B. CLIMATE CHANGE IS ALREADY CAUSING WIDESPREAD LOSS OF LIFE
1. According to DARA International “5 million lives are lost each year … as a result of climate change and a carbon-based economy”.
2. Death arises not only from air pollution and the direct impacts of wildfires, floods, storms and droughts attributable to climate change, but also indirectly from malnutrition, conflict and the spread of disease.
3. In the very near term we are less at risk in the UK than in many parts of the world, but many are already feeling the impacts here, in particular the young and the old. The 2003 heat-wave, attributed by researchers to climate change, caused the loss of 70,000 lives across Europe, including in the UK. Homes in parts of the UK, such as Carlisle and Manchester, are already uninsurable due to flood risk. Tens of thousands of lives are lost every year in the UK due to air pollution attributable to fossil fuels, with children’s developing lungs badly affected.
C. THE THRESHOLD OF EXTREME DANGER AND “HOTHOUSE EARTH”
4. Carbon dioxide, the main driver of climate change, stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, and much of the change we’re experiencing is now already ‘locked in’.
5. There is mounting evidence that we are accelerating towards runaway climate change and a ‘hothouse earth’, leading to conditions that will no longer support human life. We stand face-to-face with the prospect of the loss of billions of lives and human extinction. I will summarise the evidence below.
6. There is a weight of evidence that all that separates us from a hothouse earth is the Paris Agreement temperature limit of 1.5˚C and “well below” 2˚C warming. Leading scientists say that without an urgent and radical change of course, we are likely to cross that limit as soon as 2030. Children born today will be just 11 years old. NASA’s graphic (below) gives an indication of the speed at which we are approaching the cliff edge:
7. Since the Government denies responsibility for informing the public about the risks it falls to concerned citizens to conduct their own research and to sound the alarm.
8. I will share the key evidence with the Court, which informs my beliefs. It consists of:
a. Peer-reviewed science
b. Reports from the UK Government and Governmental bodies
c. Reports from international organisations.
10. In July 1988, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), the International Council for Science (ICSU) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases (AGGG) established a research project, co-ordinated by the Stockholm Environment Institute, to establish appropriate limits for global warming. The resulting report, issued in 1990, concluded as follows:
“Two absolute temperature targets for committed warming were identified. These limits entail different levels of risk:
(i) A maximum temperature increase of 1.0 °C above pre-industrial global mean temperature.
(ii) A maximum temperature increase of 2.0 °C above pre-industrial global mean temperature.
These two absolute temperature targets have different implications. It is recognized that temperature changes greater than the lower limit may be unavoidable due to greenhouse gases already emitted. The lower target is set on the basis of our understanding of the vulnerability of ecosystems to historical temperature changes. Temperature increases beyond 1.0 °C may elicit rapid, unpredictable, and non-linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage …
… An absolute temperature limit of 2.0 °C can be viewed as an upper limit beyond which the risks of grave damage to ecosystems, and of non-linear responses, are expected to increase rapidly.”
11. By 2018 the 1˚C limit has already been breached.
12. I would like to clarify for the Court the concept of “non-linear responses”. There is a scientific consensus that climate change will not proceed in a linear fashion. At a certain point feedback effects in the climate system will lead to a ‘tipping point’, beyond which the world will continue to warm rapidly, even if human emissions of GHGs were to cease altogether. Ice, for example, reflects heat away from the earth’s surface. As the world warms, sea ice melts, to be replaced with dark water which, instead of reflecting heat away from the earth’s surface, absorbs it, speeding up the process of ice melt, in a vicious cycle of warming. With rising temperatures forest fires increase in frequency and severity. Trees which were absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere, instead release it, further compounding the warming process.
13. Lord Deben (the current Chair of the Committee on Climate Change) described the ‘tipping point’ in the following terms (in a 2007 report for the Shadow Cabinet):
This refers to the point at which these changes in the climate system lead to runaway global warming. At this stage, what little influence we had on the climate system will no longer have any effect on the outcome. Runaway global warming could lead to mass extinction.” (emphasis added)
14. Earlier this year the Foreign & Commonwealth Office referred to climate change as an ‘existential threat’.
15. In 2008, when the UK’s Climate Change Act became law, the “absolute temperature limit” of 2˚C was used as goal for UK targets, as noted by the House of Commons Environmental Committee in its review of the Climate Change Bill:
“The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed to us that the Government was still completely committed to limiting global warming to a rise of 2˚C. By stressing the dangers even of this level of warming, he emphasised the reasons why the UK and EU were committed to holding a rise in temperature at no more than 2˚C:
‘Just to put that in perspective, I was told … that with a two-degree average change it will not be uncommon to have 50˚C in Berlin by mid century, so associated with a two-degree change is something that is pretty unprecedented in northern Europe, and I think that is quite a sobering demonstration because 50˚C is beyond our experience.’
