From Climate Change to Climate Emergency

Jaazeal Jakosalem is a religious of the Order of Augustinian Recollects and an active campaigner of climate justice, first in Philippines, his country of origin, and actually from the board of the Augustinian Recollect International Solidarity Network, Arcores, based in Madrid. In this article explains how the Climate Change has become an emergency and how Catholics need to take care of our Common Home.
Jaazeal Jakosalem, OAR News | 2019 Jun 02

Climate Change already made its impact on our planet, of our making—disastrous impact on humanity and all of creation. We have paid the cost of climate divergence: damaging to humanity, irreparable to nature and a bleak future for the generations to come; and yet global warming is not being treated as an emergency (Dunlop—Spratt).

Climate Emergency’offers a new approach to our climate action, more than just a campaign slogan or any sort of parliamentary declaration; it is however, a call to engage governments, institutions, organizations and even individuals to prioritize drastic response to any environmental damages. No more sweet talks, or capitalistic sloganeering on the environmental campaigns.

We have to immediately change from normal mode to emergency mode, “An ‘emergency declaration’ demonstrates that the government rates the problem as very serious, that priority will be given to resolving the crisis, that we are all in the crisis together and that, officially, ‘business as usual’ and ‘reform-as-usual’ no longer applies…

No hesitation, not allowing space for inaction in the existing climate crisis, “People expect an emergency announcement when there is a life-threatening situation, and will hesitate to take any action themselves if nobody else appears to be taking the threat seriously.” (Dunlop—Spratt).

Here and now, there is climate emergency. We have to step-up our ecological mechanisms in addressing the impacts of climate disruption, Pope Francis underlined this in his encyclical, the immensity and urgency of the challenge we face, encouraging everyone to respond to the challenge of the ecological problems with greater urgency.

The UK Parliament declared an environment and climate emergency last May 1, 2019; the first in the world, approving the proposal of Jeremy Corbyn for the body to declare ‘climate emergency,’ in his speech, he said: “We are living in a climate crisis that will spiral dangerously out of control unless we take rapid and dramatic action now… This isn’t just climate change. It is a climate emergency.”

This declaration was followed by the Republic of Ireland last May 9, 2019, declaring a climate and biodiversity emergency. Cities and towns in Europe are already declaring climate emergency on their own.

There is a need to understand issues and current themes of learning and actions on environmental or climate emergency. First, we need to connect-the-dots existing between environmental and social problems, the interconnectivity of all social issues is rooted in social disturbance brought about by ineffective social programs by society or governments.

Second, we need to re-frame contemporary global strategies; international bodies, organized conferences and formed groups for many years failed to address the roots of the problem, and instead failed to address the climate emergency in an integral manner.

Third, we need to learn from the emerging faces and stories of struggles of activists and collective groups doing the right thing for the environment, and offering the needed action to immediately address the emergency.

Fourth, we need to situate the global stage of the climate emergency, it is not the ideal space where to find action, it is where you are; your contribution in addressing local ecological problem/s will support the collective efforts to address the global stage of climate emergency happening all across the globe.

And lastly, our conclusion offers an organic basic responses on climate emergency.

Connecting the dots between Environmental and Social Problems

The alarming call of climate emergency is disturbing the established political ‘order,’ it can even isolate governments and even pave a way for a new regime change for other countries. The environmental problems affected the lives of the people, the realization that communities has become the victim of every damage done to the environment; governments cannot just dismiss the cry of the victims.

The poorest people will continue to experience climate change through the loss of income and livelihood opportunities, hunger, adverse health effects and displacement. Sadly, this epoch is seeing both the reverberation of ecological voices and the reality of more environmental damages being done across continents.

Historically, people have been forced to flee their homes due to civil wars, political instability, poverty and hunger, but the growing number of extreme weather events linked to climate change are now increasingly contributing to migration.

Pope Francis identified the interconnectivity of all these, he calls it “integral ecology”;“integral ecology”; that the problem is not just ecological, with potentially catastrophic impacts cascading through financial, ecological and social systems.

As climate change intensifies, we will find it harder to feed ourselves. Extinction rates will spike as vital habitats decline. More and more people will be forced to migrate from their homes as the land they depend on becomes less able to support them. This is already leading to many local conflicts over dwindling resources.”

