As we broadcast from COP28 in Dubai, leading climate scientist Kevin Anderson lays out why he dismisses the annual climate talks as “grand events” that do little to actually curb emissions. “These COPs have become little more than a scam under which the oil companies and the other fossil fuel companies are hiding that nothing is being done,” says Anderson. Decades of inaction make solving the climate crisis much harder, and Anderson notes “technology and fairness have to go hand in hand” in order to save the planet.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We’re broadcasting from COP28, the United Nations climate summit in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. Today is a day of rest as the two-week conference reaches its halfway point and negotiations begin — nearly 200 countries, begin to take shape. This is U.N. climate chief Simon Stiell.
SIMON STIELL: We can only overcome the climate crisis by ditching business as usual. … The win on loss and damage here in Dubai gave this COP a spring in its step. But it is just the start. Now all governments must give their negotiators clear marching orders. We need highest ambition, not point scoring or lowest common denominator politics.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: This comes amid ongoing furor over the COP28 president and UAE oil company CEO’s claim that there is “no science” indicating that a phaseout of fossil fuels is needed to address the climate crisis. Sultan Al Jaber made the comment during an interview with Mary Robinson, former U.N. special envoy for climate change and former president of Ireland.
Robinson has since posted on X, formerly Twitter, quote, “A successful Cop28 is not about a single individual or nation but the collective will and [concerted] efforts of all countries in these negotiations. … The science compels: phase out fossil fuels rapidly, accelerate renewable energy adoption, and radically scale up finance,” she wrote.
A new report by the Global Carbon Project shows carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels are set to hit a record high this year. According to Oxfam, the richest 1% generated as much planet-warming pollution as the poorest two-thirds of humanity, with private jet travel a key source of emissions.
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by Kevin Anderson, a leading climate scientist, professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester and the University of Uppsala in Sweden. He is a former director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, recently wrote on social media, quote, “This is a Cabal of Oil Producers not a climate COP. The outcome is known: Crafted rhetoric & lacquered sincerity, Grand announcement with no teeth.”
Well, I don’t know if I have to ask you, then, Professor Anderson, why you’re not here. But talk about your own lifestyle and the decisions you have made to cut down on your carbon footprint. And then, what is happening here, and what should be happening here?
KEVIN ANDERSON: OK. Sometimes I’m quite reluctant to talk about my own lifestyle, but, yeah, I’ve tried to make some changes as a climate academic. So I stopped flying in 2004. I live in a very nice flat, but it’s a two-bedroom flat, or apartment. I’ve cut my driving by about 70%. I’ve been vegetarian since 1987. So I’ve made some changes. But let’s be clear: Those changes are — in isolation, those changes are irrelevant. The only merit of individuals making changes is that when we speak to others, we can talk from a position of some understanding of how difficult that is or how easy that is. And we know from repeated psychological evidence that that improves or increases the credibility of our arguments. So, by making the changes ourselves, that allows us much more scope and potential for changing the system. And that’s the important — they’re two sides of the same coin: System change also requires personal change. They are the same thing. And separating the two, as some people do, I think, is usually deliberate by those people who are high emitters. So, us high emitters have to significantly change our norms, if we are going to be heard and listened to when we talk about system-level change. So that’s why I’ve made these changes.
I’m not at the COP, well, for two reasons. One, it’s very difficult for me to get there from — either from Sweden or the U.K. without taking a very long time, certainly, since I wouldn’t be flying. But I’m also increasingly disillusioned as to what merit the COPs have. And I say that with an awareness that many people in the poorer parts of the world say it is important for them because they get their voices heard. And I think that is really true. And Saleemul Huq, the late Saleemul Huq, who’s, very sadly, no longer with us and can’t attend this year, he has made that point, and I’ve listened to him on many occasions. But I actually think now that we have heard the voices of poor communities at the COPs, but we have not listened to them. At some point hearing is not enough. We have to listen, and we have to act.
