Farhana Yamin is an international climate change lawyer, public speaker, author and social justice activist.
Farhana is a Visiting Professor at the University of the Arts in London, Associate Research Fellow at Chatham House, Senior Adviser to SystemIQ and Co Coordinator of Camden Think and Do.
Farhana has spent over three decades working in the climate space – she represented small island and developing countries at climate conferences (she has been deputy chair of the Expert Group of Advisors to the Climate Vulnerable Forum), worked at Children's Investment Fund Foundation, served as a special adviser to the EU Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard, founded Track 0 and taught at a number of universities. Farhana was one of the Coordinators of Extinction Rebellion’s Strategy team.
Farhana read PPE at Somerville College, Oxford and is a qualified solicitor. She feature on the 2020 BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour Power list.
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Michael Liebreich: Before we start, if you're enjoying these conversations, please make sure that you like or subscribe to Cleaning Up, it really helps other people to find us. Cleaning Up is brought to you by the Liebreich Foundation and the Gilardini foundation. Hello, I'm Michael Liebreich, and this is Cleaning Up. My guest today is Farhana Yamin. She's an environmental lawyer and has also been a negotiator on behalf of the small island states in the UN process that led to the Paris agreements. She's also been a leading figure in Extinction Rebellion, famously she was arrested for gluing herself to the Shell headquarters in London in 2019. Please join me in welcoming Farhana Yamin, to Cleaning Up. So, Farhana welcome to Cleaning Up. Thank you for joining us.
Farhana Yamin: Thank you for having me. Now, there's a lot to clean up, Michael.
ML: There is a monumental cleanup or Herculean, you could almost say, an Augean stables worth of cleaning up. But what we're talking about on these shows is really about leadership. It's not just the cleaner. It's not that it's not a technocrats show about how many, you know, gigawatts of megawatts we have to clean up. It's really about the choices that people have made to play a role in this kind of, in the age of climate change. And you've just got one of the most interesting sort of career paths. I'm not sure if you call it a career path, but a personal path. You started by studying law. I mean, you started before then. But we'll start by, you were a student, and then you became a lawyer and got involved in the climate negotiations. Can we start there? And you explain sort of what was your... why did you take those particular choices at that time?
FY: Yeah, so I was at university from 1983 to 1986. And actually, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I was, you know, I did politics, philosophy, and economics, which allows you to do run, run the world, and run the Empire. That's what this course was set up for hundreds of years to do. I came out and I, my first job age 21 was the Central Electricity Generating Board. So I went straight into the power sector in a high-flying management scheme that was set up for graduates. And the CGEB, the Central Electricity Generating Board for the older people who are here, owned every single power station in the England and Wales, including all the nuclear ones, including the coal ones, the gas ones, and include the including the grid, that what's the National Grid, and when I came in, it was the time when Mrs. Thatcher came in as well and was privatising many nationalised industries. So I had chosen as a sort of good progressive, left wing kind of person actually, to join a nationalised industry, because that's what we used to do at that time, if you wanted to, there were certain things that you know, us lot did. You joined the BBC. So, I did that. And within weeks of my joining the privatisation of British Coal was happening. You know, I’d left university on the back of the coal industry being decimated in this country, a very, very politically divisive era, actually. And I joined, as I said, the Electricity Generating Board and my first <inaudible> this sector comes from that actually.
ML: I just want to interject because there's some incredible kind of coincidence here, which is that the person on Cleaning Up just before you, one week before this will air, is John Pettigrew, who's the CEO of National Grid. So you probably started at CEGB. I don't know exactly when he started and where he started. But hopefully, our audience will sort of put two and two together and understand the sort of environment that you would have come into and what the issues as they are today that you would have been grappling with.
FY: Yeah. And so the two big issues I was grappling with, well, there was privatisation was going on. And that was a political fact. But environmentally, we were grappling with the fallout from the Chernobyl disaster, and then a huge reaction against nuclear power, including in this country, including the safety of our old reactors, and whether the new wave of PWRs you know, Sizewell C, Hinkley would go ahead. We've just had the biggest public inquiry at that time in history about whether we should go for further and different design of nuclear and the other one, which was much more potent across Europe as well was, you know, acid rain. What was you know, wonderfully term and was acid rain, you know, the whole of the German forest, the Northern European forests, you know, large parts of England and Wales too were being affected by sulphur emissions and other noxious gases emitted mainly by our power sector. So these were the kinds of big issues that I was sort of grappling with, as well as sort of, you know, coming in at a time when the answer, supposedly, to all of the problems pollution, you know, prices, energy stability was markets and private markets at that. You know, it was very much I came in at a time when the narrative was that the state is a failure, state planning is a failure, state enterprises are a failure, and the way to get better anything was to privatise it all. So that's the sort of background I had. And I still think that my interest in climate change and air pollution essentially, you know, came from an understanding of the energy world at that time, because that's what I'd done. I left the Central Electricity Generating Board, though, after about a year and a bit, because I decided, I didn't want to just be a senior manager, I wanted to have a more defined specific role. And I like the legal role there that, you know, the lawyers, you know, provided a very specific and tangible set of expertise. So I went off to do law school, and that initially, I'd wanted to work very much in a different kind of way, in a community law centre, and, you know, in a in a more grounded way, but I ended up after, when I qualified working in the law firm called Bates Wells & Braithwaite, which still exists, which advised lots of charities, and one of the charities that they were advising was a brand new charity that started advising on environmental law, especially international environmental law. And one of their first funded projects was to advise on the negotiations that were then being set up, which became the 1992 climate change treaty. So that's my entry. So I feel like it sometimes people think, oh, everyone's career is all set out. And actually, mine was a series of accidents and opportunities and luck, and then things that I found exciting and interesting. So for me, the climate change negotiations, given my background, both in law and energy, you know, really interested me at the time.
