George Monbiot statement

Successive governments of the UK, including the current one, have pledged repeatedly to limit the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, in order to meet the global target of no more than two degrees of warming. These pledges have taken the form of manifesto promises, public statements, negotiating positions at international talks and cross-party support for the Climate Change Act 2008, which establishes the policy of an 80% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 as a legal obligation.

But, in common with other governments and international bodies, they have fudged the issue of aviation emissions, collectively failing to bring these within climate targets and emission reduction efforts. As Alice Bows-Larkin's testimony so ably demonstrates, aviation (and shipping) threaten to undermine the UK’s legal and international obligations.

The continued failure to address this issue, combined with the government’s commitment to the continued expansion of aviation capacity, makes a mockery of its pledges and targets, and substantially undermines the global target, affirmed at Paris, of no more than 2 degrees of warming, and ideally no more than 1.5. 

When a government breaks its own promises, undermines its own targets and threatens the common welfare of its own people and of citizens elsewhere in the world, what democratic options are left open to us? There is a long and honourable tradition in this country and elsewhere of citizens taking non-violent direct action in order to challenge unrepresentative, injust and life-threatening political settlements. Without such action, women, agricultural labourers and other propertyless men might have been left without a vote. The apartheid regime in South Africa may have persisted. The British might have remained in India. The transatlantic slave trade might not have come to an end. In fact, there are few aspects of what almost everyone on Earth now regards as human progress that have not been assisted by actions of the kind taken by the Heathrow 13.

In years to come, those who put their own liberty and in some cases their lives at risk in order to press governments to take action to prevent climate breakdown will be regarded in the same light as the suffragettes, the chartists, the anti-apartheid activists and the antislavery movement. They will be regarded not as outlaws and subversives, but as democratic heroes. Succeeding generations, struggling with the impacts that our government’s failures to take action on climate change bequeathed them, are likely to be amazed that they could have been seen in any other light.