In October 2018, the warning in the landmark October 2018 report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that the planet was 12 years away from catastrophe unless “far-reaching and unprecedented changes” are taken, led to the most recent climate change protests and in the US to significant litigation cases. These protests, which have been taking place worldwide, are against government inaction on issues of climate change and have largely been led by students, the very people left to deal with the changes.
“Fridays for Future”
Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg has been speaking out and demanding action to deal with climate change from leaders since August 2018 when she began her lone strike outside the country’s parliament in Stockholm. She has said that she will continue to strike until Sweden is aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement. It is her actions that have led to the formation of Fridays for Future, a youth organisation in Europe.
On 15 March, thousands of students in 112 countries held a “Fridays for Future” protest from India to South Korea to Chile. With no central organisation, the marches were organised regionally via several Instagram and Facebook accounts, tailored to the events in their area that would help them persuade the people they knew. For example, in Australia, students are demanding that the government end all new mining and power the country with 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030.
A second protest on 24 May involved 130 countries. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel cited the school strikes as one of her reasons for backing a European Union-wide target of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The next global strike will be on 20 September, during the United Nations General Assembly international climate summit.
Extinction Rebellion (XR), London
In April 2019, parts of London were brought to a complete standstill by protesters who have called on the British government to negotiate with them and to prioritise environmental protection. They barricaded roads and bridges at major city landmarks over 10 days in coordinated actions across the city. It was around this time that the UK government adopted a target of net-zero emissions by 2050, which would give the UK the most aggressive climate target in the world.
Extinction Rebellion was founded in April 2018 and officially launched in October 2018, not long after the publication of the IPCC report. It began with 15 organisers from the UK activist group RisingUp! The group wanted a more rebellious resistance to the demand for a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. As with the other protests, the core message is that climate change is an emergency. XR’s “Declaration of Rebellion” states the organisation’s aim is “peaceful civil disobedience, traffic disruption, and symbolic criminal actions” to highlight the British government’s inaction on the climate emergency. Spinoff groups have now formed in dozens of countries, including the US.
The Time is Now – The Climate Coalition
On 26 June in London, protesters from across the UK are gathering in London to push politicians to end the UK’s contribution to climate change and restore the natural environment. However, it is an uphill battle as the UK is actively supporting new exploitation of fossil fuels through shale gas fracking industry, the expansion of its North Sea oil and gas fields, the expansion of airports as well as the planning permission for a new coal mine.
In the US, citizens have filed lawsuits against the government in the hope of creating comprehensive action on climate change which the political process has so far failed to provide, yet it is uncertain how these lawsuits will proceed.
Young US activists have proposed a plan of their own called the Green New Deal (GND), which has ignited interest to become an intense national conversation. The GND is a programme of investments in clean-energy jobs and infrastructure, meant to decarbonise the economy and to make it fairer and more just.
On 26 April 2019, a campus rally at Harvard University saw students, faculty, and alumni protesting the school’s investments in fossil fuel companies. Campaigners have been pushing Harvard to purge its endowment of fossil fuels for years, but this latest effort may be the largest and strongest yet, now part of an international movement to confront the fossil fuel industry’s finances.
The momentum of legal challenges has spread to Canada, the Netherlands, Pakistan and Ireland, where citizens are taking their governments to court to demand more ambitious policies to fight climate change.
There is much potential for change thanks to the social attention and intensity for climate ambition witnessed over the last couple of years. This now needs to be converted into real results, which will require a great deal of political and policy engineering.
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