Keep Virunga Fossil Fuel Free

The climate crisis is a justice issue. The countries that have emitted the most carbon dioxide since the industrial revolution, such as the USA, China and Russia (UK are 8th) are not the same as the MAPA  (most affected people and areas) that are mainly in the global South and have produced little CO2. Sheffield Extinction Rebellion wanted to discover what it means to live on the front-line of the climate crisis and provide solidarity and assistance to climate activists in these areas, so they have made a partnership with  XR  Université de Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Virunga National Park is one of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet and is home to one-third of the world’s wild mountain gorillas. It is classified as a World Heritage Site but has been at the crossroads of an intense conflict for oil, involving fossil fuel companies, armed militia groups, and corrupt officials for almost a decade.

Hundreds of thousands of people depend on the Park for their livelihoods. These lives would be ruined if oil exploitation goes ahead. Throughout the world, one million species are at risk of extinction. The links between human health and the health of the planet are clear. For all our sakes, we must protect the biodiversity of Virunga, and the lives of all those defending it.

XR Université de Goma alongside other groups are working day and night to demand the DRC government immediately halt all oil development activities in Virunga. The group also plans to educate and mobilise local communities in order to document the needs of those living around the park and encourage a participatory management policy for Virunga, which benefits local people. 

The Oscar-nominated Netflix film Virunga (2014) tells the true story of the rangers risking their lives to save Africa’s most precious national park and its endangered gorillas. 130 rangers have already lost their lives to poachers and rebel armed groups. The film links the oil companies that want to destroy the park to exploit the oil with these groups. They are alleged to support the poachers because if the gorillas died they believe the fight to conserve the park would diminish.

This week we heard the terribly sad news that one of the gorillas featured in the film has died. The park announced the news alongside a heartbreaking image of Andre cradling Ndakasi, the 14-year-old gorilla as she took her final breaths. The emotional post reads: “It is with heartfelt sadness that Virunga announces the death of beloved orphaned mountain gorilla, Ndakasi, who had been under the care of the Park’s Senkwekwe Centre for more than a decade.”

“On the evening of September 26, following a prolonged illness in which her condition rapidly deteriorated, Ndakasi took her final breath in the loving arms of her caretaker and lifelong friend, Andre Bauma.”

When the film was made it claimed there were  800 Mountain Gorillas left. Census methods are not accurate enough to state confidently, but it is thought they have recovered to about 1000. Covid however has badly damaged the tourism to national parks in DRC and Uganda, so now the conservation efforts to save them are threatened due to lack of funds.

Sheffield activist Karine Nohr wrote to the Daily Express saying “ If the Fossil Fuel companies are allowed to drill for oil, then the Park will be destroyed, it will be the end of the Gorillas,  the water will be contaminated, the fish will die and so the source of drinking water and food for the Rangers and their families will be destroyed. And to cap it all,  the extraction of oil will worsen the Climate Crisis for us all over the world. We need to join up the dots and see that the future of this big animal ecosystem, the safety of the Rangers and their families, the exploration of oil and the ever-increasing Climate Crisis are all part of the same complicated story. Total and other oil companies should not be given permits to drill for oil in the Park.”

Sheffield XR  started a crowdfunder for XR Université de Goma and have so far raised £3000. Pascal Mirundi, a 22-year-old law student in Goma, was one of the founders of the campaign. He says “The effects of pollution can easily reach the ecosystems of Virunga Park and if the waters of the Semliki River become polluted, the whole hydrography of the basin will be affected.

For us, oil exploitation will not only destroy these ecosystems, but it will also affect the communities that depend on them for their survival, especially here in Africa, where oil activities have consistently caused environmental damage, human rights abuses and fuelled conflicts with, among other consequences, extrajudicial killings. Fossil fuels are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. As signatories to the Paris Agreement, our leaders should commit to limiting the activities responsible for these polluting emissions.”

COP starts on October 31st, but many delegates from the Global South can’t go, because they have not had a Covid vaccine. Sheffield XR wants to ensure that the voices of people like Pascal are heard loud and clear at the conference. Keep Virunga Fossil fuel free!

When your bath is overflowing, turn the taps off!

It’s just 3 weeks until the vital COP26 conference. Over the next few days, we will be hearing many corporations and countries speaking about their plans to reach net-zero carbon emissions. Are these promises to be trusted, or are they greenwashing, fooling the public into believing they are doing well when in fact they are still very much a part of the problem?