ML: Fascinating, and I don't know about many people who have, I don't know that there are that many people who've come on Cleaning Up who have had a sort of programmatic career. And that's why it's so fascinating, because certainly, Steve Jobs, in his, I think commencement address he talked about, you can only join the dots looking backwards. And that's certainly been the case for me. I am here doing this, you know, from following studying engineering, doing some, a lot of skiing, rather too much skiing, probably some venture capital some .com stuff, information provider, and then you end up where you are. So you use I mean, I don't want to say fell into, but you gravitated towards helping these island states in those negotiations. Is that, was that the sort of?
FY: Yeah, so that yeah, that is what happened. But I guess, look, I did make a decision to not go into the private sector and not go where the bulk of, frankly, my fellow Oxford, you know, cohort went, which was in into the city and into finance, because that's where the big salaries were. So I did make a conscious decision to work, to be of service and essential to have a public service career, I did apply to the civil service at one point, I didn't get that and was quite happy. So I was very happy, you know, in essentially the public sector and essentially the charitable sector. I did know that at that time that I didn't want to be in the private sector, which again, came from this distrust, that everything was going to be solved by the private sector. So I guess, there is a little bit of a trajectory there. And it does sort of follow through because in essence, my climate career ended up again, trying to design carbon markets. That's what happened right from the very beginning of these negotiations, even in 1992. The convention mentions, you know, a way of jointly implementing emissions reductions, basically, which were, that's the legal hook and the terminology that was used to launch essentially offsets and tradable permits, and that's what I became involved in and I gravitated towards them and my clients at the time, so our work was funded by philanthropy. So I understood, you know, instantly the importance of philanthropy actually, in this setting. These island countries could not afford the legal advice, they could not afford the economists, they could not afford the scientists, many of them just had the two people that were, you know, the meteorologists for the entire country. Those were the people that came to the negotiations that the meteorology departments that would come and represent these. And we came along and said, no, you actually you need, you know, a more coordinated, you know, diplomatic efforts, because your countries are at stake, the future of your very existence, your countries are at stake. And they understood that, so they banded together. And they hired a bunch of, you know, English speaking British lawyers mainly, and got us funded through a private foundation, through the Ford Foundation, actually. So there's many different parts of my career looking backwards, that join up. And we then provided them with legal advice and support and assistance during the negotiations and a large part of what I did in the early 90s, especially in the run up to the to the first COP in 1995 in Berlin, my biggest sort of area of work was trying to get an emissions reductions-based protocol in, and that's what we proposed in 1995. And that, in the end turned into the Kyoto Protocol negotiations and a large part of the Kyoto Protocol negotiations was then designing different kinds of carbon markets. So we get the clean development mechanism. And we get the, you know, emissions trading, we get joint implementation, we get three different kinds of markets with the three different situations. And at the heart of all of them, you know, my clients, the small island states, we just want these markets to have integrity and to work, we don't like this approach, particularly, but they must have an environmental integrity. So that's my sort of story for the next decade is trying to set up control design, international markets. And also, I guess not many people know that actually, I was the head of the Consortium that helped design the European Emissions Trading Scheme, which again, came from that work, and came from my love of trying to, to marry and mix, you know, the best of what we could do, as regulators with the unleashing of talents and approaches that the market sort of, you know, at that time, you know, it was very much like, you know, if we set the market up, right, it will, you know, everyone will win win win, you know, we’ll get reductions, we’ll get the most efficient, we’ll get a levy on them. And it will, you know, that's how we will save the planet. Yeah.
ML: That's great. And you may not have gone through in great detail that our previous guests, but there's so many different touch points, people that you know, and also some topics that touch so, for instance, when you're talking about this mantra that privatisation will solve everything, including environmental problems. And we've got Mariana Mazzucato, I can't remember which episode well, you know, but it's easy to find. We've had James Thornton, Client Earth, who took a very different view on his legal background. So using environmental law to stop bad things happening rather than your approach at that time of creating markets and legal rules. And of course, we also had James Cameron, who's a, I think, a very dear mutual friend of ours, and I believe you worked with; he, was one of those lawyers that were brought in for the small island states, was he not?
FY: James Cameron offered me, thank you James, James offered me my first job in the environmental sector. So I went and did an internship, actually, at what became FIELD, the Foundation for International Environmental Law. And they had the largest programme then, of pro bono advisory work. And James went on to do many, many things but he loved, you know, and still did work with small islands. And I worked consistently, more or less consistently for the last 30 years with different small islands and least developed countries. So I stayed with that.
ML: The first time I met James was at an environment ministers ministerial meeting, I think convened by UNEP in Monaco in 2008. So, I had started New Energy Finance in 2004. But it took me a while to sort of, you know, get even slightly plugged into environment ministers and to become aware of what you had been doing effectively since 1990 or around then, and in the run up to ‘92 Rio Earth Summit, and then the Kyoto Protocol, and of course, Kyoto was only ratified in was it 2007?
ML: Okay, so early on in New Energy Finance, but I was unaware of it and, and couldn't kind of get my head around it. It took me a few years to, you know, to stop worrying about venture capital and wind farms but actually start to think about whether what you were doing would start to make money flow. So in 2008, it was very clear that it was doing something, there was this thing called CDM. As you said, there was CDM, there was Joint Initiatives. And it was all, but I was still pretty sceptical, because they just seemed, I mean it we it was highly legalistic, but it did seem like a sort of consultants festival of you know, what would the base case be? You know, you’ve kind of got money, if you could prove that something that might happen, was now not going to happen. And everybody could sort of sign off on that. And then the printing presses of money ran. And I'm, I'm sort of naturally sceptical about stuff like that, if I'm honest.
