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‘Net zero’ - a dangerous distraction gambling with our planet’s future

Lucy Njeri lives in the Rift Valley in Kenya. In late May her seeds began to germinate when the rains arrived. But instead of the expected long rainy season, the rains stopped after just a week. Since then, each day she scans the horizon looking for rain. The bean crop is already ruined. She has some faint hopes for the maize, but only if the rains come soon. If not, they won't be able to plant again until next year and there will be widespread hunger.

Climate change for us is real. It is already here. It is causing great hunger.

~ Lucy Njeri

Every week a new country or corporation announces a target to achieve ‘net zero’ carbon emissions as their contribution to stopping climate breakdown. While these look good on paper, and are often reported uncritically in the media, without clear definition they risk being dangerous distractions that gamble with our planet’s future.

While in theory achieving net zero emissions is a worthy North Star, it’s striking how much that one small word ‘net’ can obscure. ‘Net zero emissions’ and ‘zero emissions’ do not mean the same thing. Instead, in many cases, net zero targets are a green-washing exercise that allows for business as usual.

Net zero targets have become popular because they give government and corporate leaders what they are desperate for. A convenient way to look like they are taking dramatic action to stop the climate crisis while largely failing to do so. 

Photo: Andy Aitchison / Oxfam

What is needed is an immediate, dramatic and irreversible reduction in the billions of tonnes of carbon countries and corporations are pumping into our atmosphere on a daily basis. To meet the Paris targets, by 2030 the world collectively should be on track to have cut carbon emissions by almost half, with the sharpest cuts being made by the biggest emitters. On current plans, we are on track to only have reduced emissions by one percent compared to 2010 levels.

Later this year, governments will come together in Glasgow for the follow-up climate summit to the 2015 Paris meeting. If we are to save our planet, and prevent millions of lives being lost, it is vital that governments and corporations are not allowed to get away with vague 'net zero' targets. They must be asked continuously and relentlessly what their plans are to cut their own carbon emissions.

Net zero targets are also risky because instead of focusing on cutting carbon emissions, for example rather than rapidly ending the use of fossil fuels, they rely instead on using other methods to remove carbon from the atmosphere. This can allow countries and corporations to continue to pollute, as the millions of tonnes of carbon emissions their factories and power plants produce will somehow then be removed from the atmosphere, cancelling out their pollution and supposedly achieving ‘net zero'.

The problem is this removal of carbon either relies on virtually unproven new technologies, or on a level of land use that is completely impossible and would lead to mass hunger and displacement of people across the world. Despite the buzz devoted to new technologies (that will somehow rescue us from the need to stop belching CO2 into the atmosphere) none have yet proven possible to use at scale.

The only proven way to remove carbon from the atmosphere is to use land to do so - by growing billions of trees and storing carbon in trees and soil. While stopping deforestation and sustainably restoring and managing lands wherever possible is of course a good thing to do and brings enormous environmental and social benefits, it is mathematically impossible to plant enough trees to meet the combined 'net zero' targets announced by governments and corporations, as there is simply not enough land to do this.

Land is a finite resource that is a vital lifeline for growing food. It is central to the lives and livelihoods of millions of small farmers and local communities around the planet.

We have calculated that the total amount of land required for planned carbon removal could potentially be five times the size of India, or the equivalent of all the farmland on the planet.

Our analysis also shows that the net zero targets of just four of the big oil and gas producers alone could require an area of land twice the size of the UK.

If the oil and gas sector as a whole adopted similar net zero targets, it could end up requiring land that is nearly half the size of the United States.

There is a very real risk that the explosion in 'net zero' commitments will fuel a new surge in demand for land, particularly in low-and middle-income countries, which would lead to mass displacement and hunger.  In India, for example, as part of an afforestation drive, traditional lands have been fenced off, and communities who have rights to use this land have been forcibly evicted and left homeless. These conflicts are impacting nearly half a million tribal and forest-dwelling people.

Aguiratou Ouedraogo is a 39 year farmer and mother. She fetches water from a well to water her market garden crops, with the help of another farmer with whom she shares the agricultural plot. Photo: Matias Tellez/Oxfam.

Instead of using land as a carbon farm that helps big emitters sound good while sidestepping the actual hard work required to cut emissions, we need to manage land in ways that tackle climate change and hunger together, while strengthening the rights and resilience of communities reliant on it for both their food and economic security.

It is clear to us all that climate change has already begun, and unless drastic action is taken now a future of terrible hunger, extreme temperatures, floods, storms and droughts is a certainty.

But we can still stop this.

At the Glasgow Climate Summit, real, transparent, concrete and timebound cuts to carbon can be agreed for 2030.

