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Activists to Peg Climate Actions to Science

by Adam Groves

LONDON - In a week when world leaders concluded that it would be "unrealistic" to aim for a legally binding agreement at the upcoming UN Climate Conference, there are signs that activist groups are working to create their own systematic plans for reducing global emissions.

This handout picture by the environmental group Greenpeace shows activists hanging a banner reading "Climate Chaos, Who is to Blame?" hanging from the Cristobal Colon statue in Barcelona. (AFP/HO/Pedro Armestre) The UK Camp for Climate Action is known to be considering a proposal made at a recent national gathering for a coordinated series of direct actions which could lower UK emissions in line with scientific recommendations.

The proposal, currently being discussed by supporters of the movement, asserts that: "Using the presently available science it is possible to estimate a cumulative total in emissions which will push the globe towards dangerous temperature levels, and the UK's fair share of the remaining allowable emissions. From this a plan of emission cuts can be drawn up that will keep us below that limit. The direct actions... that will achieve these emission cuts can then be determined."

"If [political leaders] will not act then we must," the proposal argues. "We know what needs to be done and we should just get on and do it."

The grassroots movement has already claimed a number of high profile successes this year, following protests at London's Heathrow Airport and at several coal-fired power stations.

The proposal is to be discussed against the backdrop of a recent UK government announcement that fossil fuels will continue to form a central pillar of the country's energy strategy -- a decision that has prompted angry reactions from campaigning groups. Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband, has dismissed criticism of the policy as "not serious," arguing that it is the most "environmentally stringent" in the world. However, a recent report from the internationally respected Tyndall Centre highlights a significant disjuncture between the government's ambitious rhetoric and reality.

The report noted that Mr Miliband's stated desire to "limit climate change to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius" implied far more ambitious emissions cuts than those currently planned, requiring a "significant shift towards rapid and large scale mitigation leading to complete decarbonisation of the energy system by 2030."

As one supporter of the Camp for Climate Action put it: "These are the levels of cuts needed and we will ensure they happen if governments fail to take adequate action."

If the proposal gains support within the climate activist movement, a plan to achieve the transition could be put into effect as early as January 2010, with a coalition of direct action groups working together in order to bring about the cuts. In accordance with mainstream scientific advice, a 9 percent annual reduction of greenhouse gases is likely to be the goal, raising the prospect of further protests targeting the UK's major emitters.

The "Great Climate Swoop," which saw more than 1,000 people descend on Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal-fired power station in the county of Nottinghamshire earlier this year, might be seen as a model for future protests, although lower-profile actions are also understood to be in the pipeline.

What is clear is that the mass-action being organised in Copenhagen next month does not represent the culmination of activists' plans, but will instead herald a new wave of more concerted and coordinated measures to force emissions cuts in line with scientific demands.

Commenting on rich countries' apparent hesitancy to come to an agreement in Copenhagen, an activist summed up his position by saying: "On a sinking ship, it is no use almost patching the leak because the captain does not want to overwork the crew or upset the passengers. Half measures are no good."

As a number of campaigners have pointed out in recent weeks, nature doesn't do negotiations. By pegging their actions to the calls of mainstream science, it seems that climate activists are committing themselves to a busy year ahead.

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