A while ago we had a bit of a disaster at our house. Someone (who shall remain nameless!) ran the bath and then forgot about it. No one realised until water started dripping into the hall downstairs. Unfortunately, the overflow was letting water out at a slower rate than the taps were pouring it in, so eventually, the bath overflowed.

Think of the bath as an analogy for our CO2 emissions. Before the industrial revolution, the amount of CO2 in the bath was stable at 278 parts per million. The CO2 produced by people and animals was soaked up by the trees and algae by photosynthesis. But since then we’ve been producing far more CO2 than natural processes can absorb, and the bath has got fuller and fuller. Slowing down the tap does not reduce the water in the bath, it increases it, just less quickly. During lockdown in 2020, we slowed the tap down, but only by 7%, which means we still added 93% of 2019’s carbon to the bath. 

Thanks to Extinction Rebellion’s Heading for Extinction Talk for the diagram.

Net-zero means stopping the bathwater from rising any further, by reducing the amount coming into the bath, and increasing the amount going out. If the level keeps increasing we risk the catastrophe of civilisation collapse because food will become scarce, cities will flood and law and order will collapse. 

A report called  The Big Con: How Big Polluters Are Advancing a “Net Zero” Climate Agenda to Delay, Deceive, and Deny” was recently published by Corporate Accountability, the Global Forest Coalition, and Friends of the Earth International, and is endorsed by over 60 environmental organizations. 

“After decades of inaction, corporations are suddenly racing to pledge to achieve “net-zero” emissions. These include fossil fuel giants like BP, Shell, and Total; tech giants like Microsoft and Apple; retailers like Amazon and Walmart; financers like HSBC, Bank of America, and BlackRock; airlines like United and Delta; and food and agriculture corporations like JBS, Nestlé, and Cargill. Polluting corporations are in a race to be the loudest and proudest to pledge “net-zero” emissions by 2050 or some other date in the distant future.”

The report highlights four profound flaws with net zero.

1.Plans are centred on a  2050 timeline with little action taken to reduce emissions at source for decades.

2. Plans rely on improbable schemes to make the emissions disappear, as if by magic.

3. Net-zero assumes one tonne of carbon emitted from any source has the same value as one tonne of carbon sequestered. But there is no guarantee that this carbon won’t later be released to the atmosphere.

4. “Net-zero” schemes ignore the simple truth that the climate crisis is not a problem of technology but a problem of political will and entrenched power relations.

Net zero carbon schemes rely on carbon capture and storage technology which has not been proven to work on a scale that can make any difference to the problem. It will be a massive financial burden on our children, who will already be suffering from an increasingly unstable climate. A plant in Iceland plans to capture 4000 tonnes a year of CO2, but the world is emitting 35 billion tonnes a year, so we would need 9 million of these plants to clean it up! 

Carbon neutrality claims are often based on very dubious offsets, such as tree planting where there is no guarantee that the trees won’t be destroyed by the sort of wildfires that have become very common in California, Australia and Siberia. In Sheffield, we are seeing the devastation caused by Ash dieback, with the latest victim being the magnificent tree next to the Cathedral. As the climate warms trees will be increasingly vulnerable to pathogens and insect attacks.

The report asserts that “instead of offering meaningful solutions to justly address the crisis they knowingly created and owning up to their responsibility to act beginning with drastically reducing emissions at source, polluting corporations and governments are advancing ‘net-zero’ plans that require little or nothing in the way of real solutions or real effective emissions cuts.”

Ci Davis is heading for Glasgow from Barnsley. He says ”Net-zero is more than just greenwashing; it is dangerous. It legitimises a gamble and justifies delaying action. It sacrifices the lives and livelihood of people right now and continues to justify the harm. For we know, even if we choose not to recognise, that there are no morally justifiable solutions to the climate breakdown, that will not involve a fundamental change in our values, priorities and how we live our lives. The net in net-zero perpetuates the problem while offering not a single guarantee to finding the solutions. So I will be in Glasgow, where in November the world epicentre of ‘False Solutions’ (each of which will be forged on the mantra of Net), will be located and carrying a strong message for Real Change based around Real Zero.”

It’s vital for the sake of the future of life on this planet, that those who try to convince us they are doing the right thing by greenwashing are called out and held to account. To go back to the bath analogy, we must turn the taps off now, rather than discuss where to place the buckets in the hall in 30 years time! 

Your guide to COP26

Many Sheffielder’s are preparing to go to Glasgow for COP26. Why is it so important and will it achieve anything?

Michael Jacobs recently addressed an open meeting of Sheffield Green Party.  He was formerly the special advisor to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, steering through the Climate Change Act. Here is the video of the discussion.

