It’s no secret that the world’s most “powerful” nations have built their ivory towers from the pursuit of capitalism at all costs. The UK is perhaps one of the best examples of this.
In the early 1600s, Great Britain decided to colonise a quarter of the world, simply because we weren’t content with the resources we had - and like an entitled rich kid, we were used to getting what we wanted. After the brutal displacement of indigenous peoples, savage domineering over lands not our own, and the birth of the Industrial Revolution in the 1700s, Great Britain came up with their best idea yet:
Build a powerful economy off the back of slaves, and we can blame the US for their mistreatment, while we sip tea in peace and quiet.
Yeah. Believe it or not, Britain really did think this was a great idea at the time. Finally, after years of unforgivable torture, extortion and getting stinking rich... Slavery as it was known then, came to an end in 1865. Although the UK managed to offload a bunch of responsibility in the process, but that is a whole other blog…
Understanding this history is fundamentally important for many reasons, but significantly because it demonstrates just how the UK came to be the global superpower that it is today, and shows the lengths that western nations went to in order to achieve economic growth.
So what’s happening now?
On the 1st of May the UK Parliament declared a climate emergency and they have been pretty pleased with themselves ever since. Credit where credit is due, it was a huge step in the right direction towards giving climate action the priority it deserves, and it demonstrated that direct action works.
And it looks like the government have fully boarded the bandwagon having just announced today that they will commit to achieving net zero emissions by 2050, making them the first major economy to do so.
These steps are not insignificant, and compared to the arguably lackluster UK attitude to climate change before, this is a welcome change. But the UK have been up to the same old dirty tricks behind the scenes, and they are mad if they think they’ll go unnoticed.
Offsetting the Burden (again)...
Like they’ve done before in difficult times, the UK has looked to the rest of the world as a dumping ground for its mess, misbehaviour and misconduct. While celebrating climate victories at home, they’ve been wreaking havoc elsewhere.
Funding Fossil Fuels
This month, it came out that the UK government was confronted by its own MPs for sending billions of pounds overseas to burn fossil fuels and build power plants in the Global South. And the cherry on top of the cake? They are using tax payers money to do it. A report by the audit report committee found that £2.5 billion of the UK’s total £2.6 billion in UK Export Finance spending, was given to fossil fuel projects abroad. So while leaders pat themselves on the back in Whitehall, the same gross exploitation of anyone “other” is happening all over again. And it gets worse…
Not only have the UK been offloading the direct impacts of pollution to the rest of the world, but they have been literally shipping tonnes of waste to the other side of the planet because why not use the rest of the Earth as a giant trash can for our consumerist habits? But while Malaysia can send the UK’s waste right back to where it came from, toxic air pollution can’t exactly be bagged and returned to sender.
At the international stage the UK does its best to toot its own horn, but if you look a little closer, it's clear that they are not willing to own up, or pay up, for the historical and continued damage they have done to developing countries across the world. Under the Paris Agreement, there is a provision on Loss and Damage which looks to acknowledge those who will face the direct impacts of climate change first, and strives to provide financial support through UN processes. Unsurprisingly the UK have fallen rather silent on financial provision for loss and damage so far, but the negotiations start next week and you can bet we will be asking them all about it… (and they do read our blogs, so you never know!)
Playing with Numbers
As if all that wasn’t enough to make you sick, the government has been fiddling with the numbers to make their lives even easier (because offloading a bunch of waste and pollution, while profiting from it, just isn’t enough).
Between 2013 and 2017 the UK was in recession, and burned a lot less fossil fuels than normal. This meant we ended up with some free space in our carbon budget. However, despite express warning from the Committee on Climate Change not to do it, surprise surprise, the UK government have gone and raised an almighty middle finger to the planet. Instead of striving for more ambition for the next phase of the Climate Change Act the UK will carry over their unused carbon from 2013-17 and simply add it to the coming years. Why be so unashamedly sneaky you might ask? Because the UK is set to miss its 2020 targets by a long shot.
And unfortunately the 2050 net zero target is not a guarantee that we will redeem ourselves at the last minute. Instead, this 2050 target includes the use of international carbon credits (do I smell green capitalism?) which as noted by Greenpeace, will “shift the burden to developing nations” and again was warned as being a bad idea by the Committee on Climate Change. Similarly, experts are worried that such a distant target will mean letting us do the easy stuff first and leaving all the hard stuff until 2049. And given how much money we pour into fossil fuels, this concern isn’t unfounded.
So, while the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy claim that this net zero target will remove the UKs “contribution to global warming ENTIRELY” we argue that:
without taking eating a serious dose of humble pie, and owning up to our historic and current exploitation for the sake of profit, the UK cannot, and should not ever be awarded the title of “climate leader”.
True climate justice can only be achieved when the UK stops funding fossil fuels altogether, starts redistributing its wealth to those who need it urgently, and moves away from a world where profit matters more than people.