On Friday, peaceful activists from the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise woke up in a freezing jail cell in Russia for trying to protect the Arctic and fight global warming. At the same time the UN panel on Climate Change released its latest report on the status of the world's climate.
Both events can be summed up in one word. Grim.
The UN report contains hundreds of pages of evidence to justify the actions of the brave Arctic 30. They were acting in defense of a fragile Arctic and a warming world.
This study has gone further than its previous incarnations, and illustrates the crisis we’re facing with even more confidence than before: climate change is a huge problem, the fossil fuel industry is responsible, and the window of opportunity to avoid really dangerous consequences is closing rapidly.
For climate activists everywhere, this announcement is bittersweet. Certainly it adds even more weight to the reasons behind the actions of the Arctic 30 and infuses the debate with more urgency. Yet at the same time, despite the indisputable evidence, governments everywhere are failing to act, and now the Russian authorities are proving they will stop at nothing to defend the oil industry as it exploits climate change to drill for more of the oil that caused this crisis in the first place.
Following an illegal boarding and arrest of our ship Arctic Sunrise after a peaceful protest against dangerous oil drilling, the ship was towed to Murmansk. The 'Arctic 30' were interviewed and subsequently detained without charge. Greenpeace, along with millions around the world, is calling for their immediate release, and sees the recent climate report as a strong call for more people to stand up against the reckless oil industry.
Russian oil giant Gazprom is trying to silence the activists and anyone who would speak out against Arctic oil drilling. Along with other oil companies like Shell, Gazprom is afraid of international attention on the Arctic oil race. However, the truth is that the world needs more, not less, attention focused on lunacy of the global greed for more Arctic oil.
For the first time, this report quantifies how much CO2 the world can emit if we are to stay within so-called safe limits of two degrees global warming: no more than 1000 gigatons of CO2 can be emitted from today until the end of the century if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. This requires that global emissions peak before 2020, and decline rapidly thereafter. At current emission levels, we will have emitted that within 20 to 30 years. And with current growth, the time is even shorter. This is challenging, but not yet impossible.
Companies like Gazprom and Shell are literally banking on climate change. They have business models in place that depend on the world remaining addicted to fossil fuels, and that rely on the notion that governments will continue to protect the oil industry instead of their people. But alternatives exist, and another world is possible.
Certain fossil fuels need to stay in the ground if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. That is a simple, indisputable fact. Yet in spite of this undeniable truth, greedy oil companies like Gazprom and others are exploring for more oil and gas, even in extremely sensitive areas like the icy Arctic Ocean, which carries an even greater risk of oil spills and accidents.
Drilling in the Arctic Ocean is incredibly dangerous when there is no way to clean up an oil spill in ice. It's like playing a game of Russian roulette with the sensitive Arctic environment.
The Arctic 30 know this. That is why these brave activists deserve our respect, gratitude and their freedom.
Truls Gulowsen is Head of Greenpeace Norway.