The choice in the new IPCC report is stark: what we do in the next few years will determine our fate for millennia
After a 10,000-year journey, human civilisation has reached a climate crossroads: what we do in the next few years will determine our fate for millennia.
That choice is laid bare in the landmark report published on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), assembled by the world’s foremost climate experts and approved by all the world’s governments. The next update will be around 2030 – by that time the most critical choices will have been made.
The report is clear what is at stake – everything: “There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.”
“Continued emissions will further affect all major climate system components, and many changes will be irreversible on centennial to millennial time scales,” it says. To follow the path of least suffering – limiting global temperature rise to 1.5C – greenhouse gas emissions must peak “at the latest before 2025”, the report says, followed by “deep global reductions”. Yet in 2022, global emissions rose again to set a new record.
The government wrote off emissions equivalent to 400,000 passengers flying from London to Sydney and back in one year
The government gave more than £300m worth of free ‘pollution permits’ to airline companies including British Airways, RyanAir and EasyJet under a scheme designed to tackle climate change.
The UK’s Emissions Trading Scheme is meant to reduce carbon emissions by forcing big polluters to buy a permit for each tonne of carbon they emit, with the money going into the public purse.
But data obtained by openDemocracy reveals the UK’s aviation sector was handed more than four million “pollution permits” last year, free of charge.
The 4.1 million tonnes of CO2 they represent are equivalent to the emissions of more than 400,000 passengers flying economy-class from London to Sydney and back. The free permits saved airlines the equivalent of £336m based on the annual average carbon price – 39% more than the previous year, 2021.
EasyJet, RyanAir and British Airways were the big winners of the handouts, bagging permits worth £84m, £73m and £58m respectively. The companies all made heavy losses during the pandemic but have since become profitable again: British Airways owner International Airlines Group (IAG) announced profits of £1.3bn last month, while RyanAir just enjoyed its “most profitable December quarter on record” and easyJet is reporting “record-breaking sales”.
openDemocracy has previously revealed how oil and gas companies including Shell and BP were similarly handed more than £1bn worth of free pollution permits during 2022.
Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, told openDemocracy the government was “letting aviation companies get away with it” and “forcing the public to pick up the tab”.
“Ministers must bring an end to these free pollution permits immediately, and make high-carbon companies pay for the climate-wrecking damage they’re causing,” she added.
The Department for Net Zero and Energy Security is now analysing the results of a consultation on phasing out free permits for the aviation sector – but policy changes will not take effect until at least 2026.
The government has already allocated 12.2 million free permits for the next three years, which at last year’s carbon price will be worth a further £965m.
A government spokesperson told openDemocracy the UK was giving away free permits because it was “committed to tackling climate change” but also to “protecting our industry from carbon leakage”.
But the risk of carbon leakage – when companies relocate to countries that do not have carbon pricing – is “minimal”, according to research commissioned by the government itself.
The study by Frontier Economics on behalf of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) also found that ending permit giveaways would lead to a decrease in airline profits and improve market competition.
Daniele de Rao, an aviation expert at Carbon Market Watch, told openDemocracy: “Despite several studies showing that the risk of carbon leakage in the aviation sector is insignificant, airlines are still receiving an enormous amount of free allocation.
“The United Kingdom should apply the ‘polluters pay’ principle in its own ETS and, following the European Union’s example, should end the handout of free pollution permits to airlines as soon as possible.”
Matt Finch, UK policy manager of campaign group Transport & Environment, added: “The nation is up in arms about sewage pollution, but at the same time our government is paying airlines millions of pounds a year to pollute. Are these the actions of a climate leader? No. Free allowances should be phased out of the ETS as quickly as possible.”
The remaining £120m in free permits was carved up among the rest of the UK airline industry – with even the owners of private jets getting handouts.
Ineos Aviation, the company owned by oil and gas billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, was given free permits worth around £2,000.
The government has claimed that “our UK ETS is more ambitious than the EU system it replaces”.
But the EU has voted to phase out free permit allocations from 2026. It also redistributes the revenues raised by permit sales to environmental projects – whereas in the UK the proceeds are retained by the Treasury.
