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Following hundreds of years of oppression under colonial rule and decades as a pawn in a bipolar world, Africa has been left a damaged continent. Here Kumi Naidoo explains this historical context in which a new pan-African civil society initiative is developing, of which he is the start-up director.
Over the past few years the global media has repeatedly referred to the phenomenon of "Africa Rising" to describe the ongoing looting of natural resources and illicit financial outflows from the continent. This confirms that the earlier models of colonization have not ended, but have merely been adjusted and refined and are now conducted and presented behind the veneer of liberation and democracy of African people.
I set out some key historical facts about colonization and what the current effects of colonization are and why, in this context, a discussion arose to establish a new initiative—a broad based African civil society platform. During the many discussions in relation to this new initiative, some consensus points have emerged which are presented here. These are not meant to be understood as fait accompli of the new platform. Instead they are key starting points to show how we are going about establishing such an initiative, what makes the process and outcomes different from previous attempts at civil society unity and how we are going to build consensus around such an initiative that will seek justice, peace and sustainable development on and for the African continent.
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The African continent draws its modern history from the Berlin Conference held between 1884 and 1885, which sought to legitimize control over the continent, its people and specifically its natural resources. No African was ever consulted in this process. By 1900, European states claimed almost 90 percent of the land mass, ignoring and abolishing local autonomy and self-governance of the African people. The decolonization period post World War II and then the Cold War, saw Africans being used as political and economic pawns by both sides of the ideological conflict.
The effects of having excluded Africans from decision making about their own countries and their continent are starkly manifested in an artificially divided continent, weak and often at war with itself. This was the prime impulse behind the idea of building a movement for a more united continent, starting with civil society as the vanguard of such a process.
Africans remain constrained by these major incidents of political and economic domination of the peoples (and resources) of Africa. Starkly summed up by the pan-Africanist Tajudeen Raheem (1961-2009), when he observed that "Africa is the richest continent underneath the ground and that is precisely why we are one of the poorest continents above the ground," this resource curse and its abhorrent effects remain the daily reality for the majority of Africans. Within this context (and unlike some of their South American and Asian counterparts) individual African countries are unable to stand firm on the global stage in terms of climate change or trade negotiations, despite having proxy representation through South Africa in platforms such as the G20. There is little evidence to show that South Africa has used this proxy role for any substantial continental benefit. Instead, its political leadership has mostly just accepted the negative compromises of these platforms, including the G20, leaving the continent inadequately represented amongst the global economic and political forces.
The imperative to work more urgently and diligently towards a united civil society across the continent is ever greater now that civil protests are more widespread and a frequent feature of life in most parts of the world. The people of the African continent have an opportunity to integrate their struggles into the larger global movements against rising inequality and climate change impacts, standing shoulder to shoulder with their governments on these global stages, while simultaneously pressurizing African governments to perform substantially better than they are doing currently.
Attempts at civil society unity on the continent are not new. Several initiatives have been spawned over the years, including the first Pan African Conference (ironically held outside the continent) as early as 1900, several civil society backed resolutions and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) process to establish more widespread cooperation between non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs) in 2003.
Within these broader attempts of unity there have also been several attempts to build civil society networks across the continent. Some were thematically focused, such as the African Association for Literacy and Adult Education (AALAE) and others where more generic such as the Harare Caucus, that sought to bring together regional civil society networks across the continent. A cursory assessment of these initiatives highlights some of the reasons for their limited success:
- The impetus for setting them up was external to the continent and they were usually geared towards meeting short-term interests of particular (global civil society) organizations.
- There was a lack of adequate resourcing for the initiatives, from human and financial capital to ideological robustness—a long-term strategy is critical to movement building.
- Governance failings—the competing interests of individuals heading established and resourced NGOs sometimes goes against the needs of a continent wide movement. Those entrusted with leadership responsibilities of continental networks did not have the dedicated time to exercise proper governance of the management and secretariat.
Civil Society Under Attack
Africa's historical resistance to slavery, economic imperialism and political colonization finds focus in the current struggles by African people for democratic governance, justice, equality and a voice in the international policy arena.
Today we are told that Africa is rising. Yet, when we look closer, it seems that this is based solely on aggregated assessments of national Gross Domestic Product. In these rising African countries the few are becoming fantastically wealthy while the majority remain socially marginalized and economically excluded. In truth, the majority of Africans are not rising and continue to struggle with poverty and the denial of their most basic rights.
Underlying this state-of-affairs is the phenomenon of shrinking political and civic space. We have seen a drastic curtailment of the freedom of association, assembly and expression in far too many countries across the continent. This has been accompanied by heightened levels of corruption and growing levels of inequality. These rights violations have been met by new forms of social organization and leadership leading to partial victories and new forms of popular actions and movements. Civil society in Africa is under assault on many fronts. We are experiencing many restrictions on political space, the erosion of women's rights, increasing inequality and climate change that is already having significant negative human impacts across the continent.
The current initiative to establish a continent wide social justice platform for civil society actions, solidarity, protection and advancement came about as a confluence of factors at a similar time and operating within the context set out above.
For some years now, Action Aid Denmark has been running the well-regarded Training Centre for Development Cooperation (TCDC) in Arusha, Tanzania. In 2015 Action Aid Denmark handed over the TCDC facility to an African institution in order to further establish the facility as a base of operations for a new Africa wide center for civil society.
In February 2016, I agreed to serve as the start-up director of the new initiative. Upon accepting the role I immediately set about engaging in dialogue with civil society across the continent to gain further insight into perspectives on a move to build greater unity within civil society on the continent. The process included numerous formal and informal consultations with civil society activists, regional and local networks, NGOs, international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), trade unions and faith-based groups across the continent.
This process of bottom-up consultations (which is ongoing) has shown that almost everyone who has participated agreed that African unity—reflected by greater social, political and economic integration—is critical for Africa and its peoples. Individual nation states are far too weak to fight for what they need; be it in negotiations about trade, climate or a host of other pertinent issues.
