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OPINION: There's no time left for climate diplomacy. Now it's time for action

Wednesday, 9 December 2020 17:53 GMT

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

As the Paris Agreement on Climate Change marks five years, urgent action on climate threats is needed now

Saoi O’Connor (Ireland), Mitzi Jonelle Tan (Philippines),  Belyndar Rikimani (Solomon Islands), Leonie Bremer (Germany), Laura Muñoz (Colombia),  Fatou Jeng (The Gambia) , Disha Ravi (India), Hilda Nakabuye (Uganda) and Sofia Hernandez (Costa Rica) are young Fridays for Future climate activists.

To our World Leaders:

Five years ago, in 2015, the Paris Agreement was signed. This means that if the Paris Agreement were a child, it would now be past the babbling stage of its infancy and able to speak.

If the Paris Agreement were able to talk to us, perhaps it would be able to tell us what it has seen - the years of inaction, the gross lack of equity, and the trail of greenwashing that has followed it around since its conception.

Perhaps it would be able to tell us about you, about what you were willing to negotiate in order to carry its creation, what little humanity you breathed into it. But the Paris Agreement cannot speak, so we must do so instead.

Since 2015, roughly 841 million children have been born onto a rapidly warming planet, more than 6 million people took to the streets to demand climate justice, and we’ve had five of the hottest years on record.

It seems to us that any one of these factors on its own should be enough to instill a sense of urgency in you, enough to compel you to take the action that is needed. But it is clear to us now that this is not the case. In the five years since the Paris agreement was signed, the only real climate leadership has come from the people. 

Last month would have been the 26th Conference of Parties (COP), your 26th opportunity to put some real action to all of your words.

We all know the cycle of the COP - year after year, you negotiate behind closed doors, while out on the streets, activists struggle to remind you that you have a responsibility to humanity, above and beyond whatever responsibility you feel you have to economic growth. Year after year, you ignore us.

This year has broken that cycle - though not in the way we might have liked, so we are choosing to take this moment to reflect upon the last 25 years of COPs. Where have they gotten us?

We are already living in a world warmed by 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and we must limit this increase to 1.5C. A 2-degree increase would mean certain destruction and loss of life for so many people, yet many of you consider this an ambitious target.

This is not acceptable, it never was, and we are here to revoke this social license; you will no longer be allowed to trade away lives at the negotiating tables and call it diplomacy.

Over the last month, there have been many celebrations of this anniversary from people in power, many moving speeches about unity and global cooperation. They were nice speeches, we listened to them and we wished they were true.

But for us, the bitter taste of reality is still there, it cannot be swept under the rug or hidden by rearranging the numbers. We live with the reality while we watch you make your speeches about all the time you’ve had to act while you instead did nothing. 

Here is the real story:

The Philippines has  just experienced four typhoons in three weeks. One of them, Typhoon Goni, was the most intense storm on the planet this year, and another, Typhoon Vamco, just a week after, poured a month’s worth of rain in under 24 hours.

Thousands of Filipinos were left stranded on roofs, calling out for help, as the floods reached the second floor of houses. Loosened and eroded soil from quarrying buried people alive as the typhoon caused landslides.

During Typhoon Haiyan, seven years ago, young girls in the most impacted region of the Philippines were recruited and forced into prostitution because they had lost everything and needed a way to eat and feed their family.

In the Pacific Islands, the strongest Category 5 Cyclone Pam happened in 2015.  It left so much destruction on atoll's oslands that were near Vanuatu. People were displaced with no proper shelter and food security was in great risk.

Cyclone Harold in 2020 also caused massive destruction to people’s livelihood in so many ways; it was just horrifying to see the aftermath of the cyclone the next day.

Banjul, the capital city of Gambia, faces a metre of sea level rise due to climate change, which will threaten the lives of over 30,000 inhabitants. Sudan witnessed its worst flood in 100 years this year, leading to people losing their livelihoods and being displaced.

Africa is disproportionately affected by climate change, and this will continue to get worse if rapid actions are not taken towards climate adaptation and mitigation. Latin America and North America have seen huge fires consume ancient forests, homes, and lives.

In 2017, Ireland experienced its most severe storm in over 50 years, and over the last several years has seen increasingly devastating flooding in its coastal communities.

Women and girls are part of the most vulnerable people to the climate crisis, not only because of the extreme weather conditions, but also the sexual and domestic violence that often comes with the chaos of going to evacuation centers and when being pushed into poverty.

This is at 1.2 degrees - 2 degrees is unimaginable. We are nine young women, girls and non-binary people, from 6 continents. The reality for many of us is like this - too often we are not listened to, we are belittled and mocked, we are sexualised against our will, because we want justice for the planet and its people.

We are young activists from all corners of the planet, united out of a common necessity - the need for an inhabitable planet. If you are reading this, then you too share this need.

If the Paris Agreement truly were a person, perhaps we would adopt her as one of our own - the girl child, who is heard but never listened to, who is put on a pedestal yet still belittled and ignored.

When the Paris Agreement was signed, we were only children. We were told that the adults had things under control, that we didn’t have to worry. But what has happened in the past five years, besides empty words and PR stunts? Besides increased destruction and devastation in the most affected areas?

We have had enough summits, agreements, accords, and broken promises. We demand immediate action. Five years ago, in Paris, you promised us that you would keep global mean temperature rise well below 2 degrees. Where is this urgency now?

At these conferences we see a sense of humanity that only seems to come out in speeches. The rest of the time it remains tucked away somewhere, while you trade away both the present and the future. This cannot be allowed to happen any more.

Women and children, especially from the marginalised sectors, black, indigenous and other people of color, indigenous communities, and all those who are most impacted must be listened to, and their voices must be given weight in the climate discussion.

Carbon majors must pay reparations for the historic injustices against the Global South. We need a radical shift in our understanding of what we owe to one another, to ourselves and to the planet.

While there is no COP this year, we hope you will take this time to reflect upon those inherent human commitments, to people and to the earth, that which is owed. We don’t need diplomats in negotiations to solve the climate problem for us by moving numbers around.

What we need is for humanity to have a seat at the table.