the traffic in nitrous oxide from human and from natural sources. The most significant human source is the fertiliser added to croplands.

They found that the highest growth in nitrous oxide emissions came from emerging economies in East Asia, South Asia, Africa and South America, from synthetic fertilisers and from livestock manure. In the course of the next few decades global population will soar, and so will the demand for food.

Total rethink

Researchers have consistently argued for a new approach to agriculture,  with ever-greater emphasis on plant-based diets, as a way to help contain climate change on a scale that is likely to actually threaten global food security.

“Europe is the only region in the world that has successfully reduced nitrous oxide emissions over the past two decades,” said Robert Jackson,  of Stanford University in the US, who chairs the Global Carbon Project.

“Industrial and agricultural policies to reduce greenhouse gases and air pollution and to optimise fertiliser use efficiencies have proven to be effective. Still, further efforts are required, in Europe as well as globally.”

And another author, Josep Canadell of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, said: “This new analysis calls for a full rethink in the ways we use and abuse nitrogen fertilisers globally and urges us to adopt more sustainable practices in the way we produce food,  including the reduction of food waste.” − Climate News Network

Atmospheric levels of laughing gas are on the increase, thanks to agriculture. This is no joke for climate change.

LONDON, 14 October, 2020 − If humans are to meet the global heating limits set by international agreement in 2015, they will have to think very hard about the effect of the supper table menu on laughing gas, more formally known as nitrous oxide.

That is because food production depends heavily on nitrogen fertilisers. But greenhouse gas emissions driven by agriculture are increasing atmospheric levels of nitrous oxide (N2O).

This is a greenhouse gas − popularly known as “laughing gas” − that is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and it tends to stay in the atmosphere, driving up the thermometer, for at least 100 years. And in the 200 years since the start of the Industrial Revolution, atmospheric levels of nitrous oxide have risen by 20%, and are still rising.

Nitrous oxide is one of the six greenhouse gases identified in the Kyoto Protocol, the pioneering global climate agreement, as a danger whose emissions should be reduced by all its signatories.

The ratio of N2O to other gases is tiny, a thousand times lower than carbon dioxide, for instance, but an increase can still make a significant difference. In 1750 the ratio stood at 270 parts per billion. In 2018 it had reached 331 ppb, with the fastest growth all in the last 50 years, thanks to humankind’s demand for food.

“There is a conflict between the way we are feeding people and stabilising the climate”

And this, say 57 scientists from 14 nations in a report in the journal Nature, now threatens to eliminate any hope of containing global heating to “well below” 2°C by the year 2100. This is the target set in the Paris Agreement in 2015 by 195 nations.

Right now, the world has already warmed by 1°C in the last century and on all the evidence so far it is heading by the end of the century to be at least 3°C hotter than the average for most of the last 10,000 years of human history.

“The dominant driver of the increase in atmospheric nitrous oxide comes from agriculture, and the growing demand for food and feed for animals will further increase global nitrous oxide emissions,” said Hanqin Tian, of Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences in Alabama in the US. “There is a conflict between the way we are feeding people and stabilising the climate.”

He and his colleagues call their research an inventory of the traffic in nitrous oxide from human and from natural sources. The most significant human source is the fertiliser added to croplands.

They found that the highest growth in nitrous oxide emissions came from emerging economies in East Asia, South Asia, Africa and South America, from synthetic fertilisers and from livestock manure. In the course of the next few decades global population will soar, and so will the demand for food.

Total rethink

Researchers have consistently argued for a new approach to agriculture,  with ever-greater emphasis on plant-based diets, as a way to help contain climate change on a scale that is likely to actually threaten global food security.

“Europe is the only region in the world that has successfully reduced nitrous oxide emissions over the past two decades,” said Robert Jackson,  of Stanford University in the US, who chairs the Global Carbon Project.

“Industrial and agricultural policies to reduce greenhouse gases and air pollution and to optimise fertiliser use efficiencies have proven to be effective. Still, further efforts are required, in Europe as well as globally.”

And another author, Josep Canadell of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, said: “This new analysis calls for a full rethink in the ways we use and abuse nitrogen fertilisers globally and urges us to adopt more sustainable practices in the way we produce food,  including the reduction of food waste.” − Climate News Network

Lessons of Covid-19: Taking stock for next time

The lessons of Covid-19 are stark: tragedy, horror and loss for millions. They are eloquent on the climate crisis ahead.

LONDON, 29 September, 2020 − The lessons of Covid-19 are still sinking in. The pandemic isn’t over yet: far from it. No-one knows even whether it’s here to stay.

It erupted at a time when chronic inequality and the climate emergency both demand action. But there are already specific life-saving lessons we can learn, says the UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA).

This highly abridged summary by the Climate News Network singles out a few highlights from the Alliance’s three published briefings on Covid’s lessons, with possible policy responses to help the benefits to last beyond the crisis.

Looking after each other better

This briefing shows some of the ways people around the world are looking after others in the pandemic, often with meagre resources and how they might do in the future .

Governments have – to varying degrees – paid the wages of millions of working people and provided help in kind. Togo introduced a mobile telephone-based cash transfer scheme for workers earning around 30% of the minimum wage. Others have tackled street homelessness and temporarily suspended evictions for those unable to pay rent.

Across Europe health workers have been heartened by regular sessions of public applause, thanks and support during the peak of the crisis. Delivery drivers and front-line care workers are finding their social status far above that of hedge-fund managers.

Working hours and practices have been radically adapted. Communities have acted together where necessary: Belarussians bypassed their president by implementing a people’s quarantine. Britons supported health workers by making protective masks and scrubs, providing hot meals and tutoring children. In Germany refugees joined in mask-making.

Spanish workers volunteered to clean care homes before elderly residents returned. In the US the World Central Kitchen has supplied up to six million meals to nurses, the sick and the homeless.

For the future, there is evidence from many countries of growing support for the idea of a Universal Basic Income and for encouraging (and enabling) more people to volunteer to help others, perhaps by paying them.

More space for people and nature

Responses to Covid show we can quickly make more urban space for people and nature. This briefing looks at how we do that, an increasingly important question as people learn more about the global plunge in plant and animal numbers, and about how habitat loss drives the spread of viruses between animals and humans, with ecological decline creating prime conditions for pandemics as human activities push climate breakdown and usurp the last wild spaces on Earth.

Covid-19 has driven a growing realisation that a simpler life can offer unexpected gains. A lot of travel proved unnecessary. Guaranteeing cleaner air and more room for nature demands big but possible changes, including greener public transport and streets designed for people, not just cars.

Older and simpler solutions are helping, like cycling in the UK, for example, Germany and (with new technology) further afield. A flexi-time approach has seen staggered starting times for schools and offices introduced in parts of Israel and the Netherlands. It’s often possible to avoid travelling by making contact online − when you can get the hardware installed. Frustrated villagers in Wales couldn’t, so they installed their own broadband instead.

There’s abundant evidence of the sheer good that green surroundings can do to people, ailing or not. They can improve air quality and even offset the heat island effect. And strengthening our relationship with nature can provide other severely practical benefits  − as the Cubans discovered several decades ago.

The Rapid Transition Alliance offers several suggestions for trying to ensure that we go on cherishing nature long after Covid-19 has been tamed:

Living with less stuff

This briefing examines how we’re adapting to live less wastefully and more thoughtfully. We’re learning to eat better, to waste less when we buy, and to enjoy making more with what we have already. (There have been and still are many people struggling financially and using foodbanks to keep themselves going. This briefing focuses specifically on those not in this situation.)

One implicit theme is that what we want and what we need may often differ. So mending, sewing and doing-it-yourself are regaining popularity, and some people are working their way out of debt: UK households were able to pay back more than £7 billion (US$8.9 bn) of consumer credit in the first month of lockdown.

Food matters − a lot. Many people are thinking more about their environmental footprint: more than a quarter of consumers in the US, UK, France, Germany and Canada say they now pay more attention to what they consume and what impact it has on the world.

In some of these countries, shops and brands have been running a campaign encouraging people to “only buy what you need” and “shop responsibly”. Organisers called it “an urgent entreaty to consumers to behave responsibly and think about others”.

Education matters too, however hard it may be to keep schools open. The World Bank has worked with numerous countries to form an accessible database of learning innovations across different nations that can be shared and used by online educators. The Times of India has looked at the opportunities to teach young people life skills and reading for fun – not just formal education.

And in a crisis, laughter can help. Russia is setting the world an example.

Locking in Covid’s lessons is essential, for this generation and for the future. The pandemic has often slowed consumption, making people more cautious and more aware of their purchasing power. But what now?

Buying only what we need, mending things when they break and re-purposing them when we no longer want them are life changes for the long term. The RTA has suggestions for how we could turn from being passive consumers to active producers. These are some of them:

The RTA’s briefings are a reminder of the daily torrent of practical goodwill that binds and sustains societies worldwide. The pandemic has intensified that determination to help people in need and to make vital systemic changes. The climate emergency is going to demand far more.

The Alliance thinks humankind can rise to the occasion: “There is now an opportunity to consider what we want from the future − the real price of things shown on labels, less choice but more quality, better lives for those who make and sell stuff to us, and an assumption that waste is unnecessary and will no longer be tolerated. These policy shifts might help to keep this element going as the world returns to health.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

The lessons of Covid-19 are stark: tragedy, horror and loss for millions. They are eloquent on the climate crisis ahead.

LONDON, 29 September, 2020 − The lessons of Covid-19 are still sinking in. The pandemic isn’t over yet: far from it. No-one knows even whether it’s here to stay.