A forest of flimsy net zero commitments for 2050 and beyond risks letting governments and corporations off the hook, substituting the illusion of action for the hard work that must be done immediately if we are to avert climate disaster. 

Our demands

  • A much stronger focus on cutting carbon emissions in the near term (by 2030). Unless the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide take urgent action to cut emissions by half by the end of the decade, runaway climate breakdown will become inevitable.
  • That the G20 prioritises ambitious climate action in the run-up to COP26 in Glasgow to ensure that global heating is kept below 1.5°C.
  • That companies cut emissions in their own operations and supply chains first and foremost. Ambitious action to cut emissions by 2030 requires phasing out support for new fossil fuel production. The fossil fuel industry cannot use 'net zero' as a prop for continuing business as usual.
  • Transparent targets that distinguish between reducing and removing carbon, instead of blurring the boundaries with short-term (2030), medium- (2040) and long-term targets.
  • That land use must ensure zero hunger. Land and nature are important parts of the climate solution, but where we do use land for climate mitigation, it must prioritise food security and build the resilience of small-scale farmers who rely on land. Nature-based solutions must strengthen the rights and livelihoods of local communities and protect ecosystems, and be subject to strong social and environmental safeguards that ensure that local communities, Indigenous people and frontline defenders have a seat at the table.
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Call for Irish government to lead in its response to the refugee situation in Afghanistan.

In response to the unfolding situation in Afghanistan Oxfam Ireland, as part of a group of 12 organisations working on Migrant, Asylum and Refugee rights, has written to the Irish government calling for Ireland to lead in its response to the refugee situation in Afghanistan. A copy of the letter is available here.

Welcoming the initial commitment to offer 150 people humanitarian admission to Ireland, plus commitments to prioritise family reunification the letter recommends other important actions. These include:

  • Use the unfilled resettlement places from 2020 and 2021 to resettle Afghan refugees
  • Increase the number of humanitarian admission visas given to people at risk of persecution in Afghanistan
  • Ensure international protection is provided to Afghan protection applicants currently in Ireland through an expedited process
  • Fast track family reunion applications and broaden criteria
  • Ensure Afghan people have access to the international protection process in Ireland

Oxfam Ireland and organisations working on migrant, asylum and refugee rights in Ireland believe Ireland can continue to show strong humanitarian leadership on this issue, through membership of the Security Council, and other diplomatic channels. However, this needs to be backed up by concrete actions, domestically and internationally.

Ireland can use its existing resettlement programme to resettle Afghan refugees. According to UNHCR there are currently 96,000 Afghan people in neighbouring countries in need of protection. There are at least 1,100 unfilled resettlement places from 2020 and 2021. We are recommending that at least a 1,000 Afghan refugees are resettled.

We can also expedite applications from Afghan people in Ireland and provide them international protection. There are currently around 211 Afghan people living in Direct Provision.

Family reunification can also be fast tracked so family members, many of whom are likely to be in danger, can leave.

Approximately 97 Afghan people were refused leave to land in Ireland between 1 January 2020 and 31 May 2021, people in this situation need to be given access to the protection process if needed.

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Saying yes to SecondHand? You’re not the only one...

Last year, 33 million people around the world bought second-hand clothes for the very first time –and more than three-quarters of those people plan to increase their spending on pre-loved items in the next five years –pretty incredible right?

The figures, released last month by ThredUp –the world’s largest fashion resale platform –also reveal that the second-hand market is expected to DOUBLE over the next five years.

It emerged that the resale sector grew during the pandemic and is now worth$36 billion. Moreover, the findings in ThredUp’s ninth annual Resale Report highlight that the second-hand market is expected to grow 11 times faster than the retail clothing business over the same period.

The report found that consumers’ values have changed since the pandemic began, driving new demand for second hand. One in three shoppers now care more about wearing sustainable apparel than pre-pandemic, 60 percent don’t want to waste money and 51 percent worry about environmental waste. Just one out of two shoppers reported to care more about getting a bargain.

And the report revealed that the circular economy is going mainstream, with shoppers and retailers eager for governments to incentivise resale.

Almost 60 percent of retail executives say they’d be more likely to test clothing resale if there were financial incentives for doing so, while 44 percent of shoppers think that the government should help promote sustainable fashion.

And nearly 50 percent of the 3,500 shoppers surveyed said they’d be more inclined to buy second-clothes if there was no sales tax or they got a tax credit.

Elsewhere, other research has found that Gen-Z shoppers are concerned about brands’ sustainability credentials, in terms of both social and environmental issues. The findings are based on a survey of more than 2,000 people who buy and sell on vintage clothing marketplace Depop in the US.

