We need a rebellion against extinction.

Protesta de Extintion Rebellion en Londres. Foto: Extintion Rebellion

On 3 December 2018 the COP24 will open in Katowice, Poland. A new United Nations conference on climate change that should coordinate the efforts of states to limit temperature increases to levels "significantly below" 2ºC, in accordance with the commitments of the COP21 in Paris.

However, the history of the COPs does not invite much hope for this new edition, as the previous ones did not succeed in steering us away from the serious repercussions of climate change.

Three years ago the "International Community" celebrated the Paris Agreement as a historic milestone. I pointed out at the time that this agreement had been more a spectacle than a real advance, as the United Nations' own organization on climate change later admitted in its report when it warned that the "expected national contributions were not compatible with the 2°C scenarios".

Two years later, just before the COP23 in Bonn, the same organization alerted us once again that "the full implementation of current nationally determined contributions - conditional and unconditional - makes it very likely that the temperature increase will be at least 3°C by 2100, which means that governments must commit much more decisively at the review scheduled for 2020".

In this context, the European Union has committed itself to reducing emissions of all climate gases by 40% by 2030 (compared to 1990). This reduction is clearly insufficient, according to new research published in the journal Nature, based on the projected contributions at national level (NDPC), which are each country's commitments communicated to the United Nations, and according to which the projected emissions from the EU would lead to an increase in temperatures of 3.2ºC, while those from Spain would lead to 3.4ºC.

And all this in a context in which there are serious doubts about the fulfilment of the European Union's commitments for the year 2030. According to a recent report by the European Environment Agency (EEA), "the emission reductions expected in the EU up to 2030 would only be 30% below 1990 levels, if existing mitigation measures are taken into account, and only 32% when additional measures are also considered"; which in any case falls far short of the insufficient commitment established at 40%.


The climate emergency is ongoing, getting worse and worse


For more than 30 years we have witnessed the sad spectacles of the Climate Summits, characterized by their scarce results and their abundant unfulfilled commitments. And this only if we take into account the last 30 years, which is when governments have reacted (or at least pretended to do so) to the problem of climate change.

The first World Climate Conference took place in Geneva in 1979 (almost 40 years ago), and in its declaration it already demanded that nations "anticipate and prevent possible man-made changes in climate that could be adverse to the well-being of humankind. This led to the creation of the World Climate Programme.

It can be said that the Summits spectacle began with the World Conference on Atmospheric Change: Implications for Global Security in Toronto in 1988. The conference background document stated that "the world's developed industrialized countries are the world's largest source of greenhouse gases and therefore make a greater commitment to the global community to ensure the implementation of measures to address climate change..." and included a concrete call to action: "Reducing CO2 emissions by approximately 20% from 1988 levels by 2005 as an initial global goal", clearly stating that "industrialized nations have a responsibility to lead the way, both through their national energy policies and through their bilateral and multilateral assistance agreements". However, despite good words and intentions, CO2 emissions grew in these years from 21.5Gt to 29.5Gt, a growth of 37%!

In the same year, 1988, the United Nations General Assembly declared that climate change "is a common concern of humanity" and commissioned the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to prepare periodic reports on the problem. 1988 was also the year in which negotiations began for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was finally approved in 1992 and entered into force in 1994. A Convention that marked a new milestone that accelerated the spectacle of the Climate Summits or "COPs" (Conferences of the Parties) from 1995 on. However, the Framework Convention did not set any emission reduction targets; these only arrived a few years later with the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 (more than 20 years ago, does anyone remember?).

However, contrary to what one might think, compared to the document of the 1988 Toronto Conference, the Kyoto Protocol fell short and, moreover, some important countries failed to sign up (as was the case of the United States, for example). Taking a big step backwards, the Protocol only agreed on a minimum reduction of 5% in the emissions of six greenhouse gases for 2008-2012, compared to 1990 emissions; Spain being a very illustrative case of this fiasco, because in the framework of its compliance, Spain committed to limiting the increase (!) of its emissions to a maximum of 15% in relation to the base year (as part of an EU commitment to reduce its emissions by 8%).

But the reality was quite different: according to an article in El Español, Spain far exceeded its target and increased its emissions by nearly 21% in 2012, thanks only to the reductions caused by the crisis that began in 2008 (since before the growth in emissions was over 40%!).

So 15 years had to pass since the Kyoto Protocol for the COP18 held in Doha in 2012 to approve the Amendment to the Protocol and take on "more ambitious" reductions. Specifically, 20% by 2020 compared to 1990 (reminder: the 1988 Toronto conference called for a 20% reduction by 2005!).

