What is climate change?

The climate change we are experiencing now is the direct result of human activity. Since the industrial revolution, some nations have been emitting huge volumes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouses gases into the atmosphere, changing its balance, causing it to trap more heat. The impact of this ‘global warming’ causes the climate to change, with devastating impacts.

Burning fossil fuels for energy and industry is the number one cause of climate change, with agriculture and land-use changes such as deforestation also playing a significant role. There is broad international scientific consensus about the fact that climate change is happening, and that it is caused by human activity.

Already at only 1°C warming we are seeing an increase in extreme weather events across the world, resulting in mass deaths and displacement of peoples, with weather related state-of-emergencies becoming the new normal even in the relatively sheltered ‘global North’. Despite the global consensus on the need to tackle climate change that led to the 2015 Paris Agreement goals of limiting warming to no more than 2°C and trying to keep it to 1.5°C, by some estimates we are only a few years away from locking in 1.5°C of heating.

In its 2018 Special Report the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the impacts of climate change are very much more severe at 2°C than at 1.5°C, and that action to bring emissions down by 2030 is critical to the survival of life on earth. In this landmark report, the IPCC called for ‘rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society’ to avoid climate change and its impacts spiralling out of control.

Climate impacts include increased extreme weather events; disruption to weather systems and ability to produce food; biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, and extinctions; the loss of livelihoods, cultures, communities and even whole countries in the case of small island states; mass forced migration of peoples and associated social and political instability and violence.

What is climate justice?

FoES are guided by principles of climate justice in our approach to the crisis. Climate justice recognises that the industrialised countries of the ‘global North’ like Scotland have grown rich over the past few centuries through polluting the atmosphere while at the same time extracting resources from the ‘global South‘ under colonialism.

It recognises that those on the sharpest end of climate impacts in the global South have done least to cause the crisis, and are often without adequate resources and technologies to deal with its impacts. Therefore countries of the global North bear a far greater responsibility for addressing the climate crisis.

Climate justice requires that poorer countries are allowed to develop their economies sustainably, and for this to happen rich nations must decarbonise their economies faster, and repay their carbon debt by providing support including finance to enable mitigation, adaptation and clean development. It demands that the transformation of global North economies must be done in a way that improves equality within nations as well as between nations.

It understands that the multiple crises and injustices of past and present – hunger, poverty, racism, sexism, classism, biodiversity collapse – share the same drivers and the same solutions as the climate emergency.

The urgency to act to avert climate catastrophe is clear. There are very few politicians or even corporations worldwide who do not acknowledge this imperative. Where there’s less consensus is in terms of what to do about it, with powerful nations and vested interests unwilling to accept responsibility and make the changes necessary, instead clinging to the systems of the past and entrenching deeply rooted injustices. This is why we call for ‘system change, not climate change’. It’s why we talk about the ‘real solutions’ and the ‘false solutions’ to climate change.

Further reading

This is an excellent summary from Professor Kevin Anderson of the current climate science, what needs to happen to meet Paris Agreement targets of 1.5°C and 2°C, ‘real zero vs net zero’ and what Scotland’s fair share of climate action is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jLK_K-LUmM

This comic from Global Justice Now explains how business as usual is wrecking the planet https://issuu.com/wdmuk/docs/climatejustice_webpages/2?ff

This page from Imperial College London explains how we know climate change is real and is caused by humans https://www.imperial.ac.uk/grantham/publications/climate-change-faqs/how-do-we-know-climate-change-is-happening/


What are the solutions to climate change?

The real solutions to the climate crisis lie in recognising its root causes and drivers, and applying a climate justice approach to transforming our societies and economies. The scale and scope of the challenge is enormous, but all over the world people are already practicing the real solutions to the climate crisis – from community owned energy to agro-ecology and community forest management.  These need to be supported and mainstreamed, while the influence and destructive activities of big business must be reined in.

In this section we highlight only a very small number of the real solutions to the climate crisis. Find out more about real solutions in FoEI’s People Power Now manifesto and the Peoples’ Demands for Climate Justice.

