Find a Lifeboat! If the Paris agreement stands, we're all going to need one

2015-12-10-1449791589-4980140-88507.jpg
Asif Shah stands in the flooded main street of his town in Pakistan

Today the climate negotiations in Paris are supposed to come to a close. Government leaders and their delegations are expected to head home with an agreement that will result in global temperature rises of more than 2 degrees.

For those of us heading into the winter months, that might not sound like a lot. But it will have huge impacts. Wildfires in the US will increase by 400-800%. Hurricanes could become as much as 8% stronger and crop yields could drop by 10-30%. And if that's not enough, we could have 30% less fresh water!

If we let this failure of global leadership stand, we should each book a spot on a lifeboat and brace for the storm.

But there is another way. We can organize, and build a global movement of solidarity to demand innovative strategies that reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and help our communities adapt to the impacts of climate change. Above all, we need to build resilience, while addressing economic and social inequality.

In the midst of a disaster every person makes a choice - to help or to hurt

In every hurricane, typhoon, earthquake, conflict or refugee crisis there are stories of solidarity. Our hearts are warmed by the heroes and heroines that save lives, share all they have, organize with one another to survive together.

And yet, in every disaster, we are confronted with abuses of power that foster fear and remove or violate the rights of the victims. Take the stadium during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans as an example, where thousands of innocent victims of this natural disaster had their basic human rights violated.

But this is exactly what is happening in our society today. Those that have chosen the "politics of the armed lifeboat" are fostering fear by blaming the Syrian refugee crisis, which has its roots in the climate crisis, and acts of terror and violence linked to ISIS. And they're calling for our borders to be closed and walls to be built. Internment camps, the stripping of rights of innocent victims of conflict and the climate, military enforced curfews and the complete closure of civil society space are all on the table.

In Paris, to rally for the planet has become a criminal act, as non-violent advocates are dragged away from speaking in public about the need for a global climate deal that will protect the world's most vulnerable people. If the Paris climate agreement stands, and the world heats to disastrous levels, these same leaders are likely to pour much more money than what's needed to fix the climate crisis into what the Pentagon calls "militarized adaptation".

But it's not all bad news

When the French shut down civil society space in Paris, hundreds of thousands of people marched in cities all over the world to call for climate justice. Speakers at these marches told how climate change is already at play in the poorest countries in the world - the countries that did the least to create the climate crisis are the hardest hit and have the least capacity to respond.

But countries like the United States that are the biggest climate culprits are still failing to do their fair share to stop disaster. In fact, there are several bills pending in Congress that could escalate the climate crisis through tax breaks for big oil, lifting bans on crude oil exports, and prohibit the US from addressing climate in the context of trade negotiations! Those raising their voices in the street for climate justice are demanding that we address not only the environmental challenge but do it in a way that is equitable, that transforms power and deepens democracy. They are envisioning a better, safer, healthier world.

But the Paris agreement reflects the global systems of inequality that continue to bolster the wealthy at the expense of the poor. Systems of social inequality also divide the "haves" from the "have nots" based on race, gender and place. If Donald Trump gets his way, we will add religious inequality to this list.


It is this perfect storm that has been brewing through the centuries of colonialism, and the emergence of neo-liberal economics, that has fueled the conflict and forced the crises upon us.

In light of this reality, climate justice advocates rightly demand action to address the root causes of these crises. Given the failure of ambition on the part of global leaders, the front lines of the climate struggle will shift from the global stage to the local and national level. In national struggles bolstered by global solidarity, we can raise the bar and get policies in place that will go far beyond what was agreed in Paris - but it will take creative and popular organizing, strong and committed social movements to make this happen.

Make no mistake, there's a storm on the horizon. Now is the time to choose if you are going to get into the armed lifeboat and live under an illusion of self-protection, or choose to help everyone survive. At ActionAid we choose international solidarity - we will welcome the refugees, and work together as people and nations to address inequality, as a way to wage peace and transform power.