As the UK recovers from its hottest day on record, Myron Michaelides assesses how the environmental movement can be strengthened by focusing on global solutions to the climate crisis.
The green movement is too focused on the domestic, but global warming needs a global solution
I'm writing this piece on the UK’s hottest day on record. For the first time temperatures near Heathrow hit 40.2°C, the over 40°C record (so far at time or writing) in British history, when I read such a figure, leaning over my bed to bask in the faint breeze of my room's fan. As a family member was told the heat had closed their school early for the summer, I came to a realisation that I'm sure many of us in the UK have had over the past two days, that the climate crisis is no longer an abstract subject taught in geography class, but a present threat, so potent to determine whether or not we and billions more, even get the access to learn about it, in the midst of rising refugee flows and the sinking of island communities.
But while the global ramifications of climate change have been understood and echoed by scientists much more intelligent than I, as someone who considers myself as not only an environmentalist, but an internationalist, I often fail to see such a global scope translated in the desired policies of the British environmental movement. While climate activists have many innovative and effective policies desired domestically, from extinction rebellions citizens assemblies to insulate Britain's goal for a National programme insulate homes to reduce energy use, to the labour’s party's commitment of £28 billion worth of investment in green jobs. A look at these same groups' ambitions for global climate cooperation finds them wanting. XRs global website posted before COP26 that it wanted the conference to “deliver meaningful progress” on keeping the IPCC’s 1.5°C target alive without defining what sort of agreements or provisions such “meaningful progress” would entail. Labour’s “COP26 demands” repeated domestic demands of investing in green jobs and “calling for 1.5°C aligned targets” but failed to explain how a Labour government would push for these targets to be met. The boldest international proposal during the summit came not from an environmental NGO or left wing think tank/party but in fact the IMF (not exactly a beacon of progressive environmental thought) that advocated a global carbon tax.
Many would defend these expectations and goals, and some would argue that the environmental left are just being practical, focusing on individual domestic achievements in a decentralised manner rather than a one size fits all approach. This is definitely what XR, whose statements before Glasgow desired to “make the case for replacing processes such as COP…with more participative democracy” in the event of COPs failure, would argue. But when economies are competing globally domestic reforms can always be countered by notions of disadvantaging domestic workers to those in countries with less climate regulation (as was seen by Tom Tugendhat remarks during the last Tory leadership debate). Making things more democratic only works if there's a substantive goal and policy to be democratically debated and voted on. Another argument would be that the development of a rigid global mechanism to fight climate crises is out of work and out of date, the Kyoto Protocol’s Cap and Trade policy was a large reason for the agreement's perceived failure, with its many loopholes that allowed multinational companies to emit more than they should. This is reflected by how the most successful COP was that in 2015 when nations agreed to non binding individual targets. While a believer in Paris, I don’t believe past failures justify not improving past mistakes by attempting world wide mechanisms. Countries can have shared instruments to reduce emissions as the success of the EUs cap and trade system has shown.
The IPCC’s landmark reports have shown us all the danger of global climate change and thus the Herculean effort it will take to solve. But how can emissions sufficiently fall across the world if pro-climate justice movements and parties in one of the largest and most influential economies aren’t willing to propose ways in which Britain could use its geopolitical power to rally the world on climate. There is a case for optimism, climate activists focus on greater representation of indegious communities affected by climate change and greater attendance at climate summits shows there is a growing understanding of such understood importance and the need to work across borders. And one of the few upsides of Russia's invasion of Ukraine is that with Russian fossil fuels cut off and energy prices rising, the need for global cooperation to ensure energy independence from Russia will grow in the coming years. This is a perfect time for environmentalists to push renewables not just to save our planet from the ecological catastrophes (and in my case, fan-induced migraines) it may cause but also as a way to safeguard energy independence and national security from enemies of the west. The time is now for environmentalism to go global, to create policy to be carried out by all, for all.
Myron Michaelides has been a Labour member since 2020 and has canvassed multiple council and Westminster seats. He is running to be LGBT+ Rep of Young Labour, and his main interests are human rights, LGBT+ issues and climate change. He tweets at @neoasuka1.