It erupted at a time when chronic inequality and the climate emergency both demand action. But there are already specific life-saving lessons we can learn, says the UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA).

This highly abridged summary by the Climate News Network singles out a few highlights from the Alliance’s three published briefings on Covid’s lessons, with possible policy responses to help the benefits to last beyond the crisis.

Looking after each other better

This briefing shows some of the ways people around the world are looking after others in the pandemic, often with meagre resources and how they might do in the future .

Governments have – to varying degrees – paid the wages of millions of working people and provided help in kind. Togo introduced a mobile telephone-based cash transfer scheme for workers earning around 30% of the minimum wage. Others have tackled street homelessness and temporarily suspended evictions for those unable to pay rent.

Across Europe health workers have been heartened by regular sessions of public applause, thanks and support during the peak of the crisis. Delivery drivers and front-line care workers are finding their social status far above that of hedge-fund managers.

Working hours and practices have been radically adapted. Communities have acted together where necessary: Belarussians bypassed their president by implementing a people’s quarantine. Britons supported health workers by making protective masks and scrubs, providing hot meals and tutoring children. In Germany refugees joined in mask-making.

Spanish workers volunteered to clean care homes before elderly residents returned. In the US the World Central Kitchen has supplied up to six million meals to nurses, the sick and the homeless.

For the future, there is evidence from many countries of growing support for the idea of a Universal Basic Income and for encouraging (and enabling) more people to volunteer to help others, perhaps by paying them.

More space for people and nature

Responses to Covid show we can quickly make more urban space for people and nature. This briefing looks at how we do that, an increasingly important question as people learn more about the global plunge in plant and animal numbers, and about how habitat loss drives the spread of viruses between animals and humans, with ecological decline creating prime conditions for pandemics as human activities push climate breakdown and usurp the last wild spaces on Earth.

Covid-19 has driven a growing realisation that a simpler life can offer unexpected gains. A lot of travel proved unnecessary. Guaranteeing cleaner air and more room for nature demands big but possible changes, including greener public transport and streets designed for people, not just cars.

Older and simpler solutions are helping, like cycling in the UK, for example, Germany and (with new technology) further afield. A flexi-time approach has seen staggered starting times for schools and offices introduced in parts of Israel and the Netherlands. It’s often possible to avoid travelling by making contact online − when you can get the hardware installed. Frustrated villagers in Wales couldn’t, so they installed their own broadband instead.

There’s abundant evidence of the sheer good that green surroundings can do to people, ailing or not. They can improve air quality and even offset the heat island effect. And strengthening our relationship with nature can provide other severely practical benefits  − as the Cubans discovered several decades ago.

The Rapid Transition Alliance offers several suggestions for trying to ensure that we go on cherishing nature long after Covid-19 has been tamed:

Living with less stuff

This briefing examines how we’re adapting to live less wastefully and more thoughtfully. We’re learning to eat better, to waste less when we buy, and to enjoy making more with what we have already. (There have been and still are many people struggling financially and using foodbanks to keep themselves going. This briefing focuses specifically on those not in this situation.)

One implicit theme is that what we want and what we need may often differ. So mending, sewing and doing-it-yourself are regaining popularity, and some people are working their way out of debt: UK households were able to pay back more than £7 billion (US$8.9 bn) of consumer credit in the first month of lockdown.

Food matters − a lot. Many people are thinking more about their environmental footprint: more than a quarter of consumers in the US, UK, France, Germany and Canada say they now pay more attention to what they consume and what impact it has on the world.

In some of these countries, shops and brands have been running a campaign encouraging people to “only buy what you need” and “shop responsibly”. Organisers called it “an urgent entreaty to consumers to behave responsibly and think about others”.

Education matters too, however hard it may be to keep schools open. The World Bank has worked with numerous countries to form an accessible database of learning innovations across different nations that can be shared and used by online educators. The Times of India has looked at the opportunities to teach young people life skills and reading for fun – not just formal education.

And in a crisis, laughter can help. Russia is setting the world an example.

Locking in Covid’s lessons is essential, for this generation and for the future. The pandemic has often slowed consumption, making people more cautious and more aware of their purchasing power. But what now?

Buying only what we need, mending things when they break and re-purposing them when we no longer want them are life changes for the long term. The RTA has suggestions for how we could turn from being passive consumers to active producers. These are some of them:

The RTA’s briefings are a reminder of the daily torrent of practical goodwill that binds and sustains societies worldwide. The pandemic has intensified that determination to help people in need and to make vital systemic changes. The climate emergency is going to demand far more.

The Alliance thinks humankind can rise to the occasion: “There is now an opportunity to consider what we want from the future − the real price of things shown on labels, less choice but more quality, better lives for those who make and sell stuff to us, and an assumption that waste is unnecessary and will no longer be tolerated. These policy shifts might help to keep this element going as the world returns to health.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Climate Assembly UK: Act now to save our planet

Climate Assembly UK tells British politicians to act faster on climate change. France and Ireland echo its message.

LONDON, 28 September, 2020 − A random group of United Kingdom citizens, Climate Assembly UK: The path to net zero, has delivered an uncompromising verdict on the British approach to the climate crisis: do more, and don’t delay.

The UK is not alone in demanding urgent action. Presented with detailed evidence about the effects of climate change, citizens’ assemblies in two other European countries have come to identical conclusions; we have to make immediate progress, and we must change the way we live.

The most striking common feature about the views of the assemblies convened in Ireland, France and the United Kingdom is that the measures their governments are currently taking are grossly inadequate to tackle climate change.

Policies that politicians have shrunk from imposing on their voters for fear of a backlash have suddenly been urged on them by their own citizens. In Ireland and France this gave both governments the courage to promise to implement most of the assemblies’ recommendations. The UK report released on 10 September has yet to receive a full response, but the signs are encouraging.

The assemblies in each country were composed of a random selection of people to represent all ages, sexes and social groups, first to hear evidence and then to recommend action, including giving clear guidance on priorities.

A similar set of proposals came from the citizens in each of the three countries.

“The Earth can live without us, but we can’t live without her… It is a question of life or death”

On energy they wanted more renewable technologies, wind and solar, to replace fossil fuels.

All three assemblies favoured a reduction in air traffic, taxes on frequent flyers, the phasing out of fossil fuel-powered vehicles, encouragement for all things electric, the insulation of homes, and energy efficiency.

Changes in what we eat – particularly less meat – were also common features. More local production both of food and other goods was  important.

There were detailed recommendations, with for example the French suggesting statutory rules on turning central heating thermostats down to 19°C, and not using air conditioning until temperatures reached 30°C. They also advocated lowering the speed limit for cars, to reduce their emissions.

All the reports also wanted more green spaces, places for wildlife and improved habitats.

The reaction of participants, some of whom knew very little about climate change before being selected, is perhaps best summed up by a quote from the French report: “We have lived together, during nine months, an unprecedented and intense human experience, that led us to become conscious of the imperious necessity to profoundly change the organisation of our society and our ways of life…

“The Earth can live without us, but we can’t live without her… It is a question of life or death.”

Vested interests object

One of the characteristics of this new form of democracy – the citizens’ jury – is the lengths the organisers have to go to in order to select a cross-section of the community. This ensures that all political views are taken into account as well as age, class and race. But as the French experience shows, taking in vast quantities of information about climate change and sharing this experience with others has a profound effect.

In theory the recommendations these juries make should be accepted by all, since the groups have been selected to represent everyone in the country, but it is clear that vested interests are not prepared to do that.

For example, the UK’s right-wing Spectator magazine said of the results of the French assembly: “The problem with citizens’ assemblies is that their members don’t, unlike elected politicians, actually have to deal with the consequences of their breezy and idealistic proposals.

“In the first place, they are rarely representative of the entire population: in France, 25,000 people were approached to see if they wanted to take part; most refused, and 150 were chosen.

“Most of those are people with an agenda, who are prepared to give up entire weekends in return for a stipend of £74 (€86) a day plus expenses: in other words, political activists and people with time on their hands.”

Industry disappointed

Similarly, within days of the British assembly members having heard a great deal of expert evidence making it abundantly clear they wanted more renewables, onshore and offshore wind and solar power, rather than more nuclear energy, the nuclear industry poured cold water on their judgement and preferences.

In a long article offered to the Climate News Network extolling the virtues of nuclear power in fighting climate change, Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the UK’s Nuclear Industry Association, said he was pleased that the assembly wanted to see low carbon ways of producing electricity.

He added: “It is, however, disappointing to see that what this model of engagement was touted as delivering – an understanding of the complexity of decisions that need to be made – is all but absent when it comes to the future power mix.

“There are two lessons in this – firstly, for experts, industry and decision makers to have to communicate much more effectively on the reality of the challenges and the choices they open up. Secondly, that simplistic statements of the impossible made either through wishful thinking or wilful ignorance will not aid decarbonisation – but only increase reliance on burning fossil fuels and the emissions that come from them.”

So it seems that however hard organisers try to select a cross-section of citizens and provide them with clear evidence, there will be an immediate political backlash.

Whether it is climate scientists or citizens’ juries fearing for the future of civilisation, vested interests are always prepared to rubbish what they say. Perhaps though, now that voters (in the form of citizens’ assemblies) have added their voices to those of scientists, politicians will finally have the courage to act on their recommendations. − Climate News Network

Climate Assembly UK tells British politicians to act faster on climate change. France and Ireland echo its message.

