Why we need direct action on climate change

Governments are not responding with anywhere near the urgency that climate change demands.

It is a complicated defence, the defence of necessity. Last week, 20 people admitted their plan to shut down Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal-power station, but justified their actions as being to prevent death and serious injury from the carbon emissions. A jury heard compelling evidence on the horror of climate change, but still returned a guilty verdict. We'll never know what those 12 people discussed, but that governments are failing us all is clearer than ever.

Yes, they were acting – or planning to act – through an unconventional process. Had the plan gone ahead, arrests would have been inevitable. But, given time to present their evidence, research and sophisticated safety measures, the defendants adeptly explained why their actions were reasonable.

Not only would they have prevented the release of 150,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (more than they could ever have saved in their lifetimes) in a week-long shutdown, but these people could have saved human lives in the future. Any doubts about the urgency of climate change or its impact on human health and social stability were addressed by a prolific selection of expert witnesses, including the Nasa climatologist James Hansen and the epidemiologist Anthony McMichael.

Which leaves as the only issue whether this was a reasonable response to the urgent climate crisis. And that centres on one question: is there any hope for conventional channels of political change, both nationally and internationally?

During the case, both I and Alan Simpson, a former MP, gave evidence to explain the "democratic deficit" – the fact that governments are not responding with anywhere near the urgency that climate change demands. The UK has passed legislation to cut emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, but as there is no actual plan to achieve even this inadequate target, we are continuing to pollute. Internationally, we have just seen the Cancún summit fail to achieve any legally binding agreement, and the most immediate ramifications continue to hit vulnerable people who have done nothing to cause this crisis.

Perhaps the jury was persuaded by the prosecution arguments that we can save the climate through small individual actions like compost loos and second-hand clothes. These are important, but history shows that there have always been people working against the grain to create essential change.

The civil rights movement and the suffragettes are examples of normal people making a difference by stepping outside their comfort zones. An example closer to home is the "Kingsnorth Six" – Greenpeace activists who were charged with criminal damage after scaling Kingsnorth coal-fired power station, yet were eventually acquitted in a similar case to this one.

There are some politicians in parliament willing to make climate change an overriding priority of the government and it's crucial to have them there. But by and large, the political process continues to support business as usual – and the tiny reforms discussed in Cancún fail to address the root causes of climate change. Any improvements we gain from such a deal will make little, if any, long-term difference to the lives lost and species destroyed.

The Ratcliffe activists are part of a wider grass-roots movement working for climate justice. The People's Summit in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in April this year, showed that people are coming together in all kinds of ways, to deliberated as well as take peaceful direct action, to seek serious alternatives, while governments continue with their frustrating inaction.

As the defendants said after court, "Taking action on climate change is not an act of moral righteousness, but of self-defence." While so many politicians are failing in their duty to act on behalf of the people, and while the legal system continues to protect big polluters, we all should learn something from those willing to take action on climate change.

Caroline Lucas is leader of the Green Party and MP for Brighton Pavilion.

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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A global marketplace: the internet represents exporting’s biggest opportunity

The advent of the internet age has made the whole world a single marketplace. Selling goods online through digital means offers British businesses huge opportunities for international growth. The UK was one of the earliest adopters of online retail platforms, and UK online sales revenues are growing at around 20 per cent each year, not just driving wider economic growth, but promoting the British brand to an enthusiastic audience.

Global e-commerce turnover grew at a similar rate in 2014-15 to over $2.2trln. The Asia-Pacific region, for example, is embracing e-marketplaces with 28 per cent growth in 2015 to over $1trln of sales. This demonstrates the massive opportunities for UK exporters to sell their goods more easily to the world’s largest consumer markets. My department, the Department for International Trade, is committed to being a leader in promoting these opportunities. We are supporting UK businesses in identifying these markets, and are providing access to services and support to exploit this dramatic growth in digital commerce.

With the UK leading innovation, it is one of the responsibilities of government to demonstrate just what can be done. My department is investing more in digital services to reach and support many more businesses, and last November we launched our new digital trade hub: www.great.gov.uk. Working with partners such as Lloyds Banking Group, the new site will make it easier for UK businesses to access overseas business opportunities and to take those first steps to exporting.

The ‘Selling Online Overseas Tool’ within the hub was launched in collaboration with 37 e-marketplaces including Amazon and Rakuten, who collectively represent over 2bn online consumers across the globe. The first government service of its kind, the tool allows UK exporters to apply to some of the world’s leading overseas e-marketplaces in order to sell their products to customers they otherwise would not have reached. Companies can also access thousands of pounds’ worth of discounts, including waived commission and special marketing packages, created exclusively for Department for International Trade clients and the e-exporting programme team plans to deliver additional online promotions with some of the world’s leading e-marketplaces across priority markets.

We are also working with over 50 private sector partners to promote our Exporting is GREAT campaign, and to support the development and launch of our digital trade platform. The government’s Exporting is GREAT campaign is targeting potential partners across the world as our export trade hub launches in key international markets to open direct export opportunities for UK businesses. Overseas buyers will now be able to access our new ‘Find a Supplier’ service on the website which will match them with exporters across the UK who have created profiles and will be able to meet their needs.

With Lloyds in particular we are pleased that our partnership last year helped over 6,000 UK businesses to start trading overseas, and are proud of our association with the International Trade Portal. Digital marketplaces have revolutionised retail in the UK, and are now connecting consumers across the world. UK businesses need to seize this opportunity to offer their products to potentially billions of buyers and we, along with partners like Lloyds, will do all we can to help them do just that.

Taken from the New Statesman roundtable supplement Going Digital, Going Global: How digital skills can help any business trade internationally

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