In defence of "climate justice"

It does not mean giving carte blanche to developing countries

The concepts of climate justice and climate debt originated in developing countries. They are based on demanding equality and compensation for climate change, for which rich countries are historically responsible. Climate justice does not mean giving carte blanche to developing countries to increase their carbon emissions. Mark Lynas is wrong to suggest otherwise.

In Copenhagen, thousands of campaigners and activists from around the world, under the banners of Climate Justice Now! and Climate Justice Action, called for rich countries to repay their climate debt in two ways: first, by making drastic cuts to their carbon emissions, and second, by compensating developing countries to pay for a transition to low-carbon economies and to adapt to the ravages that climate change will cause.

The movement also has a broader agenda promoting real solutions and favours a three-tier solution to climate change: that fossil fuels be left in the ground; that sustainable food production increase; and lastly, that excessive consumption be reduced. And this isn't just targeted at the wealthier countries; elites in developing counties also need to act.

Unfortunately, business interests and the market solutions that they peddle have captured governments, and it is this that blocked progress in climate talks, limiting real solutions and stopping their entry into the political mainstream.

It's worth getting beneath the veneer of climate negotiations to see what really happens: just as in other international forums, such as the WTO, negotiators from rich countries bully developing countries to sign a deal that condemns the poorest people to misery, but keeps profits safe for the few.

In the aftermath of the Copenhagen failure, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband blamed various developing countries for "holding the world to ransom". But what many commentators failed to report was that the UK in effect blackmailed the world to try to force through the unjust and ineffective "Obama Accord". Miliband told developing countries they would not get any of the $10bn on offer unless they endorsed the deal.

Rightly, the Tuvalu representative compared the money to 30 pieces of silver. Would anyone in their right mind sign such an agreementl? Many developing countries have seen that the $10bn is just a mirage and have stood their ground. The short-term finance on offer is not only a pittance, it's an allocation of what is already out there: existing aid money, loans that will increase unjust debts, and corporate-controlled World Bank finance.

The only way catastrophic climate change will be avoided is if it is tackled in a just way. It's a vision that all those who care about climate change and justice must unite around, in order to combat both poverty and the impending climate crisis.

Deborah Doane is director of the World Development Movement

 

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Politicians: it's no longer OK to know nothing about technology

It’s bad enough to joke about not being "techy"; it's worse to write a piece of legislation from a position of ignorance. 

Earlier this week, facing down a 600-strong battalion of London’s tech sector at a mayoral hustings in Stratford, Zac Goldsmith opened his five minute pitch with his characteristic charm. “I’m not very techy!” he exclaimed. “I understand coding about as well as Swahili!”

Pointless jibe at a foreign language aside, this was an ill-chosen way to begin his address - especially considering that the rest of his speech showed he was reasonably well-briefed on the problems facing the sector, and the solutions (including improving broadband speeds and devolving skills budgets) which could help.

But the offhand reference to his own ignorance, and the implication that it would be seen as attractive by this particular audience, implies that Goldsmith, and other politicians like him, haven’t moved on since the 90s. The comment seemed designed to say: “Oh, I don't know about that - I'll leave it to the geeks like you!"

This is bad enough from a mayoral hopeful.  But on the same day, the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament filed its report on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill, the legislation drafted by the Home Office which will define how and how far the government and secret services can pry into our digital communications. Throughout, there's the sense that the ISC doesn't think the MPs behind the bill had a firm grasp on the issues at hand. Words like "inconsistent" and "lacking in clarity" pop up again and again. In one section, the authors note:

"While the issues under consideration are undoubtedly complex, we are nevertheless concerned that thus far the Government has missed the opportunity to provide the clarity and assurance which is badly needed."

The report joins criticism from other directions, including those raised by Internet Service Providers last year, that the bill's writers didn't appear to know much about digital communications at all, much less the issues surrounding encryption of personal messages.

One good example: the bill calls for the collection of "internet connection records", the digital equivalent of phone call records, which show the domains visited by internet users but not their content. But it turns out these records don't exist in this form: the bill actually invented both the phrase and the concept. As one provider commented at the time, anyone in favour of their collection "do not understand how the Internet works". 

Politicians have a long and colourful history of taking on topics - even ministerial posts - in fields they know little to nothing about. This, in itself, is a problem. But politicians themselves are often the people extolling importance of technology, especially to the British economy - which makes their own lack of knowledge particularly grating. No politician would feel comfortable admitting a lack of knowledge, on, say, economics. I can’t imagine Goldsmith guffawing "Oh, the deficit?  That's all Greek to me!"  over dinner with Cameron. 

The mayoral candidates on stage at the DebateTech hustings this week were eager to agree that tech is London’s fastest growing industry, but could do little more than bleat the words “tech hub” with fear in their eyes that someone might ask them what exactly that meant. (A notable exception was Green candidate Sian Berry, who has actually worked for a tech start-up.) It was telling that all were particularly keen on improving internet speeds -  probably because this is something they do have day-to-day engagement with. Just don't ask them how to go about doing it.

The existence of organisations like Tech London Advocates, the industry group which co-organised the hustings, is important, and can go some way towards educating the future mayor on the issues the industry faces. But the technology and information sectors have been responsible for 30 per cent of job growth in the capital since 2009 - we can't afford to have a mayor who blanches at the mention of code. 

If we’re to believe the politicians themselves, with all their talk of coding camps and skills incubators and teaching the elderly to email, we need a political sphere where boasting that you're not "techy" isn’t cool or funny - it’s just kind of embarrassing. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.