The following demands were delivered to Nadhim Zahawi’s office as part of a rally and march during COP26.

The UK must fight for 1.5, domestically and internationally

Globally, we are currently set for 2.9°C of heating by the end of the century.[1] This is only a median estimate, and outcomes considered within the ‘likely’ range stretch as high as 3.9°C. According to the IPCC, 1°C of heating has already increased the prevalence of wildfires, droughts, heatwaves, extreme rainfall events. Every subsequent increment of warming will make all of this worse. There is also a real risk of triggering tipping points, leading to dramatic changes in local climate, with all the chaos that would entail. Any hotter than this would be beyond catastrophic. But to limit heating to 1.5°C (or even 2°C) emissions must begin decreasing well before 2030:

Graphic 1. Source, IPCC AR6, Summary for Policymakers, p. 16. Only SSP1-1.9 and SSP1-2.6 give a reasonable chance of 1.5°C by end of century. Both see resources decreasing immediately.

The government now has ambitious targets for the UK’s territorial emissions, aiming to decarbonise by 68% (by 1990) standards by 2030, and 78% by 2035. It must, however, end policies that undermine such targets, such as support for fossil fuel projects, road-building and increased air flight, and address omissions in its plans. It must also use its influence overseas to push for targets compatible with 1.5 degrees.

1) Keep fossil fuels in the ground

Cancel all new fossil fuel projects – in Britain and around the world. According to the IEA, new fossil fuel infrastructure must cease this year for any chance of keeping warming to 1.5°C.[2] However, at least 40 new fossil fuel projects are planned in the UK, with some already given the go-ahead by government.[3] The UK must cancel all plans for new fossil fuel infrastructure, and ban such projects for the future. This must include:

  • The Cambo oil field near Shetland
  • The planned coal mine in Cumbria
  • The gas plant in Mozambique

Close existing fossil fuel projects early. According to the IPCC, to have just a 50% chance of 1.5, we can only emit 500 Gt more CO2.[4] Research in 2019 found that existing fossil fuel infrastructure, run over its planned lifetime, would produce at least 658 GtCO20. The figure is likely higher in 2021. To limit the world to 1.5°C, it is therefore clearly necessary to close down existing infrastructure before planned. Companies will not do this themselves, so governments must nationalise and retire them.

Advocate for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. Governments are collectively planning “to produce 110% more fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5°C, and 45% more than would be consistent with limiting warming to 2°C”.[5] Without constrictions, the logic of international competition risks setting us on a race to extinction, as can be seen in the competition over fossil fuels in the Arctic. If all the conventional fossil fuels on the reserve sheets of fossil fuel companies, excluding tar sands and shale oil were burned, that would heat the planet by an additional 4°C.[6] Countries must agree to limit such insanity, with a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.[7]

Adapted from Mike Berners-Lee, 2020, How Bad Are Bananas?, Profile Books, London, p.182

2) Reject false solutions

End the £27 bn road program and invest in public transport instead. The government’s Net Zero plans recognise a need to reduce driving, but £27 billion spending on roads is still planned. Yet it is widely recognised by transport experts that road-building leads to more driving.[8] The number of cars on the road keeps on rising, year on year. If the government wishes to reduce congestion, it should do this by spending £27 bn on public transport and cycle tracks not, on more roads.

Ban production and sale of new SUVs. In 2020, emissions reductions from electric vehicle uptake and more energy efficient vehicles were more than cancelled out by the increased trend for gas-guzzling SUVs.[9] On average, SUVs consume 20 per cent more energy per kilometre than a medium-sized car. Most SUVs are driven in urban areas, where there is no need for them.[10] Even electric SUVs are still more energy-hungry, in construction and use, than normal electrics. Car manufacturers know about the climate emergency, and know what they are doing. A slight tax hike won’t make any difference to affluent consumers.

Tax frequent fliers, ban private jets and cancel airport expansions. Emission reductions from international shipping and aviation are not included in the government’s plans until 2035, when it is hoped technological fixes will be available. But plans for Jet Zero are speculative, and contain key errors, such as omitting to consider that the climate impact of air flight derives more from vapour trails at altitude than from CO2.[11] It is irresponsible not to be taking measures to reduce flight demand, let alone planning for it to increase. Taxing frequent fliers, banning private jets and cancelling airport expansions are the least that should be done.

Support ‘green’, not ‘blue’ hydrogen. ‘Blue’ hydrogen, produced from fossil fuels with carbon capture, is central to the government’s plans for decarbonising many other areas, including heating, transport and aviation. But recent scientific study suggests that, due to leaks and energy costs, ‘blue’ hydrogen may cause more carbon pollution than just burning the gas it’s made from, or even coal.[12] If true, the government’s plan is not a net zero plan at all. The government’s views on the prohibitive expensiveness of green hydrogen also seem doubtful.[13]

Develop a plan to reduce meat and dairy consumption. It is widely recognised that meat and dairy are major contributors to greenhouse gases, including by the Committee on Climate Change. However, the government’s Net Zero plans contain no plans for reducing them. The government should support a transition away from meat and dairy in our diets, with financial disincentives and support for plant-based diets and new food technologies.

