We must mobilise for new international energy systems

| 28th September 2018
Friends of the Earth Scotland took part in the 2017 Days of Action to say No to #DirtyEnergy and Yes to #ClimateJustice.
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A landmark report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will be met with a global week of action demanding an end to dirty energy.

We need to act globally to support and protect people whose resistance is met with repression.

In October 2018 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will release its landmark 1.5 degrees report. It's likely to simultaneously communicate the terrible dangers and impacts of letting average global temperature rise exceed 1.5 degrees, while warning that drastic systemic change on a scale never seen before will be needed to prevent these temperature rises.

In the same year the term ‘Hothouse Earth’ first came into use - a dire prediction by some scientists that even if temperatures are stabilized at 2 degrees (the Paris Agreement commitments could mean up to 4 degrees of warming) there may already be so much warming in the system that irreversible tipping points could be crossed.

Forests, permafrost and oceans, which typically store carbon and methane, could suddenly release them, driving further temperature and sea level rises. This would make parts of the Earth uninhabitable - a terrifying prospect.

Planetary emergency

We are in a planetary emergency. We must rise up. We must play our part in seeking to stop climate change and bring about transformation. The challenge is so huge that it requires nothing less than system change - a radical overhaul of our energy, food, political and economic systems.

We have seen what action around the edges of our current political and economic system has achieved - and it is not enough. It has allowed runaway climate change, inequality and hunger. It has allowed false solutions like carbon offsets and REDD monoculture plantations to steal land from people while not reducing emissions. We need people power to push for system change.

Governments are influenced by intense lobbying by the powerful Dirty Energy industry, which fears threats to its profits. Fossil fuels, including oil, coal and gas, are the primary cause of global warming.

Even now, when we know so much about the dangers of climate change, more than 1,600 new coal plants are planned or under development in 62 countries. Some countries are even looking to expand into coal for the first time. The quantity of new conventional gas infrastructure Europe is planning is also staggering—it’s heading for a 58 percent increase in EU gas import capacity. Coal, gas and other fossil fuel technologies, including oil, frackingtar sands and unconventional coal technologies, should be dead. 

Yet the exploration and exploitation of fossil fuels continues at a relentless pace. Indonesia, one of the world’s largest coal exporters, is plagued by the detrimental effects of coal and communities in Indonesia are uniting to stop coal mining. Bangladesh is also at risk, and the World Heritage Sundarbans area could be blighted by a coal plant.

Dirty energy

The fossil fuel industry is wrongly promoting gas as a ‘transition fuel’ solution. As a result communities in Northern Mozambique have seen a dash for gas which is, according to Friends of the Earth Mozambique, already "leaving entire communities landless, with no livelihood, and insufficient resettlement and compensation, if any. Many miles of pristine beaches will be irreversibly destroyed. Unique ecosystems such as mangroves and endangered species of sea life and ocean flora will be put at great risk of complete destruction."

And oil and unconventional fossil fuels like tar sands also continue to wreak havoc on our climate and the environment. There is danger of a new tar sands frontier opening up in Nigeria, a country already devastated by oil companies who continue to abuse the people and environment with no sign of cleaning up. Togo is threatened with exploitation of offshore oil, as well, which would have dire impacts. Fracking (the extraction of oil or gas by fracturing underground shale rock) is a reality, or is threatened, in ArgentinaColombiaSouth Africa and the UK, even though some other governments have completely banned it.

Non-fossil fuel forms of Dirty Energy that need to go include nuclear power and large-scale hydropower, which have devastating impacts on people and the environment. Nuclear is dangerous. Despite this around 30 countries are considering, planning or starting nuclear power programs, including Bangladesh, Indonesia, Ghana, Nigeria, Paraguay and Chile. 

Large scale hydro projects also fall under the Dirty Energy category. They frequently result in land grabbing, diverted rivers, and the undermining of water and food sovereignty. The impact of hydroelectric dams on climate change has also been underestimated - rotting vegetation in dam waters emit around a billion tonnes of greenhouse gases every year. I

n 2015, 57,000 large dams choked more than half the world’s major rivers. These projects also cost lives. In 2016 Berta Caceres was murdered for opposing the Agua Zarca dam in Honduras. In 2017 Berta Zúñiga was attacked for continuing her mother’s work. Madre Tierra/Friends of the Earth Honduras works alongside communities to resist large scale hydro projects.

Dangerous technologies

The influence of the Dirty Energy industry is backed by right-wing regimes, which deny climate change and promote fossil fuels while closing down political debate and restricting activists’ freedom to mobilize.