FY: Yeah, well, I likewise, and you know, my clients were very sceptical. So I think that by that time, though, we did have the EU Emissions Trading Scheme set up and running. And that was a huge innovation and had fewer flaws because it was a capped system. And there was, I mean, the flaws of all of these ones were in the end, there were too many permits, and there wasn't enough constraints that you know, there was a endless supply of what we called hot air and two lapsed targets. So they didn't really bite enough to really drive innovation to really drive reductions, it was a paper, you know, trades. And at the margins, there were some real reductions going on, this is a very generalised thing, but across both the EU and the first phase of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, and then subsequently, the cap tightened, as people realised that, you know, there'd been too many permits put in, and I guess, the lesson I learned, which again, you know, come comes, you know, where I am now is industry destroyed the very instruments that they had said, were the most industry friendly, you know, methods of control. So we always wanted as lawyers and regulators to use standards or to use bands or to use phase outs, and actually, industry champions and economists, you know, free trade economists at the time said, no, no, you don't need to use, you can use permitting, and you can use carbon taxes, and you can use tradable permits, and those taxes didn't really take off. But permits did take off. And in the end in this industry, and especially the private lobbies, you know, stuffed these initiatives with too much hot air. So they gutted the very systems that they had asked to be set up. And so that's why moving forward, you know, by the time it gets to 2008, you know, the small islands, the vulnerable countries are saying, actually, these market mechanisms are not working. They may be producing lots of careers for, you know, carbon traders, they become another financial instrument, which is great and is leading to, as you said consultancies and some quite high salaries in designing and operating these systems, but they're not resulting in real reductions. And we need, some reassurance that actually emissions will reduce in total and in absolute terms. So, yeah, that's by that time, we're also hearing the scientific concerns that the two-degree target, which was an informal target, was never legislated or accepted as an international target, but it was the working sort of scientific hypothesis accepted at that time. We were getting, you know, alarming reports that that was very unsafe for vulnerable communities, for vulnerable countries, for vulnerable ecosystems. And it takes them another decade to actually get the IPCC to confirm, yes, 1.5, that little naught point five degree difference is, in fact, huge in terms of the impact and hundreds of millions of people that are impacted at that degree. So yeah, by that time, you know, we were a lot more sceptical that markets would deliver. And also like this, you know, things like the CDM, the Clean Development Mechanism, you know, as we had them feared, and I'm saying ‘we’ from the point of view of the smaller islands and the least developed countries, they had not benefited from these global market-based mechanisms. They weren't projects that were picked up from these countries. It was as we thought, the China and India and Brazil, you know, the larger countries that dominated the CDM, the Clean Development Mechanism markets. And the only thing that came out of it was a brilliant proposal that had been put in by a man who subsequently died, a small island negotiator called Ambassador Ash who'd put in this a share of the proceeds this convoluted way of basically a little tax on carbon markets, that became a way of financing adaptation, especially for vulnerable countries. So that was that the only thing we actually saw was the one positive thing, the precedent itself as well as the actual money. And the way that money was disbursed directly into small countries and organisations. But the markets themselves did not yield the expected emissions reductions.
ML: And just for those who are listening are not sort of intimately familiar. Essentially, you have the EU ETS, and then that set a carbon price and the CDM, a Clean Development Mechanism was a way of creating credits supposedly more cheaply elsewhere, and also spread some of the goodies around to developing countries, and then sell them into Europe so that companies can meet their obligations. But as you say, the companies then just kind of, I don't want to use the word lied, but they basically over inflated the number of credits because there was a sort of grandfathering. So they could they were essentially asked how many credits would you have needed, you know, the last few years, how much did you emit? And they just made up numbers, so they got too many credits. And then of course, the other thing that happened was you had the financial crisis. So the growth of European industry didn't happen. They were low, there was just credits everywhere. The EU ETS price dropped to five or seven euros and the CDM credits became absolutely worthless. But there were also other things going on. So people had built CA, chlorofluorocarbons, CFC plants in China, so that they could then shut them down and earn tens of millions and hundreds of millions of dollars for shutting down a plant that should never been built in the first place. And so there were all sorts of large-scale abuses going on at that time. At least that's my, my sort of thumbnail. Because you believe the companies, I'd actually say, well, to be honest, wasn't it just the naivety of a lot of, you know, environmentalists and lawyers that created this castle in the sky of, of pseudo markets that was never going to work when it came into contact with real kind of, you know, blood seeking sharks in real business.
FY: Well, I certainly think, look, these sets of tools did not come from the environmental community. They came from the economic community, and they were the most popular tools from industry and industry associations, for example, in the UK, led the design of those, they seconded and had people from the law firms designing it, hand in hand with the regulators. Very few NGOs, I was one of the few that had the expertise in this area, were in favour of them. And as I said, very few of our clients were, they were very sceptical, and these were not the first line of our chosen instruments. We had asked for reductions and mandatory reductions. And we had then also by this stage, Michael, as to fill in the audience who's listening, you know, the idea of a global carbon tax had been dead, you know, it's still being floated, right as a way for so the idea of a global carbon price and a global carbon tax, the taxes that had gone forward in the US, for example, was so small. So there was absolutely no take up. And that's why the EU itself then turned to using this very alien, quite American sort of way of doing things. It was quite ironic that the US had stepped back. And it was Europe who took forward emissions trading as the sort of prize, you know, instrument that they had. It is not the environmentalist. The environmentalists always hated these and could see the abuse and could see the gaming and, the environment, were not responsible for the global recession, the finance industry was, frankly, in destroying, you know, the global economy, which then led to other problems. And the markets, you know, did show me that there was this ingenuity, you know, the sale of CFC avoided CFC reductions, was incredible. And, again, we had foreseen that, but we were not able to close those loopholes internationally. So I feel I was on the side of those, you know, countries who were trying to close those loopholes in a set of negotiations that they never wanted in the first place.
ML: The model was the US had got the SOx and NOx, Sulphur and Nitrous Oxides markets that actually worked quite well. And so then that was the that was then the model to have these markets. But it was an extraordinary thing, because at the time I was meeting, because I'm a sort of crossover crossdresser because I come from finance and investment. And I've got a Harvard MBA, and then I'm going to these, you know, UNEP, these environment minister conferences, and I'm starting to learn about what's going on. And I'm just, you know, just, it's just extraordinary. When you meet a banker, it's somebody from the World Bank, it was never somebody from Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan, we're talking about, you know, 2008-2012. You'd never meet any real financiers. You'd only ever meet, you know, multilateral financiers, who have got just such a completely different incentive set from, you know, private finance, whether it's pensions or insurance companies, or the big banks, or whoever. And, I mean, so to me, I was sort of thinking this is, you know, look, I had to, I brought in somebody you probably know, who's also been a guest on Cleaning Up, Guy Turner. And he came in, and we created a carbon analytics business. And we sold services, but it was always, I'll be honest, my heart was never in carbon markets and around there, to be honest.
