Maverick Citizen

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Climate crisis: Our young people deserve better

Pupils from 20 schools protest about the climate crisis outside Parliament in Cape Town in 2019. (Photo: Tessa Knight)

On Friday 25 September young people across the world will embark on a Global Day of Climate Action. We as a Climate Justice Coalition will stand with them and millions of people across the world who are demanding that we #FightClimateInjustice before it is too late.

Imagine being a young person in South Africa? You are faced with skyrocketing unemployment, deep poverty, a sense of responsibility to fix the many social injustices that your family and community face, and of course the looming climate crisis. Knowing that this is our youth’s present should not only lead us to ask deep questions about what sort of future we are going to leave them, but what actions we plan to take to ensure that future.

Even before Covid-19 hit, we knew our country needed a radical system transformation to deal with our deep poverty and unemployment. We knew that the transformation also needed to tackle the fact that South Africa is the biggest polluter on the African continent — one of the world’s most polluting and unequal economies built on the twin foundations of exploiting people and the planet. 

Now, amid the turmoil of a Covid-deepened depression, and mass job losses due to retrenchment, the task of transformation has become even more urgent. As we emerge from lockdown, our country stands at a crossroads. Which path we choose will determine the quality of life for generations to come. 

Young people know that any recovery programme must not jeopardise their future any further than those in power have already. For years, young people around the world have been protesting at schools, organising in their communities and demanding climate justice. They have been demanding that their future not be condemned to the ravages of climate chaos. 

On Friday 25 September, our young people will call for a Global Day of Climate Action. We, as a Climate Justice Coalition, will stand with them and millions of people across the world who are demanding that we #FightClimateInjustice before it is too late. We recognise that action on the climate crisis is essential to ensuring justice more broadly.

In these efforts, however, we understand that for many under-resourced and under-represented communities, action on climate change is not as much of a priority, as simply trying to get by day to day is a struggle. This is why bridging the gap of understanding that climate justice equals social justice is essential. If we do not act on the climate, we will jeopardise our progress on poverty alleviation, equality, gender-based violence, development, access to water, food and so much more. 

We are tired of this polluting, harmful, and extractive system. Our mining-affected communities are tired of — because of the pollution and degradation that they face — living in what is essentially a deathtrap. They are tired of the dislocation, landlessness and exploitation they face. They are demanding the right to say no to harmful projects and the right to say yes to something much better.

Climate change is a human rights and social justice issue. In the South African context, it inevitably threatens the socio-economic rights guaranteed to already vulnerable and marginalised communities. The right to education is one of them. We have a deeply unequal education system, with school infrastructure built from mud and asbestos — both hazardous and susceptible to severe damage from extreme weather events. 

Moreover, many disadvantaged schools have no water supply and make use of pit latrines which put the lives of children at risk. There is ever-increasing food insecurity for many households. A failure to mitigate the impending climate crisis only serves to exacerbate these and other issues, and further curtails the right to education.

A stable climate is necessary for us to have socially and environmentally just societies. At the same time, if our action on climate change does not incorporate justice on all these fronts, then our climate action is not just. As such, we must ensure a sustainably developed, equitable, and transformative transition to a more socially and ecologically just future. Not just any climate action will do.

Climate science is clear, though, that we are on the brink of climate breakdown and that we must stop making the crisis worse. That means turning away from polluting and harmful fossil fuels. Unfortunately, it is not a reality that is respected by our government, which intends to expand the use of polluting coal, oil, and gas, once again putting profit for the few over the wellbeing of the many as it has many times before.

We are tired of this polluting, harmful, and extractive system. Our mining-affected communities are tired of — because of the pollution and degradation that they face — living in what is essentially a deathtrap. They are tired of the dislocation, landlessness and exploitation they face. They are demanding the right to say no to harmful projects and the right to say yes to something much better.

