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OPINION: It's time to #FightClimateInjustice

Friday, 18 September 2020 09:15 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, youth activists are relaunching strikes for faster, fairer action on climate threats

Last September, millions of people across the world took to the streets to demand climate action. Politicians and the media congratulated the youth and portrayed them as beacons of hope.

However, with those same leaders' inaction, there was never cause for celebration.

For young people in the areas most affected by the climate crisis, last year was not a year for festivities: it was a struggle.

It was one of the hottest years on record, with extreme weather accelerating, and hitting hardest in the Global South. Millions of people saw livelihoods disappear, had to abandon their homes, and many lost their lives.

Despite being on the climate front lines, young activists in our countries also face the injustices of persecution at home and being ignored in international media. Now, on the Global Day of Climate Action on September 25, we continue to demand climate action and justice for the most impacted people and areas.

 Fighting for our present, not just our future.

The climate crisis is already here. Those in power have congratulated us countless times because “we’re going to change the future.” They choose to ignore that the climate crisis is a problem we are facing today.

Recent climate impacts like the cyclones in South Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific, and the floods in East Africa have forced people to huddle in shelters, abandoning all physical distancing rules - a cruel choice between catching a deadly virus or perishing in floods.

Billions of people are on the frontlines of both COVID-19 and climate change. We are facing raging flames and water stress in Latin America and Africa, sinking islands in the Pacific, and devastating floods and rains displacing millions in Southeast Asia.

This is our reality: living in fear of the next calamity, defending our territories from the surge of extreme weather. This is despite our countries contributing so little to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. 

What are the people who are responsible for the climate crisis doing? The United States, the European Union, China, you are the top emitters. The United States and the EU historically have the largest carbon dioxide emissions. China, you are now recklessly following polluting development models and releasing the most emissions today.

Chevron, Exxon, BP, and Shell, you are some of the highest polluting corporations. You have a responsibility to the whole world, especially to us, the most-affected people and areas (MAPA). Your inaction is leading us to more inequality and death.

This is the moment to fight every crisis, and make this the year we bend the curve of greenhouse gas emissions. Fossil fuel industries are a relic of the past century. We will keep fighting and working hand in hand with the most vulnerable.

Unheard, but not voiceless.

Those in the most affected areas experience the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Too many times, though, our voices have been sidelined.

Climate activists from these areas are rarely featured in international media, even as the world celebrates the hope that the youth climate movement inspires. Only when the silencing of our voices in the global discussion about climate was so blunt that it could not be ignored, were some of us given a voice.

We are constantly reduced to statistics and sad stories but our voices matter to capture the full picture. We are guardians of the present because we witness how the intensifying environmental crisis is only fanning the flames of the already existing socio-economic crises we face everyday.

We will not be prisoners of injustice.

 It is not just the injustice of climate change-driven extreme weather that we are facing; we also suffer much greater risk for resisting polluters and fighting the destruction of nature at home.

In 2019, 212 environmental defenders were killed, with more than half of these killings happening in only two countries: Colombia and the Philippines.

It was the deadliest year ever recorded for people defending their lands and nature. In the midst of this planetary crisis, common sense dictates that those protecting the environment should be protected.

Unreported disappearances of indigenous people in parts of Asia and Africa are a regular problem; repressive governments and threats to press freedom are part of the problem.

Instead of climate policies that will better equip us to handle the emergency that’s already happening, instead of treaties like the Escazu Agreement to protect environmental defenders, we are seeing regression and repression.

The celebration that framed the youth climate movement in 2019 never felt right for us. We were already seeing the worst of the climate crisis, but we are continuing our fight against the systemic injustices that drive the problem, and that silence us.

We must resist a ‘back to normal’ scenario and we must reckon with systemic oppression that drives poverty and inequality and keeps Black, brown, indigenous peoples and marginalised sectors on the frontline of climate impacts. It is time for a systemic overhaul. 

This year can be a turning point. We must use the response to this pandemic to begin our just and sustainable reboot.

This includes a debt standstill for the poorest countries as a first step of many, as well as an immediate stop to subsidizing and investing in fossil fuels, and the promotion of locally adapted sustainable recovery measures.

Until the current exploitative and hyper-extractive system is changed, we will keep fighting for climate justice, for our lives and for the lives that have been taken away.

Polluters and carbon majors, brace yourselves. We have the people with us. Our ability to demonstrate on the streets will be limited by COVID-19 but nevertheless we are protesting in whatever ways we can with health protocols in mind.

We will strike on September 25 to call for justice, for the present, for future generations, and for our planet: #FightClimateInjustice

Mitzi Jonelle Tan - Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines; Disha Ravi - Fridays For Future India; Eyal Weintraub - Jóvenes Por El Clima Argentina; Nicki Becker - Jóvenes Por El Clima Argentina; Laura Muñoz - Fridays for Future Colombia; Sofia Gutierrez - Fridays for Future Colombia; Sofia Hernandez- Fridays For Future Costa Rica; Hyally Carvalho - Engajamundo; Adriana Calderón- Fridays for Future; Kevin Mtai - Africa Continental Co-ordinator Earth Uprising