Failure to address these, leads to a profound destruction of people and planet.

Yes, there is a connection between ‘climate emergency’ with other social struggles. The destruction of communities paving the way for pipeline projects; the continuing destruction of forests in the Amazon region and in countries like Indonesia are affecting the lives of indigenous peoples and the whole of the ecosystem; the enormous deaths caused by stronger typhoons in the island communities—all these impacts create economic disturbances on the affected families and communities, and we have seen that all these lead to displacement (social and economic in nature). “Climate change affects people inside their own countries, and typically creates internal displacement before it reaches a level where it displaces people across borders.”

Pope Francis recently issued a call for young economists and entrepreneurs worldwide to gather, reflect and be able to re-animate our economic system affecting our common homeand our people on March 26-28, 2020, in a conference called the “Economy of Francesco;” he said in his message:

Everything is deeply connected and that the safeguarding of the environment cannot be divorced from ensuring justice for the poor and finding answers to the structural problems of the global economy. We need to correct models of growth incapable of guaranteeing respect for the environment, openness to life, concern for the family, social equality, the dignity of workers and the rights of future generations. Sadly, few have heard the appeal to acknowledge the gravity of the problems and, even more, to set in place a new economic model, the fruit of a culture of communion based on fraternity and equality.”

Most of our current environmental problems are the results of the actions and inactions of our government leaders, often justifying the many destruction with economic and development-driven reasons, truly a wrong reading of sustainable development.

As underlined by the 2018 IPCC report that in addressing the climate change impacts, we need to “allow people to live a life in dignity while avoiding actions that undermine capabilities; transform economies; overcome uneven consumption and production patterns and conceptualize development as well-being rather than mere economic growth…

Re-framing contemporary global strategies

In 2015, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was able to craft the Paris Agreement, a non-binding and yet definitive ‘guideline’ for countries to address and step-up climate action. And yet, we are seeing the commitments of countries only on the level of a more weaker commitments, of speaking only from the economic perspective of climate change.

Even at the start of the climate negotiations and thereafter we have seen how the negotiators sidelined the equity and climate justice approaches; leaving the accountability of big nations that contributed so much the CO2in our atmosphere; and letting the developing countries pay the price.

Naomi Klein, foremost Canadian activist, sounded the alarm of the need of a ‘post-Paris plan’; she was right, year after year of the Paris Agreement, we are seeing more people suffering from the climate impacts without due attention, she said:

Today, I feel the same way about the urgency of climate action as I did yesterday: The threat is so grave that it is immoral to waste even a moment pondering our chances of success. So long as there is any chance of keeping temperatures below truly catastrophic levels, we have an unbreakable responsibility to do everything in our power to increase those chance.”

The UNFCCC should re-frame the whole nature of any ‘future’ agreements: making it legally binding (making signatories legally accountable); clearly specifying climate financing, improving the liability provision of the loss and damage; overhauling the systemic capitalist attitude related to economic, political and development models; and infusing consistent declaration of climate emergency.

Most importantly, we must avoid in future conference of parties (COP), the element of resignation that any agreement was better than no agreement at all, this is the defeating attitude of developing countries, and the succeeding COP after the Paris Agreement repeated the same mistake.

Many people expected that the Paris Agreement would bring productive development of a fossil-free future, and yet the Paris Agreement does not address fundamental problems with the global capitalist economic system and how it continues to foster reliance on fossil fuel to drive economic growth in the short to medium term.

The deadlines, the rule book, and the targets need to be translated into the realities of climate-related experiences. The attempt to incorporate the Talanoa Dialogue framework is in itself beneficial to the COP, but it shall never remain in the appendix, the challenged communities have a lot to contribute in the negotiations, more than just the ingredients and exhibits being done in every COP meeting.

The outcomes of the conferences should be something that move countries to targeted actions, not just programs. The implementing mechanisms must cascade into the affected communities, most often only being accessed by government institutions, academic entities and non-government organizations (NGOs); only to discover that the responsible agencies have become funding-driven.

Emerging faces and stories

The emerging faces and stories of struggles must sustainably unite a better and broader forces of action on addressing this climate emergency.

