We cannot cheer incrementalism when what we need is transformational change
2020 was pitched as a goalpost for climate ambition. A moment when the fog of political apathy would clear and governments moved by the mass strikes, the unwavering evidence from science and a commitment to honest governance would line up to deliver new climate targets that collectively cut global emissions by half by 2030.
There should have been substantial money on the table this year. A cumulation of the $100 billion a year that rich countries owe developing countries in climate finance, as was promised in 2009.
Developed countries should have fulfilled their pre-2020 emission reduction commitments for an equitable transition to a zero-carbon future.
By now governments should have agreed to a “loss and damage” funding mechanism as a lifeline of support and a means of justice to those suffering unavoidable climate damages.
The 20 largest economies in the world should have ceased all new fossil fuel production and phased out harmful subsidies.
Following the debacle of COP25 in Madrid last December where large emitters, backed by the fossil fuel lobby, steadfastly blocked progress we now see them continue their regressive tactics at home.
The Canadian government, in total violation of its own climate promises, is allowing a 670-km fossil gas pipeline to run through Indigenous people’s land. Japan is set to approve 22 new coal mines that will lock in emissions for decades. The Australian government continues to justify its addiction to coal even as the country is up in flames. The Bolsonaro government has submitted a bill to permit commercial mining on Indigenous people’s land. The United States, one of the largest emitters, has literally left the party but is still eating the cake.
At the start of 2020, let’s take a moment to condemn the litany of lies and broken promises that have exacerbated this climate and ecological crisis. We grieve the loss of lives, lands, livelihoods and ecosystems that are a direct result of bad faith politics, of putting profit ahead of people especially the most vulnerable people in the global South.
If 2019 comes to be remembered as the year that the climate emergency finally broke through mass consciousness, 2020 must be remembered as the year that we stop shifting the goalposts to accommodate our weak leaders and mobilise the power of people to tip the scales towards lasting change.
It is time to not only hold those in power to account, but to let them feel the consequences of their inaction. Let us understand what is needed to do this and build our collective strength and courage.
We can no longer cheer meaningless incrementalism disguised as climate progress when what is needed is transformational change. There is no excuse to pivot to net-zero 2050 climate targets that defy science and principles of equity without taking immediate decisions to cut emissions at source.
As we embark into a new era of organising and mobilisation in this ‘decade of climate ambition’, let us ask ourselves what international solidarity really means in a climate crisis. What will it take to tackle the ‘most powerful’ head on? How far are we willing to challenge ourselves in this long arc towards climate justice? How can we become better allies, build stronger and more inclusive networks and sustain each other through periods fraught with inevitable setbacks?
While the youth and school strikers have had an enormous impact in such a short time, there is a diversity of resistance movements and frontline defenders from around the world to learn from and to learn about.
We can begin by unpacking and unlearning assumptions, checking our impulses and privilege and stand ready to cede space and power to new voices and those historically marginalised. It is time to articulate and put into practice a climate activism that straddles social justice and labour movements, that fights racism and inequality and demands the full rights for Indigenous peoples. We must do this without diminishing, tokenizing or appropriating voices and victories from these inter-connected struggles.
Let us acknowledge the complexity of the task ahead and get prepared. Our foes are organised, desperate and willing to hold onto the status quo through any means. Politicians may lie to us and the fossil fuel cartel is frantically recycling misinformation to obfuscate the facts.
Unleashing the power of people in unity, respect and love is a critical responsibility this year. Now is the time to get this right. In 2020 we cannot afford to settle for what is “realistic” we must get what is necessary.