Climate change is on a different scale from any other political challenge. Its potential effects could be both physically and economically devastating. It is not just the size but the timing of these effects that poses such a challenge ...”.
16. From about 2010, however, there was increasing recognition that the 2˚C limit was inadequate and dangerous.
17. In 2011, Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, warned:
“Two degrees is not enough – we should be thinking of 1.5˚C. If we are not headed for 1.5˚C we are in big, big trouble.”
18. In 2012, the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP) commissioned an expert review (“Structured Expert Dialogue”) of the adequacy of the 2˚C global temperature limit.
19. In 2013, Lord Stern, whose 2007 Review informed the setting of the 2050 Target, gave a presentation to the World Economic Forum in Davos, in which he said:
"Looking back, I underestimated the risks. The planet and the atmosphere seem to be absorbing less carbon than we expected, and emissions are rising pretty strongly. Some of the effects are coming through more quickly than we thought …
This is potentially so dangerous that we have to act strongly. Do we want to play Russian roulette with two bullets or one? These risks for many people are existential.”
20. Also in 2013, the Environmental Audit Committee stated:
“Compared to 2011, the case for strong action to avoid dangerous climate change has strengthened. The world is currently on track to warm by 4˚C.”
21. In May 2015, the Structured Expert Dialogue, commissioned by the UNFCCC COP in 2012, issued its Final Report, which concluded:
“The ‘guardrail’ concept, in which up to 2˚C of warming is considered safe is inadequate …Experts emphasised the high likelihood of meaningful differences between 1.5˚C and 2˚C of warming regarding the level of risk from … extreme events or tipping points …”.
22. In December 2015, the 197 Governments which are parties to the UNFCCC united in rejecting the 2˚C limit as dangerous and inadequate, by adopting the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which reframes the limit as follows:
“Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels”.
23. Leading research concludes that beyond the Paris Agreement limit, a tipping point may be crossed leading to runaway climate change and a ‘hothouse earth’ :
“This analysis implies that, even if the Paris Accord target of a 1.5 °C to 2.0 °C rise in temperature is met, we cannot exclude the risk that a cascade of feedbacks could push the Earth System irreversibly onto a “Hothouse Earth” pathway …
Hothouse Earth is likely to be uncontrollable and dangerous … it poses severe risks for health, economies, political stability … and ultimately, the habitability of the planet for humans. …
Where such a threshold might be is uncertain, but it could be only decades ahead …”
D. HEADING BEYOND THE THRESHOLD OF EXTREME DANGER
24. It is evident from numerous authoritative sources, including the UK Government itself, that we are rapidly heading beyond the Paris Agreement temperature limit and into the zone of extreme danger for all humanity.
25. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), provides the definitive synthesis of all peer-reviewed science on climate change. Its last full report (AR5) concluded that:
“In most scenarios without additional mitigation efforts ... warming is more likely than not to exceed 4 degrees C above pre-industrial levels by 2100.” (emphasis added).
26. That is double the threshold of extreme danger.
27. In November 2016, the United Nations Environment Programme published its “Emissions Gap Report” asserting that ‘urgent action’ was necessary to ‘avert disaster’:
“This report estimates we are actually on track for global warming of up to 3.4 degrees Celsius. Current commitments will reduce emissions by no more than a third of the levels required by 2030 to avert disaster. So, we must take urgent action.”
28. In October 2017 the Government published its Clean Growth Strategy :
“Without significant reductions in emissions, the world is likely to be on course for average temperature rise in excess of 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and possibly as much as 5°C for the highest emissions scenarios, by the end of this century …
Scientific evidence shows that increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts on people and ecosystems. These climate change risks increase rapidly above 2°C but some risks are considerable below 2˚C.” (emphasis added).
29. Professor Kevin Anderson, one of the world’s leading scientists, and an adviser to the UK Government and the EU, has repeatedly stated:
“there is a widespread view that 4°C is:
• incompatible with an organised global community
• beyond ‘adaptation’
• devastating to eco-systems
• highly unlikely to be stable (tipping points, etc.)
and consequently, 4°C should be avoided at ‘all’ costs”.
