The world is on fire.
We need a global political movement in the broadest, not party-political sense. We cannot go on watching the rainforest burn, the German coal power plants produce CO2 and people as well as millions of animals die in Australia´s bushfires. We need a common and global reaction.
What could the core of the needed societal and political change look like behind which every human being in every country could unite, and which would fundamentally change the global conditions for our life on earth within ten years?
What could the framework against which the governments, institutions and movements can be hold responsible?
We should go for
(1) fair global, national and local emission budgets instead of abstract goals (like “net-zero 2050” which means nothing in terms of absolute emissions),
(2) a global treaty to keep the fossils in the ground, stopping the financing and building of all new fossil infrastructure and taking down the existing, as a reaction to the GAP-report and copying the “nuclear non-proliferation treaty” (see Newell et al 2018)
(3) a common public funding and building of a renewable energy system (3) inspired by the Standford-research group (see Jacobson et al 2019) which gives a solution for 150 countries, banning all investments in fossil infrastructure;
(4) implementing in each step social justice and the equity principle mentioned in the Paris Agreement,
(5) leading to and based upon the democratic principle of non-dominance (5).
The three pillars
1 Almost-zero emissions (instead of “net” zero) by implementing emission budgets according to the IPCC SR 1.5-report (instead of annual targets such as 2045 or 2050), leading to the implementation of national and local action plans
All politics from now on has to focus on the total amount of greenhouse gases emitted, reducing them drastically: there are only around 350 GT available worldwide to — even unlikely — stay within the 1.5-degree target, with an ongoing emission of around 45 GT annually (Anderson et al 2019; IPCC 15 SR 2018; Thunberg 2019). Keeping the tiny global budget means a reduction in emissions by far more than ten percent every year for richer countries and near-zero emissions towards the end of the decade. The budgets can be broken down to global, national, local and individual levels and enforced as the core political framework for all new legislation. The talk of “net” zero emissions should be replaced by “near”-zero emissions, because otherwise we just add the burden to the generation of the striking children: they have to use technologies that do not exist to eliminate our emissions from the atmosphere.
This requires a change in all systemic social sectors (see www.sytems-change.net), for example by tightening the relevant standards every year. According to UN reports, this means a switch to renewable energies; to predominantly vegetable food, and sustainable agriculture; to public and generally fossil-free means of transport; to sustainable building; and a view of the political economy, the financial sector and the monetary system that make this transition possible, and doesn’t force to the opposite. States, municipalities and institutions must submit action plans which show exactly by which policy the emissions will go down every year.
2 A global “treaty” to stop the construction, financing and operation of fossil infrastructure and to keep the gas, oil and coal in the ground; analogous to the nuclear “non-proliferation treaty”
According to the GAP report (GAP 2019), it is already impossible for us to avoid a warming by more than 1.5 or even 2 degrees with the fossil infrastructure (oil, gas, coal) already now in place, planned and under construction. For the next ten years is, according to the GAP-report, up to twice the “allowed” amount of coal, gas and oil is already planned to be burnt. That is why we immediately need a global contract, a “fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty” (www.fosssilfueltreaty.org) to stop this further planning, use and construction of all fossil infrastructure. We have to leave the fossil fuels in the ground and mark them as “toxic”. The model is the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. We can and should mark the extraction and burning of fossil fuels as potentially analogous to pressing the red button. There are scientifically substantiated proposals to shape this global contract (Newell et al 2019).
3 Establishing a renewable global-local energy system (inspired by the Stanford group around Prof. Jacobson) linked to the corresponding change of the economic regulations; banning all investment in fossil infrastructure
There are already detailed calculations (with public funds) for the construction of a global renewable energy system, planned for 150 countries, coupled with calculations for the improvements in “public health” (Jacobson et al 2019). Subsidies for all aspects of (and investments in expanding the) fossil industry must be stopped immediately and the transition publicly funded.
At least 30 percent of the world’s oceans and surfaces must be protected as commons by UN decisions (Rockström 2020); forests protected and expanded. This must be combined with a set of rules that breaks the logic of the exponentially increasing new production of goods and the littering and destruction of human and animal habitats (see non-dominance-principle).