Sideline corporate lobbyists. Too much of the government’s current thinking seems to rely on wishful thinking, coming from lobbyists from the polluting industry. In September it was reported that government had met fossil fuel and biomass lobbyists 9 times more than clean energy companies.[14] But it is well known that these companies have known about the climate dangers of their extractive agenda for decades, and spent millions on pseudo-scientific climate change denial to avoid action. The Times now reports that fossil fuel companies are seeking permission for 40 new developments across the UK.[15] Their bad faith could not be clearer. Yet the government’s ‘blue’ hydrogen policy has been denounced as a product of distorted lobby claims.[16] The policy omissions on flying and meat also seem to derive from the views of lobby organisations, rather than independently tested proposals. The government needs to put more faith in independent experts, and to remember that companies represent their own interests first and foremost.

3) Fund an adequate Green New Deal

Spending must reflect the scale of the crisis. Spending on renewable energy, insulation, public transport, nature recovery, et cetera, must reflect the needs and urgency of the climate emergency. Spending on training and ensuring employment for the associated workforces will create millions of green jobs, to replace jobs in the old, polluting industries.

Offer a jobs guarantee. Those who lose their jobs in the polluting industries must be fully supported in transitioning to a new role, with retraining opportunities and a jobs guarantee. However, there is no reason not to go further, and offer a job to anyone who wants one. If there are not enough jobs to go around, a reduction in the working week or a universal basic income should be considered. 

Insulate all UK homes. With limited materials for renewable energy, we need to reduce the energy we use, through a street-to-street program of deep refurbishment, covering all the UK’s building stock. The workforce necessary for this must be trained at scale, which would create thousands of green jobs.

Renewable energy for more than electricity. We need to develop enough renewable electricity to compensate for the ending of fossil fuels, whether through green hydrogen or other methods, and for the provision of public transport at a sufficient scale and price to allow great reduction in the number of private journeys.

Fund council plans. Fully reverse cuts to local councils and give them the money and powers they need to meet their net zero targets. Funding and empowering councils, and so reviving local democracy, is the best way to involve and engage local people. In an era in which massive state intervention is necessary, the best way to avoid fears over a ‘big state’ is to reverse the tendency of recent decades to centralise it.

Recognise that the polluter should pay. The Government’s Net Zero Strategy says that ‘We will ensure the biggest polluters pay the most for the transition through fair carbon pricing’ (Net Zero Strategy, p.16) People will only back restrictions on their action if they perceive them as fair. The principle that the polluter pays should justify very high taxation on polluting industries. As the bulk of carbon emissions are associated with the wealthy, it also justifies a wealth tax. The burden of carbon taxes on people who are not affluent must be compensated for by other measures.

Recognise that climate trumps existing economic arrangements. The economy is ultimately a set of historically developed rules and practices for organising production and distribution, which collectively we set for ourselves. We could do this differently, and where a liveable planet depends on it, we must do so. If any of the foregoing is judged incompatible with the interests of big companies, with the independence of the financial system, or with the growth imperatives of capitalism, then alternative economic arrangements must be explored. There are no jobs or profits on a dead planet.

4) Develop a plan for nature recovery

Pass the CEE Bill. The climate crisis is not the only environmental crisis we face. Scientists recognises 9 planetary boundaries, at least 4 of which we are currently in breach of. In Britain, the soil is depleted, pesticides are  destroying biodiversity in our fields, and sewage and farm run-off are choking off life in our rivers. Individual insect species and insect biomass are in steep decline, and more and more species are going extinct. It is imperative to extend the climate emergency to an ecological emergency, and to develop a plan for nature recovery, along the lines of the CEE Bill, currently before parliament.

5) Mobilise UK influence and power overseas

Tackle emissions from consumption. UK government power and influence stretches well beyond dominion over UK territory. The emissions over which the UK exercises control within its boundaries are exceeded by those influenced by UK consumption and financial power. In 2019, UK territorial emissions totalled 454.8 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) (in 2018, they were 468.1 million tonnes).[17] However, as UK GDP has shifted from manufacturing to services, the UK has become a net importer of the fruits of fossil fuel-powered production. In 2018, emissions from UK consumption totalled 703.1 million tonnes CO2e—50% higher than territorial emissions.[18]

Tackle emissions from finance. Moreover, as a financial power, the UK is the home of banks and asset managers that control or enable at least 805 million tonnes CO2e every year, 1.8 times our territorial emissions.[19] This is likely a very conservative estimate, given that inadequate data means that insurance writing, a market the UK dominates, and several other asset classes could not be included in the analysis.