Secondly, most activists feel we are fighting on two fronts. On the one hand, we are fighting a global system that is unjust, inequitable and is leading us to climate catastrophe that fundamentally threatens our very ability to survive as a species. A system that serves the top 1 percent has to be vigorously opposed. On the other hand, we are facing national governments that have witnessed "state capture" by local and global elites and are often acting against the interests of their own citizens. This leads us to a situation where we need to both defend human rights and democracy at home and also ensure our governments are taking on the obscene injustices that prevail at the global level.
Thirdly, many on the continent feel that we need to have a fundamental rethink as to what constitutes civil society. There is a growing recognition that there is too much dependency on and too much influence of INGOs but also greater acceptance that even local and national NGOs are disconnected from the poorest and most marginalized. While there are, of course, inspirational exceptions to this, there is increasing agreement that the engine of resistance to injustice is not coming from formal and bureaucratized NGOs but is coming from looser, informal and social media driven activism. Some of the most inspiring challenges to power in Africa and globally, in the last decade have not seen the more formal NGOs playing any decisive role.
Lastly, the consultations were unanimous in their focus on a wider initiative as opposed to a specific center. Thus, while the Arusha TCDC facility is likely to be a key convening point for civil society (it already enjoys credibility and success as an NGO management training facility), for the purposes of building the vision of the potential future initiative we want it to be driven by a bottom-up process of consultation that is not focused on a single center but on a range of such convening spaces.
These key discussions were affirmed at a recent strategy workshop organized by the African Civil Society Initiative. Thirty activists, NGOs and networks aligned themselves with the inspirational Rustlers Valley Declaration (2014), thus taking up the challenge for civil society generally and NGOs specifically "to be the change we want to see in the world."
The key consensus points developed in the African Civil Society Initiative process to date represent some significant departures from previous attempts at civil society unity in Africa. Firstly, there is an acceptance that NGOs and INGOs cannot be the sole drivers of the process. The initiative must be much broader than any previous attempts and will make a special effort to be inclusive of social movements, NGOs, peoples and popular social justice movements, intellectuals, artists, sports people, cultural activists and others, across the continent and the African Diaspora. Secondly, a phased approach must continue to be employed, ensuring consensus at each step—no one must be left behind. Thirdly, the eventual organizational structure of the initiative must reflect the lean and agile nature of the initiative itself.
Based on the current feedback from the consultation process, it is likely that the initiative will focus on six key cross-cutting areas that have substantial significance and have gained general consensus, specifically:
- Exposing corruption and opposing impunity;
- Fighting for full gender equality;
- Defending and deepening democratic space generally and civic space specifically;
- Working for poverty eradication;
- Opposing inequality; and
- Assertively addressing the challenge of climate change.
These consensus points will most likely be implemented by the nascent initiative in the following ways:
- Sparking a major conversation across the continent about the establishment of the initiative—what such an intervention would look like, who would participate, what participants' expectations are and what the objectives of such a platform would be?
- Establishing internal and external communications functionality, making as much use of social media platforms to ensure widespread engagement of all who are interested in civil society;
- Inviting people to express interest in the initiative—we can only succeed if we have broad based membership across civil society;
- Organizing a Validation Conference in Arusha, Tanzania—the final steps to establish the initiative must have broad public endorsement with people and organizations ready to stand up and be counted in the fight for justice. The conference will deliberate on how the initiative should be established and operate. Should the conference demonstrate the requisite level of support the initiative's operations will commence promptly thereafter.
- And lastly, all of this work requires that most basic of needs, the resources to succeed and the current team is busy preparing for the Validation Conference, staff and other related costs.
It is time we speak together and decide what change we wish to see in our countries, across Africa and what we want Africa to be when we celebrate Africa Day in the future. For a long time now, others have been writing our story. Now is the time for us to take a brave step, a giant step for us and start writing (and telling) our own story—a story of a united Africa, at peace with prosperous and healthy people.
We need your voice, ideas, thoughts and action to keep working together to build this initiative. It is not complicated to do your part, tweet to us @helloacsi, write on our Facebook wall or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Together for Africa, for justice, peace and sustainable development.
The wheel of climate action turns slowly, but in Paris it has turned. There’s much in this deal that frustrates and disappoints me, but it still puts the fossil fuel industry squarely on the wrong side of history.
Parts of this deal have been diluted and polluted by the people who despoil our planet, but it contains a new temperature limit of 1.5 degrees. That single number and the new goal of net zero emissions by the second half of this century, will cause consternation in the boardrooms of coal companies and the palaces of oil-exporting states and that is a very good thing. The transition away from fossil fuels is inevitable.
Now comes our great task of this century. How do we meet this new goal? The measures outlined simply do not get us there. When it comes to forcing real, meaningful action, Paris fails to meet the moment. We have a 1.5 degree wall to climb, but the ladder isn’t long enough. The emissions targets outlined in this agreement are simply not big enough to get us to where we need to be.
There is also not enough in this deal for the nations and people on the frontlines of climate change. It contains an inherent, ingrained injustice. The nations which caused this problem have promised too little to help the people on the frontlines of this crisis who are already losing their lives and livelihoods for problems they did not create.
This deal won’t dig us out the hole we’re in, but it makes the sides less steep. To pull us free of fossil fuels we are going to need to mobilize in ever greater numbers. This year the climate movement beat the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, we kicked Shell out of the Arctic and put coal into terminal decline. We stand for a future powered by renewable energy and it is a future we will win.
This is why our efforts have never been confined to these conference halls. Just as we've carried our messages of justice, equity and environmental protection into the venues of the climate negotiations and echoed the collective demand to speed the end of fossil fuels to the faces of our leaders, we will continue to raise our voices long after these talks are over.
We came to the COP with hope. Not a hope based on the commitments we wished our leaders would make, but a hope built on movements that we have built together with many others. Together we are challenging the fossil fuel oligarchy, we are ushering in the era of solutions and we are moving the political benchmark of what is possible.
While our political leaders walk, our movements run and we must keep running.
From the High Arctic to Brazil, from the Alberta tar sands to Indonesia’s peatlands, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Mediterranean we will stand against those faceless corporations and regressive governments that would risk our children's future.