FY: That makes two of us. But then negotiations were, you know, others set the agenda. And that, you know, with the developing countries, generally, even large developing countries have to play along. It's not framed, in terms of, you know, what they wanted, and even the largest developing countries had huge misgivings. And so, you go back and ever, not that you would listen to the actual submissions, you know, in the final plenary, there is complete rejection of carbon markets by India, by China, by Brazil, it's in there, this language at the very last minute as a result of basically, the US and a few countries like Australia and others, even the EU didn't really care about it. All I'm saying is the design of these things is never straight forward.
ML: The other thing that was going on, was and this was coming out of all the activists, and everybody was this idea that there needed to be a hard cap, that there needed to be a kind of a carbon budget. And you know, the premise of Copenhagen was, we're going to agree, a cap, and then we're going to have this big arm wrestle and negotiation and divide between countries. That was the Kyoto Protocol was based on that, Copenhagen, and of course, the whole thing blew up. And I would argue it blew up because it was completely, from a game theory perspective, it was a ridiculous goal. And then we went into this kind of five years leading up to Paris. And, and at that point, we started to at least get a framework, which is comprehensive, and which is not based on just a bunch of developed countries, you know, hoovering money out to the rest of the world, which is what, you know, which was the model behind a lot of the negotiations and conversations around the Kyoto Protocol, and so on. And, we got the Paris Agreement, which I think was an extraordinary triumph of diplomatic maneuvering. Is that a fair fast forwards?
FY: Well, I think, look, Paris helps bring countries you know, together, who are unable to agree legally binding, emission reductions so neither the US has ever signed up to them, nor would China. And then, you know, there was a massive sort of standoff. And at least in Kyoto, there was acceptance that there was a legally binding emissions targets, you know, some of them were reduction targets, and some of them were absolute reduction targets, but there was a cap. And that was agreed in 1997. So actually, that's the high point of international environmental law is 97, from and then everything goes down the drain after that.
ML: Let me push back on that, because that's if what your model is, is a cap in law, but if you realise that a cap in law is not going to be accepted, it's not going to be binding, that China wasn't covered by it, the US didn't accept it, that Canada resiled from it that you know, so it wasn't the high point it was a low point.
FY: I think that's where I will be writing a book which actually says what was going on at that time. At that time, the US negotiated it in good faith its legally binding target. It really did. You know, I've got my Kyoto Protocol here. The numbers, then, you know, add up to 4.5 point something or whatever it is, and there is leeway, like Russia has included a whole set in its target that essentially, you know, would provide some coverage for the US, they would do a trade actually. So the US, the stretch required, and other countries as well. So these were real targets that were negotiated. And at that time, they weren't a million miles off from the science at that time, you know, so we're talking 1997, the Kyoto Protocol, and its legally binding target and its list of reductions site assigned to every country, which each country has accepted and put in themselves, by the way, no one's imposed it on them, they <inaudible>. So that is in 1997. And after that, it becomes problematic, because the richer countries don't want to implement their reduction targets. And then this huge looming issue that was brought up of developing countries immediately having to sign up in equivalence, legal equivalence, and in absolute targets, you know, absolute reductions, you know, was seen as unfair. And the model that we were using was actually the Montreal Protocol, which, even without giving 10 years grace, which Montreal Protocol did for ozone depleting gases, you know, there was a very clear, we go first, rich countries go first, you guys have 10 years, and we'll help you do that. That was the model. So that all broke down. It wasn't just the idea of the cap was ridiculous. It was actually, it was the fact that there, there was no implementation by the richer countries, as we know, they created then these carbon markets, which then basically everybody could see there was just paper compliance, and not real reductions. Number one. Secondly, they did not give the grace period that the developing countries were expecting, and were thinking that this is the model that we're using. So that's what happened.
ML: What also happened was that China embarked on 15 years of the most extraordinary export driven coal fired development, environmental dumping, as far as the eye can see, which they're still benefiting from in their enormous market share of a lot of markets, like the rare earth markets and so on. And it became abundantly clear that any agreement, you put up a good argument to defend the Kyoto Protocol, but it was an absurdity because it frankly, China in that period became the number one emitter and was not bound at all. And India looked set to become the next big, you know, emissions growth story and Africa, as it becomes more industrialised will go the same way. So that framework was never going to work, was it?
FY: I think it wasn't never going to work. It never worked because the basic premise that richer countries start by phasing down or phasing out some of that, which they still haven't, we're still having that argument right now, right today, where the IEA is saying, no new oil, gas, coal, and we have been building in Europe and in the US outwards and those countries rightly said, you have to walk the walk, which is what this agreement is based on. It's not that it’s based on a ridiculous model. It's based on the realities that actually no rich country, Germany, Poland, the UK, carried on with their fossil fuel-based economies. And at the same time, and as a result, again, of both privatisation and globalisation, you had basically an outsourcing of the most dirty industries, to countries like China, India, Pakistan, parts of Africa. So, you actually had a completely hypocritical situation where there was a promise of leadership, the wealthiest countries which had caused most of the pollution to date, they still had, they were not picking up responsibility of actually changing their economies. They had then said, we will buy the permits from you. You reduce over there, we'll buy the permits off you. And that's what led to Copenhagen and a complete breakdown. That's what led to a complete breakdown. It wasn't, I think the legal approaches such you know, it was the duplicity and the complete mismatch between what the principles, the underlying principle, the grand bargain that was struck in 92 and 97 and then later on and a complete lack of carrying it out. That was at the heart of it.
