One point five to survive, one point five to strive

COP21 youth action 590 NewInt

Youth delegation at COP21. Source: New Internationalist

Growing up in foothills of the Himalayas, Sagar Aryal from Nepal was 10 years old when he realised the urgency of climate action. He witnessed the mountains melt, glacial lakes flood, and the human impacts of the climate crisis. Over 2 million people depend on the mountains for fresh water and natural resources. At 20, Sagar spoke strongly at the UN climate conference (COP21) in Paris.

AJ from the Marshall Islands also spoke, “I want you guys to look at me, and think about my people. One point five to survive, one point five to strive,” echoed by the crowd chanting. For these young people who dared to speak truth to power, ‘fighting for climate justice is not a choice. It is a necessity.’ And they are not alone.

On the first day of COP21, the Climate Vulnerability Forum, represented by leaders from vulnerable countries such as the Philippines, Bangladash and Ethiopia, issued the Manila-Paris Declaration, demanding a 1.5 degrees warming target.

This 1.5 C target is supported by some of the top scientists, notably James Hansen who described ‘the present attempt to limit emissions is “half-arsed and half-baked” and risks handing the next generation a climate system that is out of their control.’ He called for major players to impose ‘an escalating price on carbon’ because “The problem is fossil fuels are cheap and as long as they remain so they will be burned.” An ‘honest’ price on fossil fuels, be it a carbon tax or carbon fee, must reflect their cost to society including the economic devastation wrought by super storms and droughts, the toll on farmland and ecosystems, the effects of global warming and air pollution on human health, etc.

The key word here is ‘honest’ and Hansen’s proposal should not be confused with other so-called market solutions like carbon offsetting, Clean Development Mechanism or Emissions Trading Schemes (ETS) which are fraught with problems from dubious accounting to stalling real climate actions, supporting harmful projects, and even criminal activities.

Like Albert Einstein and indeed many climate justice campaigners have warned, “You can never solve a problem on the level [or mindset] on which it was created.” And how can we honestly put a price on the lives and wellbeing of human beings? A US government report states that “unchecked climate change risks plunging a further 175 million people into hunger and undernourishment worldwide”. World Health Organisation (WHO) warns that ‘by 2030 as many as 250,000 people a year could die because of global warming’ – a ‘highly conservative’ figure while UNICEF emphasizes that ‘hundreds of millions of children around the world are already adversely affected’.

What we need now is not just to change the mindset, but the system – ‘a system change that could finally heal our planet’, stop wars, end fossil fuel mining, ensure transparency, and build a socially just economy. Social injustice is both the cause and result of climate change and we must find and attack the root cause. The Change Everything gathering organised by Oil Free Wellington on the weekend (12-13 Dec 2015) when COP21 ends, will explore these ideas and galvanize actions. Come along and be part of this empowering event.

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