We will push our beautifully simple solution to climate change—100 percent renewable energy for all—and make sure it is heard and embraced. From schoolyards in Greece, to the streetlights of India, to small Arctic communities like Clyde River in Canada, we will showcase the clean, renewable solutions that are already here and pressure our governments to make them available for everyone, fast.
Finally, we will stand with those communities on the front lines of this struggle. They are the leaders of this movement. They are the ones facing the rising seas, the superstorms and the direct effects of our governments’ collective inaction. We will amplify their voices so the world is forced to hear our call for change.
In 2016 we—the entire climate movement—will escalate the fight. Together we will show the world that if our governments won’t act to stop the carbon bullies, then we will.
History is waiting in the wings and we’re standing on the right side of it.
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A few weeks ago the first ever human rights legal action seeking the accountability of the 50 big polluters was launched. Filed by Filipino typhoon survivors and several environmental organizations, it demands that the Philippines Human Rights Commission (CHR) investigate and acknowledge the complicity of 50 investor-owned fossil fuel companies in causing extreme weather events.
This comes from a consensus that the typhoons and catastrophic storms that annually batter the Philippines and many other small island nations, are exacerbated by climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels by distant and faceless energy companies. People in the Philippines know that they are at the end of a terrible chain reaction that destroys homes, ruins health and takes lives and livelihoods. It violates their basic human rights, so they, like many others, are starting to seek climate justice.
People in the Philippines know that they are at the end of a terrible chain reaction that destroys homes, ruins health and takes lives and livelihoods. Photo credit: Vincent Go / Greenpeace
They are part of a growing number of people that will no longer stand for companies—despite knowledge of the harms associated with their products—continuing to engorge themselves on profit at the expense of the climate and human lives. These companies are morally bound to help communities at the frontline of climate change while financing a just transition to a 100 percent renewable energy future.
Cases of negligence, like the May 2014 Soma mine disaster in Turkey, which took the lives of 311 workers and injured 80 others and litigation by communities in Peru and Ecuador against Texaco/Chevron over claims of pollution are examples of people taking a stand against how fossil fuel companies do business. The Philippines' submission is a reflection of an understanding that fossil fuel companies are acting in violation of human rights in and of itself, no matter how carefully the company undertakes their activity. In short, we and many others are declaring: it's not the way you do business, it's the business itself.
This story of many fossil fuel companies is sewn together by incompetence, corruption and greed. It is a history of companies who relentlessly drive forward their business with an irresponsible outlook and lack of empathy for people and the planet. However, in the era of climate impacts and extreme weather events, the story is changing.
The top 50 investor-owned polluters under public scrutiny are taken from a list of 90 entities who, according to a report by Rick Heede, are responsible for 63 percent of the carbon dioxide and methane emitted between 1751 and 2010.
Coalitions of affected communities are developing jurisprudence that recognizes impacts of climate change as a breach of human rights. If successful, this recognition will lay the foundations for what is really required: attribution and action.
The petition was submitted on behalf of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement and other local NGOs, with the support of the International Trade Union Confederation, Amnesty International, NGO legal experts and thousands of individuals. The broad coalition was put together because success in fighting climate change will only occur when organizations and individuals join hands across the globe to demand climate justice.
Climate impacts like extreme weather events hit the most vulnerable first; working people and the poor. With altered seasons and rising sea levels whole communities and nations are already suffering from corporate malfeasance. People are involved in every aspect of meeting this threat, from activists campaigning for action on climate to workers in new industries to workers in fossil fuel production.
While virtually all countries continue to depend on burning fossil fuels to drive economic growth, we know this must change rapidly and dramatically. Companies must commit to leaving at least 80 percent of the fossil fuels in the ground if we want to salvage any hope of maintaining a stable climate that allows humans and all other life to survive. Companies must engage in this transformation in full consultation with workers and communities to ensure the process is just.
We know that our sons and daughters will work in energy in the future, but they won't work in fossil fuels. We demand that the workers who have brought us the prosperity of today be treated justly and with due respect during the transition to a renewable energy future. We are aiming for a result whereby the Philippines CHR would acknowledge these historic responsibilities and begin framing pathways for the just transition required.
The final word on why we have taken this action is perhaps best described by Elma Reyes, a mother of two who had her livelihood destroyed by Typhoon Rammasun (known in the Philippines as Typhoon Glenda):
"They say it's going to be our way of life from now on, where typhoons will be more intense and affect our livelihood. If that's the case, I won't be able to provide for my family and feed my children. I won't give up and allow big companies to continue to ruin the environment and fuel climate change."
We encourage the Commission for Human Rights to commit to investigating the big polluters for their human rights violations as a matter of urgency.
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Out in the central Pacific Ocean, straddling the equator and the International Date Line, lies an island group in Micronesia called Kiribati (pronounced 'Kiri-bas'). It’s not “famous” like Hawaii, Bali or Tahiti but its scenery is just as, or even more magnificent. Its flag—a bird flying over the sun as it sets on the ocean horizon—is testament to its peace, beauty and tranquility: stunning lagoons, white sandy beaches and a thriving traditional culture.
The people of the low-lying islands of Kiribati, while being the least responsible for climate change, are most exposed to the consequences of it. Every high tide now carries the potential for damage and flooding. Photo credit: Christian Aslund / Greenpeace
But unfortunately, due to climate change, this entire island nation with a population of more than 100,000 could disappear. After spending a few short days here I’ve been both inspired by the spirit of the people and concerned with the enormity of the problems they are facing.
The people of the low-lying islands of Kiribati, while being the least responsible for climate change, are most exposed to the consequences of it. Every high tide now carries the potential for damage and flooding. These people know first hand that climate change is not just an environmental crisis—it’s also a human rights disaster. The leader of the country, President Anote Tong, is facing the real possibility of watching his nation slowly drown and the real threat that his people will be made climate migrants.
Every high tide now carries with it the potential for damage and flooding. Photo credit: Christian Aslund / Greenpeace
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fifth assessment stressed that sea level rise projected this century will present 'severe flood and erosion risks' for low-lying islands, with the potential also for degradation of freshwater resources. Every high tide now carries with it the potential for damage and flooding. In some places the sea level is rising by 1.2 centimetres a year, four times faster than the global average.