Seventy percent of those surveyed said that their decision whether to buy clothes or not depends on fashion companies’ stances on fair wages and safety. Six out of 10 respondents said the same for issues of diversity and inclusion, while another 60 percent mentioned brands’ efforts to reduce their environmental footprint.

People are starting to see just how much pressure throwaway fashion is putting on our planet and people and how unsustainable it is. And people are starting to take action. And you can too!

Set yourself a personal challenge, and join us for Second Hand September as we say yes to pre-loved!

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Sienna Miller is encouraging you to take part in Oxfam’s Second Hand September

Sienna Miller supporting Second Hand September 2021

Millions of items of clothing end up in Irish landfills every year. Throwaway fashion is putting increasing pressure on our planet and its people.
Sienna Miller is encouraging you to take part in Oxfam’s Second Hand September.

If we all make small changes, we can make a difference. - Sienna

When shopping with Fashion Relief or in Oxfam shops, there are gems to be found. The appeal of an original pieces that no one else has, interesting clothes with a twist, it all awaits you!

There are a few questions that every vintage shopper has when trawling through rails of clothes.

Will it fit, will I wear it, and will it last forever?

Oxfam Ireland and Fashion Relief

Shopping vintage and pre-loved can be an amazing and more sustainable approach to fashion, however there are a few things to keep in mind to shop as mindfully as possible.

Know what you need and what suits you.

Being clear about what items are missing from your wardrobe and knowing what looks good on you is key to being successful when shopping for vintage.

2. Size it right.

Sizing and silhouettes have changed over the years, so it is important to try it on or have a tape measure handy.

3. Don’t buy just because it’s a ‘gem’ or a ‘good deal’.

It’s only worth buying if it’s a piece you’ll wear and create memories in. Follow Livia Firth’s 30 Wear Challenge and ask yourself ‘will I wear this 30 times?’, this will force you to pause before buying. If the answer is not 100% yes, then put it back.

4. Know your fabrics.

This one obviously takes time, but if you pay close attention to care labels and garment composition, you will eventually learn to recognise a fabric by touch intuitively. This is a great advantage because it means you’ll be able to get premium items for a lower price. A silk dress will be much cheaper if it's missing a composition label clearly stating that it's pure silk.

And if all else fails – if you are not quite sure and it’s a bargain, go ahead and buy it anyway! After all it’s for a good cause. Have a constantly rotating cast-off bag at home. If you find that you do not wear something, you can always donate it back to the store for someone else to love. According to WRAP, by extending the life of our clothes by 9 months of active use, we can reduce their carbon, water, and waste footprints by 20-30%.

To make your special pieces last, it’s important to care for them properly.

1. Fabrics First

If you want to clean your vintage finds and escape sky-high dry-cleaning bills (not to mention avoiding the harsh chemicals), you should learn how to clean and store them properly. Cotton and synthetics are hardy fabrics and can be machine washed. Silk and satin are usually labelled as dry clean only but can usually be hand-washed in cool water. Sweaters will be good as new if you dry them flat on a towel as opposed to hanging them up (the weight of the water in them will stretch them beyond recognition). Speaking of stretched-out jumpers, never ever hang a jumper up on a hanger, as that’s a sure-fire way to stretch out the shoulders and ruin it.

2. Which wash?

When in doubt, and with vintage garments, it is always best to handwash. When doing your laundry, it’s also important to wash right; with a suitable detergent, technique, and temperature – treating the textiles the way they deserve. Clothes don’t need to be washed after every wear. 20% of the environmental impact of your clothes is generated when you wear and wash them. Air or steam clean them between wears and spot clean when needed, not only will you be helping the environment, but you’ll also help preserve your clothes for longer.

3. Store safe

Good storage is essential to preventing damage. Most damage comes from environmental conditions – sunlight, humidity, and pests. Use natural repellents like lavender pouches and cedarwood balls in your wardrobe and drawers to protect your garments.

4. Repair and Re-wear

Scruffs and scratches are par for the course with wear. Don’t write off damaged goods, you can extend their life by enlisting help in restoration services and repairs. When it comes to leather, apply a nourishing cream to your jackets, bags, and shoes to increase longevity. Enlist the help of an alternations pro who can ensure the durability of your clothes – repairs or restyling to suit your current lifestyle. Consult a tailor for ideas on fixing or upcycling. Or if you’re nifty with a needle, do it yourself.

And remember by shopping and donating with Oxfam, you’ll not only be helping to combat climate change, the money you help to raise will support people facing poverty around the world.

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