And the only acceptable response is ending the use of fossil fuels
This year’s UN climate talks – whose motto is ‘Tiempo de Actuar,’ or ‘Time to Act’ – started Monday in Madrid against a backdrop that is as mixed as ever.
While the climate crisis shows its fierce face and gets worse each day – with typhoons, floods and fires spreading throughout the globe, from the Philippines to the Congo, from Australia to California, from Italy to Kenya -, the scientific community continues to provide strong evidence of the ever growing extent of the climate breakdown.
Decades of botched economic and social policies have also generated the perfect storm of rising extremism, growing poverty and mass migrations, financial instability and social unrest, including Chile, where the UN climate talks were meant to take place.
At the same time, a strong potential for change can be seen throughout the world. Uprisings in many parts of the world are challenging the status quo and urging governments to correct course. Yet the solutions to tackle climate breakdown exist, from powering down our use of fossil fuels through energy efficiency and saving measures to power up using clean renewable energy.
An ever growing climate movement also brings much hope for the future, as we’ve seen millions of people from all walks of life worldwide take to the streets in a historic wave of climate activism demanding real climate action.
Yet the commitments made so far by national governments remain wholly inadequate to match the scale of the climate crisis: according to the most recent UN data, emissions need to start dropping at a rate of 7.6% a year between 2020 and 2030 and the overall level of ambition needs to increase fivefold for global temperature increase to stay under 1.5°C.
One of the main and least visible reasons why emissions keep rising and politicians seem unable to deliver is because of the fossil fuel industry’s powerful influence on governments. Spending billions a year to block policies that would tackle the climate crisis, major coal, oil and gas corporations continue to hold the political process hostage.
For decades governments have kept open doors to fossil fuel companies, allowing them to continue their dirty lobbying. It is past time for these corporations, which are the biggest culprits of the climate crisis, to be kicked out of the climate talks once and for all.
In fact, while people around the world struggle with unemployment, poverty, and the ever increasing impacts of the climate crisis, governments have recently pumped more than $63.9 billion per year into the fossil fuel industry. Governments need to decide: it’s either them or the scientists and the millions of people calling for immediate climate action.
The 7.6 million people who took to the streets in September calling for an end to coal, oil and gas know this, and the over 1100 companies including some of the world’s largest pension and endowment funds who have already committed to divest from fossil fuels also know it. The fossil industry has lost its social license.
From the fracking ban in the UK to coal power plants being canceled in Turkey and Kenya, to Ukraine cities committing to transitioning to 100% renewable energy, communities all over the globe are leading the way in the urgent shift that is needed in our economic paradigm and are stepping up against the fossil fuel industry.
Markets are also shifting globally – investing in coal, oil and gas nowadays represents a huge financial and reputational risk. Investors are also mindful of their role in accelerating or mitigating increasingly devastating climate impacts.
A diverse and wide range of voices are calling on governments to rapidly scale up the ongoing transition away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy. While the official agenda does not address this directly, the bar is set for governments to adjust their climate plans between COP25 and COP26.
Trust in the multilateral political negotiations also needs to be re-established after years of failures and dithering.
For COP25 to have a chance of succeeding, country delegations in Madrid must give a real response to what people are demanding. This means acting against the vested interests of the fossil industry and protecting communities on the frontlines of the climate breakdown. People are demanding climate justice and it is time for governments to do what’s needed and what’s right.
Hoda Baraka is chief communications officer at 350.org, a grassroots global movement for climate action