30. The scientific evidence is clear and unequivocal: an urgent and radical change of course is required if the Paris Agreement temperature limits are to be respected and disaster averted.
31. In the Preamble to the Paris Decision, Governments themselves acknowledged the ‘significant gap’ between their current actions and the Paris Agreement temperature limit, and the ‘urgent need’ to close it:
'Emphasizing with serious concern the urgent need to address the significant gap between the aggregate effect of Parties’ mitigation pledges in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways consistent with holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels ...'
32. In June 2017, a coalition of eminent scientists, diplomats and policy-makers, published a comment piece in the leading scientific journal, Nature: “Three years to safeguard our climate”.
33. This showed that in order to meet the Paris Agreement temperature limit, global carbon dioxide emissions would need to peak by 2020, and collapse to ‘net zero’ within twenty years, explaining:
“The year 2020 is crucially important for another reason, one that has more to do with physics than politics. When it comes to climate, timing is everything … should emissions continue to rise beyond 2020, or even remain level, the temperature goals set in Paris become almost unattainable.”
34. On 9 October 2018, the IPCC published its final report into the implications of crossing the 1.5˚C temperature limit (governments had reviewed a number of previous versions). This concluded that:
a. the implications for humanity of exceeding the 1.5˚C threshold were extremely severe
b. at current rates of emissions that threshold was likely to be crossed at some point after 2030.
c. avoiding such an outcome demanded urgent and radical action to reduce GHG emissions.
35. The BBC reported the IPCC conclusions under the headline: “Final call to save the world from 'climate catastrophe'” .
E. THE UK GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSE TO THE STATE OF EMERGENCY
36. In 2008 six climate change activists were acquitted of causing criminal damage to a coal-fired power station on the grounds that they were seeking to avoid the greater harm from climate change . At the time the UK Government was relatively progressive on climate change, introducing the Climate Change Act 2008.
37. Since 2008 the threat from crime change has grown far worse and far more urgent (see §§19ff above).
38. Common sense and the precautionary principle would suggest that in the face of dire scientific warnings the UK Government would:
a. Communicate to the public the danger; and thereby
b. Build the democratic mandate for the urgent and radical action that is required.
39. As this Court may be aware, after decades of misinformation about climate change, propagated by vested interests, large sections of the general public remain confused about climate change. People generally, can not be expected to read long and detailed technical reports, nor to gather reliable information from browsing the internet.
40. A recent report from the London School of Economics, 10 Years of the UK Climate Change Act, noted this feature of the public debate, and the absence of any statutory obligation to inform:
“There is an important difference between the political
debate among specialists and the public debate in the
media. The Act has had little discernible impact on
the latter. Over the past 10 years the public debate on
climate change has been ill-tempered and ill-informed,
fuelled by a small but influential group of climate
… The Climate Change Act is a law devised by policy experts for policy experts. It does not contain any provisions on broader communication, and it pays scant, if any, attention to communication with the wider public. Tellingly, no government department has been given formal responsibility by the Act for communicating climate change (Ward, 2015).
Better communication may be particularly important in the case in the UK, which is home to a small but highly visible group of climate sceptics and where large swathes of the press remain ambivalent about climate change. Provisions for a more proactive approach to communication may therefore be a worthwhile reform, should the Act be revised.”
41. In a democratic country, where there is a need for urgent and radical action to safeguard life, the government must first explain the threat to the public so that the requisite measures are understood and accepted.
42. Notoriously, Tony Blair’s Government attempted to justify war in Iraq by circulating evidence of the real and immediate threat posed by Saddam Hussein. If emergency measures, such as quarantine zones, were needed to contain an epidemic, the Government would doubtless conduct an public information campaign to communicate the risks.
43. Tragically, the Government is failing to inform the public about the exceptional risks of climate breakdown and a hothouse earth. Rather than take urgent and radical action to reduce emissions it is:
a. expanding aviation, which is one of the most polluting forms of transport, with Chris Grayling MP, the Transport Minister, claiming that the Paris Agreement was “irrelevant” to plans to expand Heathrow Airport; and
b. encouraging ‘fracking’ for shale gas, contrary to the advice of leading climate scientists; and
c. providing the highest fossil fuel subsidies of any country in Europe.
46. Leading experts, including the Government’s own statutory advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, have noted the conflict between the Government’s climate obligations and its actions.