That’s why I came to Kiribati and am standing with President Tong. Together we’re making a groundbreaking call to action—to demand an immediate moratorium on all new coal mines and coal mine expansions. In his own words:
“As leaders, we have a moral obligation to ensure that the future of our children, our grandchildren and their children is safe and secure. For their sake, I urge you to support this call for a moratorium on new coal mines and coal mine expansions.”
Stopping the expansion of coal will not fix the climate crisis by itself, but it’s a necessary and important step. As a global community we cannot, on one hand, claim to be taking action for the climate, while on the other, continue to expand the most destructive of fuels.
Together we’re making a groundbreaking call to action—to demand an immediate moratorium on all new coal mines and coal mine expansions. Photo credit: Greenpeace
It’s simple: people who are serious about tackling climate change must demand a world with fewer coal mines. These mines and the CEOs profiting from them, stand in the way of a 100 per cent renewable energy-powered world.
Already, a fossil-free transition is slowly being made. 2014 was the first year that renewable energy grew more than fossil fuels globally. In the U.S. 200 coal-fired power plants have been scheduled for retirement; Europe’s coal use has fallen almost 50 percent since its peak 30 years ago and China has been reducing coal use for the past 18 months. On top of that two major banks have just pulled out of investing in what is pegged to be one of Australia’s largest coal mines.
World leaders now have the opportunity to show concern, responsibility and courage by supporting this moratorium in the lead up to the Paris climate talks in December. The approval and construction of each new coal mine undermines the intent of the Paris talks. Every nation that signs on to the moratorium strengthens it.
A complete end to new coal will be the next step on the road to saving our planet and achieving climate justice. I ask everyone who is serious about taking on climate change to contact their Governments and ask their politicians to stand with President Tong. The island nation of Kiribati depends on it.
In coming weeks we will be reaching out to all of you to join hands across the globe and help us to make this moratorium a reality.
Take action. Demand leaders Act for Climate here.
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More than most, Japan is a nation whose modern history is tragically linked to the quest to use and tame nuclear power. This nuclear history is not noteworthy for its successes, but for how it reflects humanity's capacity for destruction—and peace.
It has been 70 years since the U.S. atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing more than 400,000 people and affecting generations more through nuclear radiation. The horror of these bombings has been imprinted on our consciousness, holding at bay the further use of nuclear weapons in warfare.
These plans have met overwhelming public opposition, with polls showing the majority of Japanese people are against restarting nuclear reactors. Photo credit: Greenpeace / Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert
These humanitarian catastrophes sparked a powerful peace movement in Japan that has been influential worldwide. It also gave rise to the country's unique 1947 "Peace Constitution," which renounces war and armed forces to resolve conflicts, except in self-defense. This legacy of peace has served Japan well, but it is now under threat. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing for deeply unpopular legislation to allow Japan to fight in foreign conflicts, effectively rewriting a part of the constitution that has become ingrained in the nation's psyche.
The campaign towards achieving global nuclear disarmament meanwhile remains a long way off. At the start of 2015, some 15,850 nuclear weapons were held in stock by nine states: the U.S., Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, Britain, France and North Korea. Roughly 1,800 of these weapons are on high operational alert, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. These nine states continue to upgrade their nuclear weapons and research new ones.
We only have to look to the political wrangling over the breakthrough nuclear deal with Iran last month to witness the intractable nature of debates over who gets to wield the threat of nuclear weapons. The lack of political will on achieving disarmament meant no real progress was made in the latest review of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), held in May; the United Nations itself was forced to admit parties could not agree on substantive parts of the meeting's final document.
Greenpeace itself has a history that is intertwined with nuclear energy: Our organization's foundation campaign was the 1971 attempt by a small group of activists to stop U.S. nuclear tests on the island of Amchitka, Alaska. Forty-four years later, our understanding of the dangers of nuclear weapons proliferation and the attendant threats from nuclear energy, has only deepened, along with our core commitment to see it phased out. Nuclear energy, whether for military or civil purposes, is never peaceful. No nuclear program can ever be considered purely civil and always carries the threat of nuclear weapons development. And as the history of catastrophes in the nuclear energy sector proves, nuclear energy is neither safe, nor clean.
Nuclear energy, with its inherent environmental dangers and high costs, is increasingly unattractive as an alternative to fossil fuels. Instead, interest in renewable energy sources is surging in forward-looking economies and among investors, who know that continued fossil fuel dependence only drives conflict and distorts foreign policies.
— CNN (@CNN) August 6, 2015
But the threats are still there.
Nearly four and a half years ago, an earthquake sparked a triple-core reactor meltdown in a nuclear power plant in Japan, forcing tens of thousands of people to leave their homes. After investigations, Greenpeace Japan revealed last month that radiation in one of the most contaminated districts is still so widespread and at such a high level that those who were evacuated cannot return home safely, despite decontamination efforts.
Japan's operating reactors are currently shut pending safety checks, but the nation is planning to restart its first nuclear reactor this month. These plans have met overwhelming public opposition, with polls showing the majority of Japanese people are against restarting nuclear reactors. A Greenpeace petition opposing the nuclear restart has gathered tens of thousands of signatures.
At the core of Greenpeace is a conviction that conflict and the ways it manifests in violent struggles over our natural resources, will destroy our planet and all of us. So we have to find better ways to resolve these issues. Our non-proliferation campaign over the decades is part of a global peace movement that aspires to social justice and environmental sustainability. Even as we see setbacks to achieving peace in our time, we are convinced that non-violent resistance and protest will achieve this change. History shows that peaceful opposition is far more effective than violence will ever be.
It should be unthinkable that the horror in Hiroshima and Nagasaki 70 years ago would ever be revisited upon anyone anywhere in our world today. Neither should the trauma felt by Japanese people after the Fukushima accident—and also by thousands of people affected by other nuclear disasters, such as Chernobyl—ever again be endured. Our remembrances for this occasion are also reminders to continue our journey towards peaceful change.
Kumi Naidoo is the International Executive Director of Greenpeace.