Climate Fair Shares

Most of the issues arising at the UN climate negotiations centre around questions of equity, historic responsibility and capability to act that are at the heart of climate justice. Long term tensions between countries of the global North and the global South focus on these questions, which are key to unlocking the global cooperation that is essential to achieving the Paris Agreement target of limiting global temperature increase to 1.5oC.

In recent years a large number of international civil society organisations including NGOs, social movements, faith groups and trade unions have come together as the Civil Society Review to publish a series of reports assessing global climate action under the Paris Agreement through a ‘Fair Shares’ lens.

The ‘Fair Shares’ analysis is informed by the Climate Equity Reference Project, whose methodology is rooted in the science of remaining carbon budgets and the principles of equity under the UN climate convention. What this work shows is that rich historical polluters are not doing anywhere near their fair share of climate action, both in terms of cutting reductions and providing climate finance, while many global South countries are committed to undertaking their fair share – or more – of action.

Analysis (published by Action Aid, Christian Aid, FoE EWNI & Scotland and War on Want) based on the Fair Shares methodology demonstrates that reaching zero emissions in the UK and Scotland is barely half the story when it comes to doing our Fair Share of climate action. In addition to getting to zero emissions domestically, Scotland, and the UK, need to make substantial emissions cuts happen internationally to fulfil the other part of our Fair Share. Climate finance and other forms of support for global south countries are central to this.

The analysis shows that if the UK was to reduce its own emissions to zero by 2030, it would still be responsible for an estimated £1trillion in support for developing countries. Given that the UK has committed to net-zero by 2050 (two decades later), its financial obligations are significantly greater. Scotland is responsible for a portion of the UK’s Fair Share, both in terms of mitigation and finance.

No to Fossil Fuels, Yes to Renewables

The primary source of climate changing emissions is the fossil fuel industry: it’s clear that we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground and shift to renewable energy. That phase out has to happen over the next decade.

There’s no time or need to debate this anymore – even the International Energy Agency are on board and calling for no new licensing of or investment in oil and gas. But governments and corporations around the world – including here in Scotland – have plans to extract enough coal, oil and gas to truly fry the planet.

The UK’s 5.7 billion barrels of oil and gas in already operating fields will far exceed the UK’s share in relation to the Paris climate goals. However the industry – in plans supported and subsidised by both UK and Scottish governments – aim to extract four times this much. The additional oil and gas extraction enabled by recent government subsidies will add twice as much carbon to the atmosphere as the UK phase-out of coal power saves.

It doesn’t have to be this way: Scotland has 25% of Europe’s renewable energy potential, more than enough to harness and provide for all of our energy needs.

Just Transition for all

Phasing out fossil fuels is clearly going to have a huge impact on the economy and jobs. Previous energy transitions such as the closure of the coal mines were handled in deeply unjust ways that caused long-lasting social and economic harm to former mining communities.

A climate justice approach demands a just transition for workers and communities who are currently dependent on the oil and gas industry for their livelihoods, to ensure they are not left behind, but supported to get jobs in the new renewables economy.

The Just Transition requires government intervention and leadership – it has to be planned and managed, in close collaboration with communities, workers, their trade unions, and environmentalists.

With the right policies, it is possible to create enough decent, green jobs to enable a just transition. Our 2019 report Sea Change shows that for example more than three jobs could be created in renewables and energy efficiency alone for every North Sea oil job at risk from a phase out in line with the Paris climate deal. This can enable an “equivalent job guarantee” for every oil worker.

The just transition isn’t only about energy jobs, and it isn’t only about looking after communities in the global North. A truly just transition must change the way we think about and value work, including care work that is currently done predominantly by unpaid or underpaid women, migrants and people of colour – from health care to housework. A transition in the global North is not just if it happens at the expense of continued resource extraction and human rights abuses in the global South.

Local and global justice must be at the heart of the transition, through people-owned decentralised energy systems, expansion of care services, locally-sourced food, and green and affordable housing and public transport.

Kick Big Polluters out of the Climate Talks

A big part of the reason that governments around the world are dragging their feet on climate action is down to the influence of powerful corporations with vested interests in the status quo. Like Big Tobacco before them, fossil fuel companies are working hard to undermine national and international rules that would damage their profits, with little regard for the wider consequences.

