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A Global Injustice

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Areeba Hamid

Green Peace UK Co-executive Director

Co-Executive Director of Greenpeace UK explores the injustice inherent in our current economy and how in addressing responsibility for climate change, we can also help counteract it.

As UK households feel the squeeze of the ongoing cost of living crisis, we might assume people don’t have the bandwidth to think about how our government can support people in other parts of the world dealing with climate disasters. The stresses of paying bills and putting food on the table can feel more immediate than headlines about extreme weather and climate devastation.  

In this way, it can be tempting for our leaders to put off answering big questions about how to curb global temperature rises; how to shift national policies on energy, food, and transport; how to adapt to the impacts of increasingly frequent and extreme weather and fund recovery efforts for climate loss and damage around the world. And, of course, the sticky question of who ought to pay.  

But while few people are likely to be saying the words ‘climate justice’ over the breakfast table or down the pub, there is growing anger about unfairness – both within our society and in terms of the environmental disasters that are impacting people who have done the least to cause the climate crisis. 

People are outraged that our rivers have become sewers while water companies are laughing all the way to the bank and consumers have no option to switch water providers. Households see their monthly energy bills staying stubbornly high and then hear on the radio that Shell made profits of £7.6bn in three months. People hate seeing UK grocery packaging cropping up in waste dumps in Turkey, threatening the health of local people. And there is growing public opposition to the polluting biomass company Drax receiving £2 million of UK government subsidies a day while producing huge climate-damaging emissions and perpetrating environmental racism by disproportionately exposing communities of colour to pollution from its plants in the USA. 

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Areeba Hamid, Greenpeace, speaks outside BP HQ during the climate rally.

There’s currently a dire drought in the Horn of Africa, which would not have been possible without climate change. Asia has been experiencing weeks of “endless record heat”. We know that the climate crisis contributed to massive flooding in Pakistan and huge typhoons in the Philippines. The UN’s World Meteorological Organisation is warning that the world is set to surpass the key 1.5 degree global temperature rise for the first time in the next few years and the Met Office is predicting an increased chance of UK heat waves this summer. This affects all of us but, cruelly, it is mostly the countries that have produced the least planet-warming emissions that are getting hit the hardest. 

These injustices aren’t random, nor are they separate. Companies around the world are getting off scot-free from polluting our planet – whether dumping plastic waste or sewage, pumping out climate-threatening emissions or increasing toxic air pollution – while their profits are allowed to keep skyrocketing. Meanwhile, local people and communities are left to suffer the consequences of environmental devastation and higher bills. 

UK households know injustice when they see it. And they expect accountability. 

The fact is, climate justice is simple. When governments give a free pass to polluting companies, we all lose. The public demand is there for change. People are ready to make polluters pay. 

At Greenpeace, we are doing the work to connect these dots and talk about profits, the cost-of-living crisis, and climate loss and damage in the same breath. In February, as Shell announced its record annual profits of £32bn, six Greenpeace International activists bravely boarded a Shell oil platform to put this injustice into the spotlight – calling on Shell to stop drilling and start paying for climate loss and damage. During this protest, we heard from former COP negotiator Yeb Saño, whose brother carried 78 bodies to a mass grave after Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines; from Usnea Granger, who’s seen farmland in Oregon, US, ravaged by drought; and from Victorine Che Thoener, who told of deadly rains and landslides in Cameroon. Shell’s oil platform became our storytelling platform for those most impacted by the climate crisis. The message “Stop drilling, start paying” was one that resonated.

And our work doesn’t stop there, we will take on Shell and the wider fossil fuel industry at shareholder meetings, in the courtroom, online, and at their headquarters. 

But to truly succeed in making polluters pay for the mess they are causing, and in supporting a transition to a greener and fairer world, we also need the Government to step up. 

That needs to start with action to stop the climate and cost of living crises from getting worse. Action such as insulating our draughty housing stock to help cut our energy bills as well as reduce our dependence on gas. Updating our outdated electricity grid so we can get more cheap renewables onto the system. Shifting our focus from electrifying oil rigs to electrifying homes and boosting public transport. Ditching our all-around over-reliance on gas and cancelling the new oil and gas licensing round that will lock us into an expensive, climate-wrecking cycle for decades to come. 

Failure to act in all of these areas means UK households will be locked into paying more than they need to, either now or in the future. And we’re polluting more than we need to – causing havoc for other countries dealing with even more extreme weather than the UK, despite having done comparably little to drive the climate crisis. 

Leadership from the Government on the green transition and making polluters pay also means the UK paying its fair share towards helping less developed countries deal with devastating climate impacts. This is our responsibility as a historic polluter, having produced 3% of global emissions since 1850, not including overseas emissions under colonial rule. As Boris Johnson highlighted to world leaders ahead of the UK hosting COP26 climate talks, “Richer nations have reaped the benefits of untrammelled pollution for generations, often at the expense of developing countries.”

And while little progress was made on loss and damage at COP26, last year’s talks in Egypt achieved something big – a fund has finally been agreed upon. It’s now time for us to help fill it, and the question of ‘how’ is next on the agenda for world leaders.

That question needn’t be a difficult one, though. Looking at the eye-watering profits these companies are reaping from causing the environmental crisis, they have the ability and the moral duty to pay – we just need governments to make this happen. A recent report from Christian Aid argued that the UK should contribute 3.5% of the Loss and Damage Fund and raise the money by taxing millionaires and fossil fuel producers. And a survey of Brits – conducted before fossil fuel mega profits had been announced – found that a significant majority of the population thinks that contributing to paying for climate action in poorer and vulnerable countries is the right thing for us to do. Windfall taxes on fossil fuel companies also have widespread support.

We needn’t wait until December for annual climate talks to come around. Vulnerable communities around the world are already living with the devastating consequences of climate change – so it couldn’t be more urgent to line up cash to fill the new UN Loss and Damage Fund. This is our Government’s chance to show leadership and act with compassion – putting the popular principle of making polluters pay into practice once and for all. As the Prime Minister of Barbados said so powerfully last November, “How do companies make $200 billion in profits in the last three months and not expect to contribute at least 10 cents on every dollar to a loss and damage fund? This is what our people expect.”

Climate justice is not some idealistic or intangible goal that is ‘nice to have’. Our future prosperity, and indeed existence, depends on it. The money is there for the taking. People are ready for change. It’s time for our Government to make polluters pay. 

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