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April 28, 2017

Tomorrow, I’ll be joined by other ActionAid staff at the People’s Climate March. We’re expecting huge turnout to show politicians – those who are inclined to listen and those who cover their eyes and plug their ears – that there’s a mass popular demand for climate action.

We’re part of the Land Rights Now contingent, highlighting the crucial role that indigenous and local communities play in safeguarding forests and farmland from the industrial exploitation that spews greenhouse gases and often violates human rights.

The march will be a big-tent affair, because climate justice is an issue that affects everyone in many different ways and at different levels. In addition to land rights, there will be march groups focused on fossil fuel resistance, food and farm justice, trade justice, labor, youth, renewable energy, and more.

The organizers have gone to great lengths to ensure that the march’s messaging shows how climate change will affect marginalized groups more severely than privileged groups, and that frontline impacted communities should be the primary spokespeople calling for climate action.

But what kind of action do we want to see?

There are many different reasons to march and, similarly, many different demands. As a climate justice organization concerned with the impacts that the world’s most vulnerable people are already feeling, the fact that the U.S. has a huge responsibility to the rest of the world to take the most ambitious climate action possible is at the core of our organizing and advocacy. The U.S. is the biggest historical emitter of climate change-causing greenhouse gases and one of the world’s richest countries.

We want the U.S. to take that responsibility seriously. For the world to have a realistic shot at keeping climate change to manageable levels, the U.S. must implement policies to:

  • Keep It in the Ground: Climate activists and public figures like Bill McKibben have done an excellent job of hammering home the fact that the vast majority of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground in order to stop runaway climate change. To begin to do our part in this, the U.S. must halt all new leasing of federal land for fossil fuel extraction, and revoke subsidies for the fossil fuel industry – a huge amount of money, which could then be used to support people here in the U.S. and around the world to adapt to the effects of climate change, and move to renewable sources of energy.
  • Finance the Transition: Moving to a sustainable economy will take money, especially in countries and communities that are already poor. As one of the world’s wealthiest countries, the U.S. must scale up transfers of money to developing countries for climate action – what’s known as “climate finance” – including by fully funding the Green Climate Fund. We must proactively invest in a renewable energy economy here at home and overseas, including new energy infrastructure that can accommodate decentralized and democratized energy ownership and production models.
  • Ensure Justice for Vulnerable Communities: Climate change disproportionately affects already marginalized communities, including those that face the loss of employment as industries shift. Internationally, we must support those facing loss of livelihoods, culture, and more, from sea level rises and other climate impacts so severe they can’t be adapted to. We must also develop domestic policies so that people working in the fossil fuel and other related industries don’t just see their jobs disappear, but have new opportunities in a cleaner economy.
  • Focus on Existing Solutions: We know what’s needed to solve the climate crisis – a rapid transition from dirty to safe, renewable energy. But dirty energy industries are pushing a number of false solutions to distract from this fundamental truth. In its climate and other policies, the U.S. must avoid dangerous and unproven false solutions to the climate crisis such as geoengineering, which could have massive unintended consequences with little or no public accountability, and large-scale bioenergy, which could threaten the land rights and food security of millions of people around the world.
  • Work with the World: This is implied in the above demands, but in the current political context it’s worth mentioning on its own. For us to truly do our part, we have to work from a basis of compassion rather than fear, when we deal with climate impacts that lead to instability and migration in vulnerable parts of the world. That means working together with other countries to strive for justice for impacted communities, rather than closing ranks, militarizing borders, and pretending that we are the only ones that matter.

We are not politically naïve. We understand that the Trump administration – an administration that is not only xenophobic and hateful but also fully coopted by big business and fossil fuel interests – will not give any thought to these demands.

We also know that even a future Democratic administration would find them challenging. But that’s exactly the point of a massive People’s Climate March and an ongoing People’s Climate Movement – to put pressure on our leaders, whomever they might be, and force them to take the climate action we all know is necessary.