No longer Climate Change but an Environmental breakdown

No longer Climate Change but an Environmental breakdown

“To confront environmental catastrophe, we need urgent political transformation.” Professes Laurie Laybourn-Langton in this article where he maintains that:

It’s no longer climate change we’re living through. It’s environmental breakdown


In 1962, American playwright James Baldwin wrote that “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Today, his words should give us succour. We need more than ever to face the reality of environmental change.

I’m a researcher at IPPR, a think tank. We have been observing warnings of rapid, negative environmental change from the scientific community. So we decided to understand what that means for our work, for policy, and for politics.

In a report released today, we bring together the latest science on human-induced environmental change and seek to understand how politicians should respond. We conclude that when it comes to climate change, political debate has failed us in three different ways.

First, the term “climate change” no longer captures reality. The scale of environmental change that our earth is currently experiencing far exceeds it. We are depleting soil, killing species, damaging oceans. This is happening at a pace that is unprecedented in human history and in some cases millions, or even billions, of years.

We call this what it is: the age of environmental breakdown – a term that is a more proportionate description of the totality that the earth presently faces.

Second, political debate does not adequately recognise the consequences of environmental breakdown. This isn’t just about saving polar bears or the health impacts of air pollution, however crucial these issues are. It is about higher incidences of drought, an impaired ability to grow food, cities afflicted by extreme weather events. It is about the resulting consequences: famines, forced migration, economic crises – and war.

Our age of environmental breakdown has inaugurated a new “domain of risk,” unprecedented in its complexity and the potential severity of its impact.

Finally, current political debates skirt around the urgent need to transform our social and economic systems in response to environmental breakdown. Tinkering in the margins and providing quick fixes or short term measures will no longer suffice.

The consequences of environmental breakdown will fall hardest on the poorest, who are most vulnerable to its effects, and the least responsible for the problem.

The poorest half of the global population account for around 10 per cent of yearly global greenhouse gas emissions; half of global emissions are attributed to the richest 10 per cent of people. In the UK, per capita emissions of the wealthiest 10 per cent are up to five times higher than those of the bottom half.

The question of how we confront environmental breakdown, and who will feel its effects, intersects with inequalities of class, ethnicity and gender. Environmental breakdown isn’t just about climate change: it’s about justice.

To confront environmental breakdown, we need two overall transformations.

The first is to make to make societies sustainable and just, bringing human activity within environmentally sustainable limits while ensuring a decent quality of life is available to all. This sits at the heart of arguments for a Green New Deal. Programmes to halt environmental breakdown can and should include measures to improve social and economic outcomes, including providing good jobs for all, tackling structural discrimination, and expanding free education.

The second is to build societies that are prepared for environmental breakdown. Infrastructure, markets and political processes need to be resilient to environmental breakdown resulting from past and future activity. We don’t talk about this enough. While it may be scary to think about preparing for environmental catastrophe, it is fast becoming necessary. In particular, we need to develop a politics that runs counter to the nativist right, whose programme of anti-migrant and anti-environmental could win big as the seas rise and the food runs out.

Policies like the rollout of renewable energy and the successful efforts to stem the breakdown of the ozone layer have made progress towards realising these transformations. But most efforts have neither adequately focussed on all elements of environmental breakdown, nor sought to fundamentally transform key social and economic systems. Little attention has been given to ensuring societies are robust enough to face the increasingly severe consequences of breakdown.

Younger generations are now faced with a daunting twin task: preventing environmental breakdown and responding to its growing impact. IPPR will be exploring how to help younger generations find the energy that often eludes them as they confront a rapidly destabilising world.

The scale and pace of environmental change confirms that the only credible way forward is systemic transformation of societies and economies. To change the path that lies ahead, we must first admit that we are entering an age of unprecedented breakdown. Time is running out. 

Laurie Laybourn-Langton is a senior research fellow at IPPR. He tweets @Laurie_L_L

From COP21 to COP22

From COP21 to COP22

Renewables and Mediterranean Integration . . .

The Centre for Mediterranean Integration (CMI) as a space where all Civil Societies, Development Agencies, Governments, and Local Authorities of all countries of the Mediterranean meet for purposes of knowledge exchange, discuss public policies, and identify the solutions needed to address key challenges facing the Mediterranean region. From COP21 to COP22, there will be a lot of preparing for the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 22) to the UNFCCC that is scheduled to take place from 7-18 November 2016 in Marrakesh. 

For this, CMI published on May 27, 2016 the following article that is worth republishing here for its obvious interest to date.

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From COP21 to COP22: Renewables and Mediterranean Integration

The Mediterranean region is likely to figure prominently in the discussions taking place on the road from COP21 to COP22, and during the COP22 event itself.  The Paris agreement addressed how much developing countries should take on climate change mitigation responsibilities, how developed countries should support developing countries financially to help them make those efforts, and how markets can effectively support mitigation.

