COP26, Trick or Treat? — Lionesses of Africa

by Lionesses of Africa Operations Department

In a recent interview, climate-change activist Greta Thunberg when asked how optimistic she was that the COP26 conference could achieve anything, responded “Nothing has changed from previous years really. The leaders will say, ‘we’ll do this and we’ll do this, and we will put our forces together and achieve this’, and then they will do nothing. Maybe some symbolic things and creative accounting and things that don’t really have a big impact. We can have as many COPs as we want, but nothing real will come out of it.” (See here her interview), but should we be so negative about the work that our politicians are about to do in a wet and windy Glasgow in the UK? 

Certainly the UK Politicians jumped fast when faced with a local train workers’ strike (here), agreeing to all their demands to ensure that nothing should go wrong with what is always the UN’s largest and most impressive conference. Is this speed a sign of something new, a new determination to prove us all wrong and drive the globe forward to a brighter future, or is it simply a determination that everything should appear at its best, even if behind the hurriedly painted walls there is damp and under the carpets, recently brushed dust. Obviously only time will tell, but the signs are sadly not good and the results of previous COPs unconvincing.

It goes without saying that what our politicians discuss in Glasgow over the next two weeks will make a huge difference to us all. From our incredible Tea manufacturers in Kenya, to our inspirational Gorilla saving coffee producer in Uganda, to our recycling gurus in Nigeria. Indeed to all of our Lionesses of Africa membership. Not least those who import or export via the ever increasingly difficult-to-navigate seas or wait for winter storms in the USA or China to abate; to those who send their trucks deep into the continent across now storm damaged roads with the ever increasing time it takes to transport goods; to yes, all our Lionesses looking at the changing weather patterns and seeing that ‘The Great Wildebeast Migration’ is starting to stop as “The rains have failed and great swathes of the usual lush green grass is reduced to a scorched thatch.” (see here), are beginning to realize that perhaps they too must adapt or move.

If we look back at the Kyoto Protocol whose commitments expired in 2012 with most signatories not meeting their emissions targets and creating no significant changes in emissions reductions, there see there were a number of theories as to why this was such a failure. However, we recently read with interest a paper called ‘Understanding Kyoto’s Failure’ by Christopher Napoli in the SAIS Review of International Affairs (here). In this he writes that whilst most suggested that “due to deficiencies in the structure of the agreement, such as the exemption of developing countries from reductions requirements, or the lack of an effective emissions trading scheme at the time” it was doomed to failure from the start because interestingly, “[u]sing a game theoretic framework and evidence on pollution emission trends between 1990–2010, this paper suggests that structural imperfections are symptoms of a deeper problem of collective action.

Please note – “a deeper problem of collective action.

He goes onto say that: “…while pollution reductions may be beneficial for global society in the long run, states will only choose to abate pollution if the short-term net benefit of abatement is positive from a national perspective.” Sadly we can only agree. It has often been the case that if it is not in the ‘National Interest’ then it gets ‘kicked into the long grass’ for the next administration to concern themselves with. Across the globe, this ‘National Interest’ is a major issue over Climate Change because costs are all immediate but success will be felt long term. On a personal level, ‘pay now, but enjoy later’ has always been a hard sell, possibly why the take up rates of personal pensions are so poor in so many countries, but for Governments the sell is all the harder – let us tax you now (the cash has to come from somewhere) and a) we promise to spend it wisely (no comment on that one!) and b) you will get your reward, possibly after you are long gone. 

There is a serious need and requirement at an individual country level for collective action, but also at the UN level where the discussions also stall.

We have some sympathy with countries who argue that is it a bit rich for the western nations who went through their industrial revolution in the 17-1800’s, to now turn round to others and complain about the use of coal (still one of the cheapest form of energy) for electricity, or wood burning for cooking in the poorer parts of the world. But is enough help being given by the rich and are they doing enough themselves to halt climate collapse?

One of the great ironies of modern life in London is that wood burning stoves have become so trendy that the City’s air is occasionally starting to return to the ‘pea-souper’ days of old when the fog became too thick to walk, let alone drive (as seen in the fourth episode of the Netflix series ‘The Crown’ which showed the so-called “Great Smog” or “Great Pea Soup” that descended on London in December 1952 and caused chaos and death for several days). To continue the irony of this, under the 1956 Clean Air Act of the UK it is actually illegal to burn coal or wood in London, but the rules are not enforced, so no fines have been issued! Zero! (See here)

There is clearly no point in having rules if they are not enforced, which brings us back again to COP26 and our concerns with the lack of collective action and (yes) the lack of enforcing that which was agreed not only in the Kyoto Protocol but also recent COP meetings such as the Paris Accord. In fairness, unlike the Kyoto Protocol, which set commitment targets that had legal force, the Paris Agreement, worked on consensus building, which simply allowed for voluntary and nationally determined targets ‘NDCs’, such pledges on emissions that would have led to catastrophic heating of at least 3C (here). But fear ye not, there is hope. As always if you want someone’s attention, hit them where it hurts – in the pocket! 