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Greece is facing a depression on a scale arguably comparable to the U.S. Great Depression of the late 1920s. Huge unemployment rates and a dramatic drop in family incomes of more than 40 percent have Greek citizens pondering what the impacts will be of the new bail-out agreement. Unending austerity and lack of hope are all it seems the future has to offer.
But there is a way to start changing things for the better. With energy poverty emerging as one of the most dramatic symptoms of the recession—six out of every 10 households are struggling to pay their energy bills—it is high time that Greece seized upon its greatest and still largely unexploited asset: the sun.
The tremendous untapped solar potential is a way to combat energy poverty and to cheaply kickstart economic growth. Photo credit: Greenpeace
The new "Solarize Greece" campaign by Greenpeace Greece aims to bring together all those who dream of a brighter and more sustainable future, not only for Greece but for all European countries. Its objectives are to help Greece kickstart solar power as a driver of the economy, to rid the country of the burden of fossil fuels that are holding it down economically and for Greece to fight its way back out of the crisis.
Solar power has worked minor miracles for Greece before. In the turbulent decade of the 1970s that saw two major global energy crises, the Greek government offered tax incentives to households for solar water heaters and a national policy was aimed at saving power. That led to hundreds of thousands of households installing solar heaters and significantly reduced energy bills. Equally important, a new industry was born and soon solar heaters became one of Greece's finest export products. It seemed then that the sun had done its part to help Greece work its way out of a tight spot.
Now, crushing national hardship together with climate change are urgent and even more compelling reasons for revisiting solar photovoltaic (PV) power and this time, on a massive scale.
Greece's short-lived 'PV Spring' of 2009-2013, driven by a feed-in tariff scheme, provided a glimpse of the country's real solar potential. Within five years installed solar capacity jumped from 47 to more than 2,500 megawatts. A total of €4.5 billion was invested in modernizing the energy sector and created around 50,000 jobs. In all, around 100,000 Greek families benefitted from the rise of the solar PV industry in one of the European countries most renowned for its sun.
Today, Greece is in a position to do much more.
Driven by the rapid fall in the costs of solar power, new legislation allows Greek citizens to generate cheap solar power for their own consumption, rather than selling it to the power grid. It means that, despite all of its economic hardships, Greece can seize on the enormous comparative advantage it has in solar power relative to northern European states. The tremendous untapped solar potential is a way to combat energy poverty and to cheaply kickstart economic growth.
Hundreds of thousands of households and small and medium enterprises could generate their own power at a fraction of the cost that they buy it from the grid. Tens of thousands of new jobs can be created.
With the costs of solar energy and storage expected to fall even further in the near future there is the potential for Greece to save billions of Euros on its fuel import bill—money that would stay within the country and be redirected to where it matters most: sustainable investments, social welfare policies, saving pensions and stimulating prosperity.
— Greenpeace (@Greenpeace) July 28, 2015
So where could Greece find the funds for this initiative? Currently, through their electricity bills, Greek consumers pay around €800 million a year to subsidize oil imports to provide power to the country's many islands. This is a huge amount by Greek standards and one that is equivalent to the newly proposed cuts in pensions from the national budget in 2015.
This burden is set to increase as yet more oil-related power investments are scheduled for the islands. If these polluting and expensive projects are selected over investments in renewable energy and improvements in the power grid, Greek consumers will continue to throw away money for decades to come. That would not only steal resources from the economy but also compromise the chances of recovery.
Greenpeace Greece sees a different energy future and that is what its crowd-funding campaign is all about. Installing solar power in Greece's oil-dependent islands will bring relief to low-income households in need; it will help reduce oil consumption and pollution; and it will save money for Greek consumers on the mainland. Above all, it would be an example of a fair social policy that has tremendous developmental potential. Even more crucially, the campaign aspires to set in motion a transformation based on solarizing the entire Greek economy.
We are talking here about a domino effect, as a step that addresses austerity and provides a brighter future. If we can muster the support for solar power for Greece's islands, why not for the whole of Greece?
Solarizing Greece would be a step in assisting the country to again stand on its own feet, on its own terms. And a step that could have significant repercussions for the rest of the sun-bathed Mediterranean region.
For Greece, untapped solar power means untapped sustainable economic development.
The sun is not only for tourist holidays. Greece has an opportunity to show the rest of Europe the true power of solar energy.
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Thirty years ago, groups of individuals in New Zealand were preparing to leave their families, their jobs and their homes to set off in small boats across the Pacific Ocean into a nuclear weapons testing zone. They hoped that their presence there would be enough to stop nuclear bomb tests.
Rainbow Warrior, sunk by two underwater mines placed by agents of the French Government in Marsden Wharf, New Zealand. July 11, 1985 Photo credit: © Greenpeace / Miller
The French Government conducting the tests must have known it could not win against such a show of people power. So a few minutes before midnight on 10 July 1985, French secret service agents struck in Auckland harbour, New Zealand. They bombed and sank the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior, one of the ships that was due to lead the flotilla into the nuclear test zone. The French agents murdered Fernando Pereira, a photographer and crew member.
The government was mistaken if it believed that this would knock the courage out of a movement of millions. One of our supporters said it best: you can't sink a rainbow.
Thanks to public protest, nuclear tests in the Pacific were abandoned. People power made history. Not all of those people clambered into boats. But they all took a stand. Some by writing, some by marching, some by signing a petition. Some volunteered, some donated, some challenged their friends and family. Others changed minds simply by telling people where they stood. Each one of those single acts, by people just like you and me, reached into hearts and minds and ultimately brought an end to nuclear weapons testing.
Today, we all face a different threat: climate change. Just as nuclear weapons threatened global catastrophe 30 years ago, so climate change threatens all of us now. Global warming means more flooding and bigger storms. We see severe weather events hitting the news with greater regularity. Millions of people suffer them at first hand, some losing their homes, livelihoods and even their lives.
It is already undermining security and is set to further exacerbate scarcities and tensions that fuel conflict.
But even as the world's seas are rising, the tide is turning. The ranks of the clean energy revolution are swelling. Between January and May this year, around three-quarters of new electricity capacity in the U.S. was solar and wind.