Friends of the Earth groups around the world are fighting Dirty Energy projects alongside communities. And we are tackling the influence of corporations who continue to push dirty energy – as an example of this Friends of the Earth Netherlands is taking Shell to court to stop its climate wrecking activities. This historic case could set a powerful legal precedent: if we win, one of the world’s biggest polluters will be stopped in their tracks.

Dirty Energy has been encouraging ‘climate deniers’ where it can, but promoting risky and potentially unworkable false solutions to climate change that offer alternative profit-making opportunities where it can’t. 

These ‘false solutions’ — untested, profit-driven techno-fixes — are dangerous distractions that risk diverting us from real solutions when there is no time left to waste. But governments and others are being seduced by the prospect of an easy-fix. The IPCC report will include 1.5 degree ‘pathways’ that assume the use of risky, unproven technologies that claim to suck carbon out of the atmosphere—such as Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS).

Friends of the Earth International says no to these dangerous technologies and mechanisms. We can and must solve the climate crisis without creating new environmental catastrophes. There are pathways that can lead to a 1.5 degree future without reliance on BECCS and Dirty Energy, but these require enormous and radical change right now.

Community energy

The IPCC itself comes close to recognizing that the pace of change needed for a future below 1.5 degrees is nothing less than radical system change.

We need to usher in a new people-led energy system that works for everybody. Tackling climate change now, in a fair and just way, will enable us to avert catastrophe, at the same time as creating a better quality of life for everyone, in harmony with nature.

Communities around the world are already implementing solutions that challenge the system and bring us closer to the model of sustainable societies that we need. Friends of the Earth International communities, in ScotlandDenmarkPalestine and Ireland, are controlling their own energy generation, looking to clean sources such as wind and solar, and promoting their independence and economic well-being at the same time.

Governments in Scotland, Ireland and Victoria, Australia, joined those in France, Bulgaria and parts of the United States and Canada, with outright bans on fracking, in response to people power.

A real, fair and viable future, based on decentralized, people-centred community energy, and involving practices such as agroecology and community forest management, could and should become the new norm. Such alternatives must be scaled up, strengthened and replicated so that they are accessible to everyone, so that they benefit everyone, and so that they are commensurate with demand.

People power 

We need to act now, with justice, to ensure that developed countries are held to account for climate change. Just 10 percent of the world’s population are responsible for 50 percent of emissions, whilst the poorest 50 percent are responsible for only 10 percent. The rich must make the deepest emission cuts rapidly, and pay for emissions reductions and sustainable development in the global South.

It is deeply unfair that we risk exceeding 1.5 degrees and crossing tipping points—into irreversible climate change—because of longstanding inaction by the global North, which has benefited most from the extraction and consumption of fossil fuels that caused the climate crisis in the first place.

A safe and just pathway demands a radical and immediate shift away from fossil fuels everywhere and a huge flow of finance from the global North to the global South to fund the transition. 

Friends of the Earth International believes that only radical system change offers a pathway towards hope and out of despair. We need to — and can — transform our energy, food and economic systems to prevent temperature rises exceeding 1.5 degrees, and fend off climate catastrophe. But only if we do it now.

The global North must reduce its emissions to zero as soon as possible, while ensuring a Just Transition for workers and communities. The global North must cease all new fossil fuel projects, rapidly phase out existing reliance on fossil fuels, and stop funding fossil fuel extraction in the global South.

Energy revolution

The global South must forge clean, sustainable futures — free from the corporate control and Dirty Energy infrastructure that bring local pollution, land grabbing and human rights abuses, in addition to climate change. 

To win this climate justice fight we need to act together

We, the people, must oppose Dirty Energy, case by case, battle by battle, using all the tools and tactics at our disposal. We need to find innovative ways to defeat Dirty Energy. We need to connect the dots for a comprehensive fight, connect the fossil fuel headquarters with their operations and their financial backers.

People power is a powerful tool. This has been proven time and time again; in fracking bans in Victoria state, AustraliaNew York state, states across AmericaIrelandFranceScotlandBulgaria and provinces in Canada.

We need to act globally to support and protect people whose resistance is met with repression. We must usher in an energy revolution; just, sustainable, climate-safe energy for all. This transition must happen fairly. No country can be excluded or disadvantaged because they have not exploited their fossil fuels.

All over the world, the climate crisis is deepening. We must act now. The fight against #DirtyEnergy is growing, and calls for an energy transformation are getting louder. But time is short. Join Friends of the Earth International 6-13 October for our global Week of Action. Together we can fight the climate emergency.

This Author 

Sara Shaw is Friends of the Earth International's Climate Justice and Energy program coordinator. Sara has worked on land grabs, as a lawer for refugees in the UK ad for a human rights NGO in Mexico City. This article was first published by Friends of the Earth

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