Climate is definitely back on the agenda. This is precisely the message being given by NGOs such as Greenpeace, Oxfam, WWF, 350.org, Friends of the Earth and ActionAid together with the international trade union movement as they stage a walk-out protest at the international climate negotiations in Warsaw today. This will be the first time that there has been a mass withdrawal from a Conference of the Parties (COP).
Energy prices have undeniably been the big political issue of 2013. Storms recently swept across the UK and more tragically wreaked great damage in the Philippines. The contrast in storm damage illustrates an important point: so many issues on the domestic agenda are determined by forces that are global in scale. What is more, the poor both at home and abroad repeatedly bear the brunt of climate change whether through higher energy bills caused by an over-reliance on fossil fuels or through vulnerability in the face of extreme weather events.
A joint press statement released today talks of the need to show solidarity those that suffer disproportionately under the effects of climate change. The statement says: “We have said we stand in solidarity with the millions impacted by Typhoon Haiyan, and with all climate impacted people. Our solidarity compels us to tell the truth… [that] The Warsaw Climate Conference, which should have been an important step in the just transition to a sustainable future, is on track to deliver virtually nothing”.
The walkout protest serves to remind the world of its obligation to avoid dangerous climate change.
On this day the political classes in Westminster have much soul-searching to do. David Cameron has confirmed what many already knew: he doesn’t care about the environment anymore. The prime minister ordered his staff to ‘get rid of all the green crap’ that he once believed in. As I argue elsewhere, this reveals a fatal misreading of public opinion and the significance of the green vote. Polling by the Fabian Society and WWF undertaken last year showed that a majority of Labour and Liberal Democrat voters support shifting to a low-carbon economy – as do more Conservative voters than not.
And when on the Fabian website an international climate expert called on Labour to do more to develop a clear global climate strategy, it was disappointing for the shadow secretary of state for energy and climate change to dismiss the call as ‘(a) bit silly’ on her Twitter feed.
The need to transition to a low-carbon economy is not ‘green crap’ and the need for a clear global climate strategy is not ‘a bit silly’. Climate change is already ruining the lives of people across the globe today. We have a moral obligation to set the world onto a safer path of lower emissions and more resilient urban centres.
It shouldn’t take a walkout protest from international climate negotiations to remind us of that.