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Why tackling global poverty means we must break our fossil fuel addiction

Posted by Ben Phillips Previously the Campaigns Director

17th Oct 2014

Open pit mining at Jaenschwalde, Germany. Photo: Christian Mang/Greenpeace
Climate change is already making people hungry. As we launch our new briefing paper calling for tougher action on fossil fuels, our campaigns director Ben Phillips explains why we need to break our addiction to fossil fuels if we want to tackle poverty.

Oxfam works for a just world without poverty where everyone has enough to eat. But climate change is threatening everything we've achieved. As our planet warms, extreme, unpredictable weather is disrupting growing seasons, killing livestock, destroying harvests, and sending global food prices through the roof. Farmers from Bangladesh to Bolivia have asked us to tackle the cause of their troubles head-on. This is why we are campaigning on climate change. 

In 2011... subsidies to fossil fuels were $1.9 trillion. The global aid budget in 2011 was $133 billion.Fossil fuels are driving climate change - they account for 80% of CO2 emissions and 60% of overall greenhouse emissions. We have known since 2012 that we need to keep 80% of known reserves in the ground if we are to prevent global temperatures rising by more than 2°C. But our addiction to fossil fuels is growing and too many governments are subsidising their extraction and burning. In 2011 (according to the IMF) subsidies to fossil fuels were $1.9 trillion. The global aid budget in 2011 was $133 billion. 

There's a toxic relationship between the fossil fuel industry and too many of the world's powerful people which protects a business model that has reaped billions of dollars in profit at the expense of the rest of us. 

Kashmiri volunteers carry relief material as they wade through flood-affected area in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir, 12 September. 2014. Farooq Khan/EPAThe industry spends half a million dollars a day lobbying the US and EU governments alone to prevent climate regulation. In the US, the estimated bill for lobbying activities is $160 million - the same amount Nepal needs to adapt to climate change (an amount that remains unfunded). 

Last September, the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation pledged to rid themselves of over $50 billion in fossil fuel assets. Their fund director said of oil tycoon and company founder John D Rockefeller, "We are quite convinced that if he were alive today, as an astute business man looking out to the future, he would be moving out of fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy." 

December 2015 is key. World leaders will meet in Paris to attempt a fair, equitable and legally binding deal to tackle climate change. But governments can act now, by scaling up global public climate finance to help poorer countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change. 

The good news is that people are speaking up on climate as never before. Last month more than 600,000 people took to the streets in cities across the world demanding action on climate change. 

Urgent action needed now

Action is urgent and will benefit economies, create jobs and improve health. This is why governments need to: 

  1. Commit to phasing out fossil fuels and phasing in sustainable, renewable alternatives - this has to be done fairly, so rich developed countries must lead the way;
  2. Phase out subsidies to fossil fuels and use the savings to strengthen social protection programmes for the poor;
  3. Require the fossil fuel and energy-intensive industries to disclose spending on lobbying; and
  4. Introduce regulations and incentives to shift finance from fossil fuels and into sustainable alternatives. 

Businesses can also take important steps including: 

  1. Disclosing carbon emissions across their supply chains;
  2. Fully complying with US and EU laws requiring disclosure of payments for extraction of coal, oil and gas;
  3. Food industry - and other's threatened by climate change - need to boldly call for ambitious action on climate change;
  4. Investors need to factor in climate risk and challenge companies pursuing high-carbon strategies;
  5. Investors should commit to phasing out carbon-intensive investments and redistribute funds to low-carbon development, starting with the dirtiest fossil fuels - coal and unconventional fossil fuels; and
  6. Fossil fuel and energy-intensive industries need to radically reform, embrace a low-carbon future and stop fighting climate legislation. 

We have the alternatives to fossil fuels. People are showing their resolve for action. It's time for all of us to stand up to the fossil fuel companies who are holding up action to protect the world's poorest people from hunger. It's time for us all to break our addiction to fossil fuels. 

Hear Ben talk to the Guardian at the People's Climate March in London on 21 September, 2014

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Blog post written by Ben Phillips

Previously the Campaigns Director

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