From the frontlines of climate change resistance

Hoda Baraka on the climate action movements working to end fossil fuel extraction.

People protest against President Donald Trump's executive order fast-tracking the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines in Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 10, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The planet is only 1°C warmer than pre-industrial times, yet we are already witnessing a chain of catastrophic climate-related extremes all over the globe.

If we want to avoid even more dramatic impacts, we have to stay under a 1.5°C increase in global mean temperatures. This is according to the latest special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN-backed climate science body. Meeting the 1.5°C threshold will inevitably require a very rapid and immediate phase-out of fossil fuels: we need to bring greenhouse gas emissions down to zero by 2050 and cut them in half by 2030.

This goal is incompatible with clearing forests to expand mines (Germany), fracking in the countryside (Britain), or the selling off of exploration rights for dee-water oil reserves (Brazil) or the expansion of coal plant projects happening across the Global South. The transition from fossil fuels is going to require systemic change at a pace never seen before, but it is technically feasible, economically sound and it’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the only choice we have.

The Pacific front

This plan is at total odds with the coal mega-mine planned by fossil fuel giant Adani in Eastern Australia. The Carmichael mine will sit right next to the Great Barrier Reef, through which the extracted coal will be shipped.

The coal deposit is part of the Galilee Basin, one of the world’s largest untapped coal reserves, where a further eight new mines have been proposed. If they go ahead, the coal from these projects would more than double Australia’s annual coal production and burn through five per cent of the world’s carbon budget. Australia and the Pacific Islands have witnessed the destructive potential of climate change. The continent is currently experiencing a record drought and massive wildfires have already ravaged parts of the east coast. Meanwhile, surging storm fronts and rising sea levels have even forced some Pacific Islands states to plan the relocation of their entire population within a few decades.

Despite the Australian government’s support for the Adani mine, people have been fighting against it through the #StopAdani campaign. The Pacific Climate Warriors, a network of Pacific Islanders who are campaigning on the frontlines of climate change, are soon going to knock on doors to raise awareness of the threat that the Adani coal mine poses to lives, livelihoods and ecosystems in the Pacific. Activists are urgently advocating campaigning for withdrawing any social license to the fossil fuel industry.

Free movement for...oil?

Halfway across the world, in San Foca, southern Italy, a local community is fighting against the infamous Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), trying to protect their centuries-old olive groves from eradication.

Facing police violence and being threatened with heavy fines, local people are organizing peacefully and powerfully to stop the pipeline’s construction. The pipeline would bring Azerbaijan’s gas to Europe, carrying billions of cubic metres every year from 2020.

Considered a strategic priority by European governments, the project will cost €45bn, making it the most expensive fossil fuel project under development in the continent. When factoring in the potential methane leakage that will take place along the route, the climate impacts of the gas it will carry is thought to be at least as bad as coal.

Scientists warn that unless average temperature rises in the region stops short of reaching the 1.5C threshold, large parts of Southern Europe and Northern Africa will permanently turn into deserts with more frequent deadly heat waves and dramatic consequences on food production. Olive groves and grapes that have shaped the region over thousands of years might be gone within a few generations.

Renewable resistance

Yet, a powerful example of how things can be different comes directly from some of the most threatened and vulnerable communities. It’s the case of those resisting the Keystone XL pipeline in the United States. The pipeline would connect Canada with Gulf Coast refineries, carrying around 800,000 barrels per day of tar sands oil across the United States. President Obama rejected the federal permit for this project in 2015 because of the impact Keystone XL would have on the climate. One of Trump’s first moves in office was to reverse this decision.

In response, indigenous communities, landowners, farmers, along with supporting organizations, launched Solar XL - a wave of renewable energy resistance that’s building solar arrays directly in the route of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline - putting clean energy solutions in the path of the problem.

These are only some of the stories of resistance to the fossil fuel madness, collated in the People’s Dossier on 1.5°C, a new report by the campaigning organization 350. As the IPCC shows, activists denouncing the fossil fuel lobby were right all along and it’s now clear that three fundamental things need to happen:

We must stop all new fossil fuel projects.

It’s clear that the fossil fuel industry is trying to squeeze enough from their current business model before being forced to change tune.

Not a penny more can go to dirty energy companies and projects.

Those who have control of the money, often our money, need to immediately and massively divest from fossil fuels and invest instead in renewable energy, energy storage and low-carbon transition projects in the transport, building and agriculture sectors.

We must accelerate the transition to 100% locally distributed, renewable energy systems with off-the-grid solar and wind power and community-led energy production.

This will take away power from energy giants and put it back where it belongs, with the people, while ensuring that we stop soiling our planet with the byproducts of fossil fuels extraction.

The required transformations are so systemic and urgent that they cannot possibly be left to market forces. Laws and policies need to change at all levels of government; financial institutions must accept scientific evidence in their assessments of energy projects.

According to the IPCC, we have less than 12 years of emissions as usual before we hit the 1.5°C cap. If we start slowing down emissions dramatically now, we might get a few more years of controlled phase-out. But this means no new fossil fuel extraction projects, anywhere, ever again.

A global uprising for climate action, led by local communities and built from the ground up, can tip the scales in favor of the fossil free world we need to see. People worldwide are already spearheading the change, taking action to confront those who are profiting from climate change and taking power for the people by promoting the kind of community-controlled and just alternatives we need.

It’s true, we don’t have much time left, but we were right all along, and now it’s the moment to make our voices, the voices of the people, heard by those who wouldn’t listen to make change happen.