A government spokesperson told openDemocracy: “The UK is committed to tackling climate change while protecting our industry from carbon leakage. That is why a proportion of allowances are allocated for free to businesses under the UK Emissions Trading Scheme.”
They claimed handing free permits to airline giants would “support industry in the transition to net zero in the context of high global energy prices while incentivising long term decarbonisation”.
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You are welcome to disagree with any point although I contend that it is clear.
The climate is fekked. We’ve witnessed extreme weather events on every continent. The climate is fekked because governments worldwide refused to act and instead facilitated rich people – as corporate entities or individuals – fekking it.
Big oil has known for decades that it was fekking the planet and continued regardless.
Thousand of people have already died due to the climate getting destroyed by rich people and governments and thousands more will die. Governments are still failing to accept reality and address the climate crisis. Some have started to in small measure.
People should be held to account for their actions and inactions. People are likely to get killed over it whether legally i.e through a legally sanctioned death penalty, or not.
The US has historically had and the UK repeatedly has and continues to elect political leaders who are incompetent through imbecility.
We are going to suffer extreme food shortages due to the climate being fekked.
Everything is blamed on Russia. Ukraine is not the only place that grows food. Harvests throughout Europe have / will fail.
We should try to make sure that politicians responsible for fekking the climate and planet are not re-elected.
I’m sorry to say that it’s clearly going to get worse.
As the effects of the climate crisis are seen in global heatwaves and droughts, oil firms are booming
The last time prices rose this fast was 41 years ago. The last time the UK got through prime ministers this fast was the mid-1970s. The last time there was open war between major European powers was in 1945. The last time the Northern Hemisphere was this hot was probably 125,000 years ago.
Yet the FTSE 100 is worth more than ever, corporate profits are higher than ever, there are more British billionaires than ever. And oil companies are richer than ever.
If we took climate change seriously, the petroleum industry would be bankrupt. These firms borrow billions against the future value of reserves they are yet to drill, but atmospheric physics demands we can’t burn that carbon if we wish civilisation to survive.
If our modern societies are to continue to exist in recognisable form, oil companies’ assets are worthless. And if we aren’t, they are still worthless.
But in reality, fossil fuel giants are doing better than ever. Last week, Shell said it expected to revise upwards the value of oil and gas assets it had previously written down, causing its share prices to leap for joy.
In May, oil exporter Saudi Aramco overtook Apple as the most valuable company in the world – the most valuable in human history. This week, just months after pretending to take the climate emergency seriously at COP26, Joe Biden has gone to fist bump Saudi’s narco-in-chief and beg him to pump more death into capitalism’s veins.
Meanwhile, as temperatures across England rise above levels with which human homeostasis can cope, the climate crisis collides with the health crisis.
Crushed by a dozen years of Tory austerity and the government’s incompetent response to COVID, NHS waiting lists are already at an all-time high. Accident and Emergency units are “on the fringe of collapse”, with ambulances queueing up outside hospitals, unable to hand over their patients. This means that over the next few days – when experts predict we will see up to ten thousand excess deaths as a result of the heatwave – vast numbers of people will likely spend time cooking in ambulances.
And with world food supplies already shaken by the war in Ukraine, the heatwave also means worsening global hunger.
Food and agriculture billionaires, on the other hand, raised their collective wealth by 45% over the past two years, while global food giant Cargill posted a 63% increase in its profits for last year, the best haul in its nearly 160-year history.
With politics in crisis, people are increasingly realising that they are going to have to fight for the future.
As the world moves out of pandemic mode (if not actually out of the pandemic), we’re entering a new phase of global capitalism.
For big businesses and billionaires, the ‘omnicrisis’ presents a perfect opportunity for disaster capitalism: use the overwhelming sense that everything is on fire to plunder: wrack up prices while keeping wages down, extract, extract, extract, extract.
But this isn’t the inevitable future. The faint echo of promises to ‘build back better’ may have disappeared, and, with politics in crisis, people are increasingly realising that they are going to have to fight for that future.
In Britain, more and more unions are voting to strike against the plunder. As concern about the climate crisis grows, so will action against those driving it. Distrust of our broken politics has deepened, creating a deep volatility.
A vast political fight over what comes next has arrived, just as the Labour Party has abandoned the field and, in the coming months, we can expect something else to rush into that space.