LONDON, 28 September, 2020 − A random group of United Kingdom citizens, Climate Assembly UK: The path to net zero, has delivered an uncompromising verdict on the British approach to the climate crisis: do more, and don’t delay.

The UK is not alone in demanding urgent action. Presented with detailed evidence about the effects of climate change, citizens’ assemblies in two other European countries have come to identical conclusions; we have to make immediate progress, and we must change the way we live.

The most striking common feature about the views of the assemblies convened in Ireland, France and the United Kingdom is that the measures their governments are currently taking are grossly inadequate to tackle climate change.

Policies that politicians have shrunk from imposing on their voters for fear of a backlash have suddenly been urged on them by their own citizens. In Ireland and France this gave both governments the courage to promise to implement most of the assemblies’ recommendations. The UK report released on 10 September has yet to receive a full response, but the signs are encouraging.

The assemblies in each country were composed of a random selection of people to represent all ages, sexes and social groups, first to hear evidence and then to recommend action, including giving clear guidance on priorities.

A similar set of proposals came from the citizens in each of the three countries.

“The Earth can live without us, but we can’t live without her… It is a question of life or death”

On energy they wanted more renewable technologies, wind and solar, to replace fossil fuels.

All three assemblies favoured a reduction in air traffic, taxes on frequent flyers, the phasing out of fossil fuel-powered vehicles, encouragement for all things electric, the insulation of homes, and energy efficiency.

Changes in what we eat – particularly less meat – were also common features. More local production both of food and other goods was  important.

There were detailed recommendations, with for example the French suggesting statutory rules on turning central heating thermostats down to 19°C, and not using air conditioning until temperatures reached 30°C. They also advocated lowering the speed limit for cars, to reduce their emissions.

All the reports also wanted more green spaces, places for wildlife and improved habitats.

The reaction of participants, some of whom knew very little about climate change before being selected, is perhaps best summed up by a quote from the French report: “We have lived together, during nine months, an unprecedented and intense human experience, that led us to become conscious of the imperious necessity to profoundly change the organisation of our society and our ways of life…

“The Earth can live without us, but we can’t live without her… It is a question of life or death.”

Vested interests object

One of the characteristics of this new form of democracy – the citizens’ jury – is the lengths the organisers have to go to in order to select a cross-section of the community. This ensures that all political views are taken into account as well as age, class and race. But as the French experience shows, taking in vast quantities of information about climate change and sharing this experience with others has a profound effect.

In theory the recommendations these juries make should be accepted by all, since the groups have been selected to represent everyone in the country, but it is clear that vested interests are not prepared to do that.

For example, the UK’s right-wing Spectator magazine said of the results of the French assembly: “The problem with citizens’ assemblies is that their members don’t, unlike elected politicians, actually have to deal with the consequences of their breezy and idealistic proposals.

“In the first place, they are rarely representative of the entire population: in France, 25,000 people were approached to see if they wanted to take part; most refused, and 150 were chosen.

“Most of those are people with an agenda, who are prepared to give up entire weekends in return for a stipend of £74 (€86) a day plus expenses: in other words, political activists and people with time on their hands.”

Industry disappointed

Similarly, within days of the British assembly members having heard a great deal of expert evidence making it abundantly clear they wanted more renewables, onshore and offshore wind and solar power, rather than more nuclear energy, the nuclear industry poured cold water on their judgement and preferences.

In a long article offered to the Climate News Network extolling the virtues of nuclear power in fighting climate change, Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the UK’s Nuclear Industry Association, said he was pleased that the assembly wanted to see low carbon ways of producing electricity.

He added: “It is, however, disappointing to see that what this model of engagement was touted as delivering – an understanding of the complexity of decisions that need to be made – is all but absent when it comes to the future power mix.

“There are two lessons in this – firstly, for experts, industry and decision makers to have to communicate much more effectively on the reality of the challenges and the choices they open up. Secondly, that simplistic statements of the impossible made either through wishful thinking or wilful ignorance will not aid decarbonisation – but only increase reliance on burning fossil fuels and the emissions that come from them.”

So it seems that however hard organisers try to select a cross-section of citizens and provide them with clear evidence, there will be an immediate political backlash.

Whether it is climate scientists or citizens’ juries fearing for the future of civilisation, vested interests are always prepared to rubbish what they say. Perhaps though, now that voters (in the form of citizens’ assemblies) have added their voices to those of scientists, politicians will finally have the courage to act on their recommendations. − Climate News Network

UK: Paris climate treaty has no domestic effect

The 2015 Paris climate treaty is the only global step to tame the crisis. Now London says it does not apply within the UK.

LONDON, 14 August, 2020 − The United Kingdom was one of the 195 countries which signed up to the 2015 Paris climate treaty, the global attempt to limit the climate crisis. More than that, it was one of the most energetic and enthusiastic backers of the Paris Agreement, the treaty’s formal title.

So you may be surprised to learn that the British government has just told a climate campaign group, Plan B, that the Paris Agreement does not apply to the domestic law of the UK, and is therefore irrelevant to government policy on how to rebuild the country’s economy after the chaos caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The announcement comes in an email (dated 7 August, but released only five days later) from the Treasury Solicitor, the head of the government’s legal department.

It is a reply to a letter sent by Plan B on 7 July to the prime minister, Boris Johnson, about official plans to meet the climate emergency, and specifically how the UK should restore the economy after the ravages of Covid.

Claim ‘too late’

In it Plan B undertook to start legal action against the government unless it provided a clear explanation of how its Covid recovery programme would support the UK’s target of a net zero carbon economy, and also agreed that all government programmes would be compatible with its policy commitments to the Paris Agreement temperature rise limit of 1.5 ̊C.

The group’s director, Tim Crosland, wrote: “Treating the climate emergency as a ‘competing priority’ to Covid recovery is a catastrophic error, which must be quickly corrected to avoid tragic consequences.”

The government has now replied to Plan B’s threatened legal action by defending its decision to ignore the Paris Agreement in its decision to  continue to support the present carbon-based economy, claiming there is no legal obligation on it to take the Agreement into account.

Its email says that Plan B’s claim for judicial review has been made too late, and “any claim filed now would be significantly out-of-time and should be refused permission to apply for judicial review on that basis alone.”

“If the Paris Agreement does not apply now, then when?”

On the UK’s 2015 undertaking to work to limit greenhouse gas emissions, the Treasury Solicitor writes: “The Paris Agreement is an unincorporated international treaty which, in the context of the English dualist legal system [one which treats international and domestic systems of law as separate and independent], has no direct effect in domestic law.”

Plan B undertook an earlier legal battle over expansion proposals for London’s Heathrow airport, where the government argued that the Paris Agreement was irrelevant. In February the Court of Appeal disagreed with that assessment, and the government’s plans were ruled unlawful.

On 4 March, Boris Johnson told Parliament that the government would ensure that it did abide by that judgment and take account of the Paris convention. Tim Crosland says: “It seems that does not apply to billions of pounds of public money being provided to companies such as RyanAir, Easyjet, Rolls-Royce and Nissan.

“Instead of addressing the evidence that its bailouts for polluters will lock us into a disastrous trajectory towards 4˚C warming, risking billions of human lives, the government is hiding behind legal arguments to claim that it isn’t legally required to take that into account.

Inbuilt discrimination

‘That is not just reckless. It is a fundamental breach of the social contract. It is the basic responsibility of the government to safeguard its people.

“Nor does the government show any concern for the discriminatory impact of its catastrophic trajectory, which will hit hardest the younger generation, racially marginalised communities, and the Global South. Its primary concern is appeasing its corporate sponsors

“This has to be stopped. We will now begin work on filing our claim with the court.”

Jerry Amokwandoh worked with the Rhodes Must Fall movement in Oxford. He said: “Unconditional bailouts that contribute to the biggest pandemic of them all prove that our lives do not matter, the lives of my family in Ghana do not matter and an inhabitable world doesn’t matter. If the Paris Agreement does not apply now, then when?” − Climate News Network

The 2015 Paris climate treaty is the only global step to tame the crisis. Now London says it does not apply within the UK.

LONDON, 14 August, 2020 − The United Kingdom was one of the 195 countries which signed up to the 2015 Paris climate treaty, the global attempt to limit the climate crisis. More than that, it was one of the most energetic and enthusiastic backers of the Paris Agreement, the treaty’s formal title.

So you may be surprised to learn that the British government has just told a climate campaign group, Plan B, that the Paris Agreement does not apply to the domestic law of the UK, and is therefore irrelevant to government policy on how to rebuild the country’s economy after the chaos caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The announcement comes in an email (dated 7 August, but released only five days later) from the Treasury Solicitor, the head of the government’s legal department.

It is a reply to a letter sent by Plan B on 7 July to the prime minister, Boris Johnson, about official plans to meet the climate emergency, and specifically how the UK should restore the economy after the ravages of Covid.

Claim ‘too late’

In it Plan B undertook to start legal action against the government unless it provided a clear explanation of how its Covid recovery programme would support the UK’s target of a net zero carbon economy, and also agreed that all government programmes would be compatible with its policy commitments to the Paris Agreement temperature rise limit of 1.5 ̊C.

The group’s director, Tim Crosland, wrote: “Treating the climate emergency as a ‘competing priority’ to Covid recovery is a catastrophic error, which must be quickly corrected to avoid tragic consequences.”

The government has now replied to Plan B’s threatened legal action by defending its decision to ignore the Paris Agreement in its decision to  continue to support the present carbon-based economy, claiming there is no legal obligation on it to take the Agreement into account.

