World leaders may talk the talk, but it’s the activists, the impacted communities, the younger generation, that are truly walking the walk.
For the past two weeks, Katowice in the south of Poland has been taken over by the year’s biggest, and most important climate change conference. The UN’s Conference of Parties, COP24 is the annual “Olympics” for environmental academics, scientists, NGOs, politicians, activists, and anyone else who cares for the future of our planet. Ultimately, the “gold medal” is to achieve a binding climate policy, but lurking in the shadows are those that are insistent on dragging everyone else behind.
— Leo Hickman (@LeoHickman) December 10, 2018
With the warning that there are just 12 years left to save the climate, COP24 is crucial in actually putting the Paris Agreement to work – the agreement ratified by all but 20 countries to limit the increase of global average temperature to 1.5°C, so as to reduce the risks and effects of climate change.
But no matter what the outcome in Katowice, the real action is happening on the ground. In 2018, a year that has experienced worsening climate change impacts – tragic wildfires, heat waves, typhoons, and floods – people around the world are calling for urgent climate action.
Here are four people who are no longer willing to wait and doing all they can.
“My family has been involved in coal for almost a century”
Marek, 32 – Climate Campaigner at Greenpeace Poland
I grew up in a coal mining town in the region of Silesia. My family is involved in coal and has been for almost a century – my grandmother, great grandfather, and other members of my family worked as miners; and my parents are involved in the industry. Certainly, coal was one of the most important centres for the local economy – even the local football clubs are sponsored by coal mines or mining companies!
Before climate change became widely known, I remember that the talk in Poland was about air pollution and the ozone layer. There was a lot of climate denialism. Now, we’ve gotten to a point where the climate has changed so much that there’s no option but to take swift action. The world is not black and white and neither is Silesia, the mining region. We need a “just transition” but it cannot be an excuse for inaction.
By the end of COP24 I hope that my country learns something. One of the world’s biggest climate change conferences is happening here and Poland really has an opportunity to show to the world that they can be proactive. For example, at this point in Poland, wind energy is 50% cheaper than coal! All the solutions are there – the government just needs to implement them.
“A lot of my friends think I’m crazy. ‘It’s not your problem!’ they say to me.”
Belgis, 24 – Greenpeace activist from Indonesia
About three times now in Indonesia, I have climbed a coal power plant, a coal chimney, and a crane – all to protest coal. When my friends ask me ‘Why?’ the truth is, I’m doing it because of my father.
My father is in the Indonesian army and his office is less than 10 kilometres from one of the country’s largest coal power plants. Little does he know that the coal fly ash can spread up to 50 kilometres, which pollutes the air and can severely impact health. My father is old and has some health issues, but when I tell him this he doesn’t believe me. Instead, my father thinks that if I want to protect the environment I should just plant a tree or put my trash in the bin. He doesn’t support my activism!
The reason why I’m in Poland is because I’m here to beg – to shout! – to world leaders that we need to stop the mining, stop coal, and switch to renewable energy. In Indonesia I’ve met fishermen, farmers, and Indigenous communities whose lives have all been made worse by coal – whether it’s having their land taken away by coal mining development, or their source of food becoming harder to access.
Ultimately, I want to prove to my father the dangers of coal. Maybe some of us don’t think or worry about climate change, but because we don’t see it, it doesn’t mean we can’t feel it.
About 20 km away from Katowice lies Imielin, with a population of about 8,000. However, a coal mine expansion threatens the town and its residents. These people are standing up against this project that will ruin their homes and the climate.
“I have to fight to save my home”
Alicja – teacher, writer, and choir singer
I moved to Imielin about four years ago in order to live a quieter life. Instead, I have to fight to save my home.
When we built our houses, the mining company informed us that they would not dig in this area. But the mine wants to extract coal with the cheapest and most aggressive method, which will cause the ground to cave in six metres, meaning my house will collapse.
It’s a tiring and unfair fight – the authorities don’t listen, the coal director doesn’t listen, and at an administrative hearing, we got less time than the coal representatives to argue our case! But a sense of unity with other residents gives me strength, and our fight has raised our awareness of similar protests around the world. For example, I supported the community-led protest to save the Hambach Forest in Germany, and the growth of the movement gives me hope that we can stop the mining company and save this town and my home.
“Today Imielin is green, but tomorrow it could be black.”
Irek – activist and small business owner
I built my house in Imielin about 18 years ago. Back then, I felt confident that there would be no coal development – now they want to change the story.
Imielin is a small town, but the fight against coal is global. We need to work together and I know we’re not alone – the support from other people gives me hope. Standing together is how we’ll win this fight, and I will not stop until we win. I do not want coal in my town. No coal in Imielin!
Shuk-Wah Chung is a Writer and Content Editor for the Communications Hub at Greenpeace East Asia. Follow her on Twitter here.