In May of this year, a court in The Hague ordered Royal Dutch Shell to cut its global carbon emissions by 45% by the end of 2030 compared with 2019 levels, in a landmark case brought by Friends of the Earth and over 17,000 co-plaintiffs – interestingly this was based on the Paris Agreement! An agreement that was legally binding, albeit on the NDCs of course, of the various Governments, but at one stroke (of the Judge’s pen) this responsibility suddenly included corporates. (See here)

Shell had argued that there was no legal basis for the case and that governments alone are responsible for meeting Paris targets. The court found that “since 2012 there has been broad international consensus about the need for non-state action, because states cannot tackle the climate issue on their own”…The Anglo-Dutch company was told it had a duty of care and that the level of emission reductions of Shell and its suppliers and buyers should be brought into line with the Paris climate agreement.

This has moved to a whole new level! It is one thing for Governments to agree to a treaty knowing that it is unenforceable and at most they will get a slapped wrist, but quite another for the same Governments to agree to something that puts at risk the profits of some of their largest companies.

Is this the start of serious collective responsibility that the world and we in Africa need? Let us see, but is it enough to sit back and wait for the politicians or courts to force companies to act.

Collective Responsibility involves all of us of course (otherwise it would be called ‘Not Our Responsibility’), so what can we do about this? It is very important to note in the ruling that the Court found: “The Anglo-Dutch company was told it had a duty of care and that the level of emission reductions of Shell and its suppliers and buyers should be brought into line with the Paris climate agreement.”

Please note our emphasis. “…and its suppliers and buyers…”. This is important for all of us. We have stated before that we need to be aware of the needs of our customers, well this is a ‘need’ that must be taken very seriously.

Luckily, Lionesses have been showing the way forward for years now. There are some truly inspirational Lionesses making huge differences in saving the world – be it through taking plastic bottles off our streets, or transforming tyres into shoes, or through becoming major league solar energy companies, or turning waste into incredible products, or reducing cooking time required, you can see some of their amazing stories here.

We would suggest this is not only good for the globe, but also good for our businesses to turn green, to use less plastic, and to consider everything from a sustainable viewpoint. This is something that Lionesses have been taking very seriously for years now. In the EU we are seeing regulation increasing such as single-use plastic (here) and those that had not planned are now in a panic as the regulations start to bite. All large companies because of these regulations and especially because of this ruling in The Hague will now be looking at their suppliers. Clearly this is an opportunity.

As Melanie wrote back in March 2019: 

An eco-friendly ethos is good for business.

I find myself these days being increasingly drawn to businesses and brands that share my concerns for the environment and who find innovative ways to deal with waste management, for example. Take a look at our article on ecopreneurs here. And, it seems I am not alone. I am fascinated to see how many businesses and brands are responding to customer sentiment and concerns by taking a more conscious and minimalist approach to they way they produce their goods and run their operations. The term business minimalism is growing, with countries like Canada taking the lead and showing how the anti-waste movement is influencing all aspects of business. We can all do more in our own businesses to be resourceful and less wasteful. For example, cutting out plastic bags, using recycled products, being more rigorous with our own recycling, and importantly communicating to our customers about our ethos. This approach is not just good for the environment, it’s also good for business.

We could not agree more. We have to communicate our ethos.

Greta Thunberg has exploded the debate during the last 3 years like no other, and perhaps her success in being heard is because pathfinders have laid the route before her, battling for ages against deaf ears. One such pathfinder in the green movement who has been battling the world for decades to understand and take seriously the risk of climate change to the world (and for all the scorn he has endured over the years is now being proved right) was asked recently if the UK government was doing enough to combat climate change, to which Prince Charles (for ‘twas he) replied: “I couldn’t possibly comment.” Knowing his decades long campaign to bring businesses on board to tackle climate change, most recently through his Sustainable Markets Initiative, one feels that he was actually thinking “You might think that, but…I couldn’t possibly comment.”  See his full interview here.

Given his decades long fight, we believe he should not be too concerned to show his frustration, it seems to work for Greta and indeed he would only be taking a leaf out of his mother’s book when The Queen recently was heard to say of COP26: “It’s really irritating when they talk, but they don’t do.” (Here)

Don’t we all just know it! Sadly it just confirms that this is all up to us, a collective responsibility, but happily this is also an opportunity we can grab with both hands. Now there’s a Treat for Halloween!

Stay safe.

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