December 20th, 2018
For two weeks at the start of December, the international community gathered – as they do each year – to agree on how to deal with the impending climate catastrophe.
The talks this year happened against a world which has darkened considerably since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. In three short years, the political alignment which had made that agreement possible has all but evaporated.
President Trump, with his anti-science rhetoric and backing from big oil, has thrown a grenade into the multilateral process. He hasn’t dealt a fatal blow – but the patient is in a serious, unstable condition.
Trump’s behaviour, perhaps most worryingly, provided cover in Poland for other reluctant Paris signatories – Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Kuwait – to come out into the open. Their decision to block the conference “welcome” of the recent scientific report on remaining within 1.5 degrees was a highly symbolic and brazen act.
It was met with shock and disbelief on the part of most but allowed others like Brazil to piggyback on the tense political atmosphere to enter the fray as a wrecking ball – delaying agreement on what counts towards emissions reductions and carbon credits. Ultimately, it sewed division and discord at a time when unity was essential.
Against this backdrop, the rhetoric on the climate emergency has been dialled up. There is always a sense of urgency at these events and emotions can run high. This year, however, there was no beating about the bush.
Indictment of world leaders
At the opening of the climate summit, Sir David Attenborough talked of the imminent breakdown of civilisation. The talks then ended with an utterly heart-wrenching plea from 15-year-old Greta Thurnberg, who gave the negotiators a dressing down of epochal proportions:
“You are not mature enough to say it like it is. Even that you leave to us children,” she said. “I do not care about being popular – I care about climate justice, about a living planet.”
They were chilling, cutting words from Greta and a clear indictment of politicians everywhere.
For climate campaigners in Katowice, and those like me following negotiations around the world, this COP has been a watershed of both despair and hope in a strange way. What little faith people had in governments to respond with due urgency has been shattered.
Governments simply are not going to do this for us, for our children and for our planet. This was their last chance saloon and they have blown it. If the stark words of a 15-year-old girl and an icon like Sir David Attenborough don’t work, frankly nothing will.
The political and economic system is broken – and you can’t fix the world with that broken system.
Realising this is cathartic. It isn’t, of course, about discounting governments and the role they play – rules matter. It is about understanding that we need to build a new system on the ruins of the old one.
System change can seem nebulous – since it implies changing everything everywhere. But it is actually quite straightforward and much of it exists already.
It is a space where we build communities together and stand up boldly for our children’s future and that of other species. It’s a space where we mobilise, organise and inspire each other for an urgent change.
That system change is coming. The question is whether we can accelerate it now.
Change is coming
Katowice also showed through Greta and many others that a popular rising is well underway. It happens when each and every one of us – from the oldest to the youngest – make bold choices and demonstrate loudly our willingness to change.
Then political choices become possible and things can change fast. Most energy now has to be spent in waking up the world, in focusing minds on to the future we are denying our children.
I expect to find myself on the streets more often next year. In the absence of meaningful political action nationally and internationally, the ball is firmly in the court of ‘we, the people’ to protect human rights and the planet for the future.
And as Greta rightly says: hope comes when you start to act.
What we do in the next two years is crucial. Time is not standing still. This is our climate D-Day.
By Lorna Gold
Lorna is the Head of Policy and Advocacy and author of the new book Climate Generation: Awakening to Our Children’s Future
Lorna’s five key climate actions to take in 2019:
- Begin to model the low-consumption behaviour we need – from energy efficiency measures, reducing flying, changing eating habits… every emission now counts. If you can’t do everything – pick one thing to focus on. See http://www.ecologicalfootprint.org/ for more ideas.
- Get informed and talk about climate change in our communities – and talk about what we individually are doing. If you need a little book to help become informed, read my story – Climate Generationto give you the words and inspiration. See http://www.veritas.ie/
- Get your money out of fossil fuels – and demand that our churches, clubs, universities, societies, countries do likewise. Make a plan to contact your bank and pension advisor to ask about re-investing your money in funds which do not support the fossil fuel industry. http://www.gofossilfree.org/
- Support legal cases to challenge government inaction on climate change. Give a donation to http://www.climatecaseireland.ie/
- Make this our top political issue for 2019 – and organise to take action. Join the global climate strike movement and make #FridaysforFuture your mantra in 2019.