Five years ago, as world governments sealed the Paris Climate Agreement, people from around the world came together in the streets of Paris, France, to symbolically draw red lines to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
World governments celebrated. They told us we were entering “a new era”: “The most beautiful and the most peaceful revolution”, according to French President François Hollande.
But this fight has never truly been led by world governments: from the beginning, people power has led the charge to secure a livable future. We knew then that whilst the Paris Agreement was a step forward, it was not going to deliver the solutions to the climate crisis that science and justice demand. That’s why two 100-metre-long banners read in big bold letters: “IT IS UP TO US TO KEEP FOSSIL FUELS IN THE GROUND”.
Over the last 5 years, global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise. Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry continues to exploit and endanger our communities and planet. Financial institutions — both private and public investment banks — have maintained a strong flow of capital into the very activities preventing us from limiting climate change. Major global banks have collectively spent US $2.7 trillion on fossil fuels since 2016. Global fossil fuels subsidies exceed US $5.2 trillion on a yearly basis. That’s US $10 million every minute.
In the last half-decade, we have also seen an unprecedented wave of climate impacts. Floods, drought, hurricanes, storms and mega-fires have destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives and livelihoods. Witnessing the impacts of climate breakdown already, we fight for 1.5ºC knowing that it can’t be considered the “safety threshold”.
We have heard world leaders making promises, but failing to act at scale. We’ve seen them present us with “solutions” that only delay real action, with our leaders willing to sacrifice the lives and livelihoods in the hardest-hit parts of the world — specifically, communities in the Global South. Political and industry executives talk about changing light bulbs, when they should talk about transitioning to an economy that works for the people and the planet. The current trend is discussing “net-zero” targets by 2050, which runs a severe risk of delaying action and not crisis already at our door. “Net-zero” targets differ from real zero-emissions targets, relying on unproven offsetting mechanisms with serious human rights implications. The science is clear: Carbon pollution would have to be cut by 45% by 2030 The climate crisis is funded by banks, governments and investors still pouring money into fossil fuel companies and infrastructure, destroying our communities and fueling the climate crisis. Just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of climate pollution. This is a global, fossil-fuelled crisis that threatens our collective future.
We knew when the Paris Agreement was signed that governments wouldn’t take the necessary action unless people power forced them to act. If the last 5 years have been characterized by worsening climate impacts, they have also been fundamentally shaped by a worldwide movement fighting to stay below 1.5ºC.
We’ve won some major victories — on Wednesday, the state of New York in the United States announced it was divesting its pension funds worth US $226 billion from fossil fuels. A strong resistance has brought an end to fracking in the United Kingdom. Across the globe, grassroots movements have stopped coal-fired power stations, from Kenya to Vietnam and beyond. The divestment movement pushing hundreds of institutions to pull their investments out of fossil fuels was a novelty back in 2015. In 2020, we are now at a point where the industry’s financial support is eroding to the tune of US $14.48 trillion. Headlines on oil companies being downgraded and investors turning their backs on fossil fuels — including heavyweights like the European Investment Bank — have become a regular sight. Financial markets are shifting.
A new generation of youth activists has given the movement a huge boost. The global climate strikes in 2019 were one of the largest global protests in history. Over 7 million people in 185 countries took to the streets to put the climate crisis at the top of the agenda for the media and for politicians. Throughout 2020, despite COVID restrictions, people across the globe have continued to organise and mobilise through virtual platforms. Energy is already building for 2021, with plans afoot for creative global organising.
Where does that leave us?
The last year has seen the biggest global shake-up of our lifetimes, as the COVID-19 pandemic ravages communities. This year has shown us that when needed, we can come together as communities in powerful ways. It has emphasized the many underappreciated, deeply important roles in our societies — medical staff, transport workers, delivery drivers, caretakers, shelf-stackers, and more — that keep things running and hold us together. 2020 has also shown that in the face of a global crisis, massive and rapid change is possible.
It is still possible to protect large parts of the planet from becoming uninhabitable and to save millions of lives by bending the emissions curve drastically to keep below the 1.5ºC limit. But we must unite and we must act very quickly.
Real climate leadership, to stay below 1.5ºC, means not funding fossil fuel projects and means keeping fossil fuels in the ground. Knowing this, world leaders dubbed the 5-year-milestone climate talks the Finance COP. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these global climate talks have been pushed back to next year while countries around the world respond and repair. To date, G20 governments have committed US $240 billion (£180 billion) in COVID-19 stimulus funding to fossil fuel production and consumption — far more than the US $150 billion committed to clean energy. People around the world are calling for a Just Recovery with no money for polluting industries and focused resources for a just and equitable reconstruction.
In 2021, it’s time to make fossil fuels history by cutting off their lifeline — money. Communities around the world want to see progress ahead of the Glasgow “COP 26” climate summit in November 2021, and will bring pressure on financial institutions and governments still funding the climate crisis.
Instead of supporting big polluters destroying our climate, our money should flow to solutions that benefit people, not fossil fuel CEOs and shareholders. In the midst of a health and economic emergency that demands a just recovery, our money must be invested in healthier and more equitable jobs, community-owned renewable energy, climate-resilient public transit and housing and care and repair for communities most impacted by climate disaster. One year ahead of the United Nations climate talks in Glasgow, Fridays for Future, 350.org and over 200 global organizations are asking everyone to make a promise: ensure that the next 5 years will be the years of escalating people-power for real and lasting change.
Two years ago, the IPCC clearly said that there were no scientific barriers to 1.5ºC — the only thing preventing us from getting there is a lack of political will. While world governments are meeting today to commemorate 5 years since signing the Paris agreement, we know that the only hope for a complete solution is our own: we must build the future we want by investing in real solutions and ending all support for fossil fuel destruction.