In a heartfelt speech last week, the Secretary-General of the UN talked about the state of the planet. He highlighted – as many people will in the coming days as we count down to the 5 year anniversary of the Paris agreement – that in his view making peace with the planet is the defining task of the 21st century, and a top priority for everyone everywhere. The alternative is, to continue in his words, “for humanity to wage war on the planet”. And what is war good for? Absolutely nothing in my opinion. Last month, up and down the country we witnessed remembrance services and, as happens yearly, some commentators have questioned whether we should still keep doing this, asking are we actually celebrating and glorifying war? Reams of books cover the futility of war so when I saw Extinction Rebellion’s protest that made the link to the conflict that would result from climate change it stopped me in my tracks.
As I read about this protest, a shiver went down my spine; I had family who fought in WW2 and that war feels tangible to me, the prospect of another global conflict, this time triggered by climate change fills me with fear. Perhaps I am extra sensitive because 2020 has been a year when a lot of us have experienced heightened anxiety levels. Then reading these words from the UN filled me with renewed horror especially the chilling words “nature always fights back” and 2020 has proven that to us; if anyone needed any more proof.
However, while the prospect of climate conflict makes me deeply afraid, it is important to recognise that some of this conflict has already begun. Drought, pollution, collapsing biodiversity, loss of wetlands, growth of desserts, sea level rise, flooding and extreme weather events are right now catalyzing hostilities in communities across the world. It has been high-emitting countries in the Global North that have driven much of this climate change, safe in the knowledge that that poorer countries will be hit the hardest and soonest by climate impacts.
However, as the consequences of climate change become more and more severe, even the wealthier countries of the Global North are starting to realize the power of nature and how much we all depend on natural services in the modern interconnected world. The climate crisis will inevitably increase inequality around the world (both between and within national borders) and as Covid-19 has demonstrated, crisis of any kind will have the harshest impacts on those already economically, socially and physically vulnerable.
Over the past decade there have been numerous international treaties, pledges, targets and agreements created with the hope of collectively addressing climate change. The most significant of these in recent years has been the Paris Agreement nearly five years ago. This agreement marked a moment in time when governments and actors around the world came together to agree groundbreaking actions to tackle the climate emergency.
December 12 2020 will mark five years since the Paris Agreement was signed. In recognition of this event, and as the world slowly starts to look ahead to COP26, over the coming weeks LGIU will publish a number of pieces reflecting on the progress that has been made and what is needed as we look to the future. Much of this will be drawn from the Sustainable Futures pillar of our Post-Covid Councils work and, from energy and climate policy to air pollution and wellbeing, these briefings and blogs will cover a diverse range of sustainability issues relevant to local government. Among them are blogs and ‘In Conversation With’ interviews contributed by our members, detailing the work they all are doing to support climate action in councils, partner organisations and communities.
The world has changed drastically in recent months, and at LGIU we have covered the response to the pandemic from around the world. Since we launched our post-covid councils work, we have talked optimistically about a ‘new normal’ and ‘building back better’. Personally, I have attended countless virtual events talking about a green recovery and have been hopeful that the pandemic would speed the world’s response to climate change. However, while this crisis exposed the elusive magic money tree, as governments across the world continue to bail out business as usual while counting the cost of green recovery, questions remain as to whether this crisis is enough to make the change on the scale that is so urgently needed.
While writing this blog news of the UK government’s spending boost for the military hit the headlines. With the magic money tree still, apparently, bearing fruit, commentators have questioned the investment in sustainability vs investment in defense, with many arguing that this latest decision ignores the real threats to humanity. Unlike the pandemic response, there is no vaccine for the planet and nature needs the bailout now. In 2021, LGIU will further explore the leadership role local government plays in delivery of the actions that tackle climate change today, tomorrow and for the future.
At LGIU we would like to hear from you and share your stories about tackling this issue – not just saving the planet, but saving ourselves by valuing the planet. To end on a hopeful note, human invention and activity got us here and, with any luck, human action can also help solve the problem. Join us on the delivery journey as we try to understand that recovery from the pandemic and repair of the planet are inextricably intertwined.