In order to understand the agreement of states at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow earlier this month, it is important to explore how climate activism has grown and changed since the Paris Agreement in 2015.
Climate activists have played an important role. He has kept up the pressure on governments to implement their Paris promises and increase their ambition in the years to come.
Two new and powerful climate groups – Fridays for the Future and Extinction Rebellion – have been particularly important. Our research shows that they have supported new models and tactics of activism, and are also battling racism within their own ranks.
The uniqueness and development of these two groups tells us much about contemporary climate activism and the direction it is taking.
New model, new strategy
The Friday for Future and Extinction Rebellion has ushered in a new era of climate discontent by challenging traditional patterns of protest.
Fridays for Future has successfully mobilized millions of people around the world. Our research shows that they have continued to mobilize people online rather than on the streets during the COVID lockdown.
Extinction Rebellion has generalized the use of direct action and economic disruption through civil disobedience by occupying spaces in London, Dar es Salaam, Mexico City and Rome. More recently, he has stuck himself in the footsteps of New Zealand’s parliament in protest against New Zealand’s weak climate policies.
These two groups exemplify changes in climate activism over the past decade. Digital technologies enable distributed digital activism – events that center around a central goal but allow local activists to develop messages and strategies most relevant to their local context.
Read more: Friday for the Future and what’s next for the youth climate movement
Climate change group 350.org pioneered this form of digital event in 2009 with its Global Climate Action Days. This decentralized framework meant that anyone, anywhere could get involved.
Distributed organizing has also allowed climate activist groups to become more inclusive. Interviews we conducted with Friday for Future activists reveal that the group includes a spectrum of political views among young people, sharing a passion for protecting the environment and holding governments accountable to the Paris Agreement. We do.
In introducing these new tips, the Friday for Future and Extinction Rebellion has not only renewed the climate movement, but also accelerated climate action. Germany’s outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel has acknowledged that Friday for the Future has accelerated the country’s response to climate change.
Read more: Greta Thunberg emerges from five decades of environmental youth activism in Sweden
Climate activists now have a powerful role in ensuring governments to implement the Glasgow Climate Agreement. They can force change not only from outside. Governments and businesses are increasingly engaging and hiring young activists to help them with their climate strategies.
For example, the new Biden administration has invited 19-year-old black climate activist Jerome Foster II to serve on the White House environmental justice advisory council. Foster protested outside the White House for 58 weeks for climate action, and is now inside.
While this represents a victory for activists in their efforts to gain mainstream legitimacy, it is unclear whether working within firms and governments will lead to radical climate policy.
With Inclusion Comes More Responsibility
The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) inspired soul searching within many climate activist groups during the Northern Hemisphere summer of 2020, especially as racism has affected climate groups in the US, UK, Germany and beyond .
In the US, many established environmental NGOs were dominated by white employees and had only 22% of non-white senior employees, even though non-white ethnic groups make up about 40% of the total US population.
Our interviews show that the Black Lives Matter protests have prompted many environmental groups to look inside and diversify who they hired and promoted to leadership positions. Extinction Rebellion had to reconsider its use of direct action tactics aimed at deliberately arresting activists because these were more dangerous to activists of color.
However, institutional racism has sometimes proved impossible to resolve. In one instance, the New Zealand chapter of Fridays for Future was dissolved because it had become, in its own words, a “racist, white-dominated place” that “avoided, ignored and tokenized BIPOC. [Black, Indigenous and Peoples of Colour] Voice and Demand”.
Not all climate activists have changed their strategy, hiring practices or organizations. Nevertheless, many increasingly supported the climate justice movement, and have accepted the limitations of middle-class “lifestyle environmentalism”. Some climate activists have also recognized the need for greater emphasis on the multiple, intersecting identities of those within the climate movement.
Indigenous communities have long called for climate justice. Maori climate activist India Logan O’Reilly spoke powerfully at the inaugural session of the Glasgow Climate Summit, calling on leaders to “know our history, hear our stories, honor our knowledge and get in line or go out of the way”. urged. We can only hope that states will heed this call and internalize calls for interactive climate action.