Our guest speaker on the Politics of Climate Change was Dr Caroline Kuzemko, Reader in International Political Economy at Warwick University, and author of numerous books, articles and academic papers. She is also Co-Lead of Warwick's Energy GRP and a member of Warwick's Environment & Social Sustainability Action Group.
This meeting was recorded and can be watched on the CA-WN YouTube channel.
Present: Alan Mawer, Alexina Cassidy, Clare Slater, Dave Anderson, Emmie Williamson, Eugenia Wilson, Harry Mellor, Hilary Haynes, Jane Wood, Leonie Beale, Michael Lawrence, Mike Longman, Orianne Neyroud, Peter Nalder, Rupert Frost, Rupert Knowles.
Apologies: Ella Mansfield
The Politics of Climate Change
JW introduced Dr Caroline Kuzemko, and reminded attendees that CA-WN is not party-political; a climate action organisation can’t be free of politics, but it is one of CA-WN’s core principles that we are interested in whether people share our climate and environmental goals, not which side of the political spectrum they come from.
Dr Kuzemko (CK) started with a brief summary of her career – she came relatively late to academia. After taking first degrees in Russian and German, she went into banking in the City, where she became curious about some of the ways the City worked and why it was allowed to work like that. She then took a Masters in International Political Economy - in order to reduce GHG emissions globally a lot of the ways in which we operate need to change, and the drivers for that are policy ones.
She has studied processes of policy making, mainly but not exclusively in the area of sustainable energy. She is now doing work on the geopolitics of global energy transformations.
CK then gave an overview of the links between climate change (CC) and politics:
· There is no avoiding the politics of CC and we ignore it at our peril. The impacts of CC are unequal for political reasons but also due to differing incomes and geography (e.g. residents of low-lying countries and regions harder hit).
· The scale of the transformation required to address CC is unprecedented. The IPCC advice is to reduce emissions by 33% by 2030; to achieve this will require really considerable change which will have impacts for everybody everywhere. From a positive viewpoint this means avoiding the worst effects of CC on societies, but other impacts are social and economic, for example, loss of employment for those working in industries with high carbon practices. These effects will need to be managed in order to avoid severe hardship.
· All models showing how we either maintain warming at no more than 1.5 degrees, or achieve net zero by 2050, assume policy levers are used.
· Why can’t we “just do it”? This is difficult especially in democracies as going ahead without democratic mandate breaks the link between voters and the democratic system.
Summary of Q&A Session
How do we raise climate change up the agenda for the mass of voters? At the moment, there are few votes in climate action.
· CC has become a ‘valence issue’ i.e. one where there is cross party support in many countries across the global north. CK’s view is that this an issue that people do now care about, for reasons which might include increased coverage in the media, demographics (young people care more), or better education on climate issues.
· CC is much further up the agenda than it used to be - there is more work to be done, but mainly on raising awareness of just how much CC will change lives for everyone in the world. Here in the UK we may think it won’t impact us much – but there will be 100s of millions of climate migrants from uninhabitable parts of the world in need of somewhere to live.
· We often hear about the negatives and not the solutions, of which there are now masses. For example, a new solar park can be very divisive, but we need to understand why it is there, and that it may benefit the community. Discussion around the solutions to CC, what they look like, and what they mean needs to happen much more.
· CK always starts from ‘never give up’ - we can’t give up, and she weaves CC into every conversation, diplomatically and relevantly. This is the only way to successfully question and challenge cultural norms.
Surveys around villages when doing canvassing shows that people are not ticking CC as one of their top issues; they are more interested in healthcare and migration.
· National surveys show the number of people ticking CC as a top issue has been steadily rising. Of course the response also depends on where you are and your personal experiences.
Could you talk about politics, CC and conflict? There seems to be a trend of people hating each other and being encouraged to do so.
· CC tends to exacerbate problems that already exist, including conflict. There are ways of thinking about CC that people perceive as possible, it can be helpful to explain it as a factor that will exacerbate what already exists. We need to talk about the solutions, many of which are very affordable and doable.
