Climate talks: people power will save the planet

11:56 am on 23 November 2015

OPINION: Dealing with climate change requires us to recognise that we are part of the natural world and not separate from it, and that this planet is the only place we know which can support life as we know it. So we better protect it.

Greenpeace New Zealand executive director Russel Norman.

Greenpeace New Zealand executive director Russel Norman. Photo: Greenpeace

People worldwide are awake to this reality, even if many governments and polluting industries deny it.

And the best thing about the Paris climate meeting is the people of the world mobilising to demand a liveable climate. The key driver for tackling climate change is not laws or rhetoric or politicians: It is people, it is people, it is people power leading the way.

While the Paris conference will be an important milestone for the world, we can't afford to let it be a distraction. Much progress has been made in reducing pollution. Countries are starting to switch to cleaner, safer power sources and mass movements of people are shutting climate-wrecking projects such as the Keystone pipeline in North America and the Marsden B coal power station in New Zealand.

(In this series we will publish opinion pieces from Greenpeace, Sanford, the Motor Industry Association, 350 Aotearoa, Mainfreight, Federated Farmers and the Environmental Defence Society. Air New Zealand, Fonterra, Holcim and Genesis Energy were invited to contribute, but declined.)

So what of New Zealand's role in the global picture?

The National-led government has put forward one of the weakest climate action plans and one of the poorest pollution reduction records of all the developed nations attending the talks. Our government's proposal is so bad that if the world were to adopt its targets, we would suffer catastrophic and irreversible climate change.

Already condemned internationally for making an inadequate offer to reduce our contribution to global climate change, John Key is now seeking to undermine a strong deal by pushing for meaningless "non-legally binding" targets for reducing pollution. It's a dangerous proposal which has won support from climate pariahs such as Canada and Australia.

At home, the Government recently released a damning report on the health of our environment. It revealed our pollution levels are set to spiral out of control and our rivers are becoming so dirty, swimming in them would make you sick.

It all begs the question whether New Zealand deserves a place at the negotiating table at all.

The greatest game changer right now is people power. People like you and me who are standing up to the biggest polluters on the planet.

Rather than wait for compromised political "leaders" to act against the interests of the dirty businesses which have corrupted the political systems of many industrialised countries, people throughout the world are taking matters into their own hands.

And it's working.

Enormous public pressure has driven Shell to abandon its reckless plans to drill for oil in the Arctic, after a global movement of more than 7.5 million stood up to protect the planet. Ordinary people put themselves on the line to safeguard the future of our children.

This month, United States President Barack Obama rejected permission for the Keystone XL pipeline to be built, which would have allowed more Canadian tar sands oil to flow into the US. The decision followed seven years of mass opposition and civil disobedience, during which more than 1000 people were arrested outside the White House.

And as the need to tackle climate change becomes more urgent, the movement for action becomes stronger. In the days leading up to the Paris Climate Conference, millions of people worldwide plan to take to the streets and march for a clean energy future. Here in New Zealand, people will march in cities and towns nationwide on 28 November.

These people can see a world where we power our homes and businesses with solar and wind, and they are demanding it. They don't just want governments to pledge to tackle climate pollution, they want to see an action plan. And they will not rest until they get it.

Because it's people power, and not Paris, that will make all the difference.

* Russel Norman is the newly appointed executive director of not-for-profit environmental organisation Greenpeace New Zealand, which is affiliated with Greenpeace International. He is the former co-leader of the Green Party.

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