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The people have the answers, not their leaders


© Friends of the Earth England, Wales, and Northern Ireland

World leaders and their unreliable promises may be grabbing all the headlines at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York today, but if you want to know about the real solutions to the climate crisis, you should tune in to what’s happening on the streets.

On 21 September, in cities across the world, hundreds of thousands of citizens and environmental activists marched as part of the People’s Climate March, the largest climate action in history. Thousands also marched at the Flood Wall Street marches, to hold corporations accountable for the climate crisis.

Friends of the Earth International marched as well, to tell our so-called ‘world leaders’: this Climate Summit and your empty promises will not bring us closer to solving climate change; you have to make real commitments, take the right actions, or get out of the way.

We don’t want these weak voluntary pledges. What we need instead are more legally-binding, ambitious, equitable, science-based emissions cuts. We also need finance and technology made available to countries in the majority world, so as to deal with the crisis. So far we have only heard the vaguest promises of funding at the Summit.

Western leaders, who have been neglecting their countries’ responsibility for climate change, are laying out the red carpet for big business. Their priorities are increasingly determined by the narrow economic and financial interests of corporations, dirty energy companies and wealthy elites.

Dirty energy companies and other polluters and their financiers are co-opting democratic institutions like our governments and the UN, where the voices of ordinary people should be heard instead. We must fight to reclaim our democratic and governance institutions from corporate capture.

This summit is being used to profit even more from carbon trading and offsetting, which are false solutions to the climate crisis. Carbon trading allows polluters to pay someone else to soak up their pollution, so they don’t have to work to reduce it. It’s not reducing emissions; it’s dispossessing vulnerable communities of their land and resources. At the summit, South Korea just announced that it wants to be the first Asian country with a carbon market.

Not all actions on climate change are the right actions. Unfortunately, we have a long list of wrong actions or ‘false solutions’ to climate change that are constantly paraded, including nuclear energy, mega-dams, natural gas, so-called ‘clean coal’, carbon capture and storage,  genetically modified organisms, agrofuels, carbon trading, ‘climate smart agriculture’, offsetting and mechanisms like REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation & Forest Degradation).

These false fixes distract from the real societal and economic changes which could be the real solutions needed to stop the climate crisis.

First and foremost, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at their source.

We also need to transform the way we produce, distribute and consume energy. Dirty energy is causing climate change and it harms workers and local communities. We demand clean sustainable community energy – the right for people to have access to energy; to decide and own their sustainable energy sources and sustainable consumption patterns.

The climate justice approach is about asking why we live in a world which is so unequal. The cause of the climate crisis and the cause of sky-high inequality are the same: our ‘dig, burn, dump’ economy.

On one hand, we have rich countries – with less than one fifth of the world’s population – responsible for almost three quarters of all historical greenhouse gas emissions. The European Union and the US alone are responsible for more than half of the carbon emissions in the Earth’s atmosphere, but they have only a tenth of the world’s population between them.

On the other hand, the poorest ten per cent of the world’s population have contributed less than one per cent to these emissions, yet they are most affected.Industrialized countries must commit to reducing their emissions domestically – without carbon trading, that is, without palming off the work to countries in the Global South.

From October 10-18, people across the world will be taking co-ordinated action on energy as part of Reclaim Power. As we prepare for the social pre-Conference of the Parties (COP) in Venezuela, COP20 in Lima and the much-hyped COP21 in Paris in December 2015, we will continue to mobilize ‘people power’ and more successful climate justice initiatives, in order to avoid the worst of the climate crisis.

If our ‘leaders’ fail us, we will hold them accountable.

Dipti Bhatnagar is the Climate Justice & Energy co-coordinator for Friends of the Earth International.

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