Why we’re organising a reparations bloc on 6 Nov

This November, the UK is hosting COP26, a global climate summit in Glasgow. On 6 November, we’re joining the COP26 Coalition,  a UK-based coalition of unions, NGOs, youth, faith, and other climate justice groups and individuals that came together to mobilise around climate justice during COP26. The COP26 coalition is calling a global day of action for Climate Justice to demand meaningful solutions that prevent accelerating climate change harms, help communities already exposed adjust to impacts already underway, and repair the consequences of unmanaged or unmanageable climate harms. 53% of people recently polled agree that companies and countries who have contributed most to climate change must provide compensation to communities most impacted by climate change. In London, we’re co-leading a Climate Reparations bloc on 6 November to demand that the UK government stop perpetuating climate harms, and instead start to repair them. But why is this bloc needed? 

At home, the UK government has overseen drastic increases in poverty, homelessness and precarity. They have forced local authorities to cut services that help marginalised communities most. Banks - like Barclays - have profited from local authorities - like the London Borough of Newham, while housing services, young peoples’ centres, provision for people who live with disabilities, and domestic violence shelters have been shut. Barclays and HSBC are also heavily investing and profiting from climate breakdown. We’re coming together with groups to demand an end to the era of injustice at home, and globally. 

Globally, the richest 10% are responsible for nearly 52% of total emissions driving our climate crisis. 2,153 billionaires hoard more wealth than 60% of humanity. They have access to transport, multiple homes, and even protective bunkers when storms, floods, or fires appear they’re relatively safe. In contrast, over 3 billion people (50% of humanity) live on less than £4 per day, and create about 7% of emissions with little space to prepare for health, climate, environmental or economic shocks. Walls of homes lovingly put together with any available material, as well as thousands of acres of ground crops, boats and other vital community infrastructure are ripped apart during extreme weather events, and droughts or salty sea water can sentence a family to food, water and housing insecurity for decades. The richest 10% of the world population live in every continent; however, around half the emissions of the richest 10% of people are associated with the consumption of people in the minority Global Noth.

The US, UK, Canada, EU and Russia are responsible for 55% of cumulative emissions, despite only representing about 11% of humanity.  To this day, the average person in the US, Canada, and Australia emits roughly fifty times more CO2 than someone in Mozambique. The average person in Britain emits more carbon in the first two weeks of a year than the average per capita emissions than Rwanda, Malawi, Ethiopia, Uganda, Madagascar, Guinea and Burkina Faso combined. Countries least responsible for climate change impacts have relatively few resources to respond to the scale of the crisis already in motion. This is often as a result of odious debts with catastrophic conditions which straightjacket countries’ opportunities to increase health, education, and housing provision, for example, in preference for high interest loan repayments to creditors that are already wealthy. Countries in the Global South have also been encouraged to welcome corporations in hope that jobs will be created and taxes paid, but many industries exploit tax havens, pay workers poorly, and cause costly environmental degradation. Research from Global Justice Now suggests that African countries receive USD$161.6 billion in resources such as loans, remittances and aid each year, but lose USD$203 billion through factors including tax avoidance, debt payments and resource extraction, creating an annual net financial deficit of over USD$40 billion. 

These injustices multiply the continuing impacts of slavery and colonialism.  A country’s history of having been colonised continues to be indicative of per capita levels of poverty. Poverty diminishes the capacity of countries to respond to climate change impacts in a way that protects people and prevents future generations from experiencing accelerating impacts. Colonialism and the fossil fuel era reconfigured the world economy. The Indian subcontinent’s share of the global economy shrank from 27 to 3% between 1700 and 1950, while it’s estimated that the UK benefited by approximately USD$45 trillion from its colonial rule of the Indian subcontinent alone. After 1843 (following the Opium Wars, when Britain invaded China and forced open its borders to British goods on unequal terms) China’s share shrank from 35 to 7%. During the colonial period, Europe’s share exploded from 20 to 60%.  Reparations have never been paid to colonised countries, communities, enslaved peoples, indentured servants, or families of survivors. Compensation has been paid to slave owners - including to those linked to companies like Llody’s of London who not only insured enslaved people and slave ships but continue to insure fossil fuel pipelines through Indigenous territories today. 

