Today, youth, hopefully accompanied by people of all ages, will take the street across Canada and the world to demand concrete and immediate action on climate change. The necessity of this strike comes from the timid response, to say the least, of world leaders to the climate change crisis, one of the biggest environmental and socio-economic problems our species has ever faced. As states maintain the status quo of unrestrained economic growth powered by fossil fuels, young people, who will have to live with the potentially disastrous effect of climate change, have little choice but to take the street in the hope of saving our future. The situation is aptly summarised by 16 year old climate activist Greta Thunberg during her speech at the UN’s Climate Action Summit in New York City on Monday: “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you! For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.”
Today, I gladly join the climate strike in Toronto to fight for a better future. The consequences of climate change are already being felt (acutely in some regions of the World, like the Arctic) and are predicted by the scientific community to reach catastrophic proportions if the raise in global temperature is not limited to 2oC, preferably 1.5oC. In my main field of research, marine environmental law, climate change is already causing havoc. Marine biodiversity—already under considerable stress from overexploitation, marine pollution and loss of habitats—will be particularly impacted by the effects of climate change. Warming waters can significantly disturb marine ecosystems by affecting spawning, distribution, and abundance of species. The recent and gruesome image of thousands dead chum salmon in Alaska is but one example. The absorption by the oceans of large quantity of CO2, the main culprit behind climate change, is resulting in ocean acidification. This acidification spells disaster for many species relying on calcium carbonate structures (e.g. shells) for survival as such structures will weaken and eventually dissolve. There is also evidence that acidification may decrease species’ reproductive capacity, slow their growth and increase their susceptibility to disease. These are but examples, as there is more.
While the Paris Agreement and its parent convention, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, provide for a global framework to mitigate climate change, its effectiveness depends on states’ ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets. So far, the targets are lacklustre, and the action to meet them are even more disappointing. In the marine context, the situation is worse as the current international legal framework is simply not adapted to respond to climate change. It is already struggling at reaching its current environmental objectives without factoring in climate change. It is thus crucial that states approach climate change in an integrated manner; i.e. equitably tackle all the consequences of climate changes, socio-economic and environmental, in addition to dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A start would be to address the root of the problem, which is to say humanity’s callous use of natural resources and other living beings pushed by western and now dominant ideas of nature. This difficult but important restructuring of most societies’ way of thinking is not only necessary to ensure our survival, but it also provides an opportunity to renew for the better our relationship with the rest of the natural world, including marine life.
This global climate strike is a momentous opportunity and we must seize it. It is time to make our voice heard. It is time to demand change. We will not sit idly by as world leaders ignore the most pressing issue of our time. We must use this opportunity to initiate the changes that are needed to ensure the integrity of our planet, to take matters in our own hand for a more just and sustainable future. In the words Greta Thunberg: “We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”