In Norway, the country's politicians voted unanimously to sell off coal investments from the US$900 billion Government Pension Fund, the largest sovereign wealth fund on the planet.
Just last month, the Pope called on the world's rich nations to tackle climate change, in a 180-page call for action. And, in the Netherlands, 900 Dutch citizens won a stunning legal victory in which the court ordered the Dutch state to cut more carbon pollution in the next five years.
Increasingly, people are standing up to the coal, oil and gas companies whose polluting products are fouling the air we breathe, the seas we fish and swim in, and the habitats on which we depend. It's partly due to the events of 30 years ago, where a wide and diverse group of people showed courage in standing up to the nuclear threat in the Pacific, that we know that people power can win.
In a few days' time Shell could start drilling for oil in the Arctic. Millions of people are taking a stand to protect this beautiful place and to say ‘no' to yet more fossil fuels and yet more global warming. Some people have shown courage by climbing Arctic-bound oil drilling rigs, or by clambering into kayaks and daring to paddle in front of these huge vessels; others by joining marches, writing letters and signing petitions—just as people did 30 years ago to stop Pacific nuclear weapons testing.
People in the Pacific region are also standing up against climate change and the polluters. Filipinos are calling on the country's Commission on Human Rights to investigate the big carbon polluters for human rights violations linked to the impacts of climate change. In Australia people are standing up to protect the Great Barrier Reef. On the 30th anniversary of the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior, the third Rainbow Warrior will be campaigning to protect the reef—the largest living thing on the planet—from the coal industry.
The French Government didn't realise the strength of a people-powered movement. They thought two bombs could blow the movement away. They were wrong.
There are small and large acts that each of us can take to make the world a safer, cleaner, healthier, better place. To end the era of dependence on dirty fossil fuels and usher in the age of renewables, where all the world has access to clean energy. Stand up for what you believe in, in whatever way you can; celebrate those who do the same. It makes us all stronger.
As we remember Fernando Pereira, and dedicate this anniversary to the courage of the crew of that first Rainbow Warrior, we are asking everyone to share their own story of courage to this site.
Read about people just like you and me who oppose injustice and environmental abuse, and who are seized with infectious optimism for change, and a better future.
Being courageous is not always easy. But courage is contagious. #CourageWorks and the world has never needed all of us to find the courage to take action as it does now.
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There is an old African proverb that says "If you want to travel fast go alone, if you want to travel far go together." After five and a half years at Greenpeace, I think together we have travelled fast and far. And, we have travelled together. But it is nearly time for me to embark on a new journey.
By the end of this year I will be stepping down as the Greenpeace International executive director. The journey is far from over, and I will stay on it with you. I will then take on my most important role with Greenpeace, as a supporter and volunteer.
A volunteer on a journey, like those currently aboard the Greenpeace ship Esperanza. Six courageous volunteers, who stand for us all, are making #TheCrossing. Like the tip of an "iceberg" made up of 7 million concerned people, they are following Shell's giant oil rig, the Polar Pioneer, as it makes its way across the Pacific towards the Alaskan Arctic to undertake dangerous Arctic oil drilling.
Why am I sharing this with you now if I won't be leaving for nine months? It's because the Board of Greenpeace International needs to begin the search for its next executive director, and such a search is public and requires extensive consultation. In the coming weeks we will be saying more about it. For the present, we have produced a statement that explains this announcement.
As I say in the statement, this is not a sudden decision for me. It's not that I could not do more here, at Greenpeace International. I'd be happy to continue to work with, or rather for, all of you. But over the last year I have been feeling a strong pull to return home to South Africa. I have been away for 17 years and it feels that the time to return is upon me.
I watch with despair how the South African government, my government, is rolling out plans to spend as much as a trillion Rand (US$ 85 billion) on an absurd deal with Russia to build some seven nuclear reactors.
So, when Greenpeace International has made the smooth transition to new leadership I will be devoting whatever skills I have acquired over the years to the fight for energy justice in South Africa. I believe this to be one of the biggest challenges facing my country since the ending of apartheid.
This struggle is of course about not only about climate change, it's also about development and making sure that the roughly one-in-five South Africans without electricity have access to clean power. It is also about democracy. For more than 60 years we have seen that nuclear power and democracy don't mix.
I want to do what I can to help my country develop based on democratic, 21st century, renewable energy systems. Currently, there is only one nuclear power plant in Africa, at Koeberg, just outside Cape Town. As we said when we hung a banner on it in 2002, during the Earth Summit, it should be the first and last.
It's a tough call, but for every activist there is a battle we must fight, and this is mine.
Over the last few months I have been discussing with the Greenpeace International board chair, Ana Toni, when the best time would be for me to step down. We have discussed how best to ensure the smooth transition I mentioned. As a result, I have agreed to stay on in my current position until the end of the year, at latest, to allow for a successor to be found and the handover to be completed. I will carry on as normal in helping win as many campaign victories as possible.
Greenpeace has come a long way as an organisation in recent years. We've strengthened our links to other groups in civil society and become a strong partner in the broader justice movement. We're including our volunteers and supporters in strategic decisions, we've moved to a more open and "people-powered" approach to campaigning and are more active than ever in the key environmental battlegrounds.
Success or failure in these battlegrounds will decide the fate of our environment and the legacy that we pass on to our children.
I am confident that with the support of so many people we are on the right path to achieve those bigger, and urgently needed campaign victories.
Over the coming months I very much look forward to continuing to work with all of you while the search for my successor gets under way.
They say in any struggle you must lead, follow or get out of the way. In my view, we must all become leaders.
I will continue to follow the development of our fabulous organisation. And, wherever possible, I will join you in getting in the way of the destructive forces that are preventing a just transition to a green and peaceful future.
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On Saturday I joined a panel at the Munich Security Conference in Germany and talked about global security and energy security. You might be surprised to see Greenpeace at a security conference. The room was full of members of the "strategic community," people who are not the crowd we normally engage with; they are the crowd we have historically challenged with our peace campaigns. However, I appreciated having the opportunity to be a dissenting voice and to talk about what I consider is the path towards true energy security.
