“Adults keep saying: “We owe it to the young people to give them hope.” But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act”.
- Greta Thumberg, addressing the World Economic Forum in January 2019.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report confirmed what we’ve all feared. With more refined scientific evidence than ever before, the report warns that climate change is intensifying, affecting all regions of the planet. Humanity's influence on this imbalance is now referred to as "unequivocal." As such, there’s no doubt that it’s our responsibility to confront the problem.
Recent and aggressive climate events demonstrate that the world is transitioning from mere warnings to real, apocalyptic experiences. The Panel is not exaggerating. Over the last few months, floods have killed hundreds of people in some of the richest countries on the planet, and fires have ravaged thousands of hectares across the globe.
Despite all this, there is still hope! And hope is our main ally in changing course.
The report projected five scenarios, from the least to the most ambitious, according to the mitigation measures that humanity could implement. All of them, even the most ambitious, result in exceeding the 1.5 °C average temperature of the planet by 2040. Despite the starkness of that forecast, the report also shows that, by taking aggressive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we could stabilize the increase at 1.4°C by 2100.
The battle is not over, let alone lost. The most important consequences of this planetary imbalance are still uncertain and are being played out in the field.
So what’s next?
Drastic reductions of greenhouse gases will only be possible with systemic changes at the government and corporate levels. We also need to adjust our narratives so as to not fall into defeatism and hopelessness, because there is no scientific evidence to support surrender.
Nor should we allow the environmental movement to become divided; we must be alert to the campaigns of fear and diversion practiced by our opponents. Hopelessness, defeatism and the division of our voices are precisely the winning cards of those who resist change.
Given the global context, what follows are some necessary and urgent actions that will allow us to advance toward the future we need:
- Aiming for a rapid and just energy transition that respects human rights and includes a gender focus; as well as a new type of development that does not bulldoze nature, but cherishes and respects it. These changes should not produce fear. The technology to generate energy with minimal emissions and environmental impacts exists, is proven, and has greater potential to create jobs than the fossil fuel industry. A world powered by clean, renewable energy is a fairer, greener world.
- Holding the industries and companies that drive our economy accountable for what their activities leave behind. The subsidy nature has paid in the name of economic development has already exceeded what is reasonable. Projects that impact the environment, that attack the balance of nature, are no longer viable. The institutional framework and the principles of national and international law that protect the environment and human rights are on our side. We must interpret and use them for what they are: sources of binding and obligatory law.
- Ensuring the protection of natural sites that have not yet been disturbed, especially those of high environmental value. Nature has the capacity to regenerate and heal itself, but we must give it a chance. Indigenous and traditional peoples, guardians of their forests and territories, play a key role in this.
- Advocating for the correct use of climate funds at the international level, ensuring that they work toward climate justice and not false solutions that do more harm than the disease itself. National and international financial institutions move huge amounts of money each year to address climate change. Funds for mitigation and adaptation are available and projects to be financed must comply with environmental and social safeguards. The monetary cost of not acting or not acting enough is much higher than the cost of taking immediate, effective and decisive action.
- Being strategic and relying on science to take advantage of every mitigation opportunity. One example is the reduction of short-lived climate pollutants, which were specifically addressed in the recent IPCC report. These pollutants have historically lacked the attention they deserve, despite the incredible opportunity their mitigation implies. One of them is methane, whose presence in the environment is at an all-time high. Methane—the sources of which include coal mining, fracking, large dam reservoirs and intensive livestock farming—has 67 times more power than carbon dioxide (CO2) to warm the planet over a 20-year period, and its emissions cause almost 25% of that warming. Reducing these pollutants also means improving air quality in cities across the global.
- Achieving ambitious results in international negotiations and honoring the treaties that protect the planet, taking advantage of the strength we have when we act in coordination. It’s true that we have been attending UN conferences on climate change for 25 years without managing to reduce emissions, but it’s also true that we have an agreement signed by all member states that is binding and that orders each country to do its part to avoid exceeding the dangerous barriers of warming. Let us not dismiss what has been achieved; rather, let’s continue to build on it.
We must demand these actions and not settle for less. We must be on alert to vote for leaders who have what it takes to lead us that way. Every small victory, every ton of CO2 that is kept in the ground, every natural space that is preserved, moves us away from the worst effects of this crisis.
It's our turn, and nature must come first. We owe it to those who will inhabit this beautiful planet in the near and distant future.