The youth of today are revolting and they are right to do so.
In her Edinburgh Medal address in April this year, Christiana Figueres, a recognised world leader on global climate change, told her audience that the young are seeking “intergenerational justice.”
Greta Thunberg is leading the way with her school strikes which are happening right here, right now as youth take up her call to get the grown ups to act, well, grown up. They have a hard task as we don’t appear to be listening and we can’t say we were not told.
It is now 32 years since Gro Harlem Brundtland (former prime minister of Norway) chaired the World Commission on Environment and Development which introduced the concept of sustainable development. The Brundtland report Our Common Future – presented to the United Nations General Assembly in October 1987 – included the results of a public hearing in Tokyo six months earlier.
The Tokyo Declaration called for all nations to adopt a sustainable approach to development: ‘an approach to progress which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. To do this, ‘a successful transition to a sustainable development through the year 2000 and beyond requires a massive shift in societal objectives. It also requires the concerted and vigorous pursuit of a number of strategic imperatives’.
Why our children are on strike
In 1987 we were told to act there and then in preparation for 2000. This is why in 2019 Greta Thunberg and her generation are on strike. It took until December 2015 in Paris for agreement to be reached to limit temperature increase to 2 degrees whilst pursuing a target of 1.5 degrees.
It is worth acknowledging here the significance of the Edinburgh Medal award which was instituted by the City of Edinburgh Council in 1988. It is given annually to men and women of science and technology whose professional achievements are judged to have made a significant contribution to the understanding and well-being of humanity.
In April, this year’s winner Christiana Figueres told us that the 0.5 degrees meant the difference between increasing impacts such as water security, forced migration, environmental degradation in our seas and on our land. But Greta Thunberg tells us, and the science backs this up, that lowering emissions is not enough. We have to stop now if we are to reach the 1.5/2.0 target, or face the consequences detailed by Figueres.
‘What we do in the next two to ten years will decide the quality of life on this planet’Christine Figueres in Edinburgh April 2019
And it can be done. In the foreword of Our Common Future Gro Harlem Brundtland pointed out that: ‘The challenge of reconstruction after the Second World War was the real motivating power behind the establishment of our post-war international economic system. The challenge of finding sustainable development paths ought to provide the impetus – indeed the imperative – for a renewed search for multilateral solutions and a restructured international economic system of cooperation. These challenges cut across the divides of national sovereignty, of limited strategies for economic gain, and separated disciplines of science’.
Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.Brundtland Report 1987
This might be too much here in Scotland where the case for Independence is based on the exploitation of ‘our oil’ and with a third consultation on fracking presenting the distinct possibility that Scotland could become the dirty man of Europe.
But don’t take my word for it take Greta Thunberg’s in her recent speech to Parliament:
“The UK’s active current support of new exploitation of fossil fuels — for example, the UK shale gas fracking industry, the expansion of its North Sea oil and gas fields, the expansion of airports as well as the planning permission for a brand new coal mine — is beyond absurd.”
Global change requires local action
She’s right and it doesn’t have to be like that. Edinburgh is leading the way. Harlaw Hydro is an energy cooperative that produces electricity – 139,550khw last year – for the benefit of the local community.
Edinburgh Solar Co-op install panels on buildings like Prospect Bank Special School, helping reduce the carbon contribution of our built environment. Promising but small scale actions. It will take a combination of micro production such as these co-ops along with a real change in how we live, consume energy and transport ourselves to make a real difference.
Leith has two of the 8 Air Quality Management Areas in Edinburgh – Great Junction Street and Salamander Street – that contribute to climate change and if the school run became the school walk then that would see a 25% reduction in cars and the pollution they cause to our environment. The irony of ruining the future of the children being ‘safely’ transported to school seems to be lost on these drivers.
The key point is as Gro Harlem Brundtland, Christiana Figueres and Greta Thunberg agree: it can and should be done. Empowering cities was a key finding in Our Common Future. Local power is an essential component of global change but the current agenda of both Westminster and Holyrood is centralisation.
More power and more resources for cities would enable more to be done.
We need to act now if we are to make the difference the science tells us must be made for our planet and our future. When making her speech to Parliament Greta repeatedly asked the audience if her microphone was on and whether she could be heard. Loud and clear Greta. We have a world to win.
Featured image taken at Global Climate Strike in London on Friday 15th March 2019. Public domain picture by Garry Knight
This article was first published in The Leither magazine
Further Reading: Our Common Future