With the United Nations (UN) secretary-general warning the G7 summit that we are teetering on the edge of the abyss in respect of the climate and ecological crises, it was gut-wrenching to see the summit fail deeply on climate.
While the leaders announced plans for a more than 50 per cent cut in emissions by 2030, in the small print was a classic Johnsonism. The baseline from which the cut was to be measured was from 16 years ago – in 2005, not 2021.
The main action point was an agreement to end most of the G7’s public funding for coal projects, but that doesn’t include coal funding from private-sector banks. And while the leaders welcomed the landmark International Energy Agency (IEA) report on net zero 2050, they ignored its call for an immediate global moratorium on all new oil and gas-supply investments.
This was despite economists saying that the ban is essential if we are to have an even 50 per cent chance of not exceeding the 1.5C maximum rise target.
So, with just over four months to the crucial climate summit Cop26 in Glasgow, what should the UK, as president of the summit, be proposing to demonstrate that it has taken the UN warning seriously?
As a contributor to The Independent’s climate coverage, here is my suggested Cop26 agenda:
1. Agree a target of net zero 2030, rather than that of 2050 endorsed by the oil corporations. Humanity passed the safe level for carbon emissions in 1988; we cannot wait until 2050 to stop pouring oil onto the climate fires.
2. Impose a global moratorium on the destruction of all old-growth rainforests, mangrove swamps and peatlands by the end of 2021. These are the largest territorial carbon stores. We have lost nearly 70 per cent of wildlife populations since 1970 and continue to lose them at about 1 per cent per annum. Waiting for 2050 would mean the loss of almost all of what is left of nature.
3. Implement the UN call for 20 per cent of government transport budgets to be invested in active travel by 2025. Transport is one of the largest causes of air pollution and carbon emissions. Investing in walking and cycling infrastructure would make our cities healthier, greener and more efficient.
4. Halt all ocean-floor trawling by the end of 2022. A report in Nature found that bottom trawling, which inflicts devastating destruction to life on the ocean floor, also releases huge amounts of stored carbon from the ocean floor into the waters above it. A ban would protect fish stocks and ensure that the oceans remain an invaluable carbon sink.
5. Agree an international frequent-flyer tax. Studies show that the richest 1 per cent are responsible for a staggering 50 per cent of aviation emissions.
6. Impose an emergency pause for the cruise-ship industry, until alternative fuels such green hydrogen are developed. Cruise ships emit up to four times the carbon emissions per passenger/kilometre produced by aviation, and are an unaffordable luxury in this crisis.
7. Adopt a zero-waste, zero-incineration, circular global economy by 2030. Excluding food, material consumption accounts for about 30 per cent of global carbon emissions.
8. Set a target for land-based transport, as well as electric power and heating, to transition to fully renewable electricity by 2030.
9. Commit to government support for the voluntary switch to a largely plant-based diet by 2030. This is crucial to restore global forest carbon sinks, to enable nature to thrive again and to reduce direct emissions. Livestock is responsible for 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and takes up 70 per cent of all agricultural land.
10. Guarantee access to education, family planning and economic empowerment as a human right for all women, and agree that developed countries will abandon population-expansionist policies and instead constructively manage the natural population declines that happen in industrialised nations. Having to reduce the carbon emissions and ecological impacts of an extra 2 billion people by the 2060s would make an already difficult task nigh on impossible.
11. Agree a global ban on the advertising and promotion of high-carbon industries. Society will not act fast enough, if those with a financial vested interest in the industries threatening human civilisation are able to delay action by advertising their destructive products and promoting social permission for them.
12. Agree a climate version of the Tobin Tax on all stock and currency market transactions, with the proceeds to be hypothecated to a UN fund to provide literally trillions of dollars for the global south, to deal with the unfolding impacts of the climate crisis imposed on its countries by historical emissions from the industrialised north, and fund their transition to renewable-energy economies.
13. Instruct central banks to impose the IEA moratorium on all investments in new fossil-fuel infrastructure by the end of 2021.
In most sectors, aviation being an exception, we already have the technologies and policies to pull us back from the brink. What is necessary is political will. But politicians cannot invent that themselves. They need larger sections of the media – and the public opinion that media leaders help shape – to be willing to support such an agenda.
The failure of the G7 must motivate us to ensure Cop26 succeeds. We must not pass secretary-general Antonio Guterres’s global point of no return.