ML: But do you not find it ironic that Copenhagen collapses, according to that narrative, because of the failure of essentially the G20 countries to act and yet that almost precisely marks the moment when G20 countries decoupled from CO2 emissions on an imports adjusted basis, since around 2007/8, the G20 countries have actually been reducing their emissions from almost exactly that point. And now they're not reducing them fast enough. And I'd be the, you know, you and I will well, there'll be no difference between us in terms of we know, we were both like this thing to go much, much faster. But the fact is that the developed countries now are reducing their emissions. And they're not doing it just by outsourcing manufacturing to the developing countries. And the absolute, you know, the thing that threatens the long term, whether we can get to one and a half degrees, two degrees and so on, is actually no longer the developed countries, it's no longer those countries, it's actually the large developing countries.
FY: Well, sure they have a much greater proportion, you know, India and China are right up there in a way that they weren't, even in aggregate terms. They weren't up there, when we negotiated Kyoto, they just weren't, you know, they were not in the top five or the top 10. You know, they were well below that. So obviously, things have changed massively. And from the point of view of small island states who I've negotiated with and least developed countries, we were pressuring, all administrators to take action, but to do so fairly, and to pick up the fairness issue, which, you know, brings me back to what has been one of the underlying, you know, bedrocks of my career, fairness really matters. You know, at that time, those developing countries thought it was an unfair ask for their emissions to be reduced. And to take the same kind of legal, legally binding reductions, and to have a massive growth in emissions and massive growth in fossil fuel-based energy systems, and the financing that was also going with that, so you have to understand, and you come from the world of finance, you know, it's very, very recent, it's only in the last 10 years that we've even had advocacy and campaigns to expose the role of, the supportive role of finance and who's doing the financing, it is the largest centres of finance, London, where I'm sitting and you're sitting, it's still the largest one of the largest centres of fossil fuel-based finance. So you then get, you know, initiatives like Carbon Tracker or the showing that, you know, the financial sector is holding up and supporting a level and a kind of development, essentially, a fossil fuel-based development in both rich and poor countries in richer and developing countries. And actually, that is, you know, completely out of kilter with what we're trying to do through our little environmental laws, you know, we, we don't have the stick to, you know, discipline or even, you know, restructure the incentives that the finance industry works on. And that's why so much interest is going on now. And that's why, you know, groups like XR are targeting the financial industries, whether it's Lloyds, whether it's Barclays, whether it's HSBC. Quite rightly, those institutions, didn't take an interest, didn't care, and carried on, you know, incentivizing and supporting and financing the very dirtiest thing all over the world, you know.
ML: I'm just conscious of time because, you know, if we just finish off on the negotiation. What happened then was fast forward to Paris, and actually one of our other contributors, Catherine McKenna, who was the Canadian Environment Minister talks about, you know, you, your delegation from small island states and how she sort of, you know, supported it with the one and a half degrees and the and, and so on. So we've, we've kind of elsewhere in Cleaning Up, we've documented that bit of what happened in Paris, but we kind of get the one and a half degrees as an aspirational goal. And then Christiana Figueres, one of our early episodes talks about how that then translated into the body of knowledge, how important one and a half degrees is, and then the world changes through the arrival of Greta Thunberg and what you call XR, Extinction Rebellion. And of course, you played a big role there. Were you actually a founder of Extinction Rebellion?
FY: No, no, I was not a founder, but I joined at the end of, in the second half of 2018. So, when they really hit the screens in the UK, for example, through actions to shut down London and the bridges, which were in hindsight, you know, looking back a test for, you know, the rebellion that then happened in April of 2019. And which then spread to many other countries. And I was also a member of Greenpeace, I was a trustee of Greenpeace, UK, for example, I was an adviser to WWF, I stopped doing so much advisory work to the small islands, but the need for these sorts of more radical campaigning groups arose because, frankly, you know, Net Zero wasn't on the legislation. It wasn't it wasn't legislation in the UK, three years after Paris, you know, having negotiated the phase out target, net zero, 1.5, Britain did nothing, you know, did nothing. Very few MPs even spoke for climate action, it was like the whole thing was languishing. So these different movements actually arose in different parts of the world because what was obvious was that there was a complete mismatch between what was happening on the ground in reality with emissions and then with politicians sort of thinking, Yeah, we ratified the thing, we don't have to actually do anything.
ML: That's just the reason I asked the question because you were Policy Coordinator, Political coordinator, and part of the rapid reaction, Rapid Response Unit. So you were very senior in this movement. The goals of Extinction Rebellion was not to enshrine net zero in UK legislation, something that subsequently happened. And by the way, you know, all credit to, you know, all the various players, including, by the way, I'm not somebody who's against a bit of civil disobedience if it's appropriate, right. So there was there was a process which ended up with that being enshrined in the legislation But the goals of Extinction Rebellion was to communicate the danger we're in. Okay, I think that that's being done. You know, no doubt, it can be done more. Every part of society must act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025, and citizens assembly, and democratisation which I would consider to be trying to do an end run around the democracy that we already have. So this is an extremely radical set of demands far beyond what you've just very nicely described, as, you know, an attempt to nudge the system to net zero.