What often dominates discussions about peace and security are questions about solutions—around how conflicts are to be addressed and solved, economic sanctions, peace missions, diplomatic negotiations—these are all the mechanisms we have become accustomed to which dominate the discourse.
I urge you however to think about this from a different perspective—prevention. How could conflicts have been prevented and even more importantly—how can the next conflicts be prevented, or at least how do we mitigate the risks.
When I look back at 2014 and consider the many conflicts that have plagued our planet, there is one fact that I cannot ignore and that is—our addiction to fossil fuels is taking us on the road to nowhere.
It must be made clear—conflict is always driven by a unique set of circumstances and it would be wrong to try to reduce a conflict to one dimension. However, if you look at some of the conflicts that have dominated our news screens this year you will see that fossil fuels—coal, oil and natural gas—have often played a role. Sometimes in the background, sometimes taking center stage. The conflict in the Ukraine, which had partly been triggered by its ongoing energy crisis, has been making headlines. But there were several other conflicts around the world last year, also related to energy issues: in the South China Sea, Iraq and South Sudan, to name just a few.
Energy security was high on the agenda of world leaders in 2014. Governments all over the world are now trying to come up with plans to ensure stable energy supply. I would urge you to consider that our quest for energy security must go hand in hand with the quest for true security. And when embarking on this quest we must insist on finding true solutions. Opt for a system change rather than tweak the existing broken system. For me, true energy security would mean freedom from the geopolitical instability and conflicts triggered by fossil fuels, from the risks to lives, health and the environment, and from some of the threats of climate change.
The conflict in Ukraine has brought the issue closer to home. Gas imports from Russia through Ukraine represent more than 15 percent of Europe's gas supply and last year's threat by Russia to cut off this supply has caused EU leaders to urgently scramble for solutions. Let me be clear—replacing energy supplies from Russia with nuclear energy and fossil fuels from elsewhere, as has been suggested, such as the Middle East or North Africa, is not the answer. We should not be thinking about changing the dealer but instead kick the dirty energy addiction.
We must recognize that Ukraine is only part of the problem. The EU spends about €400 billion a year buying more than half of its energy (53 percent) from abroad. That means Europe spends more than 1 billion euro every day importing more than half of its energy.
The only way forward is choosing energy efficiency and renewables. EU leaders should put greater emphasis on energy saving and renewable energy in order to reduce Europe's dependence on fossil fuel imports and to enhance its energy security. Greenpeace's "Road Map for Europe" explains exactly how this could be done. The citizens of the EU have already made up their mind. According to polls, Europeans overwhelmingly support national targets for renewable energy and strong policies for energy efficiency
This is the only way the EU can set its own course now and forever.
Back in October EU leaders agreed on its 2030 targets for emission cuts, energy saving and clean energy. The bad news—the agreed targets are significantly weaker than those proposed by the European Parliament. And they will slow down clean energy investments. The result—the EU will still have to rely heavily on imported energy. EU leaders have failed to enter this road towards true energy security.
The choice is not between Russia and Saudi Arabia. The choice is between dirty and clean energy providers and between climate chaos and more sustainable living, it's a choice between the past and the future. Fundamentally it is a choice between peace and ongoing and intensifying conflicts. We can choose for a win-win-win for the climate, the economy and people.
Germany is an example: 15 years ago only 6 percent of Germany's electricity was generated by Renewable Energies. Today, 27 percent of Germany's electricity comes from renewables. In another 15 years according to the Government's projections it will be at least 50 percent. German Energiewende (energy transition) is the model for how an industrial country can move towards true energy security.
A report launched at the conference presented a poll according to which more than 8 percent of those asked, and more than 90 percent in some regions, thought there was a leadership crisis in the world today. As long as elected leaders hesitate to take those decisions they were elected for, this will remain the case. Masses of people want change for a just world, fueled by clean energy sources. The year 2015 might be remembered as the year in which this leadership crisis was tackled, in which world leaders turned towards a global Energiewende. Four months from now, Chancellor Angela Merkel will welcome Barack Obama and the other Heads of G7 Governments to Germany to discuss future climate and energy policy. I call on Mrs. Merkel to use this unique opportunity. The G7 summit must give the world a vision for a future energy system without nuclear power, without coal power, based 100 percent on Renewable Energies.
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As Typhoon Hagupit hits the Philippines, one of the biggest peacetime evacuations in history has been launched to prevent a repeat of the massive loss of life which devastated communities when Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the same area just over a year ago.
"One of the biggest evacuations in peacetime" strikes a sickening chord. Is this peacetime or are we at war with nature?
Each year, the people of the Philippines learn the hard way what inaction on emissions mean. They might be slightly better prepared and more resilient, but they are also rightly more aghast that each year—at the same time—the climate meetings seem to continue in a vacuum, not prepared to take meaningful action, not able to respond to the urgency of our time and not holding accountable the Big Polluters that are causing the climate to change with ferocious pace. Photo credit: Greenpeace
I was about to head to Lima, when I got a call to come to the Philippines to support our office and its work around Typhoon Hagupit (which means lash). In Lima another round of the UN climate talks are underway to negotiate a global treaty to prevent catastrophic climate change. A truce of sorts with nature.
But these negotiations have been going on far too long, with insufficient urgency and too much behind the scenes, and not so much behind the scenes, interference from the fossil fuel lobby.
This year, like last year and the year before these negotiations take place against a devastating backdrop of a so-called 'extreme weather event', something that climate scientists have been warning us about if we don't take urgent action.
Tragically, we are not taking urgent action. Nature does not negotiate, it responds to our intransigence. For the people of the Philippines, and in many other parts of the world, climate change is already a catastrophe.
Only one year ago, Super Typhoon Haiyan killed thousands, destroyed communities and caused billions of dollars in damage. Many survivors who are still displaced have this week had to evacuate the tents they have been living in as Typhoon Hagupit carves a path across the country as I write.
It's too early to assess the impact so far—we are all hoping early indications will spare the Philippines of the same pain that was experienced after Haiyan.
Here in Manila, we prepare to travel to the impacted areas in the wake of Typhoon Hagupit, or Ruby, as it has been named. We will offer what minor assistance we can.
