Resources: Campaigning

Politics briefing

Posted in: Campaigning
Resource type: Papers and briefings

A short overview of why politics matters, key UK policy on climate change, international climate negotiations and the role of civil society and the Christian community. 

Politics briefing (PDF)

Why does politics matter?

The changes needed to the structure of our society to address climate change cannot be brought about by individual and community action alone. Governments and corporations need to shift policy, infrastructure, investments and finance towards a zero-carbon economy. This must happen at a local, national, European and international level to effect change. So far, the international political process has failed to reach agreement on the scale of action needed. Politicians need to see the strength of public opinion urging ambitious and urgent action on climate change. Civil society has an enormous part to play.

In the UK, governments continue to focus on short-term interests rather than long-term risks, and tend to support the vested interests of corporations. Operation Noah believes thatBritain should decarbonise our economy by 2030. Therefore, huge policy reforms are needed.

Key UK policy

Climate Change Act (CCA) 2008: The UK’s legal requirement to cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 from 1990 levels, with the intermediate target of 50% cuts by 2025. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) sets out the ‘Carbon Budget’ over four-year periods to outline how these targets will be achieved. The CCA came about through civil society lobbying as well as cross-party support. For further details see:

Committee on Climate Change (CCC): This is an independent, statutory body established under the Climate Change Act to advise the Government on setting and meeting carbon budgets and preparing for climate change, and monitoring and reporting to Parliament on progress made.

Energy Act 2013: AnAct of Parliament which sets out how the UK will generate and meet the demands for electricity up to 2030. It includes investment in low-carbon electricity generation, including renewables, and nuclear, as well as natural gas. There has been some controversy regarding the absence of a clear target for decarbonising the power sector by 2030, no Emissions Performance Standard (EPS) for existing power stations and too much emphasis on gas-powered energy generation as a ‘transition’ fuel. The Act also supports the exploitation of new reserves of fossil fuels obtained, for example, through shale gas fracking. Lobby groups have raised concerns that this locks the UK into gas-powered technology and increases our dependence on fossil fuels at a time when we need to be investing more in the green economy.

Infrastructure Act 2015: There was considerable controversy over some aspects of this Act, passed in February 2015, which included both a clause making it a requirement to maximise the economic recovery of UK oil and gas extraction, and changes to the Trespass Law so as to make it easier for onshore oil and gas extraction.

European Union policy

The UK has been a key player in urging a strong ambition for a unified European target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.The EU is on track to meet the short-term target of reducing carbon emissions by 20% by 2020. The EU has also set out and agreed a road-map towards the goal of cutting emissions by at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% by 2050, with all major economies expected to do their share of emission reduction.

International climate change negotiations

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) holds annual international climate talks known as the Conference of Parties (COP). The next significant event, COP21, will take place in Paris in December 2015 when it is hoped that a legally binding international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will be agreed. Significant achievements over the last two decades include:

  • The Rio Earth Summit in 1992: Climate change was recognised as an issue and ‘Sustainable Development’ was promoted to bring together economic, environmental and social goals.
  • The Kyoto Protocol in 1997: Eventually 190 countries signed up to limiting greenhouse gas emissions, although no enforcement procedures were established. It was left to individual nations to set their own targets for emission reductions. In 2012, at COP18 in Doha, the Protocol’s life was extended until 2020. However, despite major compromises to try and persuade the USA, it has not ratified the Protocol, and Canada also pulled out in 2012.
  • TheCopenhagen Accord’ at COP15 in 2009: This was a voluntary agreement signed by 114 nations that included the long-term goal of limiting the average global temperature increase to no more than 2° Celsius above pre-industrial levels, subject to a review in 2015. The Accord acknowledged the science and the need to cut emissions but failed to come up with legally binding solutions.
  • New York Climate Summit in September 2014: An additional meeting of world leaders from governments, finance, business and civil society was convened by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to catalyse climate action and mobilise political will for a meaningful legal agreement in 2015. He asked leaders to bring an ambitious vision and bold announcements, anchored in action, that will reduce emissions and strengthen climate resilience.

 Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a new universal set of goals, targets and indicators that UN member states will be expected to use to frame their agendas and political policies over the next 15 years. They will be agreed in September 2015 and build upon the former Millennium Development Goals, which are due to expire at the end of 2015. Climate change is one of the proposed goals (Goal 13) which calls for countries to ‘take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts’. The SDGs acknowledge the dual relationship between sustainable development and climate change.

What policy issues are being discussed?

  • Legal form: Negotiations towards a new legally binding climate change protocol, to be concluded by December 2015, and new SDGs (including climate change) to be agreed in September 2015.
  • Ambition: The goals the international community sets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Financial assistance:Money to developing countries both for adaptation to mitigate the effects of climate change and to help them reduce their emissions.
  • Technology: The provision of low-carbon and renewable technologies for all people. The developing countries have been lobbying for a free or cut-price transfer of low-carbon technologies from developed countries to help them reduce reliance on polluting energy forms.
  • New institutions and rules: The most important of these include: (a) the governance and operation of the Green Climate Fund, a channel for financial assistance to developing countries; (b) the rules on how emissions from land use change and forestry should be counted; and (c) new mechanisms to support adaptation and to prevent the loss and degradation of forests.

What policy reforms are needed?

The implications of climate change are wide-ranging across many areas of society:

  • Agriculture and food security:How can the global community protect against the risks to farming and fisheries from extreme weather (drought and floods) and the acidification of the ocean to produce the world’s food? What is the impact on food prices? How can we make food production and distribution less carbon intensive and more sustainable?
  • Development: What percentage of aid should focus on climate change adaptation and mitigation as opposed to other development goals?
  • Energy:How can the world meet the demand for energy? How can we reduce our demand for energy? How can we make the transition to a non-fossil-fuel dependent energy supply?
  • Finance: How can we fund climate change prevention and the required large-scale transition to new low-carbon technologies?
  • Education: What should schools teach young people about climate change and their futures?
  • Defence: How can we minimise the potential for exacerbation of conflict associated with climate change?
  • Health:What are the threats to health and the risks of the spread of disease associated with climate change?
  • Industry: How can new technologies be developed fast enough?
  • Immigration: How can we deal with the migration of people affected by climate change?
  • Transport: How can we meet the demands on aviation? Should we build more airports? How can we improve low-carbon transport modes?

The role of civil society

NGOs and faith organisations have continued to maintain a strong presence at the international climate talks. Mass people mobilisations are an important mechanism to show the strength of public opinion on the urgency of tackling climate change. The pivotal People’s Climate Mobilisation in September 2014, ahead of the UN Climate Summit in New York, involved many tens of thousands taking to the streets in 156 cities across the globe. This momentum is gearing up for the critical UN negotiations at the Paris COP in December 2015.

Change can only be brought about by people everywhere demanding climate justice, and a safer and fairer world for all. There are many different opportunities to get involved in campaigns, lobbying and grassroots activism over the next year and beyond. There has never been a more important time in history to make our voices heard.

Useful resources

Hope for the Future  has useful information for churches on letter-writing and lobbying MPs. 

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