In 26 May of 2015, Pope Francis officially published an encyclical entitled: Laudato Si’: On care of our common home, a definitive document by a world leader officially affirming the reality of climate disruption. A widely-circulated document; read and admired by intellectuals, scientists, activists, change-makers, world leaders and ordinary people willing to make a difference on the environment.

Until today, Pope Francis is enriching more and more the message of Laudato Si’  with continuing programs, conferences and with an upcoming reality-driven Synod of the Amazoniaon October 2019. Onwards, Pope Francis inspired people from within and outside the church, to unite in responding with greater hope the greatest problem humanity is facing—environmental degradation.

Since 2015, a group of young activists from all across the globe started the ‘Climate Pilgrimage’, led by Yeb Sano the former Philippine climate negotiator. This group walked from Rome to Paris bringing Pope Francis’ message of ecological conversion globally and at the doorsteps of the signers of the Paris Agreement, amplifying the voices of the climate victims from the island nations the need to target the 1.5 degrees Celsius.

And in 2018, The Climate Pilgrimage embarked on a climate journey again, from Rome to Katowice; along the route they were bringing the message to address the climate crisis with urgency, starting from the personal impacts to institutional; from breaking free from coal to breaking free from plastic. “We continue walking, and sharing the message of protecting the planet; until the climate crisis stops…” said Albert Lozada, a veteran climate walker of the team.

Today, we are seeing a new voice supporting and uniting the many climate voices, in the person of Greta Thunberg. Starting from her own simple ‘school strike’ and rippling across the globe, encouraging young people to do their own version of ‘school strike’ (#climatestrike, #klimatstrejk and #FridaysForFuture) to bring the message of climate emergency. Greta, brings a consistent call for climate justice, bringing her own placard from her school to parliaments, and to world leaders; she said (UN Climate Change COP24 Conference, December 12, 2018, Katowice, Poland):

We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis. We need to keep the fossil fuels in the ground and we need to focus on equity. And if solutions within this system are so impossible to find then maybe we should change the system itself. We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. You have ignored us in the past and you will ignore us again. We have run out of excuses and we are running out of time. We have come here to let you know that change is coming whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people!

Her speech is a strong voice calling for change, a warning for world leaders that the people are ready to defend the planet on their own.

More forceful now, is the Extinction Rebellion in the United Kingdom, and amplified across the globe too, integrating the needed non-violent direct action to force governments and local and national leaders that really, “climate change is system change.”

That the greed of powerful countries and corporations resulting to environmental and climate emergency must be drastically stop, at all costs.

We are unprepared for the danger our future holds. We face floods, wildfires, extreme weather, crop failure, mass displacement and the breakdown of society. The time for denial is over. It is time to act… Conventional approaches of voting, lobbying, petitions and protest have failed because powerful political and economic interests prevent change. Our strategy is therefore one of non-violent, disruptive civil disobedience—a rebellion.”

They have graphically protested in many areas in the United Kingdom; showing too the diversity of its members from across sectors. The sustained commitment of Extinction Rebellion, is showing the readiness of people to demand from governments and institutions accountability from the impacts of the climate crisis.

The global stage of the climate emergency

Pope Francis saw the urgency to sustainably address the climate divergence, from the voices of struggles of the episcopal conferences scattered around the territories of the catholic church. Four years after the release of his encyclical, Laudato Si: On the Care of our Common Home, he will be convening the Synod of the Amazonia this October 6-27, 2019, with the purpose of examining and taking ground concrete actions on climate emergency, on the ongoing threats happening on the lives of the indigenous peoples and of the remaining forests in the Amazonia in Latin America, in the Congo basin in Africa, and in many island nations.

Locally, climate emergency demands response from among us. The continuing threats to build more coal-fired power plants, the unhampered abuse of mountains and communities from mining and other extractive industries, and the abuse of power of politicians and leaders to justify economic needs versus the call to address the climate emergency.

At present, there are young people and organizations doing the ‘right thing’ in responding to the climate emergency. In Negros Occidental, Philippines, led by Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, D.D. of the Diocese of San Carlos, with 15,000 young people with him, he organized a symbolic 250km human chain in his diocese, manifesting protest against the planned construction of a coal-fired plant in the city of San Carlos.

