A panel of legendary climate activists at the Global Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos is something we’ve come to expect. But when they were joined this year by the Director of the International Energy Agency, who endorsed their ‘Cease and Desist’ letter to fossil fuel CEOs, we were all surprised.
Greta Thunberg and Luisa Neubauer had just returned with muddy boots from their protest on the coal mining grounds of Lützerath. How can we tackle the climate crisis, they asked, when the people at the helm of our finance and industry solutions are fuelling the core, and ore, of the crisis itself? How can we hope for Net Zero when fossil fuel companies are still using COP as ripe ground for their lobbying?
Fossil fuels cannot be a part of the green transition, said Luisa. Any notion of fossil-fuelled transition or temporary expansion is ‘a fairytale’ that companies are spinning to maximise gains while inflicting maximum harm; a global ‘death sentence’ and ‘the kind of insanity’, said Antonio Guterres in his Davos speech, that ‘belongs in science-fiction.’ But this obvious failure of responsibility, Luisa added, is not only a cold, hard fact – it’s a crucial part of the solution.
Over 980,000 people have now signed the activists’ petition. If this is not a boost of confidence, and a clear indication that people are ready to see the end of the extraction era, Luisa successfully suing her own government should be.
Fatih Birol, who earlier that day had met with some of the biggest names in the oil and gas industry, said that investments in new oil fields are now unjustifiable. By the time they become operational, in 6 years or so, the climate crisis will have drastically accelerated. “Energy is responsible for 80% of emissions,” he continued. “If we are unable to transform this sector, we have no chance whatsoever of reaching our climate targets.” As Luisa said, climate action is neither comfortable nor convenient – it’s a necessity.
Ignoring it has a human cost ‘every minute, every hour, every day,’ said Vanessa Nakate, as we degrade ‘the life support systems we all depend on’, said Johan Rockström. People on the frontlines are dying, which makes this crisis a humanitarian one, requiring, said Helena Gualinga on behalf of all indigenous communities, justice for people’s livelihoods.
Despite the frightening backdrop of continued fossil fuel extraction, necessity bears hope and possibility. Sooner or later, said Luisa, the term ‘activist’ will be so embedded in our societies that it will no longer be a notable word in our vocabulary. Farhana Yamin suggested on a recent panel I moderated that the term ‘Climate Activist’ should be visible at the top of our CVs. Should it not be part of everyone’s job and every employer’s expectation?
While Greta argued that we’re only ever activists out of said necessity, we also ‘can’t do it alone; we need your help’ – an unexpected call to action from a famously uncompromising, anti-corporate voice. Which prompts me to ask: Can we raise our ambition within our failing systems? Without labeling ourselves ‘activists’, can we draw our own frontline and activate employees in every role and industry to make climate & nature-positive impact both a purpose and a job?
As Christiana Figueres said, a better future doesn’t happen on its own. We hold the pen. We’re living proof that bad things happen when good people do nothing.