Its email says that Plan B’s claim for judicial review has been made too late, and “any claim filed now would be significantly out-of-time and should be refused permission to apply for judicial review on that basis alone.”

“If the Paris Agreement does not apply now, then when?”

On the UK’s 2015 undertaking to work to limit greenhouse gas emissions, the Treasury Solicitor writes: “The Paris Agreement is an unincorporated international treaty which, in the context of the English dualist legal system [one which treats international and domestic systems of law as separate and independent], has no direct effect in domestic law.”

Plan B undertook an earlier legal battle over expansion proposals for London’s Heathrow airport, where the government argued that the Paris Agreement was irrelevant. In February the Court of Appeal disagreed with that assessment, and the government’s plans were ruled unlawful.

On 4 March, Boris Johnson told Parliament that the government would ensure that it did abide by that judgment and take account of the Paris convention. Tim Crosland says: “It seems that does not apply to billions of pounds of public money being provided to companies such as RyanAir, Easyjet, Rolls-Royce and Nissan.

“Instead of addressing the evidence that its bailouts for polluters will lock us into a disastrous trajectory towards 4˚C warming, risking billions of human lives, the government is hiding behind legal arguments to claim that it isn’t legally required to take that into account.

Inbuilt discrimination

‘That is not just reckless. It is a fundamental breach of the social contract. It is the basic responsibility of the government to safeguard its people.

“Nor does the government show any concern for the discriminatory impact of its catastrophic trajectory, which will hit hardest the younger generation, racially marginalised communities, and the Global South. Its primary concern is appeasing its corporate sponsors

“This has to be stopped. We will now begin work on filing our claim with the court.”

Jerry Amokwandoh worked with the Rhodes Must Fall movement in Oxford. He said: “Unconditional bailouts that contribute to the biggest pandemic of them all prove that our lives do not matter, the lives of my family in Ghana do not matter and an inhabitable world doesn’t matter. If the Paris Agreement does not apply now, then when?” − Climate News Network

Indian law restores once dried-up rivers to villagers

Indian villagers who brought dried-up rivers back to life then had to fight a legal battle to use their water.

LONDON, 7 August, 2020 – Drought and dried-up rivers can spell catastrophe for rural communities that rely on their crops for survival. But villagers in India have shown that both threats can be reversed and livelihoods restored – with the backing of the law.

Having succeeded in restoring their rivers’ flow, the villagers faced another battle with their local government and vested interests which wanted to take over the new water supply for their own use. So they went to court, formed their own “water parliament”, and wrested back control.

The story began back in 1985 in the parched lands of Rajasthan in north-west India, when villagers were suffering acutely because the rivers they relied on to water their crops were running dry. They resorted to building johads, traditional hand-dug earth dams, which capture water in the rainy season so that it can soak into the earth and be retained instead of flooding away uselessly.

Often called natural flood management, this approach mimics the natural process of rivers which become blocked by debris and trees – with the beneficial results seen in the complex ecosystems created by beavers, which build their own dams and thereby prevent flooding downstream while also storing water for the dry season.

The first dam was built at the original source of the Arvari river, which for the first 45 kilometres of its length had stopped flowing at all. It took 375 earth dams before the Arvari started to flow again, and 10 years before it became a perennial river once more.

“The unsustainable use of water in modern agriculture and the demands made on aquifers by conurbations is already at breaking point in many places around the globe”

Success was infectious. Altogether, over those 10 years, the residents of 1,000 villages built more than 8,600 johads and other structures to collect water for use in the dry seasons. Remarkably, five rivers – the Arvari, Ruparel, Sarsa, Bhagani and Jahajwali – began to flow again, their valleys turning green with crops.

The rivers gained in value again. So the government of Rajasthan, seeing an opportunity to make money, claimed ownership, even awarding fishing licences to contractors, who were stopped by furious local people.

Fortunately the courts sided with the protestors and handed control of the river to them after 72 villages formed what they called the Arvari River Parliament to administer the river and allot rights to water resources in a fair manner.

They were lucky: the Indian constitution allows local people to get financial and legal support in cases against perceived injustices. This meant they had access to justice which they could not otherwise have afforded. The system favours local democracy where it can be shown to work.

Over-exploitation

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change).

The story of the success of the earth dams is told by the RTA as part of its series publicising global examples of how projects and communities can combat the environmental destruction caused by the effects of climate heating.

The drying-up of water resources, combined with climate change, is one of the key problems of poor river management in many parts of the world. Climates vary markedly, but on rivers in Africa, Europe and the US vital water resources are also drying up, often through over-exploitation as well as drought.

The Alliance says: “The unsustainable use of water in modern agriculture and the demands made on aquifers by conurbations is already at breaking point in many places around the globe. Climate change is exacerbating this with higher temperatures in already dry places.”

Resisting usurpers

It cites a range of schemes used to tackle the problem, similar in essence to Rajasthan’s diversion of the wet season rains by the johads into underground aquifers rather than letting the water run to waste.

Its message is that solutions need to be low-tech, cheap and achievable by local people acting together democratically to decide what is best for the community. Often this involves resisting local government and big business in their attempts to exploit and profit from the scarce water   frequently the cause of the original damage to the river.

The Alliance says two lessons from Rajasthan translate to other locations and across cultures: first, the physical return of water in a controlled way to an arid environment is possible using low-tech, cheap, accessible solutions.

Second, it says, the guardianship of a natural resource can be achieved effectively by using a communal parliament where all interests are represented equally and fair decisions are taken. – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Indian villagers who brought dried-up rivers back to life then had to fight a legal battle to use their water.

LONDON, 7 August, 2020 – Drought and dried-up rivers can spell catastrophe for rural communities that rely on their crops for survival. But villagers in India have shown that both threats can be reversed and livelihoods restored – with the backing of the law.

Having succeeded in restoring their rivers’ flow, the villagers faced another battle with their local government and vested interests which wanted to take over the new water supply for their own use. So they went to court, formed their own “water parliament”, and wrested back control.

The story began back in 1985 in the parched lands of Rajasthan in north-west India, when villagers were suffering acutely because the rivers they relied on to water their crops were running dry. They resorted to building johads, traditional hand-dug earth dams, which capture water in the rainy season so that it can soak into the earth and be retained instead of flooding away uselessly.

Often called natural flood management, this approach mimics the natural process of rivers which become blocked by debris and trees – with the beneficial results seen in the complex ecosystems created by beavers, which build their own dams and thereby prevent flooding downstream while also storing water for the dry season.

The first dam was built at the original source of the Arvari river, which for the first 45 kilometres of its length had stopped flowing at all. It took 375 earth dams before the Arvari started to flow again, and 10 years before it became a perennial river once more.

“The unsustainable use of water in modern agriculture and the demands made on aquifers by conurbations is already at breaking point in many places around the globe”

Success was infectious. Altogether, over those 10 years, the residents of 1,000 villages built more than 8,600 johads and other structures to collect water for use in the dry seasons. Remarkably, five rivers – the Arvari, Ruparel, Sarsa, Bhagani and Jahajwali – began to flow again, their valleys turning green with crops.

The rivers gained in value again. So the government of Rajasthan, seeing an opportunity to make money, claimed ownership, even awarding fishing licences to contractors, who were stopped by furious local people.

Fortunately the courts sided with the protestors and handed control of the river to them after 72 villages formed what they called the Arvari River Parliament to administer the river and allot rights to water resources in a fair manner.

They were lucky: the Indian constitution allows local people to get financial and legal support in cases against perceived injustices. This meant they had access to justice which they could not otherwise have afforded. The system favours local democracy where it can be shown to work.

Over-exploitation

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change).

The story of the success of the earth dams is told by the RTA as part of its series publicising global examples of how projects and communities can combat the environmental destruction caused by the effects of climate heating.

The drying-up of water resources, combined with climate change, is one of the key problems of poor river management in many parts of the world. Climates vary markedly, but on rivers in Africa, Europe and the US vital water resources are also drying up, often through over-exploitation as well as drought.

The Alliance says: “The unsustainable use of water in modern agriculture and the demands made on aquifers by conurbations is already at breaking point in many places around the globe. Climate change is exacerbating this with higher temperatures in already dry places.”

Resisting usurpers

It cites a range of schemes used to tackle the problem, similar in essence to Rajasthan’s diversion of the wet season rains by the johads into underground aquifers rather than letting the water run to waste.

Its message is that solutions need to be low-tech, cheap and achievable by local people acting together democratically to decide what is best for the community. Often this involves resisting local government and big business in their attempts to exploit and profit from the scarce water   frequently the cause of the original damage to the river.

The Alliance says two lessons from Rajasthan translate to other locations and across cultures: first, the physical return of water in a controlled way to an arid environment is possible using low-tech, cheap, accessible solutions.

Second, it says, the guardianship of a natural resource can be achieved effectively by using a communal parliament where all interests are represented equally and fair decisions are taken. – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Ireland’s Supreme Court damns climate policies

The country’s highest judicial authority, Ireland’s Supreme Court, says the government’s climate policies are not up to the job.

DUBLIN, 4 August, 2020 – In what’s being seen as a landmark judgement, Ireland’s Supreme Court has ruled that the Dublin government’s policies on climate change are inadequate, and has called for more action and clarity on the issue.

A unanimous verdict by the seven-judge Supreme Court said the government’s policies on climate change were “excessively vague and aspirational” and lacked clear plans and goals.

The judgement in the case, brought by the group Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE), is likely to have considerable impact elsewhere in Europe, with the courts being used to bring pressure for more decisive action on climate change.