COP stands for “Conference of the Parties”. These are the 197 countries plus the EU that signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Glasgow will host in the first 2 weeks of November and the UK has the Presidency. Outside COP, there will be  fringe meetings and demonstrations and countries and businesses will make announcements. Inside COP will be the complex negotiations between the national leaders. 

The 2015 COP in Paris committed the world’s nations to limit the rise in annual global surface temperature to well below 2 degrees C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5C. The actual commitments made by countries in Paris were not consistent with 2 degrees C, let alone 1.5 degrees C. So we are currently on track to destabilise our climate, leading to catastrophe. 

The Agreement states that every 5 years countries must strengthen their commitments based on a scientific stocktake of progress. In 2018 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that to have a reasonable chance of limiting warming to 1.5 C global emissions have to be cut by 45% by 2030 and to fall to net-zero by 2050. A future column will cover net-zero, but it suffices to say here that global emissions are still rising when survival requires us to be rapidly reducing them. 

COP will also be negotiating financial measures to help developing countries reduce emissions and adapt to global heating which is having severe effects like drought, flooding and tornadoes which increase hunger and migration. At Copenhagen in 2009, a goal of $100bn a year by 2020 was agreed. A questioner pointed out that this figure may seem massive, but it is just 5% of what the world spends on arms each year!  In Paris, $100bn was reiterated but the most recent figure for total climate finance is only $79.6bn. Many campaigners are calling not just for money for adaptations for countries in the Global South, but reparations for the damage and exploitation the rich countries have done to them over the years.

Boris Johnson will have a crucial role at the summit, facilitating discussions and mediating between the different blocks.   The UK has just cut Overseas Aid, which will make it difficult for the Prime Minister to take the moral high ground. 

Most COP discussion has been about reducing emissions, but for those in the Global South, the biggest issue is adaptation. Their emissions per head are already very low, but they are experiencing rapid and destabilising climate change. For them, the key issue is how they adapt and become more resilient. Adaptation is the poor relation in the media debate, and there is little profit in it for companies (unlike say, developing renewable energy) so little money flows into it.  Developing countries will seek to make adaptation and resilience a key issue at COP26.

These two issues, emissions reductions and resilience, won’t be formally negotiated at COP. They are decided, mainly by the rich countries, in advance, in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) each county announces and in meetings such as the G7. The most important issues will be settled before COP leaving the negotiations to decide on issues concerning the rules. 

At COP decisions are made by consensus. The majority are low-income states so they do have influence, especially when they form blocks such as the climate-vulnerable group.

The UK Government are aiming to “keep 1.5C alive”. They want a sufficient level of emissions reduction to make the 1.5C limit reachable. They want to raise the $100bn per year in climate finance from the developed countries by 2022 and aim for more subsequently. They want Governments around the world to commit to stop building coal-fired power stations and phase out petrol and diesel cars. They want international financial institutions to commit to scaling up investment in emissions reduction and adaptation. They want Governments and companies to slow down the rate of deforestation. Although these aims are laudable they don’t go anywhere near enough to turn around the climate crisis.

Catherine Fish is going to COP26 to represent Green Christian. She said “I’ll be there to pray for the decision-makers and to hold them to account to make wise and just decisions, because this moment of crisis requires all our voices for change to be heard, heeded and acted on. We hope that through us the voices of our brothers and sisters in the global south, already impacted severely by climate change, will be heard and we seek justice for them and future generations and for all life. We fear that this moment is in some ways too late.”

Fran Haddock, Climate Justice campaigner and Veterinary Surgeon, is also going. She says “At such a pivotal turning point for humanity we need mass mobilisation more than ever.  We should be fighting for a just, liveable future.”

Progress on Sheffield Council’s use of Glyphosate.

The Sheffield Telegraph reported this week that Sheffield’s parks, cemeteries and some housing estates will trial a ban on the poisonous weed killer – but residents will need to help manage overgrown land. Here is the article.


The Church and Climate Chaos

It was wonderful to join with the young people on the Young Christian Climate Movement march to Glasgow as they passed through Sheffield on the way to COP26. We greeted them at St Mary’s Bramall Lane and walked together on the last mile of their journey to Sheffield Cathedral.

 They say

“Our sisters and brothers in churches around the world are losing their livelihoods and homes, and we stand with them. Climate-vulnerable countries cannot access finance for adaptation and climate-induced loss and damages without incurring further debt. COP26 is the time to change this. We must hold our government accountable to delivering and exceeding the promised $100bn/year in climate finance. It’s time to Rise to the Moment. In years to come, we want to be able to look back and say “we did not sit at home while unjust decisions were made on our doorstep, we set sail towards a just future”. 

