The COP28 president’s ‘global stocktake’ of countries’ climate progress is a positive but lacks the urgency we need, according to adviser to Extinction Rebellion Chidi Obihara.
Obihara came to ESG Clarity‘s London studio for our Countdown to COP28 series, to discuss the movement’s recent protests, and priorities for the climate change conference. He also shares why the the ‘business as usual’ approach after Covid was so damaging, and why we need to focus on extracting pollution from the environment, not just stopping pollution.
The video is above and full transcript below
NK: Hello and welcome to this special interview for our Countdown to COP 28. I am Natalie Kenway, editor in chief at MA Financial Media, and I’m joined by Chidi Obihara, an advisor to Extinction Rebellion. Let’s talk about some of the recent activities at Extinction Rebellion in April, they carried out The Big One.
Could you outline what the group was hoping to achieve with that and was it achieved?
OC: Thanks very much. It’s interesting that we started off with the title adviser to Extinction Rebellion, which is absolutely correct. I advise them on policy areas to focus on and things to do and ways to try to achieve lasting change in the movement.
And The Big One, of course, was a great place for us to consolidate lots and lots of different groups who all believe in what we’ve pushed for very openly, which is the financial and political and economic structure that tells the truth. One that encourages wide participation, peoples and citizens assemblies, for example, and one that prioritises urgency – acting now.
The Big One came in the classic tradition of the movement of pulling lots and lots of different groups together. So I’m co-founder of a group called a COP26 Climate Action Plan. My background is in green politics. I ran for the parliament, the Green Party. I was finance coordinator for the National Green Party in Wales. And so my background in in finance was something I brought to The Big One. We had the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, we had Greenpeace, we had Business Declares and a really wide family of people come in to say that they wanted to see urgent climate action. I think XR did a spectacular job of having peaceful, focused, determined, pro-environmental policies front and centre in a way that no one’s been able to achieve for decades.
NK: So you think civil disobedience works?
OC: Well, I think that the tradition of protest that we live with means that civil disobedience is part of the political centre in this country. And that’s a wonderful, wonderful thing. Non-violent direct action especially, in my opinion, is a wonderful, wonderful thing. The idea that we can have a complete turn around in policy, that we can change a system that’s malfunctioning that’s not optimal for people, the planet or for prosperity.
The idea that we can do all of that simply by using our voices is, to me, a really beautiful thing.
NK: So, we’re here to talk about COP28. What do you think are the key priorities for groups like Extinction Rebellion in the lead-up to that? What will they be campaigning for?
OC: That’s a great question, and I think I said this before but I cannot speak for Extension Rebellion as a whole, it’s a broad church of people who care passionately about the environment that I have a great deal of affection towards. Extinction Rebellion is great. Having said that, the broad thrust of the international community and policymakers from the global South and North as we approach COP28 is to try to bring back the issue of managing the expansion of fossil fuel economies around the world.
We’ve been through the Covid 19 crisis, which was challenging in my opinion, and many others, because we ignored the invasion of natural spaces, because we ignored the fact that our current economic, political and business systems do not take into account nature positive, environmentally positive business practice and prioritise that. Instead, we cut swathes into the natural environment in a way that’s disadvantageous for human beings.
So we go through a shock like the Covid 19 crisis, and instead of coming out of it with new policies that change our system, we go for this really weird thing we’ve named ‘business as usual’. It isn’t. It’s something much worse. It’s a deliberate and negligent re-investment in bad practice. So what Extinction Rebellion and many other groups, including luckily now the Labor Party in this country, have called for is an end to new fossil fuel projects or expansion or finance outcome at COP28. Because of what happened at COP26 and 27, the same message has to be repeated. We haven’t been able to bring that to bear on all participants. There are reasons why. The valid reasons why and the core valid reason why is that different countries are in different stages of development, and they have different constraints on how quickly they can change their systems.
But we need to get to the point, I believe, where we have full international consensus of that need so we can start to make specific plans about how to get to that point where the fossil fuel economy is a thing of the past.
NK: Do you feel optimistic that this year might be the year?
OC: Oh, that’s a great question. I am not as pessimistic, I think, as many mainstream commentators and perhaps even as I was a few months back. And you’ll know because this is in the public domain, the president of COP, the current sitting CEO of the Abu Dhabi Petroleum Company has set out to have a global stocktake of countries and NDCs, and pass that through by being very specific and hopefully in a place-specific way about how countries adopt development pathways that are low in fossil fuels.
Now, this might be a valid thing to do, but it appears to lack the urgency that we need. It doesn’t address the problem we’ve had for the last two cups, which is that we cannot build. We don’t appear to be able to build international consensus on stopping the expansion of the fossil fuel industry. But something really interesting has happened, and this is one of the things that made me a little bit more optimistic.
It turns out the Abu Dhabi National Petroleum Company has also been diversifying its own productive base. They built giant solar arrays and by one account, I haven’t verified this, but maybe I’m grasping that hope. By one account, they’ve built the lowest cost per kilowatt hour solar array in the world. So this particular company is in mid-transition.
NK: That is very positive.
OC: Exactly. So if there’s a ray of hope to come out of COP28, it is that the presence of the Abu Dhabi Petroleum Company will convince other countries and companies that rapid transition of the sort ogf examples of in the UAE should be something that is part of global best practice and something that actually happens. But I want to reassure you that many, many speakers, including hopefully myself, whether or not they work with advise or support Extinction Rebellion, will be there pushing for exactly this, because transition isn’t an option, all that we’re arguing about is when it happens and not if.
NK: Okay, fantastic. And in the meantime, where do you think the investment industry can step up?
OC: The key thrust of the call to action of the COP26 Climate Action Plan was no new fossil fuel financing. It makes no sense to claim to be in transition while you’re financing the expansion of this poisonous, net present, value negative industry. Why would you keep expanding something else which we transition away from that? That was our call to action.
Well, we’re launching a new call to action, which speaks to your question around our ambitions, which is that we want to regrow the natural the natural world. The challenge has always been in sort of a post-industrial age.
We have mismanaged that balance between industrial processes and natural processes. We’ve almost built a system that’s virtually parasitic on our natural systems. You cannot continue to use up natural resources in an unsustainable and replenished way, because if you kill the natural systems on which your lives depend, really it’s almost a logical and silly way to behave.
So what we’ve decided to do is, having set that bar asking for no new fossil fuel projects, we were going to set the corresponding bar, which is the expansion of natural capital, regrowing natural capital. So maintaining forest carbon, places like the Forest Congo, in Amazonia, in the South Pacific and Indonesia, and if possible, expanding it because those counterbalancing natural systems are the only way that humanity repairs damage. It sounds like a new thing, but it really isn’t. Humanity has never been able to extract large scale pollution from the environment by itself ever before.
All humanity has done is stop polluting and let natural systems clear up the mess. It’s been n the case of DDT and the case of the ozone layer, and it will be the case with excessive carbon in the atmosphere, we need to regrow our natural systems and their ability to heal. That’s our new call to action.
NK: Okay, fantastic. Well, you’ve given us plenty to think about there. Thank you so much for your time today.
OC: You’re very welcome. Have a great day.