Clodagh Daly, a spokesperson for FIE, said the judgement was a “groundbreaking and a landmark verdict” for climate action in Ireland, and across the world.

“It (the judgement) means the Irish government can no longer make promises that it cannot fulfil”, said Daly.

Inadequate detail

She said the ruling made clear that the government could not talk about long-term commitments on climate change without showing how these could be achieved. There was “no legal basis for a lack of political will” on the issue, said Daly.

In its case FIE argued that the Dublin government’s National Mitigation Plan, spanning the years 2017 to 2022, had failed to properly set out plans on how climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions will be substantially reduced over the coming years.

The court found that the government had not met its obligations under a 2015 Irish law on climate action and had not provided adequate detail of how it intended to achieve a transition to a low-carbon economy by 2050.

The government, said the judges, was required to give “some realistic level of detail” about how it will meet its carbon reduction targets: the 2017 National Mitigation Plan “falls a long way” short of providing the sort of specifics required on the issue.

They singled out the agricultural sector as one area lacking clear guidance on lowering carbon emissions.

“It means the Irish government can no longer make promises that it cannot fulfil”

Ireland’s agricultural industry is a mainstay of the economy, but it is also one of the primary sources of carbon emissions, in large part due to methane produced by the country’s seven million-strong cattle herd. Despite its green image, Ireland is, on a per capita basis, one of the leading polluters in Europe.

Observers say the Supreme Court judgement is a clear sign that governments can be held legally accountable for their action – or lack of action – on climate change.

Following a general election and extended political negotiations, Ireland’s Green Party is, for the first time, part of a coalition government.

Eamon Ryan, the Green Party leader and minister for climate action in the new government, said the Supreme Court ruling would act as a guard rail, keeping policy and political attention focused on climate issues.

Micheál Martin, Ireland’s Taoiseach or prime minister, said his government was giving the ruling serious and considered examination. – Climate News Network

The country’s highest judicial authority, Ireland’s Supreme Court, says the government’s climate policies are not up to the job.

DUBLIN, 4 August, 2020 – In what’s being seen as a landmark judgement, Ireland’s Supreme Court has ruled that the Dublin government’s policies on climate change are inadequate, and has called for more action and clarity on the issue.

A unanimous verdict by the seven-judge Supreme Court said the government’s policies on climate change were “excessively vague and aspirational” and lacked clear plans and goals.

The judgement in the case, brought by the group Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE), is likely to have considerable impact elsewhere in Europe, with the courts being used to bring pressure for more decisive action on climate change.

Clodagh Daly, a spokesperson for FIE, said the judgement was a “groundbreaking and a landmark verdict” for climate action in Ireland, and across the world.

“It (the judgement) means the Irish government can no longer make promises that it cannot fulfil”, said Daly.

Inadequate detail

She said the ruling made clear that the government could not talk about long-term commitments on climate change without showing how these could be achieved. There was “no legal basis for a lack of political will” on the issue, said Daly.

In its case FIE argued that the Dublin government’s National Mitigation Plan, spanning the years 2017 to 2022, had failed to properly set out plans on how climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions will be substantially reduced over the coming years.

The court found that the government had not met its obligations under a 2015 Irish law on climate action and had not provided adequate detail of how it intended to achieve a transition to a low-carbon economy by 2050.

The government, said the judges, was required to give “some realistic level of detail” about how it will meet its carbon reduction targets: the 2017 National Mitigation Plan “falls a long way” short of providing the sort of specifics required on the issue.

They singled out the agricultural sector as one area lacking clear guidance on lowering carbon emissions.

“It means the Irish government can no longer make promises that it cannot fulfil”

Ireland’s agricultural industry is a mainstay of the economy, but it is also one of the primary sources of carbon emissions, in large part due to methane produced by the country’s seven million-strong cattle herd. Despite its green image, Ireland is, on a per capita basis, one of the leading polluters in Europe.

Observers say the Supreme Court judgement is a clear sign that governments can be held legally accountable for their action – or lack of action – on climate change.

Following a general election and extended political negotiations, Ireland’s Green Party is, for the first time, part of a coalition government.

Eamon Ryan, the Green Party leader and minister for climate action in the new government, said the Supreme Court ruling would act as a guard rail, keeping policy and political attention focused on climate issues.

Micheál Martin, Ireland’s Taoiseach or prime minister, said his government was giving the ruling serious and considered examination. – Climate News Network

Direct virus lessons we can learn as we go

Learning from pandemics is hard but vital. We need 1918’s virus lessons this time round to show us a better normal.

LONDON, 8 April, 2020 – What history knows as the 1918 ‘flu pandemic infected about a quarter of the world’s population at the time – around 500 million people – and left virus lessons for this generation, whether or not it’s learned them.

Thankfully, the 2020 coronavirus outbreak shows no sign yet of matching last century’s virulence. There are growing calls, though, for the world not just to get back to normal, but to turn this global horror into an opportunity to rebuild by finding a better normal to reclaim.

In late 2018 the Rapid Transition Alliance was launched with the intention of building a community to learn from moments of sudden change and to apply those lessons to the climate emergency.

Changes in the biosphere are happening faster than changes in human behaviour, so the question the Alliance asks is this: how do we match the speed and scale of social and economic change with the science – and what it is telling us to do?

It is now working with two other British organisations, the original Green New Deal group and Compass, the campaign that builds support for new ideas among social movements, decision-makers and political parties.

“Once people have seen what it is possible for a nation to do, and how fast it can do it, it is much harder for those in power to justify inaction, or wrong action”

In the first of several digital meetings the three have begun to sketch out a framework for how society can “learn as we go” from unprecedented events. They have identified five principles for a just recovery, which say in essence:

  • Health is the top priority, for all people, with no exceptions. That means resourcing health services everywhere and ensuring access for all.
  • Providing economic relief directly to the people is vital, particularly those marginalised in existing systems. Concentrate on people and workers and on short-term needs and long-term conditions.
  • Assistance directed at specific industries must be channelled to rescuing communities and workers, not shareholders or corporate executives, and never to corporations whose actions worsen the climate crisis.
  • The world needs to create resilience for future crises by creating millions of decent jobs that will help power a just transition for workers and communities to the zero-carbon future we need.
  • We must build solidarity and community across borders: do not empower authoritarians, do not use the crisis as an excuse to trample on human rights, civil liberties, and democracy.

An indication of the degree of international support for the five principles is available here.

Making things happen

The principles are already accepted by millions of people, but are no closer to reality, for all that. If they were, the climate crisis would be almost over. What can the three groups offer to make them happen?

The coordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance is Andrew Simms, author of a summary of what the discussions have agreed so far. He told the Climate News Network: “Nobody can guarantee that things will turn out any certain way.

“But once people have seen what it is possible for a nation to do, and how fast it can do it, it is much harder for those in power to justify inaction, or wrong action.

“The current pandemic crisis is wreaking havoc on families, communities and whole economies. But it is also changing our ideas about what really matters to people and also what it is possible to do as a nation when faced with a great challenge.

“There is a new appreciation of key workers who provide the goods and services that a society really relies on – like health services and those in the food supply chain – but who typically lack recognition or are poorly paid.

Good-bye to inertia

“One of the greatest enemies in overcoming the climate emergency has been the sheer inertia of business-as-usual. Now there is a great sense of people taking stock of what is truly important.

“Vitally, when there is a fundamental threat to society, we have seen that financial resources can be mobilised. Fundamental change cannot happen without there being a consensus that it is both desirable and possible.

“The last few weeks have made visible underlying cracks in society, but also our ability to fix them. Once people have seen that, they are unlikely to settle for less.”

This first meeting spent some time talking practicalities, including how to protect wages and income. One example was the call by a member of Parliament for the introduction of a basic income scheme. Globally, the pandemic has prompted the United Nations to call for a worldwide ceasefire.

Overall, the summary says, greater consensus is emerging on how our economy and way of life relies on public not private interests, from health services to community aid groups, and that both local and national government have a vital enabling role on the need to improve the resilience of the economy at a national and local level.

Broadband before wheels

A radical reappraisal of transport came days after the meeting from the president of the UK’s Automobile Association (AA), Edmund King, who predicted a major shift in behaviour after the pandemic.

“People travelling up and down motorways just to hold meetings is inefficient, expensive and not good for the environment”, he said. “I think the use of road and rail and indeed bus will be reduced after this crisis.”

The AA, seen for years as a stalwart member of the roads lobby, said government funds for new transport infrastructure, including roads, might be better spent on improving broadband access to support home working.

The meeting agreed that the UK economy lacks a supportive town centre retail banking infrastructure with the capacity to administer a support scheme.

The build-up to the 2007-2008 financial crisis saw the evacuation of local banking services from the high street, and now the pandemic was making clear that the withering of local financial infrastructure in the UK must be reversed.

Universal and more mutual banking services are needed to build more resilient local economies, the three groups agreed. More progressive business models like social enterprises, which have direct community links, and the co-operative movement may help to provide answers. – Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Learning from pandemics is hard but vital. We need 1918’s virus lessons this time round to show us a better normal.

LONDON, 8 April, 2020 – What history knows as the 1918 ‘flu pandemic infected about a quarter of the world’s population at the time – around 500 million people – and left virus lessons for this generation, whether or not it’s learned them.

Thankfully, the 2020 coronavirus outbreak shows no sign yet of matching last century’s virulence. There are growing calls, though, for the world not just to get back to normal, but to turn this global horror into an opportunity to rebuild by finding a better normal to reclaim.