Three years later came the "historic" Paris Agreement, which set new emission reduction targets with the goal of "keeping the global average temperature increase well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and continuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C". It noted that this "will require a much greater effort to reduce emissions than nationally determined projected contributions".

Finally, the latest IPCC report, published on 8 October 2018, warns that "to limit global warming to 1.5°C, rapid and far-reaching transitions would be needed in earth, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities. Global net emissions of human-induced carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, and continue to fall to "net zero" by about 2050". At the moment the world is on its way to a warming of 1.5ºC between 2030 and 2052 and to 3ºC in 2100, according to the IPCC, which, usually by its broad consensus, makes conservative estimates.


Moral imperative for civil disobedience


Based on these data we can say that our governments are not going to save us. Not only do they fall far short of meeting their own commitments, but also the commitments agreed, both in the Kyoto Protocol and in the Paris Agreement, fall far short of halting the rise in global temperatures and limiting this increase to less than 1.5ºC.

It is unlikely that our governments, at this stage, will change beyond appointing a Minister for Ecological Transition (a merger of two ministries, formerly called Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Energy), as the priority remains the same: to promote capitalist accumulation, or in other words, economic growth (although it is now called "sustainable" and "inclusive"). All this is more reminiscent of the Newspeak of George Orwell's 1984 novel than of a real transition from our heteropatriarchal capitalist productivist system to one capable of placing the protection and care of life at the centre. Thus, it is most probable that as long as our governments are not strongly pressured, we will only see little more than hot air (and yes, ever hotter air) coming out from the Climate Summits (in December the COP24 will take place in Katowice).

Environmental organisations demand much greater efforts than our governments are willing to make and to require energy companies and society in general (such as Spain reducing its net emissions to zero by 2040). However, the current government's draft Climate Change and Ecological Transition Act only proposes to reduce emissions by 20% from 1990 to 2030, with a goal of zero emissions by 2050.

So as governments are leading our societies into the abyss, we are left with no other path than civil disobedience, a massive and prolonged civil disobedience. Martin Luther King, in his letter from Birmingham prison, wrote: "Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and generate such a tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to face the problem. It seeks to dramatize the conflict so much that it can no longer be ignored."

We are in a similar situation. Our governments are refusing to take the necessary measures to limit global warming well below 2°C, even if they agreed to do so in Paris in 2015. Their inaction or insufficient action leads to an increase in temperatures of more than 3ºC, which would most likely surpass several tipping points and trigger a catastrophic global warming.

Beyond the moral and political imperative, civil disobedience can also be legally justified. The Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment of the 1972 United Nations Conference established in principle 1 "the fundamental right ... to the enjoyment of adequate living conditions in an environment of such quality as to lead a life of dignity and well-being". So we can say that the ineffectiveness of our governments is a clear violation of this fundamental right.

In this sense, a growing number of strategic litigations on climate change are also making use of this legal argument when denouncing national governments and European institutions in the face of insufficient commitments or non-compliance with agreements. As a result of this strategy, some successes have already been achieved, as shown by the recent ruling in Holland that obliges the government to accelerate its efforts to reduce emissions or the litigation of the People's Climate Case against the European Parliament and the European Council, which the European Court of Justice agreed to pursue in August this year.

The very arguments used in these lawsuits can therefore also be used to justify civil disobedience.


What can we do?

The inaction of our governments - the failure of our institutions - clearly shows that if we want to have a future we should get to work: building a new movement of massive civil disobedience, a nonviolent rebellion against our extinction.

There are many inspirations, from Gandhi's civil disobedience campaigns in South Africa and India to the African American civil rights movement or ActUP, among many others.

In relation to climate change there are several inspiring initiatives such as 350.org at the international level, or the Ende Gelände campaign in Germany, or other similar campaigns using massive civil disobedience against coal mines.

The latest proposal is an initiative born in the UK which on 17 November succeeded in blocking the five main bridges over the Thames in London with more than 6,000 people in a new Extinction Rebellion. Commenting on this movement, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, along with nearly 100 people from the Academy, said: "While our academic perspectives and experience may differ, we are united on this point: we will not tolerate the failure of this or any other government to take solid and emergency action on the ecological crisis".

This movement is now spreading internationally. In Spain, the first steps are being taken to organize a rebellion against extinction. Will you join us?

Cambio Climatico
Necesitamos una rebelión contra la extinción