The two principles
In this fundamental transformation of our societies, we should demand the implementation of two guiding principles that should lead the process.
4 Justice / Fairness principle
The Paris agreement already demands all nations to act according to social justice and an equity principle. It should be formulated with regard to a historic dimension, a global dimension (global north and south) and a national dimension (of social justice).
Globally, this principle implies that richer countries contribute their “fair share” (http://civilsocietyreview.org) in the financing of this transition (mitigation, adaption and so on). This equity principle implies as well that there is a smaller part of the global emission budget available for richer countries, and that they cannot “buy” them out of real emission reductions. It comes also with an obligation to listen to the needs and knowledge of the indigenous people.
5 Non-dominance / democratization principle
During all steps of this global, national and local transition we must implement the basic democratic principle of getting rid of relations and structures of dominance (5), securing a better democratic basis in all aspects of society.
This ensures that existing unequal power structures are broken apart and new ones are prevented, in relation to nature (“ecocide”; soil leaching; animal mistreatment…) and other human beings. Research in humanities has provided for this transformation a so-called intersectional analyses of power structures (gender, class, ethnicity, etc.). Transnational solutions (such as the problematic “green climate fund”) must be designed in such a way that certain social classes or individuals do not benefit from the transformation at the expense of others, but that structural relationships of dominance (from economy to working place) are being broken down.
In the longer term, this perspective could lead to a new formulation of our relationship with nature and with each other as fellow citizens of the world (for example in a new article of the UN charter).
Democracy is not just a formal form of electoral processes. It is a substance, basically meaning: overcoming relations of dominance and creating accepting encounters at eye level. This is already formulated as the core of the ´48-declaration pointing to the implementation of political structures which allow a life in dignity for everyone. We have to take it seriously, as we do with the Paris agreement.
The goal is often formulated as creating together a dignified life for everyone on a habitable planet, or in a somewhat longer version: about supplying the basic needs of everyone (from food, equality and housing, to education and political participation) in a way so that the planetary limits (climate, biodiversity, pollution, nitrates, …) are not exceeded (this term of “limits” is rather problematic; the limitation lies in our own structural behavior, not nature itself). This basic double-orientation — supplemented by the non-dominance/democratization principle outlined above — is intended to specify the orientation of all policies in global, national and local documents and to replace the existing goals.
Behind these five points of the “one people, one planet” -transformation could everyone, all people of this living planet unite, if it is articulated, as a global democratic political movement which goes on, even if there is no march or demonstration happening. The demands can be implemented immediately; they address all levels, from the local to the global. The political rules of all governments, parties, institutions, movements and the relevant social actors can be measured against them and articulated accordingly. They outline what needs to be done now and provide the long-term compass.
However, enforcing them requires that ordinary people “like you and me” start to rebel and are not lulled by the talk of “net zero emissions 2050”. The governments of nations such as Switzerland, Sweden and Germany are miles away from the change outlined, not to mention the regimes in Brazil, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia. We need the “rebellion of the hesitant and fearful”. Marching and petitions are not enough. We need new common political rules. Worldwide. For this we can and must stand up, non-violently, together, and articulate what needs to be done.
Anderson, Kevin (2019): “Climate´s holy trinity”, Oxford Lecture. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BZFvc-ZOa8
Fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty: www.fossilfueltreaty.org
Fopp, David (2020): www.davidfopp.com
Gap-report (2019): https://www.unenvironment.org/resources/emissions-gap-report-2019
Jacobson et al. (2019): “Impacts of Green New Deal Energy Plans on Grid Stability, Costs, Jobs, Health, and Climate in 143 Countries”, in “One Earth 1”, s. 449–463
Newell, Peter & Simms, Andrew (2019): Towards a fossil fuel non-proliferationtreaty, Climate Policy, DOI: 10.1080/14693062.2019.163675
Rockström, Johan (2020): https://sverigesradio.se/avsnitt/1425542
Thunberg, Greta (2019): No one is too small to make a difference. Penguin