Fossil fuel companies and other big polluters currently have access to the UN climate talks in much the same way as civil society observers do, but they have much greater influence with parties, hosting and speaking at high profile side events and even sponsoring COP spaces. Shell has boasted openly about influencing the Paris Agreement by getting language into the final text that opens the door to carbon markets.

Climate justice organisations are calling for the UN to introduce a conflict of interest policy that would see polluters barred from the COP – just like the World Health Organisations barred big tobacco from its spaces. This would help weaken their influence.

A conflicts of interest policy should include: removal of access to the UNFCCC climate talks via the accreditation system and on party accreditations; removal of big polluter access to the UNFCCC through expert and advisory bodies; closing the revolving door between big polluters and UNFCCC jobs; rejection of partnerships with big polluters for the organisation of any future COP and Intersessionals under the UNFCCC. Meanwhile, the Scottish and UK Government should refuse to accept sponsorship money from or share panels with fossil fuel companies.

Avoiding the wrong climate choices

As we reach scientific and popular consensus on the need to act on the climate emergency, big business and governments are finding new ways to get out of taking the action needed to tackle it.

This is because the solutions to the climate crisis are also the solutions to multiple injustices which require the redistribution of resources both between countries and within nations, and few want to hand over power and wealth when they have it.

This is why we are seeing a proliferation of greenwashing and spin that gives the impression that governments and big business are acting on climate change. Below are several of the most commonly ‘solutions’ which are in fact would do little to address the climate emergency or create a fairer society.


The concept of ‘net-zero’ is increasingly being used to disguise inaction. Countries and corporations – including the UK, Scotland, Shell, BP, Total, Ibedrola, Amazon, Microsoft, Natwest, Nestle, Sky, BAE Systems, Coca Cola and Bayer to name but a few – adopting ‘net-zero’ targets, instead of ‘real zero’ targets.

The problem with net-zero is that it leaves the door open to continue emitting greenhouse gases in the short term on the basis that one day they will be sequestered or captured and stored. This kicks real action to reduce emissions into the long grass, by which time devastating climate impacts will be locked in if it turns out the technologies don’t work.  Many of the speculative negative emission technologies and Nature Based Solutions being touted are politically and practically unfeasible, and are also likely to cause wider environmental damage and human rights abuses.

Net-zero pathways that rely on negative emissions technologies see emissions (in some cases very significantly) overshooting the carbon budget for 1.5oC and being theoretically brought down later, pushing the burden of action onto the shoulders of future generations, by which time the damage of warming over 1.5oC will be done and irreversible.

The UK and Chilean Governments have launched a Climate Ambition Alliance and a ‘Race to Zero’ to build momentum ahead of COP26. But don’t be fooled – this is not a race to real zero, but a feel-good race to net-zero, based on non-binding pledges to enable the UK Government to show leadership without actually changing anything.

Negative Emissions Technologies: Carbon Capture, Hydrogen & BioEnergy

Scotland’s 2019 climate law is based around a net-zero target, and pathways set out in the current plans to meet it – and in advice from the Government’s official advisors on climate change – rely on unproven and risky negative emissions technologies.

The Climate Change Plan update published last year relies on negative emissions technologies to achieve almost a fifth of the 2030 target, increasing to a whopping quarter of emissions reductions by 2032, with a particular emphasis on Carbon Capture and Storage and Bio-Energy Carbon Capture and Storage. The deployment of Bio-Energy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) at a scale required to meet the world’s net-zero targets would require up to twice the world’s cultivated land, and is likely to result in land grabbing and human rights abuses in the global South.

Scotland’s climate change plan also relies on expensive and risky technologies like blue hydrogen that in turn rely on Carbon Capture and Storage, and would keep the oil and gas industry going for many decades, when we know the solution to climate change is to stop using fossil fuels and switch to renewable energy.

Furthermore, the prospect of the North Sea as a global dumping ground for carbon is gaining momentum, with estimates of vast storage potential in Scottish waters. Scottish Government and sectoral support for this impacts well beyond our borders, giving false hope in relation to the delivery of other nations’ ‘net-zero’ targets.

Nature Based Solutions

The concept of Nature-Based Solutions to the climate crisis has taken off in recent years. After all, what’s not to like about the idea of working with nature to address climate change when we know the climate and nature emergencies are inextricably linked?