Prioritise the climate in trade deal negotiations. In particular, trade deal priorities must reflect this. Recent leaks have shown that the UK has agreed to water down references to climate ambitions in its deal with Australia,[20] and that climate standards are regarded as dispensable in trade deals.[21] Trade deal diplomacy cannot but effect our ability to conduct effective climate diplomacy—other countries can join the dots. Trade deals should be conducted less secretively, prioritise greenhouse gas emission reductions, and ensure imported goods meet the same standards as goods produced domestically. Imports of, for example, Brazilian beef and soya cattle feed produced in areas of destroyed rainforest must be banned, not increased.

Form effective alliances with nations in the global South. Construct an allegiance with countries in the global south in order to pressurise intransigent countries like Australia, Russia, or Saudi Arabia to develop proper decarbonisation plans.[22] This will require acknowledging the need for international climate justice.

6) Climate justice for the global South

Historically the global south has done least to cause the climate emergency, and countries in the developed world still have a far higher per capita greenhouse gas footprint. Poorer countries are nevertheless most vulnerable to climate impacts, suffering most and first, and being least equipped to adapt. Heating above 1.5°C is an existential issue for small island nations, which could be underwater at higher temperatures.

It is difficult for developing countries to cancel planned coal plants when their citizens barely have access to reliable electricity. This is particularly so as they are often economically undermined by foreign debt, attached economic conditions, and capital flight to richer nations. For these reasons, the UK must lead developed nations in securing the following:

  • Rich countries should decarbonise before poor countries, as per the Paris Agreement. If the world is to reach net zero by 2050, this implies countries like the UK should look to reach this target sooner.
  • Cancel debts owed by the developing world.
  • Provide funds to aid countries in the global South in decarbonising and developing sustainably.[23]
  • Reparations for climate damages already occurring.
  • International planning for refugee crises, including the UK taking its fair share.

[1] https://climateactiontracker.org/

[2] https://www.iea.org/reports/net-zero-by-2050

[3] https://neweconomics.org/2021/10/40-new-uk-fossil-fuel-projects-emitting-triple-the-uks-annual-emissions-could-be-approved-by-2025

[4] For an 83% chance of limiting global heating to 1.5°C, we have a total remaining carbon budget of 300 GtCO2. For a 50% chance of limiting heating to 2 degrees, we have a budget of 1350 GtCO2 (SPM, p.38).

[5] SEI, IISD, ODI, E3G, and UNEP. (2021). The Production Gap Report 2021, http://productiongap.org/2021report, p. 4.  

[6] Mike Berners-Lee, 2020, How Bad Are Bananas?, Profile Books, London, p. 182.

[7] https://fossilfueltreaty.org/

[8] https://www.cpre.org.uk/resources/the-impact-of-road-projects-in-england/ There is now a very large academic literature on ‘induced road travel’.

[9] https://www.newscientist.com/article/2265449-people-buying-suvs-are-cancelling-out-climate-gains-from-electric-cars/  

[10] https://www.newscientist.com/article/2273696-most-fuel-hungry-suvs-in-the-uk-are-bought-by-people-in-cities/

[11] https://theecologist.org/2021/aug/27/jet-zero-and-politics-technofix

[12] https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2021/08/touted-clean-blue-hydrogen-may-be-worse-gas-or-coal

[13] https://www.carboncommentary.com/blog/2021/8/18/ht84sm6i17we0drv929w39o1pgn23m

[14] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/sep/10/uk-ministers-met-fossil-fuel-firms-nine-times-more-often-than-clean-energy-companies

[15] https://neweconomics.org/2021/10/40-new-uk-fossil-fuel-projects-emitting-triple-the-uks-annual-emissions-could-be-approved-by-2025

[16] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/aug/20/oil-firms-made-false-claims-on-blue-hydrogen-costs-says-ex-lobby-boss

[17] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/957887/2019_Final_greenhouse_gas_emissions_statistical_release.pdf, p.1.

[18] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/uks-carbon-footprint

[19] https://www.wwf.org.uk/sites/default/files/2021-05/uk_financed_emissions_v11.pdf

[20] As well as specific references to Paris targets, the UK has also apparently agreed to drop ‘‘precedence of Multilateral Environmental Agreements over [the] FTA’: https://news.sky.com/story/exclusive-ministers-bowed-to-pressure-to-drop-key-climate-commitments-for-uk-trade-deal-with-australia-12401988

[21] https://news.sky.com/story/uk-trade-deals-should-prioritise-economic-growth-over-environmental-protections-leaked-govt-document-12433808

[22] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-58896667

[23] https://www.globalgreennewdeal.org/