Many dignitaries were there to support them including Bishop Pete Wilcox, Olivia Blake MP, the Leader of the council Terry Fox, Deputy Lord Mayor Sioned-Mair Richards, Executive Member for Climate Change, Douglas Johnson, Abdul Gooljar from the Islamic Society of Britain and Green Peer Natalie Bennett.

The youngsters are demanding that the Government

  1. Reinstate foreign aid budget to pre-COVID levels 
  2. Secure agreement from rich countries to at least double the decade-old promise of $100bn a year for climate finance
  3. Ensure finance for climate-induced loss and damage
  4. Push for debt cancellation so climate-vulnerable nations can better confront the climate crisis and other urgent priorities

During the walk, I spoke to Bishop Pete about the Churches investments in fossil fuel companies. It seemed rather hypocritical to me for the Church of England to be preaching about the problems of climate change while it remains an investor in the fossil fuel companies that have caused the problem. It is estimated that the Church of England still has £70 million invested in fossil fuel companies. Bishop Pete supports the Transition Pathway Initiative which is brokered by the Church Commissioners. This combines the threat to divest with “effective leverage”. The Church has had this policy for many years, but it hasn’t worked. Fossil fuel companies understood the damage they were doing to the climate forty years ago but have funded climate-denying organisations that have prevented action to solve the problem.

At a 1980 American Petroleum Institute meeting, representatives from companies including Exxon, Texaco, and Shell concluded that as a “likely impact,” by 2005 we would see 1 degree Celsius of warming. By 2038 we would see 2.5 degrees of warming causing “major economic consequences,” and that by 2067 we would face a 5-degree rise with “globally catastrophic effects.”

Even though they knew that, for every action taken to address the crisis, the fossil fuel industry presented an equal and opposite reaction – constantly finding new ways to mislead the public. Ultimately, these efforts produced the denial machine we face today.

During the Impossible Rebellion in August members of Christian Climate Action went to a service at St Paul’s Cathedral. After Communion they assembled at the front of the Church, displaying banners saying “No Faith in Fossil Fuels” and “Churches Divest Now”. Someone gave a speech that was applauded by the congregation and the service ended. The 13 protesters, including two members of the clergy, wanted to stay to talk to the next service but were told to leave. When they refused the police were called and they were all arrested.

Following a similar protest at Church House in May this year, the Rev Tim Hewes, said ‘To invest at this moment in history in fossil fuels, is akin to the investment by the church in previous centuries in sugar and the slave trade… To believe that maintaining investments in some way provides the church with leverage for the greater good is nonsense and merely provides these companies with a fig leaf to cover their continued acts of ecocide. It is not the duty of the church to attempt to guide them onto a more ecologically appropriate path – market forces will do that. It is the duty of the church to invest ethically, and by propping up these companies, it is reneging on this fundamental principle. The time for engagement is over. Divestment must be immediate and total and I will continue to do everything within my power to ensure that this happens.’ 

This week has also seen a momentous joint statement from Pope Francis, Archbishop Welby and Patriarch Bartholomew. They united to write a joint message for the protection of Creation. They say  “To those with far-reaching responsibilities-heading administrations, running companies, employing people or investing funds-we say choose people-centred profits, make short term sacrifices to safeguard all our futures, become leaders in the transition to just and sustainable economies-”To whom much is given, much is required”.Luke12:48

If the Church is to get behind the campaign to stop climate change the first thing it must do is to get its own house in order and divest from fossil fuels. If you belong to an Anglican Church, PCC or Synod, please do what you can to make this happen.

The Impossible Rebellion

I spent three days with Extinction Rebellion in London. In the light of the IPCC report that issued a “code red” warning for humanity, the recent horrific weather events, some of which have been widely reported like the New York flooding, and others which have been largely ignored like the drought in Madagascar, the overwhelming scientific evidence that we must act now if we are to save humanity and our fellow creatures on this planet from disaster and the continued policies of Governments and Corporations that are speeding our demise rather than trying to protect us, I feel it my duty to do what I can to protect our futures. 

Photo Credit Gareth Morris @xr_photographers

So what are my reflections on these three days? I witnessed extraordinary bravery and sacrifice from rebels. Over five hundred people were arrested for peacefully protesting including four from Sheffield. I witnessed shocking violent behaviour from police and a totally over the top police presence. XR will no doubt be blamed for the massive policing bill, but the enormous police presence was unnecessary for non-violent protestors. 