In late 2018 the Rapid Transition Alliance was launched with the intention of building a community to learn from moments of sudden change and to apply those lessons to the climate emergency.

Changes in the biosphere are happening faster than changes in human behaviour, so the question the Alliance asks is this: how do we match the speed and scale of social and economic change with the science – and what it is telling us to do?

It is now working with two other British organisations, the original Green New Deal group and Compass, the campaign that builds support for new ideas among social movements, decision-makers and political parties.

“Once people have seen what it is possible for a nation to do, and how fast it can do it, it is much harder for those in power to justify inaction, or wrong action”

In the first of several digital meetings the three have begun to sketch out a framework for how society can “learn as we go” from unprecedented events. They have identified five principles for a just recovery, which say in essence:

  • Health is the top priority, for all people, with no exceptions. That means resourcing health services everywhere and ensuring access for all.
  • Providing economic relief directly to the people is vital, particularly those marginalised in existing systems. Concentrate on people and workers and on short-term needs and long-term conditions.
  • Assistance directed at specific industries must be channelled to rescuing communities and workers, not shareholders or corporate executives, and never to corporations whose actions worsen the climate crisis.
  • The world needs to create resilience for future crises by creating millions of decent jobs that will help power a just transition for workers and communities to the zero-carbon future we need.
  • We must build solidarity and community across borders: do not empower authoritarians, do not use the crisis as an excuse to trample on human rights, civil liberties, and democracy.

An indication of the degree of international support for the five principles is available here.

Making things happen

The principles are already accepted by millions of people, but are no closer to reality, for all that. If they were, the climate crisis would be almost over. What can the three groups offer to make them happen?

The coordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance is Andrew Simms, author of a summary of what the discussions have agreed so far. He told the Climate News Network: “Nobody can guarantee that things will turn out any certain way.

“But once people have seen what it is possible for a nation to do, and how fast it can do it, it is much harder for those in power to justify inaction, or wrong action.

“The current pandemic crisis is wreaking havoc on families, communities and whole economies. But it is also changing our ideas about what really matters to people and also what it is possible to do as a nation when faced with a great challenge.

“There is a new appreciation of key workers who provide the goods and services that a society really relies on – like health services and those in the food supply chain – but who typically lack recognition or are poorly paid.

Good-bye to inertia

“One of the greatest enemies in overcoming the climate emergency has been the sheer inertia of business-as-usual. Now there is a great sense of people taking stock of what is truly important.

“Vitally, when there is a fundamental threat to society, we have seen that financial resources can be mobilised. Fundamental change cannot happen without there being a consensus that it is both desirable and possible.

“The last few weeks have made visible underlying cracks in society, but also our ability to fix them. Once people have seen that, they are unlikely to settle for less.”

This first meeting spent some time talking practicalities, including how to protect wages and income. One example was the call by a member of Parliament for the introduction of a basic income scheme. Globally, the pandemic has prompted the United Nations to call for a worldwide ceasefire.

Overall, the summary says, greater consensus is emerging on how our economy and way of life relies on public not private interests, from health services to community aid groups, and that both local and national government have a vital enabling role on the need to improve the resilience of the economy at a national and local level.

Broadband before wheels

A radical reappraisal of transport came days after the meeting from the president of the UK’s Automobile Association (AA), Edmund King, who predicted a major shift in behaviour after the pandemic.

“People travelling up and down motorways just to hold meetings is inefficient, expensive and not good for the environment”, he said. “I think the use of road and rail and indeed bus will be reduced after this crisis.”

The AA, seen for years as a stalwart member of the roads lobby, said government funds for new transport infrastructure, including roads, might be better spent on improving broadband access to support home working.

The meeting agreed that the UK economy lacks a supportive town centre retail banking infrastructure with the capacity to administer a support scheme.

The build-up to the 2007-2008 financial crisis saw the evacuation of local banking services from the high street, and now the pandemic was making clear that the withering of local financial infrastructure in the UK must be reversed.

Universal and more mutual banking services are needed to build more resilient local economies, the three groups agreed. More progressive business models like social enterprises, which have direct community links, and the co-operative movement may help to provide answers. – Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Fast pandemic response could tackle climate crisis

Societies worldwide are changing overnight to meet the coronavirus threat. The climate crisis should match the rapid pandemic response.

LONDON, 26 March, 2020 – If you want to know how fast a modern society can change, go to most British town centres and see the pandemic response. They will be unrecognisable from what they were 10 days ago.

You’ll see far fewer pedestrians, now sheltering from coronavirus infection at home, far fewer vehicles, hardly an aircraft in the skies above. The familiar levels of urban noise have faded to a murmur. The usual air pollution is dropping fast, with reports of significant falls from not just the UK but China and northern Italy as well.

So we can change when we decide to, and a pandemic demands change that’s both radical and rapid. But pandemics are not unique in that respect: there’s something else on the world’s agenda that’s crying out for action to match what’s happening today.

Dieter Helm is professor of economic policy at New College, University of Oxford. He writes in the latest entry on his site: “The coronavirus crisis will come to an end even if coronavirus does not … What will not be forgotten by future historians is climate change and the destruction of the natural environment.” What can we learn from this crisis that will help us when it’s over?

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”.

“Prevention and resilience are what we need, to mitigate not just viruses, but also the destruction of the wider natural environment”

It says pandemics show how good governments are at responding fast and effectively, and at changing economic priorities in the public interest. But one vital element is to ensure that people clearly understand the risks involved, as this can lead to much faster, co-ordinated responses to an emergency, explaining and justifying policy changes that otherwise might lack support.

People can change their daily habits very quickly. Where behaviour changes show that more sustainable behaviour is possible – such as avoiding unnecessary travel – many could be encouraged to adopt them as a new norm.

Reactions to COVID-19 in China have improved urban air quality, leading to emissions reductions in different industrial sectors ranging from 15% – 40%. If plummeting levels of air pollution gave people a lasting taste for cleaner air, the Alliance suggests, this might shift expectations and open up new possibilities for change.

We can very quickly change our expectations about how we travel, work and entertain ourselves in a pandemic, it believes, and how we learn to behave, so as to minimise transmission risks.

There have been previous successes in overcoming pandemics, although they happened in different eras, using different technologies and living with different customs and systems of belief, so we  cannot always learn directly from them.

One recent success has been the international effort to subdue HIV/AIDS. First identified in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1976, the disease has killed more than 32 million people, yet since 1995 death rates from it have dropped by 80%.

Not profit alone

The World Health Organisation estimates that there were around 37.9 million people living with HIV at the end of 2018, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2002, UNAIDS negotiated with five pharmaceutical companies to reduce anti-retroviral drug prices for developing countries – a key step in making combating the disease a greater priority than profit.

Between 2000 and 2018 new HIV infections fell by 37% and HIV-related deaths fell by 45%. Changes in attitude, the RTA argues, have been vital in achieving an effective response, including the action of a well-known early casualty, Rock Hudson, who left funds for research into the virus, and Princess Diana, who famously shook hands with an AIDS sufferer to show the condition was not contagious.

Between 2005 and 2012 annual global deaths from HIV/AIDS dropped from 2.2m to 1.6m, and dropped again by 2018 to 770,000.

The RTA argues that Inadequate action on climate heating is like knowing the cure to COVID-19 and yet failing to manufacture and distribute it and treat people affected by it.

Action trails promises

Some of the latest climate research points to a growing gap between the commitments on the climate emergency which nations have made, and the action which scientists say is needed, and the RTA says three lessons on rapid transition stand out from global pandemic responses:

  • A clear understanding of risk can lead to much faster, co-ordinated responses to an emergency
  • The rapid, physical mobilisation of resources can happen alongside behaviour change. People can change their daily habits very quickly and adapt to new social norms
  • Where adaptations and behaviour changes reveal possibilities for more sustainable behaviour – such as avoiding unnecessary travel – they should be encouraged to become the new norm, and part of the broader climate emergency response.

Professor Helm agrees that there are lessons to be learnt about the climate crisis from the world’s reaction to pandemics, but he doesn’t think they will all necessarily be welcome.

For a start, he says, “the virus has created an economic crisis, and people will be less willing to pay for saving future generations. There are more immediate pressing problems.”

Warning that history will remember climate change, biodiversity loss and our ravaging of the Earth, he concludes: “It remains to be seen whether this particular crisis leads to a broader and a more fundamental rethink. We have not paid enough to support the health service, preferring lower taxes.

“There is a broader lesson here too, and a really great legacy of this crisis would be that we learn it. Prevention and resilience are what we need, to mitigate not just viruses, but also the destruction of the wider natural environment.” − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Societies worldwide are changing overnight to meet the coronavirus threat. The climate crisis should match the rapid pandemic response.

LONDON, 26 March, 2020 – If you want to know how fast a modern society can change, go to most British town centres and see the pandemic response. They will be unrecognisable from what they were 10 days ago.

You’ll see far fewer pedestrians, now sheltering from coronavirus infection at home, far fewer vehicles, hardly an aircraft in the skies above. The familiar levels of urban noise have faded to a murmur. The usual air pollution is dropping fast, with reports of significant falls from not just the UK but China and northern Italy as well.

So we can change when we decide to, and a pandemic demands change that’s both radical and rapid. But pandemics are not unique in that respect: there’s something else on the world’s agenda that’s crying out for action to match what’s happening today.

