How 28th March Started Changing Everything
We’re living in a broken system: the war on terror, the Great Recession, the climate crisis and a definition of democracy no one believes in anymore. And our generation is living at the tipping point of planetary history.
Rainforests and farmlands are being reduced to desert and acid rains from the sky. Every hour, three species of animal become extinct. Our food, water and air are being polluted. Over the past 40 years, Co2 emissions have skyrocketed by 80% and natural disasters increased fivefold. Of the last 13 years, 12 have been the hottest on record.
Leading scientists are warning that without radical change, entire islands and major cities will be swallowed by the sea while mega-storms, droughts and pollution will make great swathes of the earth uninhabitable, triggering resource wars and a global refugee crisis. Of course this changes everything. The question is how.
“It’s a civilisational wakeup-call. A powerful message, spoken in the language of fires, floods, droughts and extinctions, telling us that we need an entirely new economic model and a new way of sharing this planet.” – Naomi Klein
That’s the clarion call at the heart of Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. It’s also the message that brought a thousand people together with campaigners and academics for a mass participatory gathering last weekend to discuss some of the most urgent questions facing our generation: about the crises we face; what a fair and sustainable alternative might look like; and what kind of movement it will take to get us there.
The event, which took its name from the book, was packed out. It attracted a young and diverse crowd mostly ‘new to politics’ and an international audience for the livestream. People are already planning their own This Changes Everything events in Bristol, Brighton, Nottingham as well as France, Germany and the USA.
Appearing via skype at the beginning of the day, Naomi summed up her argument: “We’re on the road to catastrophic levels of warming. It isn’t too late to get off that road… to do that we have to change everything about our corrupt political system and our profit-driven economic system… our leaders aren’t going to be the ones to grab the wheel and swerve because they’re embedded in that logic, they’re products of it, and so it’s going to have to be social movements that lead from below… the work you guys are doing is why I wrote the book.”
For many of us, September’s People’s Climate March was a catalyst. The sound of 40,000 pairs of feet hitting the streets in London while 400,000 joined the historic march in New York and actions took place in over 160 other countries around the world shattered any notion that the climate movement couldn’t mobilise, that people didn’t care or that it was too late to act.
The Copenhagen Summit’s failure to change anything had renewed commitment to the idea that this fundamental change we were calling for would have to be fought for and won from below; that those who could force the system to change were those disillusioned and exploited by it – not, as some environmentalists would have it, by cupping our hands for concessions from those at the top, who have everything to gain from perpetuating business as usual.
This Changes Everything was organised by a growing, independent network of activists. It brought leading figures from organisations like Friends of the Earth, War on Want and the Green Party around a table with students and activists from groups like Occupy, Join the Dots and Brick Lane Debates. That diversity was echoed on the day itself with a symphony of radical voices: leading environmentalists in Asia and Africa spoke with radical economists and campaigners. The closing session heard from Russell Brand and Francesca Martinez alongside leading voices from the climate justice and trade union movement.
As Mark Sertwotka, General Secretary of the trade union PCS told the assembly: “We will not fall for the lie that says if you are pro environmental issues you are against the interests of workers. If we all unite, if we get on each other’s demonstrations, we can rock them to their core. That’s what my union wants to see.” In the UK, the absence of organised labour on the People’s Climate March was a gaping hole. Also felt was an absence of meaningful political content. There were the people – but where were their demands? We all wanted to save the planet, but how could we actually do it? What was the vision? Who were we holding responsible? In whom should we put our faith? These were the great unanswered questions This Changes Everything set out to ask.
On 28th March the answer was deafening. In the morning a mass, interactive assembly heard from leading progressive voices about the crisis we face and visions of how a fairer, more sustainable and democratic economy could work for both people and planet. In the afternoon, everyone joined in with participatory workshops to share ideas about how we could meet a joined-up crisis with a joined-up movement. In the workshops people talked honestly about the difficulties of uniting different struggles and identified the key strategic fights where we can come together and win. During the final session, key ideas from all the workshops were collated into a single consensus that was presented to everyone and met with applause.
The conclusion, in a nutshell, was this: climate change changes everything, but it’s part of a deeper crisis of the system. And the solution isn’t just about Co2 – it’s about justice, not just for the planet but for people here and across the world who were losing their jobs or their land for the same reason they were losing clean water and clean air, losing access to welfare, healthcare and education; living in fractured communities, working longer for less and feeling evermore disempowered: a system that divides and conquers, cultivates violence, exploits the whole world and puts profit first every single time we let it.
