‘We will never forgive you’: youth is not wasted on the young who fight for climate justice



Swedish activist Greta Thunberg joins other children from across the world to present an official human rights complaint on the climate crisis.
Michael Nagle/EPA

Danilo Ignacio de Urzedo, University of Sydney

Last week’s United Nations climate summit may go down in history – but not for the reasons intended. It was not the tipping point for action on global warming that organisers hoped it would be. It will instead probably be remembered for the powerful address by Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg, who castigated world leaders on behalf of the generation set to bear the brunt of inaction.

Young people are not sitting back and waiting for older generations to act on the climate crisis. Days before the summit, school students led a climate strike attended by millions around the world. And at the first ever UN youth climate summit, more than 500 young people from 60 countries, including myself, explored how to meet the commitments of the Paris Agreement.

This group of activists, innovators, entrepreneurs, and change-makers aged between 18 and 30 showcased potential solutions and put global political leaders on notice: they must fight off the climate crisis at the scale and pace required.

A young boy takes part in the global climate strike on September 20 at Parliament Square in London.
Neil Hall/EPA

Youth voices matter

Youth aged 15 to 24 years represent 16% of the world population and will reach 1.3 billion people by 2030. Obviously the action (or otherwise) of today’s decision makers on climate change and other environmental threats will affect generations to come – a principle known as intergenerational equity.

Millions of young people around the world are already affected by climate change. Speaking at the youth summit, Fijian climate action advocate Komal Kumar said her nation was at the frontline of a crisis and worldwide, young people were “living in constant fear and climate anxiety … fearing the future”.




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“Stop hindering the work [towards a sustainable future] for short term profits. Engage young people in the design of adaptation plans,” she said. “We will hold you accountable. And if you do not remember, we will mobilise to vote you out.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres attended the event and his deputy Amina Mohammed took part in a “town hall” with the attendees, alongside senior representatives from government and civil society.

Young people are not sitting idly by

Technological solutions presented by youth summit participants included 3D printing using plastic waste, data storage in plant DNA, a weather app for farmers and an accountability platform for sustainable fashion.

Participants learnt how to amplify their voices using Instagram and how to create engaging videos with their mobile phones. An art workshop taught youth how creativity can help solve the climate emergency, and a networking session showed ways that youth leaders to stay connected and support each other.

Greta Thunberg, second from right, speaks as United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and young climate activists listen at the start of the United Nations Youth Climate Summit.
Justin Lane/EPA

Elsewhere, you don’t have to look far to see examples of young climate warriors, including in the developing world.

Programs funded by the UN development program include in Kazakhstan where youth are helping implement an energy efficiency project in schools, and in Namibia where young people are being trained as tour guides in national parks and nature reserves. In Nepal, young people cultivate wild Himalayan cherry trees as a natural solution to land degradation.

Harness the power of nature

Kenyan environmental activist Wanjuhi Njoroge told the youth summit of her nation’s progress in restoring the country’s forest cover.

Nature-based solutions to the climate crisis – such as conserving and restoring forests, grasslands and wetlands – were a key focus at the summit. Efforts to meet the Paris climate goals often focus on cutting fossil fuel use. But nature has a huge ability to store carbon as plants grow. Avoiding deforestation keeps this carbon from entering the atmosphere.

Thunberg and British writer George Monbiot released a film ahead on the New York summit calling on world leaders protect, restore and fund natural climate solutions.

A film by Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot calling for more nature-based climate change solutions.

To date, such solutions have received little by way of investments and funding support. For example in 2015, agriculture, forestry and land-use received just 3% of global climate change finance.

Appearing at the youth summit, the global Youth4Nature network told how it mobilises young people to advocate for nature-based solutions. Their strategy has included collecting and sharing youth stories in natural resources management in more than 35 countries.

Youth ‘will be watching’ their leaders

When it comes to climate change, young people have specific demands that must be acknowledged – and offer solutions that other generations cannot.

But globally there is a lack of youth representation in politics, and by extension, they are largely absent from climate change decision-making.




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Some youth summit participants reportedly questioned whether it achieved its aims – including the value of some workshops, why celebrities were involved and whether anything tangible was produced.

A young girl attends the the global climate strike in Brisbane.
Dan Peled/AAP

Certainly, there was little evidence that world leaders at the climate summit were listening to the demands of young people. This was reflected in the failure of the world’s biggest-polluting countries to offer credible emissions reduction commitments.

But the youth summit went some way to granting young people space and visibility in the formal decision-making process.

Pressure from young people for climate action will not subside. Thunberg said it best when she warned world leaders that youth “will be watching you”.

“The eyes of all future generations are upon you,” she said. “If you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you”.The Conversation

Danilo Ignacio de Urzedo, PhD candidate, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Climate justice and an end to fossil fuels: the Paris agreement won’t satisfy activists


Rebecca Pearse, University of Sydney

A global climate agreement was adopted in Paris on Saturday evening, but it will leave activists demanding direct action on fossil fuels and energy market reform.

Before the Paris talks even began there were activists arguing that the negotiations would not deliver what they want. The Climate Justice Action network said that the COP21 will continue a 20 years of ineffective climate policy, demonstrated by a 65% rise in fossil fuel emissions since 1990.

Naomi Klein said she “refused to put our future in the hands of [negotiators] cloistered in the Bourget”. Klein places more hope in bottom-up energy democracy.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s protests were about saying campaigns for climate justice will continue.

