When we say we’re going on strike in the Philippines it means we’re taking a great risk and trying to cause a great disruption. In Kenya, though not always successful, strikes remain a powerful weapon in the hands of labour unions. The spirit of striking is something we understand and respect.
Each of us came to climate activism from different walks of life. I, Landry Ninteretse, saw how the changing climate was exacerbating conflict in my native Burundi, putting hundreds of thousands on the road to exile. When I arrived in Kenya, I wanted to contribute to building a national and regional movement against climate change. I, Ian Rivera, started as an activist fighting for farmers’ rights to land and fighting for the freedom of my country, the Philippines, from a dictator. We ousted the dictator but now we continue to fight for people’s rights, and now I find myself also fighting for our people’s survival and future in the face of the climate crisis.
By joining the climate strikes in contexts where striking can carry serious consequences, we are expressing our rage and indignation in the face of worldwide climate change inaction. While walking in the streets, many of our brothers, sisters, cousins and comrades are putting their jobs and classes at risk by asking that politicians put an end to this destruction. We accept the risks knowing that this a matter of survival for millions of people.
When a brave young person from Sweden called Greta called on us to ‘join her’ we also heard her saying, crucially, ‘I will join you.’ We recognised the spirit of her school strike as the same spirit we have seen in activists working under the threat of police repression and beatings, here in Nairobi or Manila. Ours are demands that rarely seem to feature on the placards printed by well-funded NGOs in New York.
As people of the global majority, our fight for climate justice has always gone beyond the narrow framing of carbon emissions and the demands of mainstream environmental movements in the rich world.
When we are told to change our light bulbs to save the climate we reply that many people in our countries and communities do not have light bulbs to change. Over a billion people in the world have no access to electricity. When we are told that we must go vegan to save the Amazon, we reply that many people in our countries go to bed hungry. Over a billion people in the world face malnutrition.
With the momentum that has been built by these global climate strikes that have seen millions take to the streets around the world, we have the opportunity now to push for nothing less than universal global access to energy. We need to make a complete shift to public and decentralized, renewable and clean energy systems as soon as possible. We need to reclaim this power. The window of opportunity in which to act, however, is small and closing quickly.
Climate change is already wreaking havoc on the lives of tens of millions of people worldwide, turbocharging storms like Supertyphoon Haiyan which devastated the Philippines in 2013 and droughts that are currently devastating Eastern Africa and the Horn of Africa. This is the world at 1C warming. To have even a two-thirds chance of limiting warming to 1.5C, global carbon emissions need to be halved by 2030 and reach near zero by 2050.
The lion’s share of responsibility for carbon emissions lies within the current fossil-fuel based energy system. One third of global emissions are from the energy sector. However, rather than falling, emissions from the energy sector continue to rise.
Governments, therefore, must abruptly begin restricting the extraction of fossil fuels and bring about policies that permit no new fossil-fuel infrastructure. In particular, new coal projects, which have devastating human, social, and health consequences, must be immediately halted. The recent cancellation of the Lamu coal-fired power plant in Kenya, a project which would have been detrimental to the lives of those living in the area and its surrounding rich ecosystem, is a positive example. Dangerous new extraction techniques like the desperate attempts to frack for shale gas must also be banned.
What’s actually happening, however, is that every year governments are giving billions of dollars of our money to the fossil fuel industry in the form of public subsidies. We demand an immediate end to this practice by rich countries, and within five years by all nations globally.
These are the solutions, commitments, and actions that we demand. These are the promises we hope to hear spoken from UN podiums in New York. If, instead, we hear vague long-term targets, we’ll know we still have not been heard.
We need to beware, in the push to adopt clean technologies, false solutions that are sold to our people by well-financed firms focused only on profit. Energies sold as renewable are not necessarily safe or clean. Mega-dams displace people. They disrupt delicate watersheds, and use vast amounts of concrete. Waste incineration does nothing to deal with excessive consumption and waste, and it’s a practice that often poisons the most vulnerable people in society. Biofuels grab vast amounts of land that could otherwise be used to feed people.
As people who have been fighting for climate justice for decades, we support the global climate strike unequivocally. Young people have shown radical ambition and a deep sense of solidarity. Now our voices and cries, whether we’re young or adult, rich or poor, from North or South, must be heard. We cannot afford another decade of vague promises or inaction.
Ian Rivera is National Co-Ordinator for the Philippines Movement for Climate Justice. Landry Ninteretse is the Africa lead for 350.org.
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