Over 400,000 people poured into New York from to march for the climate on September 21
Sarah Sakeena Marshall, B.S. Environmental Policy
Last month, the largest Climate march in history took place. The People’s Climate March coincided with the UN Climate Summit in New York during the weekend of September 2. Over 400,000 marchers demanded that politicians take concrete action on climate change. What set this march apart from others was not simply its sheer scale, but the fact that it embraced all social and environmental justice movements in an attempt to shed light on their interconnectedness.
Indigenous peoples, environmental justice organisations, labour movements, and interfaith and science groups all came together to show solidarity. Though the largest march took place in New York City, over one hundred and sixty cities around the world staged marches, including Delhi, Paris, Berlin, Rio de Janeiro, London, and Vienna. A host of celebrities participated, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jane Goodall, Vandana Shiva, and even UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon.
Two weeks before the march, the film Disruption was screened all around the US. This was put together by 350.org, activist Bill McKibben’s organisation, which coordinated the climate march. Disruption elaborated on the organisational structure and purpose of the march, citing the need for solidarity because of social inequality and the way that climate change disproportionately affects the poor and people of colour.
During the film Bill McKibben stated, “The people who have contributed the least to climate change and who have benefitted the least from the use of fossil fuel are the first people to feel the effects; people in the poorest parts of the world suffer enormously already and will suffer enormously more as the century wears on.” He then went on to mention how insulated suburban America is from these effects, but that the buffer will only last so long. The film counted down the days leading up to the march and examined the distinction between activists who “press like on Facebook” and the true power of people in the streets demanding that their leaders hear them.
During the summit, a young poet from the Marshall Islands gave a moving speech to inspire UN leaders to act intentionally to avoid the creation of more climate change refugees. Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner then went on to recite a poem directed towards her baby of seven months, ensuring that she would proactively protect her child the way the world should act to protect small island nations, regardless of the bullying of businesses with special interests. “No one’s drowning, baby. No one’s moving. No one’s losing their homeland. No one’s becoming a climate change refugee.”
What came out of the UN Climate Summit was a plethora of promises. The participating countries were clearly inspired by the massive march, but critics question whether leaders will follow through with their commitments. Each nation had four minutes to speak outlining their goals. President Barack Obama signed an executive order directing federal agencies to begin factoring climate resilience into international development programs and investments, and agreed to deploy scientific and technical resources to invest in early-warning systems and more in-depth climate data. India committed to doubling the amount of wind and solar energy they utilize by 2020 and China decided to cut carbon intensity by 45% by 2020 over 2005 levels.
One major accomplishment from the Summit was the NY Declaration on Forests which sets “a global timeline to cut natural forest loss in half by 2020, and strives to end it by 2030.” This was endorsed by indigenous organisations, civil society, companies, and governments.
Though only time will tell how strongly committed each nation is to keeping their promises, the success of the People’s Climate March displays an intergenerational unity on the issues of climate change, environmental degradation, and social injustice. In the past few years, each international meeting on climate change has deferred to COP21 in Paris next year; as that date approaches, communities get louder and nations get more serious about preparing to make solid commitments. A recent college graduate, Marla Greer, who participated in the PCM, described the event as “a once in a lifetime experience” and left feeling optimistic that participants and policy makers alike would be inspired to move in the right direction on the issue of climate change.