Climate Strikes: Rapid Action Needed to Stop Environmental Catastrophe
So the fifth and latest in a series of global climate strikes focused on accelerating the process and making sure polluters are held to account.
Street and online protests were held in more than 60 countries to drive home the message to governments, financial institutions and companies to speed up action. Campaigner Greta Thunberg and the Fridays For Future (FFF) movement demanded annual binding targets instead of empty promises, citizen involvement in decision-making, and to make ecocide–environmental destruction–an international crime.
Thunberg has previously commented on the slow pace of change and lack of concrete action. “When your house is on fire, you don’t wait for 10, 20 years before you call the fire department, you act as soon and as much as you possibly can,” she said.
As a figurehead for the climate action movement, Thunberg has become ubiquitous, popping up in global boardroom and political discussions – as well as a highly publicized spat with Donald Trump. But despite public awareness and a drop-off in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions during the pandemic, there are record levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and they continue to rise.
Backing tighter regulation is a new study on fixing the system for net-zero emissions targets, led by Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute for Climate Change. In the paper, researchers say immediate, fair and targeted action is needed with countries providing clarity about how they will meet net-zero emissions targets by setting regular milestones in their plans.
Looking at the state of the climate, there is serious concern over rising temperatures, ice loss at the polar caps, melting permafrost and wildfires in the boreal forests of North America, Canada and Russia. Record high temperatures in both Antarctica (70F) and the Arctic Circle (100F) mark the depth of the crisis.
UN secretary general Antonio Guterres laid out the scale of the problem in a stark address to Columbia University in 2020. “Humanity is waging war on nature,” he said. “This is suicidal.” Every year, millions of people lose their homes due to severe weather caused by climate change. Extreme weather has also reduced farm productivity by 20 per cent since the 1960s and crop damage could increase tenfold as heatwaves become more frequent.
Climate strikers insist that environmental degradation should be treated as an emergency. Pushing targets to 2030 or even 2050 is doing nothing, they say, if the threshold for dangerous climate warming will be crossed some time between 2027 and 2042. “Science says that we can still avoid the worst consequences,” said Thunberg. “So it's possible, but it's not possible if we continue, like today.”
In a world first, one climate striker held an underwater protest to highlight the effects of the crisis on the world's oceans. Global sea temperatures were the highest in recorded history in 2020, accelerating the likelihood of extreme weather events and rising sea levels. Ocean absorption of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is also increasing ocean acidification and deoxygenation, threatening the extinction of coral reefs, and thousands of marine species.
Coordinated international action is needed and is happening. US president Joe Biden hopes to cooperate with China to stop coal-fired power stations being built while at home, cutting support to fossil fuel industries. Meanwhile, China’s solar power farms are leading the way in renewable energy, giving hope that it is not too late to limit climate change.
Youth climate strikes aim to give voice to humanity’s concerns about the planet. Responsibility for what happens next will lie heavily on the people in power if they fail to act quickly.