by Alexander Iscenco, Moldova, ELP 2013
Written on September 23, 2014.
September 21st, 2014 became one of the historical moments in the global action to raise awareness about climate change issues and mitigate them. On this very day the largest march calling for climate change action in human history took place. More than 675 thousand people (around 0.01% of global population) marched on the streets of New York, Barcelona, Paris, London, Rome, Berlin, Istanbul, Jakarta, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Melbourne, Sydney… There were over 2800 climate-change-related events in 166 countries that day. This so-called People’s Climate March became the largest and loudest call for action to mitigate climate change and its negative consequences so far.
All that was organized to push the global leaders, who are gathering on September 23rd, 2014, at the UN Headquarters in New York City for the UN Climate Summit 2014 to discuss the state of climate change nowadays, what is currently being done, and what still needs to be done in order to reduce (as avoidance is already not feasible) the economically, socially and environmentally damaging consequences of global climate change caused by anthropogenic activities. The one-day programme of the Summit includes announcements of national action and ambitions from the participating countries, forum for private sector, and then announcements of multi-stakeholder initiatives agreed upon. All in all, it is expected to be a surprisingly short event with quick discussions on such a complex and crucial issue as global climate change.
As I am currently doing research at IÖW in Berlin, Germany, I managed to participate in the Climate March and Festival here. Approximately 10,000 Berlin residents marched in a Silent Climate Parade from the Neptune Fountain (Neptunbrunnen) towards the Brandenburg Gate, where the Parade transformed into a Festival with music, dances and climate-change-related exhibits. Different environmental organizations, both local and international, such as Avaaz and Greenpeace, put up their stands to inform people about the issue of climate change, what it leads to, and how we can mitigate it through common action.
Indeed, such an event attracted much attention of pedestrians, visitors, local residents, and mass media. Still, did it succeed in communicating the whole complexity of the issue and the urgent need for action? This is the question I keep asking myself since my participation in the Berlin Climate March.
Firstly, the general message was mostly about the problems related to climate change. Much less focus was on possible solutions for climate change mitigation. What can a person do to reduce his/her carbon footprint and at the same time maintain the same level of happiness and wellbeing (and perhaps increase it)? It would have been great to have more showcasing of solutions to climate change offered for the people by the people.
Secondly, although there were some solutions expressed, they were targeting dominantly the transport and energy sector. Indeed, these are the largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting sectors (approximately 20% and 30% of the global emissions respectively), but they are not the only ones. Industrial processes (~15%), unsustainable agricultural practices (~10%), and commercial and residential activities (~10%) also contribute to the release of carbon dioxide, methane and other GHGs into the atmosphere. So, we also need to account for them in shaping up the global climate action. For instance, the Climate Festival in Berlin created quite a volume of paper and other waste that could have been avoided. Yes, much of it will probably be recycled. But that also means that energy will be used for the recycling process. And what have I pointed out about the energy sector above?
Thirdly, the way we communicate messages about climate change and environment protection should be improved. For instance, the Berlin Climate Festival ended up as an ordinary music festival with people around selling merchandise, dancing and getting drunk. Only those participants, who already knew about the importance of climate change, kept the interest and passion for climate action till the end.
Overall, the People’s Climate March became a significant historical moment within the global people’s movement to address and mitigate the climate change issue. People succeeded in coming together and raising their voice full of desire to reduce the negative effects of the issue now and in the future. Still, as the Berlin Climate Festival showed, the ways of communicating the climate-change-related messages need to be improved. Climate change is a multi-faceted issue that should be considered in all its complexity and from all its sides. Our call for climate action should reflect that. And I hope it will be so in the near future.
For now, we will see what outputs the UN Climate Summit 2014 produces and whether the People’s Climate March have had any effect on them. Then we should prepare for the next important event – the UN Climate Change Conference, or COP-20, that is going to happen in Lima, Peru, in the period of December 1st – 12th, 2014. It is there the global climate agreement is expected to finally be decided upon. And it is there that our loudest call for change in history is expected to be heard.