Last April 26, 2019, in Ecuador, the indigenous Waorani community won a landmark lawsuit against three government bodies for conducting a faulty consultation process with the community before putting their territory up for sale in an international oil auction. The ruling immediately suspends any possibility of selling the community's land for oil exploration.

From where we are, we should speak truth to power, and bring the power down that destroys people and nature. And Greta Thunberg tells us (World Economic Forum in Davos, January 22, 2019):

Yes we are failing but there is still time to turn everything around we can still fix this, we still have everything in our own hands. But unless we recognize the overall failures of our current systems we must probably those probably don't stand a chance. We are facing a disaster of unspoken sufferings for enormous amounts of people and now is not the time for speaking politely, we're focusing on what we can or cannot say. Now it's the time to speak clearly…”.

Addressing Climate Emergency

It is our desire to take action and be able to sustainably solve the environmental divergence, from the analysis and experiences presented; we need to take part in responding to the climate emergency with urgency:

First, the need to embrace the emergency mode, we have to end the climate change romanticism. Or else, the extreme climate events remain in the news, severity and proximity of the consequences are happening. The warnings are real, just recently the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services released a global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem, underlining in one of its key messages:

Human actions threaten more species with global extinction now than ever before…suggesting that around 1 million species already face extinction, many within decades, unless action is taken to reduce the intensity of drivers of biodiversity loss. Without such action there will be a further acceleration in the global rate of species extinction, which is already at least tens to hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years.

The declaration of climate emergency started as a people-driven initiative, they have seen and experienced the impacts directly, with the use of scientific and real data, they are mobilizing unprecedented direct-campaigns against corporate power and passive governments. Undeniably governments must address drivers of climate divergence in emergency mode, “the direct drivers of change in nature with the largest global impact have been (starting with those with most impact): changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of organisms; climate change; pollution; and invasion of alien species” accelerating during the past 50 years.

The declaration must be forceful and decisive, government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change. This demands consistent ecological framework among governments. This was clearly articulated by Greta Thunberg, she tweeted:

It’s 2019. Can we all now please stop saying ‘climate change’ and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?”

Secondly, the need to strategize the speed of response, climate emergency demands swift and strategic response. In 2018, thru the IPCC report, the world’s leading climate scientists have warned us that we only have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe—keeping the 1.5°C to a maximum. The grim warning says:

1.5°C- consistent pathways would require robust, stringent and urgent transformative policy interventions targeting the de-carbonization of energy supply, electrification, fuel switching, energy efficiency, land-use change, and lifestyles...

If time was not important before, the current climate emergency situation underlines the necessity of speedy and timely response.

Specific actions include promoting sustainable agricultural practices, such as good agricultural and agroecological practices, among others, multifunctional landscape planning and cross-sectoral integrated management, that support the conservation of genetic diversity and associated agricultural biodiversity. Further actions to simultaneously achieve food security, biodiversity protection and sustainable use are context-appropriate climate change mitigation and adaptation, incorporating knowledge from various systems, including the sciences and sustainable indigenous and local practices, avoiding food waste, empowering producers and consumers to transform supply chains and facilitating sustainable and healthy dietary choices. As part of integrated landscape planning and management, prompt ecological restoration emphasizing the use of native species can offset current degradation and save many endangered species but is less effective if delayed.

Thirdly, the need to have clarity of targets; targets for a fossil-free future, targets for biodiversity protection, targets for a sustainable future—all warrant sustained efforts without compromise. We need realistic targets, declaring climate emergency is seeing and experiencing the impacts. Without hesitation, companies, institutions and governments must act, accordingly

corporations must acknowledge the earth’s finite resources and respect our shared common goods. Companies must account for all externalities, measure their footprints on the planet, and restore harmony to the environment for future generations

For us to seriously act on climate emergency, we should let our voices be heard, our actions too are important, and amplifying our call to be heard by others is necessary. Well-articulated by Extinction Rebellion, we must demand from our governmentsto:

(1) tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change,

(2) act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025,

(3) create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

We have suffered so much from the climate divergence, and we will not allow the global community to suffer devastating impacts again and again; or else, as Greta Thunberg had warned:

Because if we fail to start the rapid transformation of our society within the upcoming 5 years then basically nothing else will matter in the future.”

Instead, we should shape and prepare a better future for generations to sustain.

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