Renewable energy will play a key role in achieving the climate change mitigation objectives included in the Paris agreement and the southern Mediterranean countries are endowed with a large renewable energy potential that can be deployed to help both northern and southern Mediterranean countries reduce CO2 emissions at least cost, if markets are better integrated. Mediterranean electricity market integration would provide the flexibility that power systems need to cope with the stress resulting from sudden and unpredictable variations in availability, which is characteristic of renewable energy. Markets would take advantage of geographically diverse renewable generation (making it unlikely that unavailability will occur simultaneously), differences in power generation structure across countries and different demand structures. Moreover, the developing countries on the southern shore have a clear comparative advantage over the developed countries of Europe in producing solar energy.

In the conclusions of the February 2016 council, the EU Foreign Affairs Ministers agreed to support implementation of the Paris Agreement by mainstreaming climate diplomacy in such areas as development cooperation, neighborhood policies and trade, and by exploring innovative mechanisms for mobilizing additional climate finance. Those actions may have a positive effect on the creation of an integrated Mediterranean energy market in support of climate policy.

The CMI has launched the Mediterranean forum on electricity and climate change that convenes small groups of stakeholders around a set of specific themes related to Mediterranean integration and electricity, such as trans-Mediterranean interconnection projects, power purchase agreements, or energy chapters of bilateral deep and comprehensive free trade agreements. The objective is to raise awareness on the benefits of Mediterranean energy market integration to support the transition to a low-carbon economy in MENA and Europe and to disseminate/share knowledge on the issues to be addressed to successfully achieve the Mediterranean energy market integration.


The aim of first event of the forum is to discuss the role of Mediterranean energy market integration in delivering the Paris agreement. The first session addresses the policy and regulatory framework of the Energy Union and of Mediterranean integration. The second session focuses on the economics of electricity exchanges and interconnections, reviewing the available body of knowledge. A final session focuses on complementarity between public and private financing in pursuing Mediterranean electricity market integration.

Future of the major International Oil Companies

Future of the major International Oil Companies

The Future of the major International Oil Companies (IOCs) such as BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell and Total, has never been as much in doubt in these days of low prices of oil and prevailing concern over the earth Climate Change.  

According to the author of the proposed article, the business model that sustained these companies recently labelled ‘Big Oil’, during the 20th century is no longer fit for purpose.  

In effect, it brings to our attention that “Oil has taken between 50 to 300 million years to form .   We have managed to burn roughly half of all global oil reserves in merely 125 years or so.”

And that “The world now consumes 85 million barrels of oil per day, and demand has never stopped growing during that time.”

International Oil Companies: The Death of the Old Business Model

Written by   Professor Paul Stevens, Distinguished Fellow, Energy, Environment and Resources

Published by Chatham House on May 5th, 2016

The IOCs are faced with the choice of managing a gentle decline by downsizing or risking a rapid collapse by trying to carry on business as usual.

The future of the major International Oil Companies (IOCs) – BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell and Total – is in doubt.  The business model that sustained them during the 20th century is no longer fit for purpose. As a result, they are faced with the choice of managing a gentle decline by downsizing or risking a rapid collapse by trying to carry on business as usual.

Most commentary on the IOCs’ problems has focused on the recent fall in oil prices and the growing global commitment to tackle climate change. Important though these are, the source of their predicament is not confined to such recent developments over which they have no control. Their problems are more numerous, run deeper and go back further. The prognosis for the IOCs was already grim before governments became serious about climate change and the oil price collapsed.

The most recent iteration of the IOCs’ business model emerged during the 1990s and was built upon three pillars: maximizing shareholder value based on a strategy that provided benchmarks for financial returns, maximizing bookable reserves and minimizing costs partly based on outsourcing. This model began to face serious challenges as the operating environment changed. It is the accumulation of these challenges, on top of those evident since the 1970s, and the failure of the IOCs to adapt to them that indicates that their old business model is gradually dying.

The IOCs have been able to survive over the last quarter of a century, but signs that their business model is faltering have recently begun to show. As well as poor financial performances, the symptoms include growing shareholder disillusion with a business model rooted in assumptions of ever-growing oil demand, oil scarcity and the need to increase bookable reserves, all of which increasingly lack validity.

There are, however, options that might allow the IOCs to improve their situation, namely:

  • Squeezing costs in the hope oil prices will revive
  • More mega-mergers
  • Playing vultures with remnants of the US shale gas revolution
  • Reshuffling their portfolios
  • Diversification
  • Becoming a purely OECD operation
  • Rebuilding in-house technology

However, none alone is sufficient to solve the fundamental challenges, and even if implemented together they would amount only to fiddling around the edges while the model threatens the companies’ survival. In particular, the IOCs cannot assume that, as in the past, all they need to survive is to wait for crude prices to resume an upward direction. The oil market is going through fundamental structural changes driven by a technological revolution and geopolitical shifts. The old cycle of lower prices followed by higher prices is no longer applicable.

In this new world, the only realistic option for the IOCs lies in restructuring and realizing many of their current assets to provide cash for their shareholders. Inevitably, this means that they must shrink into the remaining areas of operation, functionally and geographically, where they can earn an acceptable return. This would require a major change in the corporate culture of the IOCs. It remains to be seen whether their senior management could handle such a fundamental shift. If they can, the IOCs will be able to slip into a gentle decline but ultimately survive on a much smaller scale.

Read the article on Chatham House publication.


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