Here I am reading the “Heading for Extinction” talk to the police who were preventing me from joining the occupation. It was actually the police, not the demonstrators, that blocked the road. The demonstrators wanted to welcome everybody to the crisis talks.

The public reaction was surprisingly positive. I had many conversations with passers-by, explaining what was happening and why people were getting arrested. The public mood has definitely changed as far more people are now very aware, and indeed frightened, of the climate emergency we are facing. They were sympathetic to our action and concerned by the Government’s failure. Occasionally I experienced anger from the public, but this was a tiny minority and was more concerned with our tactics than our aims. The one time an ambulance needed to get through the crowd the protesters quickly moved aside to let it through.

Occasionally people would challenge me with arguments they have seen in the right-wing press. 

“Why don’t you go and protest in China or Brazil” was a common one. Well for someone who hasn’t flown since 1990 due to climate change, this is obviously not going to be possible! But we did go and protest at the Brazilian Embassy, where we got the message over loud and clear to the representatives of Bolsonaro’s regime that they must respect the rights of the indigenous people in the Amazon and stop destroying their home, the Amazon rainforest. 

My video of the protest outside the Brazilian Embassy
Mother Earth cries out to the Brazilian Government, “Will you stop?”

“What about China” is not an excuse for our Government and financial institutions to continue investing in fossil fuels. The new Cambo oil field, Cumbrian coal mine, airport expansions and road-building schemes mean we are running fast in the wrong direction. If you look around the objects that are close to you at the moment it’s a fair bet that several of them were made in China. We have cut our emissions by outsourcing manufacturing to China so they now get blamed for our consumption. The Government also lie to us about our emissions as they refuse to count shipping and aviation in the figures.

“Why do you have to cause so much disruption” was another frequent comment. If there was a way to influence the Government without disrupting people, believe me, we would be doing it! I have been writing letters to MP’s signing petitions, going on marches, boycotting companies and changing my own personal lifestyle for 40 years, but it has not worked. So now like the Suffragettes, Extinction Rebellion has adopted disruptive tactics to get its message across. Indeed more people have now been arrested in this country protesting about climate change than in the long campaign to win women the vote

We are sorry for the disruption we cause but see no alternative. A Financial Times journalist wrote “XR will always be annoying. So is the repeated beeping of my smoke alarm when its battery is flat. That’s the point. It means I change the battery, and hopefully makes sure my home doesn’t burn down. On balance, I’m glad it’s there.”

I was pleased the focus of the protests were the City of London. If the City was a country it would be the world’s ninth biggest emitter of carbon and businesses listed on the London Stock Exchange or financed from the UK account for about 15% of global carbon emissions. The most moving protest was when XR Doctors staged a die-in outside the offices of JP Morgan, which is the biggest funder of fossil fuels in the country. One doctor said before he was dragged away by security, “I’ve realised during my 10 years in medicine that it is much easier to try and keep people well than wait for them to get sick. At the moment we are making the planet sick and we are making our people sick and our eco-system sick. It needs to stop now, which is why we are saying stop all fossil fuel funding immediately.” The doctors say they have a duty of care to their patients to demand this.

How do I feel after the protests? Encouraged that so many beautiful people are willing to stand up to the system and demand change. Angry that the media have not given it the coverage that it deserved. Terrified that the Government and Corporations still show no sign that they intend to take the climate and ecological emergency seriously. 

You can find many live streams and highlights from the Impossible Rebellion here.

Photo Credit Crispin Hughes

Sheffield Council to reduce Glyphosate use

There is news today on Sheffield Council’s plans to reduce the use of Glyphosate.

This is a good start, but the action falls far short of the demands of the petition that was signed by 6595 people.

We await the details of the scheme that will enable residents to keep their pavements Glyphosate free if they offer to remove weeds outside their homes. The question is, what is a weed? One person’s weed is another’s wild flower! Will residents be expected to pull everything out, even rare wild flowers that might be facing extinction? This includes one in five of all our wild flower species, thanks to the widespread use of herbicides. Will the mowing regime be changed so that residents can cultivate wild flowers on the verges? Will more areas in our parks be set aside for wild flower meadows to protect our endangered pollinators and insects?

Obviously some residents don’t have the capacity to weed outside their property. How will the Council help those that can’t manage this?

It is pleasing to see the Council moving in the right direction. The Greens on the new Cooperative Executive are obviously having some influence. But this, as the Council have declared, is a Nature Emergency and so demands emergency action.