We will stand in solidarity with the Filipino people and we will call out those who are responsible for climate change, those who are responsible for the devastation and who should be helping pay for the clean up and for adaptation to a world in which our weather is an increasing source of mass destruction.
With heavy hearts we prepare to bear witness. We challenge those in Lima to turn their attention from the lethargy and process of the negotiations and pay attention to what is happening in the real world.
We call on them to understand that climate change is not a future threat to be negotiated but a clear and present danger that requires urgent action now!
Each year, the people of the Philippines learn the hard way what inaction on emissions mean. They might be slightly better prepared and more resilient, but they are also rightly more aghast that each year—at the same time—the climate meetings seem to continue in a vacuum, not prepared to take meaningful action, not able to respond to the urgency of our time and not holding accountable the Big Polluters that are causing the climate to change with ferocious pace.
Before leaving for Manila I also received a message from Yeb Saño, climate commissioner for the Philippines: "I hope you can join us as we bear witness to the impact of this new super typhoon. Your help would be very valuable in delivering a message to Lima loud and clear."
Yeb was the Filipino chief negotiator for three years at the UN climate talks and recently visited the Arctic on a Greenpeace ship to witness the Arctic sea ice minimum. Two years ago in Doha, as Typhoon Pablo took the lives of many he broke through the normally reserved language of dispassionate diplomacy that dominates UN climate treaty talks:
"Please ... let 2012 be remembered as the year the world found the courage to ... take responsibility for the future we want. I ask of all of us here, if not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?"
I am joining Greenpeace Philippines and Yeb to visit the worst hit areas, document the devastation and send a clear message from climate change ground zero to Lima and the rest of the world that the ones that are responsible for the majority of emissions will be held accountable by the communities that are suffering the impacts of extreme weather events linked to climate change.
We will call on the heads of the fossil fuel companies who are culpable for the unfolding tragedy to examine their consciences and accept their historic responsibility. They say the truth is the first casualty of war, in this war against nature, the truth of climate science is unquestionable.
Please join us. Please add your voice by signing our petition calling on Big Polluters to be held legally and morally accountable for climate damages. After signing the petition you will be redirected to a site where you can make a donation to the relief efforts of partner organizations.
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The world has changed since our leaders discussed climate change in 2009. It has become even more evident; ravaging crops in Africa, melting ice in the Arctic, drowning the Philippines and drying-up California. The poor are paying the highest price. But ever since super storm Sandy hit New York, even the rich in industrialized countries know that they can´t hide from devastating climate change in their gated communities.
Climate change is not on its way. It’s already here.
People are standing up to polluters, so we put their message on the side of the UN building in NYC, hours before the UN Climate Summit 2014 started. Photo credit: Greenpeace
Yet, cost-effective, sensible solutions have also made quantum leaps since 2009. Clean, renewable energy is getting bigger, better and cheaper every day. It can provide the answers our exhausted planet is looking for. Renewables are the most economical solution for new power capacity in an ever-increasing number of countries. 100 percent of power capacity added in the U.S. last month was renewable and countries like Denmark and Germany are producing new clean electricity records almost every month. In China, real change is under way, too. Not only is China installing as much solar this year as the U.S. has ever done, but their apocalyptic coal boom which drove up global carbon pollution since 2000 is also coming to an end. Things are rapidly changing and the current economic paradigm is no longer impenetrable—the light of reason is starting to shine through its cracks.
If rationality and economics were humanity’s guide to living on this planet, climate action would no longer need summits. The more successful clean energy solutions get, the more they are cutting into the profit margins of those few powerful companies whose business models depends on continued fossil fuel dependency. That's why we agree with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon when he says “instead of asking if we can afford to act, we should be asking what is stopping us, who is stopping us, and why?” We would add to this another question: for how long?
Today, it is interests of the fossil fuel industries—not technology nor economics—which are the only obstacle to securing a safe future for us and our children on this planet. And they know it, too. When we talk to people at major energy firms these days, they admit in private that they understand the need to transition towards clean energy. But the coal investments that companies like Duke Energy in the US, and Eskom in South Africa have made are holding them back. Worse, because they fear that their massive investments could become stranded (i.e. wasted) assets they are actively lobbying politicians to slow down the clean, people-powered energy revolution that is under way.
Business lobbies such as ALEC in the U.S. or Business Europe in the EU are fighting tooth and nail to prevent progressive climate policies from being adopted. They claim they do this to “protect jobs." But this is an utter lie. We want workers fully involved in a just transition to a clean energy future. But we also know from Greenpeace Energy Revolution analyses over the past decade that renewables and energy efficiency will deliver more jobs than carrying on with dirty energy business as usual. By implementing a step by step energy ®evolution governments can, for example, help businesses create 3.2 million more jobs by 2030 in the global power supply sector alone. In South Africa, to pick just one country, 149,000 direct jobs could be created by 2030. That's 38,000 more than in the current government plan.
Meanwhile, China's turnaround on coal could also change the dynamics in the global climate debate. At the New York City summit, the Chinese government could end the current "you go first" mentality that has poisoned progress during the UN climate talks. Wouldn't it be wonderful if China, emboldened by its domestic actions, were to lead the world to a new global climate agreement by, for example, announcing in New York a peak in their emissions long before 2030?
It's only these kind of bold, concrete commitments that will be acceptable for the New York climate summit. Progressive business leaders need to—as Ban Ki-moon put it, “push back against skeptics and entrenched interests.” They can do so by leaving destructive business lobbies such as ALEC or Business Europe and setting themselves concrete deadlines by which they will run their businesses on 100 percent renewable energy. Governments need to send a clear signal to investors by supporting a phase-out of fossil fuels by 2050.Indeed concrete steps need to be taken now—such as ending the financing of coal fired power plants—to get us there.
The world has changed since 2009. Baby steps are no longer enough. To control runaway climate change, we need to sharply change tack and sail with the wind, not against it with unsustainable fossil fuels.
That's why we marched on the streets of New York, and cities around the world on Sept. 21: to show—alongside tens of thousands of people—that it’s time the polluters got out of the way and let us build a green, just and peaceful future for the generations which follow us.
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