FY: No, I didn't say that. And I, I think that the first and third of those demands, the tell the truth demands has had a massive impact. So, again, every institution newspaper, you know, from Vogue magazine to the Daily Mail now carriers climate, you know, related news, you know, around the year, whereas before, they were lucky, they got a couple of features around the time of a major UN summit. That was it. I think, so that demand was very important, we know and statistically, can show that, you know, environment, climate was really languishing and was nowhere on the political agenda, it really had taken a backseat with Brexit, with so many other things going on, especially. So that tells the truth demand remains very important. And it's also linked to acknowledging the emergency that we're now finding ourselves in. The climate and ecological emergency, understanding that it can't just be, every, you know, five years that we have a look at an election or something that we have to acknowledge how irreversible and huge the impacts already are in many parts of the developing world. I'm sitting here and actually, you know, in the last week, you've seen that temperatures in Pakistan and India in April, have been over 50 degrees in some parts of the countries, which are still very much agrarian based economies. Large amounts of the workforce work outside and our people are frazzling, frankly, so these impacts are here, they’re cooked into the system. They're impacting millions of people right now. So that tell the truth remark was very important. So was the demand to have ordinary people being consulted and decide how they want these radical changes to happen. I think that's totally a wonderful demand. And again, it was actually taken forward in many, by many cities, by many councils, my own Council, Camden Council had the very first climate assembly composed of citizens from Camden. Many other countries devised, you know, more participatory ways of discussing climate action and what does it mean, and not to have these technocratic you know, energy economy models saying, oh, yeah, just implement a carbon tax. You know, we'd frankly forgotten to consult and involve people and engage them. I think that that the net zero demand, you know, by 2025 that I always said, you know, let's set it as a 2030 demand a 10 year. And there are loads of studies actually that, you know, Michael say that, a 10 year kind of time horizon for a major societal change and shift what became known as the Green New Deal idea, the Industrial Revolution like a 10 year, you know, Marshall Plan type idea that makes absolute sense. And that's still what we must do. So it's less about the sort of dates but much more about thinking you can't do this year to year and you can't do this election cycle by election cycle. This is a societal overhaul. And I guess that's what brings me to where and why I joined, I felt like I'd been part of that incrementalist thinking, let's do it, COP by COP. Let's do it every five years, let’s you know, allocate a budget try and sort of, and I think that approach has failed. This is a whole society, a totally reformed the very underlying principles on which our economies are based and joined up so that they now incorporate nature and they incorporate people and they don't do that currently. So, I feel like actually the entire financial system, our you know, way in which energy not just energy, but transport agriculture, land is produced, you know, neglects nature, it just does, and it neglects people in, in other countries. So we need a really big reset of what I call capitalism, actually, which is, again, a paradigm now it's used in many other parts of the world, we need that fundamental reset. It's more like getting rid of feudalism. You know, we're at that point, we're at sort of feudalism in feudalism, and capitalism, and move to something else, which is, I think, where we sit and where XR, I think, and many other movements are still trying to get us to, and that's the right way to think about it, this isn't going to get solved by someone sticking on a carbon price, you know.
ML: I guess that's where you and I start to very much diverge. You started with, you know, things need to accelerate, and I use the quote from De Lampedusa from “Gatto Pardo”, “The Leopard” law, which is for things to remain the same, everything must change, and by things that need to remain the same, I would say that's kind of human progress. That's the lifestyles that people enjoy and aspire to. That's the ability to, to spend time with our families, to go on holiday to have homes, do all of those sorts of things. But everything must change. And I see that as a vast call for innovation, and capitalism misdirected, though it may have been in the past is this incredible machine for innovation, if it can be and so I'm a sort of mission economy, mission innovation, believer, although the tools I then very much disagree with Mariana Mazzucato essentially sort of nationalisation of innovation. I think we've got to find much more sophisticated models. But you know, you have basically said it that this, you believe that the number one goal is actually the destruction of capitalism, because otherwise none of this will happen. And I look at it going, that's been tried, and it's failing to deliver. And we just don't have decades to go into great leap forwards, holodomors, collectivization of farms, all of those sorts of good things that have been tried the last times that well-meaning people set out on these kind of, you know, a destruction of system approaches to try to improve people's lives. It hasn't worked. It's caused enormous pain, we can't really be wanting to go there.
FY: But I'm not, I've never said let's bring back, you know, collectivization, I have never said, let me finish because you spent you've spoken for about three minutes about thinking of what I've said, and I haven't said any of those things. Capitalism does not take into account and the way in which other markets, even if they're in a socialist, you know, country like China, they're still basing the fundamental political economy is orientated around not recognising nature as an input that is different from technology and innovation and other things, number one. So the DNA of our political economy, whoever is doing it, you know, whether they call themselves soviets, socialists, capitalists, whatever, the DNA of capitalism does not recognise nature in a way that is now very clear to us through our science around indigenous leaders, that we need nature to be respected and those ecological boundaries whether you want them to have them as tipping points or a more spiritual <inaudible>, those need to be respected. We cannot substitute wealth with nature. We know that. That is what is happening. We cannot treat the atmosphere as if it's just a an input and that wealth will somehow buy us, you know, the means to, to breathe in clean air, or we can do the job that bees do or that soil somehow are, you know dispensable with so you know, soils, forest, air, the biodiversity around us is very different from the kinds of inputs that economists traditionally use and value in the system. So you come along with a bunch of economists who then say, well, we'll price those, we'll price those and that has not worked. That has not worked.
ML: You're getting away with a caricature there. There's pricing, there’s regulation, there's all sorts of mechanisms that have been...
FY: No system that we currently have does that. It does not set boundaries on what cannot be, you know, extracted, and used in that way. And no system that we currently have anywhere in the world. And this is why I've come at, you know, 35 years later to the point that I have, you know, stop, we have to stop people who are saying let's price this through carbon markets, oh, let's invent tradable systems. Oh, let's invent, you know, environmental governance. You know, ESG, let's do this. And it's actually we've done that, that we've been doing that for 30 years. I have done it, I've written, my books are on carbon market. This is rubbish, these systems are not working.
ML: How do you explain? How do you?
FY: We need a fundamental overhaul where we nationalise... this is a day where you have, Michael, you have Shell alone has announced, what is it 7.3 billion, you know, pounds worth of profit in a quarter.
