As the United Nations climate conference known as COP23 drew to a close on Friday, leaders from the global climate justice movement called for greater ambition to make the necessary transition away from fossil fuels.
"Our job is to get out there and demand the fossil free world that science and justice demand."
—Jamie Henn, 350.orgThe two-week summit in Bonn, Germany (but presided over by Fiji) saw delegates from nearly 200 countries work towards creating a "rulebook" for implementing the Paris climate accord, while protesters on the sidelines drew attention to the urgency of the crisis and its already-felt impacts on communities. As one indigenous activist at the conference said: "Life itself and the future of humanity is at stake."
Former NASA scientist James Hansen laid out the stakes as well.
"We are entering a period of consequences and are in danger of being too late," he said at the conference.
"I have come to note that greenhouse gas climate forcings are accelerating, not decelerating, and sea-level rise and ocean acidification are accelerating. We confront a mortal threat, now endangering the very existence of island and low-lying nations in the Pacific and around the planet. Accordingly, ambition must be increased and enforced."
According to 350.org, "The Ambition Race Is On"—and it's a race the group is set on winning.
"There's one word that needs to define the year ahead: ambition," said 350.org strategy and communications director Jamie Henn. "2018 will be all about accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels to 100 percent renewable energy for all."
Many in the climate movement, however, have no hope that necessary push will come from those who govern.
According to Erika Lennon, senior attorney at the Washington, D.C.- and Geneva-based Center for International Environmental Law, "Avoiding the most dangerous impacts of climate change requires a paradigm shift to reduce emissions, something governments that are the most responsible for climate change do not seem ready to deliver. With the U.N. unable to deliver adequate ambition, it is time for judicial courts to step up and address climate damages caused by fossil fuels."
Sparks for that paradigm shift, says 350.org's Henn, are happening on the streets, as evidenced by events outside the climate summit's doors.
"The real news coming out of these talks is what happened outside the negotiating halls: massive protests at Germany's open pit coal mines with Pacific islanders standing in solidarity, governments joining a new initiative to power past coal, Norway's push to ditch oil and gas investments, and the emergence of non-state actors as a powerful force for change. The fight between fossils and renewables is underway and it's a fight we intend to win," he said.
"More ambition will never come from inside the climate talks, it has to come from the streets. Our job is to get out there and demand the fossil free world that science and justice demand," Henn added.
The summit also marks the first COP since president Donald Trump announced he would withdraw the U.S. from the Paris accord, making the nation a global outlier. Thanks to his anti-climate acts, the president was "taking a beating" at the conference.
The White House did, however, make its presence felt with a "ridiculous" fossil fuel-pitching panel.
But the European Union was also under fire for its failure to lead on climate action.
"The world's remaining carbon budget is shrinking with every year of insufficient progress," said Jagoda Munic, director of Friends of the Earth Europe. "The European Union claims to be a climate leader but this does not hold true as long as its economy is still based on fossil fuels. Next week the EU is set to announce plans for up to 90 new gas infrastructure projects—these are totally incompatible with the Paris Agreement. People power was visible here in Bonn and that strong people's movement is where the real climate leadership is."
COP24 takes place next year in Katowice, Poland.