On the heels of a Climate Emergency

31st May 2019
On the heels of a Climate Emergency

On the heels of a Climate Emergency (Photo: John Englart (Takver)/Flickr CC)

The UK Parliament has officially declared a “climate emergency” following an impassioned message Jeremy Corbyn delivered to fellow MPs detailing the urgency of the issue on May 1.
The Opposition Leader laid out a comprehensive list of problems that prove that the current state of the climate is, in fact, a crisis (sea level rise posing an existential threat to the Maldives and Bangladesh, drought in Africa, flooding in Europe, etc.)

He then proposed a series of projects to drastically reduce emissions while addressing injustice and rethinking the economy. The address was ultimately hopeful, finding inspiration in the tenacity of young people pushing politicians to act an issue that will affect them for the rest of their lives.

He said, “I was deeply moved a few weeks ago to see the streets outside this Parliament filled with colour and noise by children on strike from school chanting ‘our planet, our future’.
For someone of my generation, it was inspiring but also humbling that children felt they had to leave school to teach the adults a lesson.”

He specifically praised the work of Extinction Rebellion, an environmental activist group that leads protests to raise awareness about the climate crisis and demands action from politicians.

Such groups were once seen as agitators pulling “stunts” rather than concerned citizens demanding change. Prominent members of the group met with the UK’s Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, but came out of the meeting underwhelmed.

Corbyn’s proposal had come just days before the UN released a report concluding that a million of the world’s species are on track for extinction due to climate change.

Usually, declaring a ‘state of emergency’ gives the government wide-reaching powers and access to funds to address a major crisis, but this particular ‘emergency’ seems to be more rhetoric aimed at ushering in radical policies to curb emissions.

After the UK’s motion passed, Ireland soon followed suit and also declared a “climate emergency” of its own. Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, responded with a look at the violence potential of climate impacts in nations like Nigeria, who are already prone to conflict, which climate change would inevitably exacerbate. He pledged £153 million for technological innovations to the agricultural sector and committed millions to Ethiopia for climate adaptation in drought-prone areas over a 5-year period.

A few days after Corbyn’s address, the UK Government released its report on achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. In response, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark, praised the UK’s leadership on climate action.

Clark expressed wanting to lead the world in achieving net-zero emissions but fell short of supporting the plan until his office assessed the specifics.

The net-zero report lays out the drastic changes necessary to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, including a double-digit cut in beef production, a complete transition away from gas-fueled vehicles and immense investment in renewable energy to supply such vehicles with clean power.

Still, there has been a criticism of recent inaction on climate issues in the UK. The Guardian reported that “all but a small proportion of a £100 million pot allocated to highways. England to combat air pollution on and near our roads in 2015 has not been spent, despite a 2020 deadline.”

Also since the Paris Climate Agreement was signed, dozens of global banks have financed fossil fuel projects around the world to the tune of almost 2 trillion dollars. Corbyn suggested an economic revamp that would mandate climate action from businesses, balancing their profit and environmental priorities. Instead of pumping money into old dirty technologies, the proposed training former coal miners in renewable technologies, which would boost the economy, secure people in well-paying jobs, and work towards the UK’s climate goals as per the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015.

The UK knows its place as an influential world leader and Corbyn expressed that other nations would follow suit if they took the helm on declaring an emergency — just as Ireland did. The extent of the effect is yet to be seen, as there are powerful players all over the world invested in the fossil fuel industry.

Major changes can also shock the economy, but the proposal speaks to the decision to take a long or short-term view.

If action is not taken now, there will not be an economy to save. Because of the rapidity with which technology has taken over people’s lives, many assume that there will be a technological or market-driven solution to the climate crisis, but the technologies that can save humanity and biodiversity already exist. It is now up to politicians to implement strategies that incentivize their widespread manufacture and use.

Without the will, without venturing into the unknown – into the newness of a revolutionary green economy, there will be no hope that humanity can save itself from inevitable extinction. We boast of our knowledge of the universe, our access to technology, yet we lack the audacity to demand from every industry, every individual, the change to benefit everyone in the long term. It will be painful, but we must sacrifice now lest we have nothing left to sacrifice in the future.

Sarah Sakeena Marshall,
English Language Teacher & Environmental Columnist.

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