· Integration of CC into all departments and all areas of policy is being done in the EU already.
If there are no votes in actually solving issues, and voters are attracted by the promise of solutions, are democracies inherently unable to solve the climate change problem?
· Delivering long term policies within democracies can be difficult because of short term election cycles and two-party systems. This is less of an issue now that CC is a valence issue as noted previously.
· Solutions should provide more support now – e.g. insulating your home will mean you are warmer and have lower energy bills. Solutions can be beneficial for health and the economy as well as the environment (co-benefits).
· Being a democracy doesn’t make delivering solutions harder, though it’s important to emphasise the co-benefits to gain support.
Short cycles do make long term planning more difficult. Some say we need to be on a war footing – do we need benevolent authoritarianism?
· Tend to disagree, having studied the Russian revolution and the degree of change they tried to implement. The thinking then was that lots more people would benefit across society, but when change is made on a ‘war footing’, people will fight back, resulting in wars, and associated very high emissions.
· CK rejects the notion of an autocratic approach – it isn’t a choice between war and market led approaches, there’s also a system with a civil service which makes policy.
Can the ‘war footing’ be more about ‘everyone pulling together’? In some ways the ability to mandate change is needed as following popular opinion is too slow.
· There is a middle way e.g. the Netherlands has legislated to stop burning gas by 2050, and Demark has a policy of ending use of gas to heat houses. These changes are still in the context of market economies. In 2008 the UK Climate Change Act was ground-breaking and very cleverly made the carbon budgets legally binding. It also set up the Climate Change Committee to hold the government to account. There is lots we can do if we put our political mind to it.
· Relying on markets is risky, as the more you do this, the more you sit back and do nothing yourself. There will be people who disagree, and those who lose jobs as a result of climate policies, so it’s important to make sure there are plenty of people who benefit. For example phasing out coal in the 1980s, though not done for environmental reasons, has resulted in the UK reducing emissions more rapidly than elsewhere. However, some parts of the country are still suffering from the devastation caused by closing coal mines, so we can learn some lessons. In Alberta in Canada they are compensating the workers rather than the owners of coal companies.
Are there any examples of political systems/economies doing a good job? If so, could that model be repeated/copied in other places?
· No A* for anybody but there are aspects that can be pointed at in lots of places. For Denmark phasing out gas doesn’t cause loss of revenue as they are not a gas producer. Where cutting out gas is about revenue the transition will be slower e.g. Norway has done lots to promote take up of EVs and develop hydroelectric power, but they are a big oil and gas producer and still issuing extraction licences. The UK has a similar problem because of the strong influence of the gas lobby here.
· Germany has a huge coal lobby and the coal industry is a big employer in poorer parts of the country so phasing it out is politically very difficult; Germany has done very badly on this. But it has done really well on improving the energy efficiency of homes, through a national development bank giving very low interest loans and grants to people who couldn’t afford to insulate their homes.
CA-WN has been taking an interest in the passage of the Local Electricity Bill through parliament, as it may go some way towards enabling local renewable energy projects that are currently difficult to set up and don’t offer impressive financial incentives. Can you comment on this please?
· This bill is quite focused on making generation of renewable energy more attractive by allowing much more local trading, i.e. direct trade between local stakeholders.
· The rules and regulations for trading electricity and gas were designed for liberalisation of the industry and to keep oil and gas companies from making too much money. They were not put in place to facilitate the renewable future that we need, so must be changed if we are going to have a more distributed energy system. The bill proposes to change some of these rules but not all of them. The main obstacle is still planning permission especially for onshore wind but also solar. Everything in the bill needs to happen but so does a whole lot more.
Can you comment on the issue of electricity grid capacity, which we are told is a major obstacle?
· This has been known about for a really long time. Lots of papers have been written on how to re-regulate the network but only relatively minor changes have been made. So it is still a major obstacle.
