Image: Adolfo Lujan/Flickr
“This is all wrong.”
Climate activist Greta Thunberg’s speech at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York City on Monday, in which she condemned world leaders for their “empty words” and “fairytales of eternal economic growth,” went viral immediately.
If the international political establishment’s failure to treat the climate crisis as an emergency that requires a total, radical transformation of our economies and societies is, as Thunberg put it, “all wrong,” then the global scale and grassroots ambition of the mass mobilization for climate justice is exactly right.
Just a couple days prior, four million people took to the streets in 185 countries around the world to demand serious climate action from world leaders. Climate actions will continue throughout this week, culminating in a massive climate strike on Friday, September 27 in Canada.
We spoke with Naomi Klein about her new book, On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal; the Global Climate Strike; what’s at stake in the upcoming Canadian federal election; and how the movement for a Green New Deal can counter a rising tide of eco-fascism. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Sophia Reuss: On Friday last week, we saw millions of people around the world join the Global Climate Strike. This upcoming Friday, people in communities across Canada are planning to strike. In past interviews, you’ve said that Canada owes the world a climate debt. How did we accumulate that debt, and what will it take for Canada to repay it?
Naomi Klein: Canada is a signatory to the United Nations Climate Convention, which says that all countries have a common responsibility to act on climate change, but that that responsibility is differentiated. It’s known as the “common but differentiated responsibility” clause. This is something that successive Canadian governments have agreed to throughout the 30 years since governments have been meeting to talk about lowering emissions. So it isn’t news that Canada has a responsibility as a large historical emitter of greenhouse gases. This is true of all of the major industrialized economies that have been burning carbon on an industrial scale for a couple hundred years.
[Canada has] more responsibility than countries that have a very small carbon footprint or have only started emitting large amounts of carbon relatively recently. What that means is that we need to move faster to lower our emissions in line with what scientists are telling us. They’re telling us that we need to have [reduced] global emissions in the next 11 years, which the IPCC report from last year told us we needed to do if we want to keep temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius. That means that countries like Canada have to do it even faster to make atmospheric space for countries that have smaller carbon footprints.
But also, part of that differentiated responsibility is that we need to pay into the UN Climate Fund, which is a flawed financial mechanism, but it’s the only one we’ve got right now. We need to provide financing for poorer countries to deal with the impacts of climate change, and to leapfrog over fossil fuels and go straight to green [technology], and also to help communities keep their carbon-sequestering forests intact. We need forests to stay intact. It’s to the benefit of the whole planet, so it shouldn’t only be the responsibility of relatively poor countries to give up revenue that they could be getting if they felled those forests […] and if we don’t want them to do it, we need to help.
What are the components of a Canadian response?
I think there’s a few components to this. One is ambition. Meaning, if global emissions need to be cut in half in 11 years, Canada needs to do more. We need to cut faster. We also need to pay. We need to provide climate financing, and there are also responsibilities to provide asylum. I don’t think that we can talk about our climate responsibilities without talking about migrant rights, and really questioning the legitimacy of our borders at this stage in history where so many millions of people are being displaced and have a right to seek asylum.
There are many drivers of migration right now. Climate is one of them. Climate is also a contributor to conflict. It’s an accelerant to conflict. It’s really hard to pry it apart from any of the other drivers to migration. But we currently don’t even recognize climate refugees under international law, so we don’t have the mechanisms really to address this. It’s unfortunate that a lot of the ways in which we’re talking about a Green New Deal right now are not making the links with migration, and then not making the links enough with international financing either. MORE