At the same time, countries in the  Global South are already experiencing billions of dollars in damage, and this is likely to increase to between $300 - $580 billion within the next nine years. The cost of transformation towards sustainable energy, food, housing and transport is estimated to be between $1.6 - 3.8 trillion, and for adjustments in light of impacts to be around $180 billion a year between 2020 and 2030. Yet, this pales in comparison both to the trillions the countries give to harmful industries every year through subsidies and state aid, and the trillions more that banks and asset managers give for fossil fuel infrastructure projects. And, of course, money should not factor into calculations on human life, and ocean and biodiversity. We have the opportunity to take action that could prevent 153 million premature deaths from air pollution worldwide by 2100, with about 40% of those over the next 40 years, and protect two billion people from food stress, water stress, heat stress, severe drought, and displacement. We have the money, and the technology. The era of excuses and injustices must end. 

Globally, fossil fuel and industrial agriculture corporations are responsible for nearly 90% of all emissions. Some of the most influential corporations have a long history of spreading climate denial and misinformation, which has delayed climate action and caused communities in the majority Global South to be exposed to the most pernicious impacts. Both industries are also implicated in driving workers’ rights abuses, desertification, poor health, and increasing the exposure of local communities where they operate to toxic chemicals. The UK government is incredibly generous to the industries most culpable for our multiple crises, while the poorest are forced to face welfare protection cuts and tax increases. As Paid to Pollute, a group taking legal action against the UK Government’s support for the fossil fuel industry, note: 

Since signing the Paris Agreement, the UK Government has paid £4 billion of public money to North Sea oil and gas companies. In recent years, companies like Shell and BP were actually paid to pollute. They paid us next to nothing in tax. We paid them millions. All while they laid off thousands of workers in the UK and continued to wreck the climate.

Boris Johnson wants humanity to “grow up” and confront the climate crisis, and yet the UK gives more subsidies to fossil fuel companies than any other country in Europe; recently granted new oil and gas exploration licenses and permits for the North Sea; and is attempting to open a new coal mine in Cumbria. It is refusing to support workers in the auto industry wanting to transition to green jobs, and it is failing to invest in mass public transport infrastructure which could reduce the number of deaths linked to air pollution (an estimated 40,000 in the UK annually - mainly in impoverished and racialised communities). The government has let big energy firms buy up struggling gas companies, rather than bring them into democratic public ownership. The UK could be investing in low carbon heating and insulation measures, such as double glazing, to reduce the amount of heat lost from homes. It could be providing free heat pumps for low income households: a low carbon heating solution, that could address fuel poverty which kills around 50,000 people every year. Instead, our governments promote the same banks financing climate breakdown, letting them profit from the small budgets that our local authorities have in continuing conditions of austerity. The systems which let banks profit from climate breakdown, also manifest injustice within the UK. Tory government policies have driven local authorities within the UK to pay high interest rates to banks through decades of austerity, and reduce spending on social care, housing services, domestic violence shelters, disability and LGBTQI liberation spaces. Banks profit, people suffer - both here and globally.

Instead of taking climate action which improves the lives of struggling families and communities in the UK, the government is coming to the climate conference it is hosting armed with “net zero” plans and pledges, and “nature based solutions”, which continue patterns of extraction, exploitation and displacement in the majority Global South. Many of these plans are displacing communities from their land, and promoting harmful monoculture tree plantations which use up scarce water resources and reduce biodiversity. They’re allowing countries in the Global North to continue to pollute while putting the responsibility to take action on countries in the Global South and future generations. These “pledges” will be catastrophic and fail to limit warming in a way that prevents billions of people experiencing heat, water, and food stress as well as displacement from sea-level rise, flooding, and inhospitable temperatures. The UK and wealthy countries are also blocking talks on action and support to address the hardest hit by climate change impacts, financing for loss and damage remains at zero. While countries in the Global South are doing their fair share of action - given the Global North’s disproportionate historic responsibility - those in the Global North are coming with words that sound nice but continue our current path. 

The upcoming climate conference has been an opportunity for groups across our movement to work together, and build the stories and collective power for systems change both in the UK and globally. The UK government and other Global north countries are presenting themselves as leaders, taking the necessary steps to stop climate disaster. However, grassroots groups and front line communities know that this is not true, that these governments continue to drive destruction. This is why the mobilisations on the 6 November are important and this is why we have decided to be on the streets of London. We have joined together with groups working on housing justice, migrant and refugee rights, prison abolition, disability justice and education to say that we can address injustice within the UK, while taking responsibility for our role in driving injustice globally. 

Climate reparations are one of the key demands for climate justice movements globally. We are calling groups and organisations working on systems change to join us on the day, to remind the wider public that there will not be a future without understanding and repairing the ongoing harms of the past and present. Join the climate reparations bloc on 6th November which will lead the main rally from the Bank of England to Trafalgar Square. For details, visit: https://climatereparations.uk/