47. In October 2018 Professor James E. Hansen, referred to as ‘the father of climate science’ wrote to Claire Perry, the Energy Minister, to highlight the dangers of fracking (“Top climate scientist blasts UK’s fracking plans as 'aping Trump’”):
“One of the world’s leading climate scientists has launched a scathing attack on the government’s fracking programme, accusing ministers of aping Donald Trump and ignoring scientific evidence.
James Hansen, who is known as the father of climate science, warned that future generations would judge the decision to back a UK fracking industry harshly.
“So the UK joins Trump, ignores science… full throttle ahead with the worst fossil fuels,” Hansen told the Observer. “The science is crystal clear, we need to phase out fossil fuels starting with the most damaging, the ‘unconventional’ fossil fuels such as tar sands and ‘fracking’.”
48. Legal actions have been commenced against the Government for failing to do what is necessary to avoid disaster.
49. Sir David King, the Government’s own former chief scientist, said in relation one such action:
"This is crazy …The government knows very well what needs to be done - but it isn't doing it. If it takes legal action to force ministers to behave properly, then so be it - I'll support it."
50. The climate change protestors who were acquitted of criminal damage in 2008 had every right to be concerned. But the situation is now much worse, both scientifically and politically, and the obligation to act far greater.
51. It was only on 1 May 2019, as a result of the school strikes and extinction rebellion protests, that Parliament has woken up to the state of emergency:
“UK Parliament declares climate change emergency” (BBC, 1 May 2019)
F. MY PERSONAL RESPONSE TO THE EMERGENCY
52. In light of the matters set out above, I am fearful for the future for myself, for my family and for others. I believe there is a real and substantial threat to our lives, and that, in accordance with the science, urgent and radical action must be taken now to mitigate the danger.
53. There have been endless scientific reports, endless letters from concerned scientists, endless marches and petitions, and endless promises. But nothing is changing and we’re marching relentlessly towards the cliff edge.
54. I have taken to non-violent direct action as a matter of last resort. I believe that Extinction Rebellion’s movement is necessary and proportionate in the face of the Government’s steadfast refusal to sound the alarm and communicate honestly with the public about climate change.
55. There is compelling evidence that the campaign is working. Journalists and the public are taking notice that thousands of ordinary people, from all backgrounds, backed by eminent scientists, lawyers and figures such as Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, are risking arrest and imprisonment in protest against the destruction of life.
56. On 25 November, 2018, the Times reported as follows:
“Academics said although ER’s claims about climate change sounded apocalyptic they were broadly scientifically correct. “It is important to make more noise about climate risks,” said Professor Sam Fankhauser, director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics.
“We need to do something radical. So calls to ‘tell the truth’ are welcome.””
57. On 3 December 2018, Sir David Attenborough told the Governments of the world:
“If we don’t take action, the extinction of our civilization and much of the natural world is on the horizon.”
58. On 11 December 2018, Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, declared a climate emergency but complained of lack of government action and support:
“We are in the midst of a climate emergency which poses a threat to our health, our planet and our children and grandchildren’s future. City Hall is doing everything in our power to mitigate the risk in London but the stark reality is that we need urgent government action and funding.”
58. Following the wave of action that commenced on 15 April 2019, the necessity of the campaign, and the fact that it is succeeding is raising the alarm, are now widely acknowledged, as reflected in the following articles across the political spectrum in the mainstream media:
Only rebellion will prevent an ecological apocalypse” (George Monbiot, The Guardian, 15 April, 2019)
“Extinction Rebellion protests have WORKED as MPs succumb to calls for change” (Daily Express, 25 April, 2019)
“Jeremy Corbyn forces MPs to vote on declaring climate emergency after Extinction Rebellion protests over political inaction” (The Daily Mail, 28 April, 2019).
59. And as already mentioned above, on 1 May 2019, Parliament itself finally recognised the state of emergency:
“UK Parliament declares climate change emergency” (BBC, 1 May 2019)
60. Like most people, I do not like the thought of being arrested. If the Government were to do its job, and provide the public with honest information about the scale and urgency of the threat, and if the Government were to address the threat instead of compounding it, I would not need to engage in non-violent direct action.
61. But I can not stand by while the scientific community urges urgent action to avoid disaster and governments do nothing.
62. We are all on board a ship, which according to the best available science, is rapidly heading towards the rocks. We are entitled and morally obliged to do what we can to prevent the ship going down.
STATEMENT OF TRUTH
I believe that the facts in this witness statement are true.
3rd OCTOBER 2019