More than anything, that’s what 28th March was about. People weren’t debating the science of climate change. They weren’t debating whether war, inequality or austerity was part of the problem. 28th March was about taking the next step – trying to understand how all these things are linked, to sketch a vision for a common solution and start talking about how we come together to create it.
Now, on the basis of the consensus we reached together, groups of people are coming together throughout London, the UK and beyond. They’ll be working on a broad spectrum of fronts: from media and education to protest and direct action, on a range of related issues from fracking, food sovereignty and fuel poverty to green social housing and democracy in the workplace. For many this is the first time they’ve tried to change anything. For others we hope to create new spaces for joined-up action and mutual support for all the great work already being done in the movement. The door is open for a whole new layer of people to get involved and take ownership of what we’re building.
There is one thing we have in common. We know that justice for people and planet will be won together, or not at all. The democracy movement has become part of the struggle to survive. We know progressive politics has ecology at its heart and that the climate movement needs the courage to get radical, now.
If you want to find out more, you can check out our website, like us on Facebook and follow @TCEuk on Twitter. You can also drop us an email at thischangeseverything2015(at)gmail.com.
Lessons from China on large-scale landscape restoration
In the 1980s, the hilly Qianyanzhou region in Jiangxi Province, southern China, faced severe soil erosion due to deforestation and unsustainable farming practices. Fertile red soil was being washed away causing crop yields to tumble.
But a remarkable change has taken place in the last 30 years thanks to a government-backed land-use plan which has seen the upper hills reforested, citrus orchards planted on moderate slopes, and rice paddies in valley bottoms. Within a few years, this mosaic of sustainable land use was yielding higher incomes. Biodiversity and environmental quality, as well as the microclimate, improved.
In early November 2018, the head of UN Environment’s freshwater, land and climate branch, Tim Christopherson, together with his colleague Xiaoqiong Li, visited several sites in the area to better understand how large-scale ecological restoration works.
Huimin Wang, the director of an ecological research station in Ji’an, Qianyanzhou region, briefed UN Environment on the problem and the centre’s role in restoring the landscape.
“Thirty years ago, this area was denuded of trees and vulnerable to landslides. Erosion gullies washed fertile red soil away,” says Wang.
“We set up this ecological research station to work out how best to restore the land. We brought together experts from around the world, including from the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation in Germany.”
Research focused on forest structure optimization and how to improve ecosystem services from the forest; the structure and functions of forest ecology; carbon, water and nutrient cycling in forest ecosystems under climate change; and the Qianyanzhou upgrade model to be achieved by improving ecological and economic benefits in the watershed.
Another key element of the restoration process was agroforestry, supported by the local government: farmers continued to grow cash crops such as peanuts, sesame and vegetables among the restored orchards, and breed Silkie chickens (black-boned with fluffy plumage) in orchards and forest plantations. This ensured economic returns in the early stages of the project and helped improve soil fertility. As well as building dams and ponds, government agencies provided loans to households to help them get started.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, about 21.9 per cent, or 206,861,000 hectares of China, was forested in 2010. In just one decade, the Qianyanzhou restoration drive has increased China’s total forest area by 74.3 million hectares. Qianyanzhou’s forest coverage has increased from 0.43 per cent to nearly 70 per cent.
Qianyanzhou restoration efforts have helped the region and the country take a big step towards implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goals 1 (No Poverty), 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), 8 (Good Jobs and Economic Growth), 12 (Responsible Consumption), and 15 (Life on Land), as well as the Bonn Challenge and the New York Declaration on Forests, all of which fall under UN Environment’s programme of work.
Forests are a major, requisite front of action in the global fight against catastrophic climate change, thanks to their unparalleled capacity to absorb and store carbon. Forests capture carbon dioxide at a rate equivalent to about one-third the amount released annually by burning fossil fuels. Stopping deforestation and restoring damaged forests, therefore, could provide up to 30 per cent of the climate solution.
The United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (The UN-REDD Programme) was launched in 2008 and builds on the convening role and technical expertise of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the United Nations Development Programme and UN Environment.
Plastic recycling: An underperforming sector ripe for a remake
While there is no silver-bullet solution to the toxic tide of plastic surging into our oceans, recycling must form part of the answer. The problem, many experts say, is that current processes are not fit for purpose.
The world produces around 300 million tonnes of plastic waste each year. To date, only 9 per cent of the plastic waste ever generated has been recycled, and only 14 per cent is collected for recycling now.
The reasons are complex. Not all plastic can be recycled and a lack of public awareness means plastic collections are often contaminated. This can increase the cost of recycling.