That is why, with more than 40 organisations, the Climate Justice Coalition has launched the campaign for a Green New Eskom, demanding a just transition to a more socially owned, renewable energy future, providing clean, safe, and affordable energy for all, with no worker and community left behind. 

For a more just and climate-resilient society, we need quality healthcare, jobs, education, water, basic income, energy, transport and land for all. That means investing in our communities, not divesting from them, as our current austerity budget plans to do.

Study after study after study also shows that a renewable energy future is our most affordable, job-creating and planet-saving form of energy. Renewable energy would also be the quickest and most affordable way to resolve our load shedding crisis. Yet renewable energy has been stifled by the government for the past half-decade. Despite the climate and load shedding crisis, there is still no coherent strategy to rapidly establish renewable energy industries. Rather, our energy plans artificially slow down the development of renewable energy, forcing the development of expensive and polluting new coal power.

That is why our transformation must go beyond just energy, though. We must invest in a radical Green New Deal, as we and the Cry of the Xcluded have been demanding. We can put millions of people to work building a socially and environmentally just, zero-carbon economy. This is one of the greatest opportunities to build a better South Africa that works for the many, not just the few.

To let this opportunity pass is to give up and leave the ring before the fight has even truly begun. But if we do, it may be too late to stop the worst ravages of climate change. Studies tell us that if we do not ensure a green and just recovery from Covid-19, it will be too late to limit warming to 1.5ºC.

A just recovery from Covid-19 is not just about tackling pollution, though. It is also about investing in a robust social safety net and service delivery, so our people can weather the coming climate and ecological crises and not fall through the widening gaps in our society.

For a more just and climate-resilient society, we need quality healthcare, jobs, education, water, basic income, energy, transport and land for all. That means investing in our communities, not divesting from them, as our current austerity budget plans to do.

As our youth take to the streets — as they have in the past and will many more times in the future — we must listen to their cries. We can no longer keep on a course which stifles their efforts and condemns their future. We must reject incrementalism, hypocrisy and actions from our government which are worsening the multiple crises we face. For the sake of our young people — and those to follow — we must demand climate justice now.  DM/MC

This article is co-authored by the following members of the Climate Justice Coalition

Gabriel Klaasen, 22, is the youth coordinator for African Climate Alliance as well as Youth Ambassador for Project 90 by 2030.

Francina Nkosi, 45, is a human rights activist, founder of the Waterberg Women’s Advocacy Organisation, and National Convener at Women Affected by Mining United in Action.

Motheo Brodie, 25, is a legal researcher at the public interest law organisation, SECTION27

Yasmine Luhandjula, 26, is a human rights defender and Campaigns Coordinator for the African Climate Reality Project.

Alex Lenferna, 33, is a climate justice campaigner with 350Africa.org and secretary of the Climate Justice Coalition.

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  • I have tremendous sympathy, empathy and support for your many wise statements with respect to the need for environmental protection and the dangers of pollution encountered. I also have respect that you recognise the limitation in financial demands required while in a country state of fiscal collapse. However, being an International Scientist, I have two questions (of many) to ask of two of these proponents with respect to Climate Change factual action demands.

    I need to know from Gabriel Klaasen in reviewing the latest CMIP-6 Model Calculations from the IPCC; does he accept the application of their Claussius-Clapyeron Radiation calculations for the GHG tropospheric components including the 100 year residence time of the two different CO2 sources? My every impression is that the non-threatening Russian INM-CM5 calculations are far more representative of a good climate models. Then for Alex Lenferna, member of the 350 Africa.org campaign on GHG which has been “threatening us for ten years now with massive global disasters once the level of 350 p.p.m. CO2 was breached, why the planet seems to be much the same while we are running now at 416 p.p.m.. What has modified the the catastrophic predictions made back then? I trust you would might agree that the cost of playing against the forces of nature and thinking that we can make an impact on Climate Change, (CO2 being known now as just one of the 8 different drivers of climate change, and as based on your own background of scientific evidence, will be prohibitive. We have surely far more urgent demands that have to be met?