Has activist pessimism about the agreement been justified?

The Paris Agreement doesn’t stack up

Klein argues that there is some “good language” in the agreemnt. The Paris text recognises the need to cap temperature rises at 1.5℃. However, the language doesn’t match national pledges for action. These pledges are so weak that a dangerous 3 or 4 degrees warming is likely.

The agreement also notes “the importance for some of the concept of “climate justice”, when taking action to address climate change.” But the substance of agreement falls far short of what movements mean by the term.

One of the main issues activists have raised is the absence of reference to fossil fuels in the Paris Agreement. The agreement aims for “balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks” after 2050.

Reference to reducing fossil fuels, or even “decarbonisation” would have been better. The vague language of “balance” between (fossil fuel) “sources” and “sinks” opens up the possibility for loopholes, such as “forest carbon offsets” and technologies activists oppose such as “clean coal” and nuclear energy.

Loopholes are familiar terrain for Australian negotiators, who have secured the continuation of a 1997 land carbon accounting loophole to meet Australia’s 2020 target. It is an accounting rule that will allow further emissions increases in energy and industrial sectors with no penalty.

Opaque carbon terminology typical in climate agreements turns the climate issue into an unhelpful abstraction. The concrete problems climate movements want addressed are about energy and inequalities, which are systemic and difficult to change.

Movements want ‘system change’

Activist pessimism about the Paris Agreement reflects the fact climate movements want to change society and transform energy systems more rapidly and fundamentally than the UN system allows for. They do this by bringing people together, online and in public spaces, to put pressure on governments and corporations to change.

The climate movement is a contemporary version of what Immanuel Wallerstein called “anti-systemic movements”. Anti-systemic movements want to transform societies, and in this case, humanity’s relationship with ‘nature’.

Movements calling for “climate justice”, carry on traditions of the alter-globalisation movement, other forms of environmentalism, feminism, anti-colonial and socialist movements.

Climate justice movements are diverse, but there is a fundamental principle informing activist practice: climate change is a consequence of unequal, colonial, economic and social power relations.

Protests during the Paris negotiations illustrate the diverse strands of this anti-systemic agenda. The slogans were “Flood the system” and “Connect the dots”. Flood the system is a reference to anti-capitalist protests during the peak of the financial crisis. Connecting the dots means recognising the links between climate change and systemic inequalities.

Activists consistently point out that the impacts of climate change are greatest for marginal social groups, and that historical responsibility for climate change is concentrated in a small number of corporate and government hands.

Their analysis was symbolised in protests in the past weeks. The People’s Climate March and the People’s Parliament protest were both represented by Pacific Islanders, indigenous people, and mining-affected community members. They targeted Parliament, as well as a bank and fossil fuel company and coal infrastructure.

Given that climate justice movements want systemic change, it’s unsurprising that the Paris Agreement is not enough for activists. However, this is not to say that anti-systemic movements simplistically oppose all reform, or that movements don’t create new policy agendas.

Movements want reform too

There are two strong messages from activists about energy policy.

  • 1) There needs to be a limit placed on fossil fuels

  • 2) There needs to be regulation and public investment to facilitate affordable renewable energies.

As time as gone on, the political focus on abstract carbon targets and carbon pricing has diminished. Climate organisations like 350.org have translated their focus on global carbon target of 350ppm (a technical term for concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere) into connected local campaigns to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

There are new research organisations documenting the fossil fuel assets that need to be retrenched in order to stay within a 1.5-2-degree limit. This year’s Australia Institute campaign for “no new coal mines” is concrete policy that would help keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Whether or not direct regulation of energy markets is politically feasible is an unanswered question. However, seeking change through complex and ineffective emissions policy like carbon trading has also been difficult for activists.

The road from Copenhagen goes beyond Paris

The last major climate talks held in Copenhagen in 2009 saw public protests like those last week. There was a broad sense that it was the last chance for a global agreement that could avoid dangerous climate change.

When the Copenhagen Accord was deemed a flop, a sense of failure was keenly felt by climate movements. The numbers of people engaged in climate activism dropped considerably from 2010.

But activists did continue to mobilise. After Copenhagen the social and environmental effects of Australia’s export mining boom in coal and gas were intensifying. New campaign organisations such as Lock the Gate and Land Water Future changed Australian climate politics. These groups are resisting fossil fuels, but climate mitigation is not the only, or central, motivation.

Food and water security, indigenous land rights, and farmer’s property rights have become much more salient than ever before. These campaigns have led to temporary moratoriums on coal seam gas, numerous inquiries, new water protections, and a debate about whether land owners should be able to say no to fossil fuel companies.

Renewable energy campaigns have matured since 2009, with new citizens campaigns developing the case for community renewable energy projects and fair access to the electricity grid for Australia’s 1.4 million rooftop solar owners. While these campaigns have struggled to get new policies, the resilience of the Renewable Energy Target is evidence that governments cannot risk losing voters who support renewables.

This week’s climate negotiations were one moment in a long battle. Activists are moving “through” and “beyond” Paris and will continue campaigns against fossil fuel dependence and for a “just energy transition”.

In doing so, movements will go on highlighting the failures of climate policy. They are changing what is politically feasible for Australian governments.

The Conversation

Rebecca Pearse, Research Associate, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.