In the United States, for example, the introduction of single-stream recycling—where recyclables are not separated in household collections—led to a huge surge in recycling rates, but as plastics became more complex, people started placing the wrong things in their bins. Waste Management, the largest processor of residential recycling in North America, says that one in every four items in recycling bins today is not recyclable.
“Chemicals added to plastic polymers, products made of mixed materials and food packaging contaminated with food waste make recycling difficult and costly,” wrote the authors of UN Environment’s The State of Plastics report.
The need to rethink recycling became more apparent when China, which has imported nearly half the world’s waste since 1992, stopped taking foreign plastic waste this year. China’s decision exposed weaknesses in recycling facilities in many other countries.
There are financial reasons for the shortfalls. Depending on the oil price, it is often cheaper to make virgin plastic while the market for recycled plastic is notoriously volatile, making investors reluctant to commit to the sector.
For years, activists have argued that packaging producers and retailers should pay more to cover the cost of dealing with their waste. While many brands have committed to using more recycled plastic, the pressure is growing for them to do more.
In Britain, the government is said to be planning to charge supermarkets, retailers and major drinks brands tens of millions of pounds more towards the cost of recycling. The strategy would include plans to increase contributions from retailers and producers from an average of about 70 million pounds a year to between 500 million pounds and 1 billion pounds a year. There are also plans to include smaller producers.
The European Commission unveiled a Plastics Strategy in January, saying that its drive to make all plastic packaging recyclable or reusable by 2030 could create 200,000 jobs but only if recycling capacity was multiplied fourfold. The European Union recycles less than 30 per cent of its 25 million tonnes of plastic waste each year, and half of that used to be sent to China.
As part of its strategy, the European Union will develop new rules on packaging to improve the recyclability of plastics and increase demand. It wants to see improved and scaled up recycling facilities and a more standardized system for the separate collection and sorting of waste.
UN Environment, which started its Clean Seas campaign in 2017 to push for the elimination of unnecessary single-use plastics, also supports the implementation of integrated waste management systems through its International Environmental Technology Centre in Japan.
There is clearly a need to support waste management strategies in poorer countries, where municipal authorities often do not have the capacity to implement suitable policies. Some of these countries are also among the biggest marine polluters: 90 per cent of the plastic in our oceans comes from just 10 rivers, with eight of those in Asia.
Some of the industry’s top players have spotted the gaps. In October, waste management company Veolia and consumer goods giant Unilever said they would work together to invest in new technologies to increase recycling and move towards a circular economy.
The three-year partnership will focus, at first, on India and Indonesia where the firms will work to scale up waste collection and recycling infrastructure.
Circulate Capital, an investment management firm dedicated to preventing ocean plastic, said in October that it expected US$90 million in funding from some of the world’s leading consumer good groups and chemical companies, including PepsiCo, P&G, Dow and Coca-Cola.
Created in collaboration with Closed Loop Partners and the Ocean Conservancy, Circulate Capital aims to demonstrate the value of investing in waste management and recycling in South and Southeast Asia. It uses philanthropic and public funds, as well as technical assistance, to support and develop public and nonprofit entities to implement new approaches and build capacity that can support large institutional capital commitments.
“We have recognized that financing is a key barrier—as people always want to know ‘who is going to pay for it?’ By removing capital for infrastructure and operators as a barrier, we believe we can accelerate solutions to policy, education, supply chains and more,” said Rob Kaplan, the founder and CEO of Circulate Capital.
Big name corporations are not the only players. In many developing economies, recycling is carried out by millions of waste pickers, often women, children, the elderly and the unemployed. They may be on the frontline of sustainability but their own lives are often marred by unhealthy working conditions, lack of rights and social stigma.
The World Bank said in its What a Waste 2.0 report that when waste pickers are properly supported and organized, informal recycling can create employment, improve local industrial competitiveness, reduce poverty and decrease municipal spending.
Citizens also have a role to play but education and information are essential. The World Bank cites the example of Jamaica, where environmental wardens, employed by the National Solid Waste Management Authority, teach their neighbours about environmentally friendly disposal of waste. The communities involved collect plastic bottles and remove plastic litter from shared spaces and drains. They then sell the collected bottles to recyclers.
“There is no silver bullet to solving ocean plastic and scaling global recycling—investing in public education without infrastructure won’t achieve results, and vice versa,” said Circulate Capital’s Kaplan. “It is a systems challenge that requires systems solutions.”
