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Activists to Peg Climate Actions to Science

Adam Groves

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)

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.

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

"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

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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