And I think, you know, 1992 was the first big Rio summit. 1990 was the first IPCC report, a third of a century ago. Our emissions — as you’ve just heard from the Global Carbon Project, our emissions are still going up. This year’s COP is overseen by a chair of an oil company. At every single level, these processes have been deeply coopted. And I don’t just mean necessarily by the oil players themselves, but they have changed the narrative of the media. They’ve changed the funding for research, by the advertising for media — for arts and for sport. At every single level, the tendrils of Big Oil are changing our society and fundamentally changing our climate. And these COPs have become little more than a scam under which, you know, the oil companies and the other fossil fuel companies are hiding that nothing is being done.
And so, I’m almost in a bit of a state of — well, I won’t say despair, but disillusionment, as to where is the right way forward. I think some of the changes in civil society are really important, but I am very skeptical of these grand events now doing anything other than providing two weeks for the media to talk about climate change, then forget about it for the other 50 weeks of the year.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Kevin Anderson, we’ll ask you about where you think the possibility of any kind of change can happen. But if you could speak specifically about the top 1% — and this is not just, of course, in the U.S. or Europe, although principally there — the top 1% of the rich around the world, and the percentage of pollution and consumption that they are responsible for relative to the rest of the world’s population?
KEVIN ANDERSON: I think the top 1% is really important. I mean, the numbers tell us that anyway. We know that from the emissions point of view, emissions of carbon dioxide, and greenhouse gas point of view, that top 1% have a combined carbon footprint that’s approximately twice as big as the bottom of the half — bottom half of the world’s population. I still find it shocking when I say that. That 1% have a carbon footprint that is twice as big as the bottom half of the world’s population. That in itself is appalling and, I would say, obscene.
Remember, it’s not just emissions. That will almost certainly hold for consumption in material goods and other forms of environmental detrimental behaviors and so forth. But that 1% also own the newspapers, most of them. They are the senior people in our policymakers, in our companies. They are the senior academics. They’re the vice chancellors of our universities. So, that — and I use the word almost pejoratively, I suppose — that elite group frame the whole climate change and broader ecological debate. And they have framed it in a way that has supported them, supported us. We are unprepared to ask the questions that would be difficult for us to think about in relation to our own norms and lifestyles. So we have deliberately twisted everything in society to fit with that particular worldview, that particular paradigm — which the physics doesn’t give a damn about.
The temperature will just keep going up. We can scam everything as much as we want. As the Global Carbon Project pointed out, the emissions will go up again this year. And we can have all these fine speeches and all these other things out there, but the temperature will keep rising. People will start to get seriously damaged or impacted in the Global North as they are already in the Global South. Let’s be very clear about this. Climate change is not a threat for many, it’s a daily reality. People are dying, communities are being fractured, their livelihoods are being lost, as a consequence of the emissions that we in the Global North, particularly that 1%, have knowingly imposed upon them and are carrying on doing so.
And that’s why the scam and the language around COP28, to me, is deeply disturbing, when we consider what is actually happening and what we are looking in even for our own children’s future. Do we have so little concern for our own children’s future that we are prepared to scam these COPs, scam the whole climate change agenda, just to maintain our comfortable — overly comfortable — way of living, this top 1%, which will include, as I say, most of the so-called elite in our society?
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Anderson, we just have 30 seconds. But you have said, “There are now no non-radical futures. The choice is between immediate and profound social change or waiting a little longer for chaotic and violent social change. In 2023 the window for this choice is rapidly closing.” Your final comments?
KEVIN ANDERSON: We have to recognize that responding to climate change needs a sort of Marshall-style Plan in terms of technology, so rapid rollout of technology, low-carbon technologies that exist today. But that in itself now is too late. Alongside that, we have to have fairness and equity in there. The maths of the Paris Agreement and the IPCC science tell us that equity, fairness is a prerequisite of delivering on our Paris commitments. So, technology and fairness have to go hand in hand.
AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Anderson, leading climate scientist, speaking to us from Uppsala, Sweden, where he is a professor of energy and climate change, as well as the University of Manchester, former director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. We’ll link to your articles.
Coming up, Nigerian climate activist Nnimmo Bassey here at the U.N. climate summit in Dubai. Back in 30 seconds.