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Climate Change Tracker: Come Together

In this week’s Climate Change Tracker we look at how effective community mobilization can force governments and companies to tackle carbon emissions in a meaningful way

Greta Thunberg at a Climate Strike event in New York
Greta Thunberg at a Climate Strike event in New York (Getty Images)

Do you think they hear us? We will make them hear us. We have not taken to the streets, sacrificing our education, for the adults and politicians to take selfies with us and tell us that they really, really admire what we do." Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg’s rousing speech at the New York edition of the international Climate Strike on 21 September was an inspiring one. The worldwide strikes were spearheaded mostly by children and held at the beginning of a week that saw both the UN Climate Action Summit in New York, and the unveiling of the new IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report on climate change in Monaco. Nearly 5,000 rallies were held globally, and with some four million people participating, it seemed like a watershed moment. This brings us to this week’s topic: effective community mobilization that forces governments to tackle carbon emissions in a meaningful way.

The decades-long history of climate change related action has not just been in the form of protests, but also lawsuits. Last year, US state counties and even city municipalities like New York and Baltimore sued fossil fuel companies for climate change mitigation damages amounting to millions of dollars. The logic is simple—these companies emit greenhouse gases, so communities expect the firms to pay them for climate change related damages. In a historic judgment last October, a Dutch appeals court upheld a ruling that ordered the Netherlands government to lower greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by 2050 (against 1990 levels), as opposed to the 17% that it had planned. It was the result of a suit brought by the environment group Urgenda Foundation and 900 Dutch citizens in 2015. On 23 September, Thunberg and 15 other teenagers filed a petition in the UN against five countries for not addressing the climate crisis. Among them is 11-year-old Ridhima Pandey, who in 2017 had approached the National Green Tribunal against the Indian government for not meeting climate goals.

The most common form of mobilization is, of course, protests. Even if they don’t have an overarching climate change agenda, they are certainly about climate justice. In 2016, there were protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Arizona, US, led by the Standing Rock Sioux community, whose water resources were under threat from pipeline leakages. Those protesters won a famous victory when the $3.8 billion (around 26,600 crore now)project was shut down, only for President Donald Trump to restart it a few weeks later. In India, protests by fishermen against pollution from the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu between 2011-15 ultimately lost steam. But as the continuing citizen protests against the deforestation of the Aarey forest in Mumbai show, climate protests have legs, and, ultimately, are closely related to questions about the quality of life. If this week’s protests are anything to go by, climate mobilization isn’t just here to stay, but thrive.

In next week’s Climate Change Tracker, we look at the increasingly destructive cyclones hitting India. Follow the series with #MintClimateTracker.

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