Dieter Helm is professor of economic policy at New College, University of Oxford. He writes in the latest entry on his site: “The coronavirus crisis will come to an end even if coronavirus does not … What will not be forgotten by future historians is climate change and the destruction of the natural environment.” What can we learn from this crisis that will help us when it’s over?

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”.

“Prevention and resilience are what we need, to mitigate not just viruses, but also the destruction of the wider natural environment”

It says pandemics show how good governments are at responding fast and effectively, and at changing economic priorities in the public interest. But one vital element is to ensure that people clearly understand the risks involved, as this can lead to much faster, co-ordinated responses to an emergency, explaining and justifying policy changes that otherwise might lack support.

People can change their daily habits very quickly. Where behaviour changes show that more sustainable behaviour is possible – such as avoiding unnecessary travel – many could be encouraged to adopt them as a new norm.

Reactions to COVID-19 in China have improved urban air quality, leading to emissions reductions in different industrial sectors ranging from 15% – 40%. If plummeting levels of air pollution gave people a lasting taste for cleaner air, the Alliance suggests, this might shift expectations and open up new possibilities for change.

We can very quickly change our expectations about how we travel, work and entertain ourselves in a pandemic, it believes, and how we learn to behave, so as to minimise transmission risks.

There have been previous successes in overcoming pandemics, although they happened in different eras, using different technologies and living with different customs and systems of belief, so we  cannot always learn directly from them.

One recent success has been the international effort to subdue HIV/AIDS. First identified in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1976, the disease has killed more than 32 million people, yet since 1995 death rates from it have dropped by 80%.

Not profit alone

The World Health Organisation estimates that there were around 37.9 million people living with HIV at the end of 2018, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2002, UNAIDS negotiated with five pharmaceutical companies to reduce anti-retroviral drug prices for developing countries – a key step in making combating the disease a greater priority than profit.

Between 2000 and 2018 new HIV infections fell by 37% and HIV-related deaths fell by 45%. Changes in attitude, the RTA argues, have been vital in achieving an effective response, including the action of a well-known early casualty, Rock Hudson, who left funds for research into the virus, and Princess Diana, who famously shook hands with an AIDS sufferer to show the condition was not contagious.

Between 2005 and 2012 annual global deaths from HIV/AIDS dropped from 2.2m to 1.6m, and dropped again by 2018 to 770,000.

The RTA argues that Inadequate action on climate heating is like knowing the cure to COVID-19 and yet failing to manufacture and distribute it and treat people affected by it.

Action trails promises

Some of the latest climate research points to a growing gap between the commitments on the climate emergency which nations have made, and the action which scientists say is needed, and the RTA says three lessons on rapid transition stand out from global pandemic responses:

  • A clear understanding of risk can lead to much faster, co-ordinated responses to an emergency
  • The rapid, physical mobilisation of resources can happen alongside behaviour change. People can change their daily habits very quickly and adapt to new social norms
  • Where adaptations and behaviour changes reveal possibilities for more sustainable behaviour – such as avoiding unnecessary travel – they should be encouraged to become the new norm, and part of the broader climate emergency response.

Professor Helm agrees that there are lessons to be learnt about the climate crisis from the world’s reaction to pandemics, but he doesn’t think they will all necessarily be welcome.

For a start, he says, “the virus has created an economic crisis, and people will be less willing to pay for saving future generations. There are more immediate pressing problems.”

Warning that history will remember climate change, biodiversity loss and our ravaging of the Earth, he concludes: “It remains to be seen whether this particular crisis leads to a broader and a more fundamental rethink. We have not paid enough to support the health service, preferring lower taxes.

“There is a broader lesson here too, and a really great legacy of this crisis would be that we learn it. Prevention and resilience are what we need, to mitigate not just viruses, but also the destruction of the wider natural environment.” − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Ex-general takes over Brazil’s Amazon protection

Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, is a former soldier. He’s now appointed an ex-military colleague to oversee Amazon protection, causing widespread dismay.

SÃO PAULO, 31 January, 2020 − Alarmed by warnings that his neglect of the need to protect the Amazon could lead to disinvestment and export bans, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has turned to his usual solution to problems: call in the army.

He has chosen his vice-president, retired general Hamilton Mourão, to head a new Amazon Council which will co-ordinate “the activities of all the ministries involved in the protection, defence and development and sustainable development of the Amazon”.

He has also decided to create a new environmental police force (in Portuguese) to protect the Amazon. The “Green Police” will recruit agents from local state forces.

The creation of the council is a belated attempt to undo the damage done in the first year of Bolsonaro’s government, when the environment ministry was entrusted to right-wing climate sceptic Ricardo Salles.

Salles, a São Paulo lawyer who had never set foot in the Amazon and faces charges of fraud dating from his term as environment secretary of the local state government, immediately set about dismantling the ministry’s capacity to monitor deforestation, enforce the law and fine offenders, replacing experienced, qualified staff with retired police officers, and blaming Greenpeace and other NGOs for environmental disasters.

“What finally persuaded Bolsonaro that he had to listen to the critics was pressure from Brazilian exporters and foreign investors”

As a result of his unfounded accusations of irregularities among recipients, Norway and Germany suspended their contributions to the billion dollar Amazon Fund, set up in 2000 to finance sustainable development projects and firefighting brigades.

Bolsonaro also gave the go-ahead to wildcat miners and landgrabbers to invade protected areas, with remarks that disparaged indigenous peoples and encouraged economic activities in the rainforest.

The effect of this policy was a huge surge in Amazon forest fires and a big increase in deforestation over the previous year. When confronted with the figures, Bolsonaro’s answer was to accuse the head of Brazil’s internationally respected monitoring agency, INPE, of lying and being in the pay of NGOs, forcing him to resign.

What finally persuaded Bolsonaro that he had to listen to the critics was pressure from Brazilian exporters and foreign investors.

Change of tune

With disinvestment in environmentally unsustainable areas growing, large investment fund managers warned that pressure from shareholders, increasingly worried about the climate crisis, would force them to pull out of Brazil unless the government changed its tune and began protecting the Amazon.

Brazil’s politically powerful agribusiness lobby spelt out the consequences for their grain and meat exports if the government continued to encourage deforestation, because consumers now demand sustainability.

But instead of sacking his environment minister or increasing funds to prevent deforestation and fires, Bolsonaro has appointed Hamilton Mourão, whose Amazon experience is five years as military commander in the region, to sort out the problem.

Scientists, environmentalists and NGOs with years of experience in the Amazon were not consulted before the surprise move. Even Mourão himself, when interviewed, was vague about what he is meant to do or how he will do it.

Ignoring local knowledge

The army’s involvement in the Amazon began in the 1960s when Brazil was at the beginning of a 21-year-long military dictatorship. The key word was development – highways, dams, cattle ranches – ignoring the indigenous and traditional people who already lived there. As a result, thousands were displaced and many died from diseases transmittted by outsiders.

The decision to resort to the military has caused dismay among environmentalists. Suely Araújo, former head of Ibama, the environmental enforcement agency, who resigned in protest (in Portuguese) at the minister’s and Bolsonaro’s comments, said: “The solution is not in militarising environmental policy… military support for operations in critical areas might be necessary, but it should be understood that environmental monitoring has to go way beyond troops on the ground.”

She pointed out that Ibama’s 2020 budget for monitoring work throughout Brazil has been slashed by 25% over the previous year.

The latest figures from INPE show an 85.3% increase in deforestation (in Portuguese) for the year ending in August 2019, compared with the year before. Fires for the same period were 30% higher. − Climate News Network

Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, is a former soldier. He’s now appointed an ex-military colleague to oversee Amazon protection, causing widespread dismay.

SÃO PAULO, 31 January, 2020 − Alarmed by warnings that his neglect of the need to protect the Amazon could lead to disinvestment and export bans, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has turned to his usual solution to problems: call in the army.

He has chosen his vice-president, retired general Hamilton Mourão, to head a new Amazon Council which will co-ordinate “the activities of all the ministries involved in the protection, defence and development and sustainable development of the Amazon”.

He has also decided to create a new environmental police force (in Portuguese) to protect the Amazon. The “Green Police” will recruit agents from local state forces.

The creation of the council is a belated attempt to undo the damage done in the first year of Bolsonaro’s government, when the environment ministry was entrusted to right-wing climate sceptic Ricardo Salles.

Salles, a São Paulo lawyer who had never set foot in the Amazon and faces charges of fraud dating from his term as environment secretary of the local state government, immediately set about dismantling the ministry’s capacity to monitor deforestation, enforce the law and fine offenders, replacing experienced, qualified staff with retired police officers, and blaming Greenpeace and other NGOs for environmental disasters.

“What finally persuaded Bolsonaro that he had to listen to the critics was pressure from Brazilian exporters and foreign investors”

As a result of his unfounded accusations of irregularities among recipients, Norway and Germany suspended their contributions to the billion dollar Amazon Fund, set up in 2000 to finance sustainable development projects and firefighting brigades.

Bolsonaro also gave the go-ahead to wildcat miners and landgrabbers to invade protected areas, with remarks that disparaged indigenous peoples and encouraged economic activities in the rainforest.

The effect of this policy was a huge surge in Amazon forest fires and a big increase in deforestation over the previous year. When confronted with the figures, Bolsonaro’s answer was to accuse the head of Brazil’s internationally respected monitoring agency, INPE, of lying and being in the pay of NGOs, forcing him to resign.

What finally persuaded Bolsonaro that he had to listen to the critics was pressure from Brazilian exporters and foreign investors.

