As the climate negotiations in Madrid stall this week with vague decisions on important points such as loss and damage and market mechanisms under the Paris Agreement—with protesters even being temporarily kicked out of the negotiating halls—it is easy to get disheartened by the political processes which govern international cooperation on climate action. And so we look instead to the grassroots climate movement which celebrated landmark wins these last few months for guidance and inspiration.
First, now more than ever, we are seeing the movement growing by leaps and bounds because of young people all over the world. With climate strikes reaching historic attendance figures this year—the Madrid COP 25 march having an attendance of 500,000 alone—we are seeing a groundswell of support and increasing pressure for genuine climate action. In the Philippines, youth groups like Youth Strike for Climate and the Young Advocates for Climate Action in the Philippines have emerged to put their own spin on striking for climate, whether it is through artivism or involving multiple sectors for more meaningful gatherings.
We also see young women taking leadership in these spaces, ushering in a more inclusive movement. From Sweden’s Greta Thunberg, Thailand’s Lynn Ocharoenchai, Malaysia’s Nadiah Zulfakar to the Philippines’ roster of lead strike organizers like Sophia Caralde, Kisha Muana, Jochelle Magracia and Mitzi Tan, we are seeing a dramatic shift from usual male-dominated climate coalitions.
Second, we also celebrate the landmark findings of the Commission on Human Rights on its inquiry on whether Carbon Majors or 47 investor-owned corporations, including Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Repsol, Sasol, and Total, could be found responsible for human rights harms to Filipinos resulting from climate change. The inquiry concluded that they can be held morally and legally liable due to their history of fraud and obfuscation about the real impacts of their businesses. This is the first decision by a human rights institution cementing the connection between climate impacts and human rights violations, and presents a whole new framework of understanding how the fossil fuel industry must be phased out if we want a sustainable future.
Third, there are multiple reports that came out just this quarter identifying the actors who are furthering climate change. From UNEP’s Production Gap report which found that most governments are planning to produce about 50 percent more fossil fuels by 2030 than would be consistent with a 2°C pathway and 120 percent more than would be consistent with a 1.5°C pathway to Urgewald and BankTrack’s study on the top coal financiers around the world, we are now left with a list of names that we can go after and campaign against to prevent climate breakdown. While the conclusions of these reports might be sobering, they are infinitely valuable for pointing fingers at the culprits, making climate change a tangible, actionable issue backed with data and research.
Lastly, the divestment movement also celebrated quite a few highs this year. More and more institutions are finding that investing in fossil fuels like coal and gas are not only unbankable but morally irresponsible in the climate change era. For example, insurance giant AXA has announced that it will stop insuring or investing in companies that will build over 300 MW of new coal capacity or develop mines. Closer to home, three Korean institutions—DB Insurance, Korean Teachers’ Credit Union and Public Officials Benefit Association—have announced they will stop coal project financing to join efforts in combating climate change. We can only hope that Philippine banks and other institutions will follow suit.
Obviously, these wins have to keep happening on all fronts if we are to totally overhaul and uproot the neoliberal capitalist system that allowed for climate destruction to exist in the first place. But the first step to organizing is always to recognize our strengths and to build on these as we move forward. As activists, we must accept responsibility for absorbing new interest into the movement to the best of our abilities and launch a new era of climate campaigning that includes everyone, putting equity and justice at the center of our work.
We need to usher in a culture where fossil fuels and fossil fuel finance become irrelevant, where genuine climate solutions that respect human rights and environmental integrity are in place, and where a just transition to a renewable energy-powered world is within an arm’s reach.
Beatrice Tulagan is field organizer for 350 East Asia and founder of Climate Stories.