ML: How do you explain that the wealthiest countries have peaked their emissions and are reducing them, irrespective of imports, and are seeing reforestation and improved biodiversity, the wealthiest countries, not the poorest ones, not the ones where the indigenous peoples have the most powers, but the wealthiest countries. And when you say, no country price this, there's no country in the world, try the UK planning system if you want, if you think that it's unbridled capitalism, you know, running roughshod over every, it's just that's just not the way the world actually works. So, you've created this sort of straw man of the way and, you know, and then demonising oil and gas companies. But you know, I'm looking at the we're at the point when, you know, when energy prices are peaking, in part, because we failed to invest in clean energy. But we also stopped those companies from investing sufficiently in existing energy
FY: Shell or BP, they just carried on investing. Let's be very clear about that. And the moment of reckoning is coming for them, is coming at their door, it's already here. They have continued to invest. Number one, in huge greenwashing, lobbying, marketing, absolute corruption all over the world to push their toxic products and their toxic practices down the throats increasingly of a more educated public, who has rejected them. They have resisted regulation, they have diluted, watered down, and torpedoed the Kyoto Protocol led to, you know, weak instruments and torpedoed the regulatory abilities to do that. This is these industries, that is why the rage is there, rightly so. And I'm at the head of that rage. I've seen that from the inside. These industries are irresponsible, and they are still now making record breaking profits. And our governments, you know, are in terror and in hock to them to the point where people are now impoverished in this country. People are cooking one meal a day, and people are paying hundreds of pounds over the odds. And we have got billions. And these are industries that are profitable only because the externalities and the impacts that they have caused all around the world devastation, let's not call it impacts. Let’s stop calling it nice, neutral words like climate impact, let's call it for what it is, you know, devastation. They don't have to pick up those costs. The taxpayers pick up the cost. The governments of other countries pick up the costs. The relatives of people in Pakistan and India who are facing 50 degrees temperatures pick up the cost is through heat waves, exhaustion, loss employment sitting at home in unbearable heat. This is just the beginning of this year. This is what's really happening. And I think not accepting any culpability any responsibility flies in the face of first of all history, and flies in the face of what these companies are actually doing. No one prevented them from putting their money into renewables. You know, few brave souls tried, thank you, Lord Brown, you know, but by and large that failed, that stalled that effort to really push that, you had to have new entrepreneurs who came in and did that, who brought the price of, you know, renewables down, you had to have governments who actually funded and brought the price of renewables down of battery storage done, these companies didn't do that. They had, you know, their balance sheets would allow them to fund trillions, you know, into the right direction. And none of them did that. And as I said, you know, we're coming to the top of the hour, the moment of reckoning is here, they are resisting, you know, hell and high water, including through extreme corruption, including through, you know, frankly, wars, to retain those profits from a set of activities that are toxic for people, that are toxic for the planet. And there's no getting away from that. There's no point just saying that, oh, now China's doing more of them. I'm not protecting China. And we, you know, and we never have, no one has, we've, we've said let's do this fairly, let's do this in a civilised way, let's do it. In a way, where the wealthiest and those who have caused it, the problem and who've got the biggest means should pay a biggish play, a bigger share. But that hasn't happened, that has not happened. And that's what's led to a breakdown.
ML: But do you not see the danger that we? Well, two dangerous things are I think that a related. One is that society, you put the culpability on these companies. And I'm not saying that they're free of culpability at all. Because we know what they've done. We know exactly what behaviours they've indulged in. But the fact is that society has repeatedly continued to decide to use their products. And so, is there not number one, first question, is there not some culpability for society that they've continued to maintain demand, which these companies then have. It's very hard to see how they could not fulfil that demand? I think that the way the second thing is, does it not bother you that probably, only now a minority of the public supports the sort of actions that Extinction Rebellion promotes that society as a whole, is actually not supportive of the levels of disruption and direct action and so on, and actually is swinging much more behind, frankly, the oil and gas companies, or the status quo or however you want to phrase it?
FY: Well, let's see in a week, whether, you know, the public are absolutely, I think, outraged. There's a mismatch between what the government is saying and what the public are saying, this regards this extortionate amount of profits being unfairly made, and a windfall tax is being prevented by those who are directly benefiting, you know, are supporting those industries and have done for a long time, it's very misguided. Our political system, again, needs to be, you know, to change. It’s frankly prioritising and not pursuing the public interests, or the long-term interests of the majority of people in this country, let alone of the world, let alone on a global scale. And that, I think, increasingly is the reason why these movements will continue not all of the actions will be popular. That's not their point. It's to cause increased awareness of the huge footprint and the huge political power and the stranglehold especially in, even in the UK, and in many parts of the world that these companies continue to play in our public life. And you know, the best example and people are learning more and more about the, the shared and linked histories and tactics is the tobacco industry. The tobacco industry lied and paid and lost its way to very large profits. And ultimately, they lost because once it was found out that they had done that there was a backlash. And regulators stepped in mass. What's not happened here exactly the same playbook has been used. But the power is strong and now the good news is Michael, as a result of much of your work, and many others, you know, we have alternatives. And we have alternatives that are cheaper in the forms of energy efficiency, almost free in the form of good, well-designed buildings, we have battery power, we have storage, we have, you know, markets that created those. They're not being taken up at scale.
ML: You mean capitalist businesses that have created those? Not the community groups in Camden that are producing the new solutions to solar or wind or large-scale batteries or the steel industry, , none of none of those community groups that you're talking about have had any contribution materially to the innovations that are actually going to solve the problem.
FY: It was Germany and the German states, on the feed in tariffs. And it was China two state owned countries with large, you know, visionary programmes that use regulation, frankly, I win, you don't win on this one. They're the ones that have brought down the cost of renewables and innovated it wasn't this, you know, little entrepreneur, we have got, you know, other that so this proves Mariana Mazzucato’s point that actually, innovation isn't just from the private sector, the private sector feeds of large sale.