Towards zero deforestation
The human population is still growing and needs space and resources. It is, therefore, not easy to reconcile development, biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation efforts. Which areas can be allocated for development and what should be off-limits to conserve forests and biodiversity? And how do we ensure that stakeholders, including governments and the private sector, respect minimum standards for land use planning processes?
Two tools are relevant here: one is the High Carbon Stock Approach, a new global methodology that helps answer such questions and implement No Deforestation commitments. It’s a land use planning tool focused on achieving No Deforestation. It integrates social considerations—local community customary rights, livelihoods and needs, high conservation values, peatlands, riparian zones and plantation operational aspects.
The other assessment tool is the High Conservation Values Approach. It focuses on biodiversity conservation rather than climate change mitigation. However, this approach does not address deforestation in degraded low-to-medium-density natural forests.
“I would strongly encourage both approaches to be used in parallel,” says Johannes Refisch, coordinator of UN Environment’s Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP). You can easily have areas which rank high on high carbon stock and low on high conservation values and vice-versa but they are worth protecting.”
Refisch points to a recent study on sustainable palm oil cultivation in Gabon which called for the application of both approaches (Austin et al, 2017).
In November 2017, proponents of the two approaches agreed to launch the Integrated Manual to address both issues in parallel.
Over 25 global organizations support the High Carbon Stock Approach
Members of the High Carbon Stock Approach are organizations which are committed to No Deforestation: plantation companies (such as New Britain Palm Oil Limited and Wilmar), commodity users (such as Unilever, Nestle and Procter & Gamble), non-governmental organizations (such as World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and Forest People Program), technical support organizations (such as Rainforest Alliance, The Forest Trust and ProForest), and smallholder groups. The initiative is also developing partnerships with the USAID – Bijak Program, World Resource Institute, World Cocoa Foundation and others.
Though starting with just a few, the number of members has now reached 27 global organizations and is still growing.
UN Environment supports the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, which recently endorsed the approach.
“In November 2018, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil made a big leap forward to address deforestation by requiring the High Carbon Stock Approach in its certification standards, and as further recognition, the French Government has referenced High Carbon Stock Approach in their importing deforestation strategy,” says prominent zero deforestation campaigner and High Carbon Stock Approach Advisor Aida Greenbury.
This underlines the links between the High Carbon Stock Approach and the UN-REDD Programme, a joint programme of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the United Nations Development Programme, and UN Environment to fight deforestation and forest degradation.
The approach also enables land use managers to better protect peatlands and is aligned with the aims of the Global Peatland Initiative. The initiative supports the sustainable use of peatlands, in particular tropical peatlands, one of the most carbon intense landscapes in the world.
The Great Apes Survival Partnership has been working with Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and partners to assist great ape range states in Africa to direct palm oil cultivation to degraded lands and to avoid deforestation. Tropical peatlands are home to important populations of orangutans and Western lowland gorillas.
Initially only supported by member fees, in the last two years the United Kingdom Department for International Development’s Partnership for Forests has lent a hand. To date, over half a million hectares of High Carbon Stock forests have been identified and are in the process of being conserved.
“We have been working with the High Carbon Stock Approach in the development of the Smallholder Guideline. I am proud that our union members are working hard to ensure that their practices are free from deforestation,” says Mansuetus Darto, the National Coordinator of Indonesia’s Palm Oil Smallholder Union.
The approach—initially developed by the Forest Trust, Greenpeace and private sector players—allows agricultural or plantation development to reduce its environmental impact by not clearing forests that are important to local communities or have high carbon or biodiversity values.
“The real strength of the approach is that it captures forest restoration processes well, in particular in tropical peatlands,” says Johan Kieft, a UN Environment forest ecosystems specialist.
Nearly 500 companies vow to address commodity-driven deforestation
Today, close to 500 global companies have made public commitments to address commodity-driven deforestation. In general, these commitments include the protection of high conservation values, high carbon stock forests, peatland and the rights of local communities through the implementation of free and prior informed consent.
There is no absolute carbon threshold in defining High Carbon Stock forests—it’s rather based on vegetation structure and density.
In May 2017, The High Carbon Stock Approach released its Toolkit Version 2.0, a new and unified global methodology for protecting natural forests and identifying lands for responsible commodity production.
“I welcome the launch of the High Carbon Stock Toolkit to support the enabling condition to achieve our government’s National Determined Contribution target,” said Kindy Rinaldy Syahrir, Deputy Director for International Cooperation and Climate Change Finance at the Ministry of Finance of Indonesia at the time.
“More work still needs to be done but the approach succeeds because it is practical and involves multi-stakeholder-based collaboration,” says Kieft.
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