Climate countdown - the time for talk is over

The new IPCC report issues a CODE RED for humanity

A few weeks ago, the person the UK government put in charge of communicating the urgency of the climate crisis and COP26 negotiations to the world weighed in on how we could avert disaster. As historic wildfires destroyed villages in Turkey and Greece, as towns in Germany continued the clean-up after floods that killed nearly 200, and as scientists warned that the gulf stream itself is weakening, Allegra Stratton, official spokesperson for COP26, told us that what was really needed was for people NOT to rinse their dishes before they put them in the dishwasher.

On August 9, the world’s climate experts delivered a report that clashed a little with Ms Stratton’s remarks on dishwashers. They told us what we’ve known for years – our economic system is heating the planet, and it’s having an immediate and disastrous impact on every aspect of our climate.

Allegra Stratton’s comments are easy to dismiss as trivial, but they point to a deep systemic issue. For years, we’ve known exactly what was happening to the climate, and how to stop it. But the forces of distraction and delay, those who stood to profit from business as usual, had a plan – to make the climate crisis your fault. It’s you and your unscrupulous approach to recycling, or air travel, or overzealous dishwashing that’s causing the climate crisis. And so, it’s your job to reduce emissions – not the people who make the laws, who take the profits, and who extract fossil fuels from the ground.

The IPCC report makes it very clear that the time has run out for incremental, tokenistic policies, or for empty words and targets. We face unthinkable catastrophe unless urgent and systemic action is taken – but the good news is that we know how to stop it. We’ve had the answers for decades.

First is the immediate phase out of all fossil fuel use around the world. We don’t have time to waste switching from one fossil fuel to another, from coal to gas, or hoping for new technologies to clean up this dirty industry. The science is clear that fossil fuel extraction and use has to fall fast and start falling now.

We also need to end the financial pipeline fuelling deforestation around the world. The forces which push companies to cut down swathes of climate-critical tropical forest to increase production of things like palm oil are closer to home than we think. These are big banks, many of which still have shopfronts on High Streets up and down Britain, and they are within the UK government’s regulatory grasp.

Beyond deforestation, we also need legislation to hold big companies liable for the environmental and human rights impacts of their value chains. Some jurisdictions like the European Union have recognised the massive impact that big corporations have had on people and planet for decades and are planning to introduce laws to hold them liable for damages. That principle needs to become a global standard now.

And every country needs a zero-tolerance approach to violence against land and environmental defenders – those who stand up for their land and our planet. We cannot solve the climate crisis whilst riding roughshod over the rights of frontline communities. We need to prioritise their interests and voices, not those of big polluters.

This report will rightly send shockwaves around the world, but it must do more than just shock. It must be the catalyst to finally see the radical climate action that is needed to avoid disaster. Politicians needn’t look far to see the reality of climate change – the climate crisis is everywhere. The catastrophe is no longer looming, it is now, and without immediate and real action these tragic and violent events will just be a taster of what is to come.

We have less time than we thought, but there is still a chance for us to limit the damage and prevent the worst impacts of this emergency. This report confirms we absolutely cannot afford to waste another minute tinkering around the edges, blaming individuals for systemic failures, and trumpeting false solutions.

There is no more time to waste.