ML: We had Mariana Mazzucato on the show as well. So states are all in the R&D in the creation of technology, but they're horrible at getting it to market. And that's the role of private sector risk takers, by the way, not necessarily little entrepreneurs. And the prices of renewables dropped, by the way, they really dropped when we've moved to reverse auctions and got price signals into the system. So the Germans, bless them, subsidised, and over subsidised and created technology. That was marvellous, but it didn't really take off until we got price signals. But I want to come back to I want to come back to you had a falling out with the founders of Extinction Rebellion. And these, you know, and I suppose that speaks to my mind to this point about how do you remain popular, and by the way, just sorry, that one of the things for the record, I'm okay with a windfall tax to the extent that it relates to extraordinary situation and, you know, to the in Ukraine and the impact of, I don't think any companies should be making more money because of Ukraine than any other, you know, than they would normally. But we don't have time to go down the windfall tax route. Maybe I'll do a whole programme on it. But you've had a falling out, because some of the people at the head of Extinction Rebellion, were, I hate to say it very unpleasant. And I think of Rupert Reed jumping on a table and telling children that they shouldn't ask what they want to be when they grow up, they should ask what they want to do if they grow up, asking 12 year-olds, or Roger Hallam talking about, you know, sort of pooh poohing the Holocaust and, and describing scenes of rape and carnage as being the inevitable outcome if we don't do what he says. These are horrible people, are they not? And you had a falling out with them?
FY: Listen, I'm not responsible for what they say. Yeah, I disagreed, you know, with many of the narratives, the use of the metaphors, many of the analogies many of the tactics, in every movement, there's a huge diversity of people. And you know, at certain points, I think XR could have massively grown and reached a much bigger share of people and taking them on that education journey, which I was very keen on, and many others were. So yeah, these are important things. But I, I don't think any of those people are bad or terrible people. I think they also have, you know, they may not be very politic in what they say. And as I said, I disagree with some of the things that they said, you know, very much and not just tactically just I don't agree with them full stop. So that's fine, but it's a very diverse and big movement, but they're also people... Gail Bradbrook, is facing, trial facing imprisonment. Roger Hallam is facing trial, facing imprisonment. These people have laid down actually their liberty. You know, if they say something in politic or say something in the heat of the moment, or they say things which don't resonate with certain demographics or are frankly, you know, out of tune with what I call climate justice, and with a way of speaking that tries to bring everybody on board, their amounts of flaws that they have, sure most of us have different flaws, but I would never for one minute classify them as bad people or as terrible people. I feel that actually they've done a huge service to the global climate movement. They've done a huge service to all of us. And they've done a huge service to those people who are trying to make things better in their companies in finance everywhere else, because they've reminded people that we were walking, we were sleepwalking into, you know, the abyss, we still are, we're still on that trajectory, by the way, and that's maybe the as I said, with half the world, you know, a huge percentage of the world's population, I think one or 2 billion just in that arc sitting under a heat dome, which will last for a very long time, which has a massive climate related footprint attached to it. Our oceans are subject to acidification, our coral reefs are about to mainly die, there is nothing we can do about that. We have major crop failures, we have billions of people who are going to face water shortages in the next five years from now. So that is actually where we sit. And you know, it's only <inaudible> companies who are making extortion of profits from selling toxic products. I will never for one minute, you know, say bad person here or there is the problem. That's the problem that we face is actually people who are totally irresponsible. And I think they will face litigation and they will face the court of world opinion. They already are. And they will face actual consequences for continuing to do what they're doing, which is, you know, absolutely untenable.
ML: Sadly, we are out of time, I would love to continue. And we absolutely can perhaps when we next meet at whether it's the Conduit Club where I think we ran into each other initially or elsewhere. But it's very interesting, because, you know, elsewhere on this series, we've also talked to real experts on the scenarios, the trajectories, people like Glen Peters, in Oslo, Professor Jim Skea, who's the co-chair of the working group three of the IPCC. And it's fascinating because the scenario that you appear to think we're on is not the scenario that we're on. And it's very bad. We are on a bad scenario, but we're not on a scenario of imminent civilizational environmental extinction collapse.
FY: It depends on who you’re looking at. My focus, you know, has been on the most vulnerable, those who are already, you know, in the not haves part. That is the other backdrop to the last 30 years, the massive inequalities. So, yes, we may be protected in the UK as a result of our temperate weather and as a result of our, you know, robust financial institutions and infrastructure, which by the way, has taken 300 years to acquire and is based on, you know, wealth and appropriation as a result of colonialism and imperialism. That's where we get our robustness from. And, you know, our civilization is based on that, it's based on a set of historical factors that have led us to be less vulnerable. And the system is currently producing billions of people who are very vulnerable, that didn't start off like that. No one starts off being vulnerable when they're the day they're born. It's the system into which they're born that makes their lives very different. That's where the trajectories are diverging. And that's why the UN Secretary General called the latest IPCC report, you know, an atlas of injustice, an atlas of injustice is what those rewards are, and I don't think Jim's Skea or Glen Peters are disagreeing about that at all.
ML: No and neither am I, in every answer of yours there's sort of one bit I really agree with the one bit that I completely disagree with, because in terms of justice, and in terms of the disadvantages, so I was a member of the high-level group on Sustainable Energy for All and worked extremely hard and continue to work on energy access and solutions for those who, frankly, have got least, but equally, we are now in a really interesting point. Well, first of all the scenarios or the scenarios, they don't talk about justice, they talk about energy systems, which are grossly misunderstood by most on the activism side of things. And the IPCC scenarios that are used that show these show the coal industry growing by a factor of 10, in order to justify these sorts of extreme positions. It's absurd, and we've gone into that in quite a lot of detail in in episodes of Cleaning Up. But the other thing that's very fascinating, and I don't disagree, is what we've got is a system that has got some deep injustices that day. Think back to colonial times baked in quite clearly. But the question that you and I could no doubt grapple with for another hour is whether the climate negotiations are the right place to write or to get reparations for colonial wrongs, because that's where I think you and I would probably do, you know, we'd probably diverge. I'm afraid we're out of time, we're going to have to leave it there. Farhana and I were never going to agree on who was responsible for the lack of action to date on climate change. On whether capitalism can be reformed to deliver climate action at scale, or whether it has to be destroyed and replaced with something else. But what we do agree on is the need for dramatic acceleration so that we can meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. My guest next week on Cleaning Up is Francesco La Camera. He's the Director General of IRENA, the International Renewable Energy Agency. So please join me at this time next week for a conversation with Francesco La Camera. Cleaning Up is brought to you by the Liebreich Foundation and the Gilardini Foundation.