· In Bristol they have built some of their own network - the local authority invested in renewables and wanted to use them locally so built the grid. They installed it at the same time as the road was being dug up for other purposes to minimise cost (though still expensive).
· There are discussions in Parliament about giving Ofgem a new overriding goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions; currently their goals are to ensure availability and affordability of gas and electricity (which they don’t really have the power to do).
· The rulebook for connecting to the grid is so long and complex that it requires a team of people to understand it.
There seems to be a lack of climate adaptation policies and planning. Is this because politicians are under the impression that delivering net zero will immediately halt global warming, whereas in fact temperatures may continue to rise for 200 years?
· Adaptation has been a poor relation in many countries, usually where it is hard for people to understand the implications of CC for themselves. This includes the UK. There isn’t a really clear understanding that adaptation is needed. More adaptation measures are being implemented at the local authority level, but only where impacts are being seen locally e.g. flooding.
Our society is currently reliant on quite a lot of frivolous means. How can we reconcile the need for degrowth with the consumerist culture?
· There is room for more regulation - more stick, less carrot, but you do have to bring people with you. Some of the levers used need to be stronger, with an increased focus on skills, education and co-benefits. We should be improving quality of life as well as reducing emissions.
A lot of ideas depend on regular people having a lot of trust in those who haven’t served us well in the past. How can we serve the whole population without subjugating anybody? In Germany for example land defenders have been injured by the authorities.
· How would you get people on board? It’s important to know how change will be achieved. People can’t currently afford to care so policies need to recognise and address that. This is one way to engender more trust.
There should be more concern about methane, particularly across the north of the planet, and biodiversity.
· Methane as an issue has been overshadowed by carbon emissions, a lot is released including just being burnt off. Russia is a major offender and cannot be controlled by the international community. This has been more of a talking point at recent COPs but hasn’t trickled down to public debates.
Display stand design ideas
· HM explained that CA-WN has acquired the framework of a large pop-up display stand but needs to commission the ‘skin’ to cover it, and decide on what to put on this. One idea is a large attractive image for example a wildflower meadow, with just our name and logo. This could be overlaid with a banner customised for specific purposes and events. Other ideas are invited.
· AC mentioned that at a recent event at Barclaycard, one stand was covered in leaves, which was eye-catching and fun to use as a backdrop for photographs.
Contacts with other groups
· We recently published a list of other local climate and environmental groups on CE – thank you to Ella Mansfield for making that happen. Someone from a group based just outside West Northants asked us how we put the list together – the answer is mainly word of mouth, so if there are other groups to add please let us know. The aim is to help people find and contact groups in their area or linked to their own interests.
· We are now looking to take this further by proactively contacting groups to see if there are ways we can work together or support each other more.
· Saturday 17 May, Yelvertoft Environmental Group are holding an afternoon of family activities including pond dipping, bug hunting and making homes for bugs and hedgehogs.
· Saturday 24 June, an event in Milton Keynes organised by the ONE Campaign, a global anti-poverty organisation. They’ve invited a mix of other organisations including MK Council sustainability and environment team, MK Green Party, Extinction Rebellion Bedfordshire and Network Rail. Volunteers requested to attend and help to represent CA-WN. This seems like a good chance to meet people with similar interests a little bit outside of our normal patch.
· Saturday 1 July, Sustainable Futures Summit at UoN, a community event aimed at promoting environmental and sustainability campaigns in this area. [Post-meeting update – this event has been postponed to the autumn.]
· Saturday 8 July, Tea & Cake with CA-WN – informal social event at the Gathering meeting room in the Grosvenor Centre.
· August Bank Holiday weekend - CA-WN has been invited to share a stand at the Shambala Festival with Friends of the Earth, who have some tickets as one of their people is speaking at the event. Unfortunately tickets can't be split between people across the 4 days, so we are looking for volunteers to help with this who can attend 2 or more days ideally. Please get in touch!
AOB – none
Date of next meeting – Thursday 20 July 7:45pm.