Change of tune

With disinvestment in environmentally unsustainable areas growing, large investment fund managers warned that pressure from shareholders, increasingly worried about the climate crisis, would force them to pull out of Brazil unless the government changed its tune and began protecting the Amazon.

Brazil’s politically powerful agribusiness lobby spelt out the consequences for their grain and meat exports if the government continued to encourage deforestation, because consumers now demand sustainability.

But instead of sacking his environment minister or increasing funds to prevent deforestation and fires, Bolsonaro has appointed Hamilton Mourão, whose Amazon experience is five years as military commander in the region, to sort out the problem.

Scientists, environmentalists and NGOs with years of experience in the Amazon were not consulted before the surprise move. Even Mourão himself, when interviewed, was vague about what he is meant to do or how he will do it.

Ignoring local knowledge

The army’s involvement in the Amazon began in the 1960s when Brazil was at the beginning of a 21-year-long military dictatorship. The key word was development – highways, dams, cattle ranches – ignoring the indigenous and traditional people who already lived there. As a result, thousands were displaced and many died from diseases transmittted by outsiders.

The decision to resort to the military has caused dismay among environmentalists. Suely Araújo, former head of Ibama, the environmental enforcement agency, who resigned in protest (in Portuguese) at the minister’s and Bolsonaro’s comments, said: “The solution is not in militarising environmental policy… military support for operations in critical areas might be necessary, but it should be understood that environmental monitoring has to go way beyond troops on the ground.”

She pointed out that Ibama’s 2020 budget for monitoring work throughout Brazil has been slashed by 25% over the previous year.

The latest figures from INPE show an 85.3% increase in deforestation (in Portuguese) for the year ending in August 2019, compared with the year before. Fires for the same period were 30% higher. − Climate News Network

Iceland put people first to save melting economy

Faced in 2008 with a melting economy, Iceland acted fast to avoid total collapse. Icelanders’ own needs were its priority.

LONDON, 27 November, 2019 − What can you do if you’re a smallish island in the North Atlantic with a lot of snow and a melting economy? Quite a lot, it turns out, if you’re prepared to put local people’s needs first.

Iceland was hailed recently for erecting a memorial plaque to one of its most striking features, Okjökull, which shrank so drastically because of climate breakdown that it lost its status as a glacier. It was the first in Iceland to do so, and is now known, fittingly, by a diminutive, as Ok.

Barely 10 years ago, when the country was in the grip of a different crisis, the pace of its far from glacial response showed how quickly rapid changes of government policy can turn a crisis around.

Iceland was at the heart of the global financial crisis in late 2008 and was nearly destroyed by it; 97% of its banking sector collapsed in just three days. its three largest banks − Glitnir, Kaupthing and Landsbankinn − had accumulated a debt of $85 billion (£66bn), equivalent to 10 times the country’s national income (GDP), or 20 times the national budget.

These losses amounted to $330,000 for every man, woman and child on the island, whose stock market then collapsed, with huge numbers of businesses going bankrupt. Iceland approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for emergency aid − the first western country to do so since 1976 − and obtained a loan of $2.1bn (£1.4bn).

“It is possible that the Icelandic way of governing also played a part. Was their natural reflex to protect the many, rather than the few?”

So how did it manage to survive? First, it allowed a default on the $85bn in debt accumulated by the banks. A new national mood set in, creating lasting conditions for change and the desire for new economic approaches.

Other countries had largely let banks off the hook, but in 2015 Iceland’s Supreme Court upheld convictions against bankers at the heart of the crisis. Finance is now so sensitive that when the Prime Minister was caught up in revelations from the release of the so-called Panama Papers, he was forced from office.

The debts are now largely paid off, but most multinational businesses have left Iceland, for fear of the capital controls. A huge expansion in tourism has rescued the nation’s economy, though average wages are now much lower.

The government protected Icelanders’ bank deposits and forgave debts for a quarter of the population. As Bloomberg News reported in 2012, “Iceland’s approach to dealing with the meltdown has put the needs of its population ahead of the markets at every turn.”

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), a global initiative which aims to learn from rapid change to address urgent environmental problems, believes Iceland’s way of extricating itself quickly from the global crisis has lessons for other countries, some of which are still paying a heavy price for the events of 2008 and the way they reacted.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that individual countries cannot independently follow radically different economic policy and control capital flows, says the RTA, Iceland shows they can, and quickly;

Radical change can usher in a virtuous circle, by becoming a habit: once you’ve started, new opportunities may open up for yet more change;

And, perhaps most surprisingly of all, the Alliance says, it is possible to put people before the demands of financial markets and still run a successful economy. Citizen engagement and economic reform can go hand in hand.

Iceland’s economy had thrived on speculative finance but, after the meltdown, rather than making the public pay for the crisis, as the Nobel economist Paul Krugman points out, Iceland “let the banks go bust and actually expanded its social safety net”. Instead of placating financial markets, it introduced temporary controls on the movement of capital to give itself room to manoeuvre.

Following this, a “pots and pans” revolution kick-started a process that led to a new citizen-drafted constitution, which succeeded in engaging half the electorate.

The constitutional exercise proposed a new approach to the ownership of natural resources for the public good, which has had a lasting effect on the country’s choices: all its electricity and heat today comes from renewable sources, and transparency has become a central part of Icelandic public life.

The RTA thinks there were several key factors that enabled such rapid and fundamental change: the extent to which the economic system was irreparably damaged; the decision by the government to respond to the people’s demands and not to those of the banks; and the decision to punish those at fault and start anew.

It concludes: “It is possible that the Icelandic way of governing also played a part, because they have a longstanding history of deeply embedded democracy and a culture that discourages hierarchy. Was their natural reflex to protect the many, rather than the few?” − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Faced in 2008 with a melting economy, Iceland acted fast to avoid total collapse. Icelanders’ own needs were its priority.

LONDON, 27 November, 2019 − What can you do if you’re a smallish island in the North Atlantic with a lot of snow and a melting economy? Quite a lot, it turns out, if you’re prepared to put local people’s needs first.

Iceland was hailed recently for erecting a memorial plaque to one of its most striking features, Okjökull, which shrank so drastically because of climate breakdown that it lost its status as a glacier. It was the first in Iceland to do so, and is now known, fittingly, by a diminutive, as Ok.

Barely 10 years ago, when the country was in the grip of a different crisis, the pace of its far from glacial response showed how quickly rapid changes of government policy can turn a crisis around.

Iceland was at the heart of the global financial crisis in late 2008 and was nearly destroyed by it; 97% of its banking sector collapsed in just three days. its three largest banks − Glitnir, Kaupthing and Landsbankinn − had accumulated a debt of $85 billion (£66bn), equivalent to 10 times the country’s national income (GDP), or 20 times the national budget.

These losses amounted to $330,000 for every man, woman and child on the island, whose stock market then collapsed, with huge numbers of businesses going bankrupt. Iceland approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for emergency aid − the first western country to do so since 1976 − and obtained a loan of $2.1bn (£1.4bn).

“It is possible that the Icelandic way of governing also played a part. Was their natural reflex to protect the many, rather than the few?”

So how did it manage to survive? First, it allowed a default on the $85bn in debt accumulated by the banks. A new national mood set in, creating lasting conditions for change and the desire for new economic approaches.

Other countries had largely let banks off the hook, but in 2015 Iceland’s Supreme Court upheld convictions against bankers at the heart of the crisis. Finance is now so sensitive that when the Prime Minister was caught up in revelations from the release of the so-called Panama Papers, he was forced from office.

The debts are now largely paid off, but most multinational businesses have left Iceland, for fear of the capital controls. A huge expansion in tourism has rescued the nation’s economy, though average wages are now much lower.

The government protected Icelanders’ bank deposits and forgave debts for a quarter of the population. As Bloomberg News reported in 2012, “Iceland’s approach to dealing with the meltdown has put the needs of its population ahead of the markets at every turn.”

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), a global initiative which aims to learn from rapid change to address urgent environmental problems, believes Iceland’s way of extricating itself quickly from the global crisis has lessons for other countries, some of which are still paying a heavy price for the events of 2008 and the way they reacted.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that individual countries cannot independently follow radically different economic policy and control capital flows, says the RTA, Iceland shows they can, and quickly;

Radical change can usher in a virtuous circle, by becoming a habit: once you’ve started, new opportunities may open up for yet more change;

And, perhaps most surprisingly of all, the Alliance says, it is possible to put people before the demands of financial markets and still run a successful economy. Citizen engagement and economic reform can go hand in hand.

Iceland’s economy had thrived on speculative finance but, after the meltdown, rather than making the public pay for the crisis, as the Nobel economist Paul Krugman points out, Iceland “let the banks go bust and actually expanded its social safety net”. Instead of placating financial markets, it introduced temporary controls on the movement of capital to give itself room to manoeuvre.

Following this, a “pots and pans” revolution kick-started a process that led to a new citizen-drafted constitution, which succeeded in engaging half the electorate.

The constitutional exercise proposed a new approach to the ownership of natural resources for the public good, which has had a lasting effect on the country’s choices: all its electricity and heat today comes from renewable sources, and transparency has become a central part of Icelandic public life.

The RTA thinks there were several key factors that enabled such rapid and fundamental change: the extent to which the economic system was irreparably damaged; the decision by the government to respond to the people’s demands and not to those of the banks; and the decision to punish those at fault and start anew.

It concludes: “It is possible that the Icelandic way of governing also played a part, because they have a longstanding history of deeply embedded democracy and a culture that discourages hierarchy. Was their natural reflex to protect the many, rather than the few?” − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.