The problem with Nature-Based Solutions is that the term has been captured by corporations and governments who are using it as a smokescreen to avoid action to cut emissions at their source.

The terms co-opts and threatens to corrupt many real solutions to the nature and climate emergencies such as agro-ecology and community forest management including by linking them to market based schemes, and using them as offsets. It also enables harmful, false solutions such as monoculture plantations and industrial agriculture to emerge alongside genuinely good practises.

Net-zero pathways envisage as much as 30% or more of emissions reductions being achieved through NBS. This figure comes from a single, flawed study which depends on politically unfeasible areas of land being turned over to NBS, driven by private corporations, while maintaining business-as-usual fossil fuel production. For example Shell’s 1.5oC pathway depends on planting trees over an area the size of Brazil, while continuing to exploit fossil fuel reserves.

The scale of NBS envisaged under net-zero pathways are such that they could only be achieved by the private sector on a for-profit basis, opening up new asset classes, including for carbon market mechanisms, risking deepening the instrumentalisation of nature and triggering new land grabs from global South, peasants and Indigenous and forest dwelling peoples overseas.

Carbon Markets

The term carbon markets is used to describe mechanisms such as cap-and-trade schemes and carbon offsetting which allow government, sectors or corporations to continue emitting greenhouse gases, for a price. A cap is set on the total amount of climate emissions by polluters in a scheme. Within that cap, companies get an amount of pollution allowances, which they can trade with one another as needed.

‘Offsetting’ is when companies or countries pay others to reduce their emissions or absorb carbon dioxide instead of cutting their own emissions.

The main problem with carbon markets is that there is no evidence that they actually work. After more than a decade and a half of operation, there is no evidence that either the EU’s emissions trading scheme nor the UN’s carbon offsetting scheme have had any success in reducing emissions.

On the contrary, during this period global emissions have continued to rise, meanwhile regional emissions have not reduced nearly fast enough. Offsetting and trading schemes are riddled with loopholes and plagued with double counting and corruption.

A well designed cap and trade system with a science-based cap that prohibited offsetting could theoretically work; however this is not possible under the Paris Agreement given that it takes a voluntary, bottom-up pledge and review approach to reducing global emissions. Furthermore, at current emissions rates, we run out of carbon budget for 1.5oC in only a few years so the reality is there is no time left to trade emissions anymore, all countries need to reduce to zero asap.

Last but by no means least, offsetting and trading schemes are associated with serious human rights abuses, particularly to Indigenous peoples, around the world.

The infamous REDD /REDD+ offsetting scheme (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), negotiated under the UN climate regime, is an offsetting scheme designed to compensate governments, companies and forest-dwelling peoples in least developed countries for avoided deforestation. Despite safeguards being built into the scheme it has led to large scale and violent evictions in the name of conservation; land-grabs to make way for corporate run monoculture plantations. It has even created a new form of ‘carbon slavery’, which sees individuals and their families contractually bound to manage forests for decades without compensation.

Carbon markets are one of the main issues on which an outcome is sought at COP26 in Glasgow. With the last two climate summits in Madrid and Katowice having failed to reach agreement on the issue, there will be huge pressure on the UK presidency to get an outcome, risking really bad rules getting through. Our view is that carbon markets have no place under the Paris Agreement because they give the false impression of being a solution to the climate crisis, while distracting from real solutions, and risk fatally undermining the 1.5oC temperature goal.

Further reading

Not Zero: How ‘Net-Zero’ targets disguise climate inaction  https://demandclimatejustice.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/NOT_ZERO_How_net_zero_targets_disguise_climate_inaction_FINAL.pdf   

Carbon Capture and Storage, Hydrogen & BioEnergy: Why these false solutions to the climate emergency will keep us locked into fossil fuels https://foe.scot/campaign/carbon-capture-storage-hydrogen-beccs/

Blog: Why carbon markets will not help tackle the climate crisis https://foe.scot/we-cant-buy-our-way-out-of-the-climate-crisis/

Friends of the Earth International explainer on carbon markets https://www.foei.org/resources/carbon-markets-briefing-cop25