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A climate for change

On the occasion of Global Divestment Day, a message that the climate movement is alive and well. People around the world are fighting for an economy that serves rather than hinders action on climate change.

Hoda Baraka Melanie Mattauch
13 February 2015

Government inaction, in what culminated in the fiasco of the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference, has made climate change a cause synonymous with depression and hopelessness for a long time.

But those days are over. Today, the global climate movement is bigger and broader than ever, bursting with energy and determination. The world took notice as people around the globe stood up for action on climate change last September.

NYC climate march. Demotix/Andre Spatz. All rights reserved.

NYC climate march. Demotix/Andre Spatz. All rights reserved.

In New York, frontline communities, the first to feel the impacts of climate change, led a march of a whopping 400,000—the biggest march for climate action in history. On the same day, more than 2,600 events in 162 countries spanned the globe and reached far beyond big cities. In the plains of the Serengeti, for example, some 500 Masaai marched across their homelands in a plea to protect their traditional lands from the impacts of climate change.

In these last few years, the climate movement has learned from the disillusionment of Copenhagen. It has been sobering to see that despite the unambiguous science, the solutions at hand and a compelling economic case, governments still failed to act.

Confronted with this reality, people worldwide chose to take matters into their own hands and stand up to the interests obstructing real climate action. The fossil fuel industry and its corporate interests have taken over our political process with the aim to safeguard profits over people and planet. But there is a new sense of hope and energy as people stand up to these interests and rise to reclaim power.

Paris climate march. Demotix/Tom Craig

Paris climate march. Demotix/Tom Craig. All rights reserved.

Climate change is a symptom of everything that is wrong with our economic paradigm. The driving force at the root of climate change, the financial crisis and ever-widening economic inequality, is the short-term thinking that allows the one percent to maximise their profits at the expense of the 99 percent.

The fossil fuel industry is a classic example of corporate power dictating policies against the public interest. They have become the most profitable and powerful industry in history by trampling on human rights and leaving a trail of environmental destruction wherever they go.

The top 200 fossil fuel companies have five times more oil, gas and coal in their reserves than the maximum amount that can be burnt to prevent catastrophic and irreversible climate havoc. Their business plan is solely aimed at maximising profits, even if it robs humanity of a liveable planet.

It is not a shortage of resources that stands in the way of an economy that serves us and mitigates the climate crisis. Developed countries are currently subsidising oil, gas and coal companies by $88 billion a year to find more fossil fuels, when we already know these need to be kept underground. These billions are almost double what is needed to provide cheap, renewable energy for all by 2030.

The climate movement has realised that solving the climate crisis means fighting the power of the fossil fuel industry and is challenging their might head-on. In October, Pacific Islanders used traditional canoes to block the world’s largest coal port in Australia, standing up to fight for their homes, which are threatened by rising sea levels.

London climate march. Demotix/See Li

London climate march. Demotix/See Li. All rights reserved.

This weekend, 13-14 February, thousands of people in more than 50 countries across six continents will take action, demanding that local authorities, universities, religious institutions, pension funds and other public institutions quit funding the fossil fuel industry. Global Divestment Day will celebrate the rapid growth, and demonstrate the increasingly international reach and power, of the divestment movement.

Public institutions that continue to invest in fossil fuels are complicit in the conduct of a rogue industry. By challenging this practice, constituents hold democratically mandated institutions accountable to their responsibilities to act as stewards for the public good. By 2014, 180 institutions had already divested, citing climate or carbon risk as their motivation.

On Global Divestment Day the message will be clear: now is the time to end the era of dependence on fossil fuels and transition towards clean, renewable sources of energy. We no longer have the luxury of waiting; the climate crisis dictates immediate action. People all around the world have the power to enact this by breaking their ties with institutions that willingly continue to fund the source of the climate crisis.

The divestment movement aims for two transformational changes: Firstly, to weaken the political influence of the fossil fuel industry by removing its social licence to operate. Second, to redefine the use of public money with a view to a long-term stewardship that challenges the prevailing power imbalance and reclaims the interests of the 99 percent.

Macedonia climate march. Demotix/Kushtrim Jashari

Macedonia climate march. Demotix/Kushtrim Jashari. All rights reserved.

The climate crisis requires no less than a fundamental transformation of our economy. Who leads this transition is crucial to what it will look like. By divesting we can move resources to new projects driven by communities rising to the urgent challenge of building a new economy that serves us.

Together, we can create energy that is democratically controlled by our communities, instead of major corporations. It is this vision of disarming beauty and global unity that builds the power of the climate movement. It injects renewed hope looking beyond the possible outcome of the upcoming climate summit, taking place in Paris at the end of the year. Most importantly, it creates a whirlwind of optimism for people everywhere who care about global justice.

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