People's Climate March: why are there no demands?

November 20, 2015
Nuclear power is not a sustainable solution to global warming.

Ahead of the climate talks in Paris in December, it is important that people mobilise and demand strong action on climate change.

Without a clear message from ordinary people, the demands that business and polluting industries make of governments are more likely to dilute the outcomes.

Remember Rio? Kyoto? Copenhagen? At the Conference of Parties (COP) 21 conference in Paris, our leaders need to do more, and fast.

So on the last weekend of November the People's Climate March will be held in hundreds of major cities around the world, promising to bring together millions of people. In Australia, marches will be held in cities and towns all around the country.

The People's Climate March is a momentous gathering of a wide variety of people and groups concerned about climate change. It presents a chance to make clear demands on the government to take decisive action. There appears, however, to be a trade-off between maximising the number of people participating and making demands. This trade-off means that the People's Climate March could be a wasted opportunity for the climate movement.

While it might be reasonable to think that demands such as no new coalmines, a ban on coal seam gas (CSG), no more subsidies to polluting companies or an effective emissions reduction target would be common to all those participating in the march, no such demands have been made.

Rather than a powerful, united voice, greater than the sum of its parts, demanding these things from our governments, it is up to individual groups and people to make their own demands.

This enables groups that are diametrically opposed to participate in the march. For example, a number of anti-nuclear groups are participating in the marches worldwide. Yet Robert Parker, president of the Australian Nuclear Association, is said to be organising a “nuclear for climate” bloc for the climate march.

It is contradictory to welcome pro-nuclear groups spruiking nuclear power as a solution to climate change to the People's Climate March when it has been clearly demonstrated that nuclear power is no such solution.

The People's Climate March website says: “We have a vision for a better Australia. One that runs on clean energy, and a fairer economy.” It does not define clean energy, enabling opposing groups to endorse the event.

The website states that the purpose of the march is: “to show that we want an end to fossil fuels and a planned transition to 100% renewable energy. We will march to demand our politicians back all communities that are building a better, safer and fairer future for all. We will march because from here on in, we're all in.”

But with no demands or targets to aim for, the People's Climate March risks being a wasted opportunity and furthers the risk of Paris being all talk, no action.

It appears that the People's Climate March organisers think that clear demands will repel people and reduce diversity. This is not true. A march with clear unifying demands would attract rather than repel people and put a clear case to the government to take real action on climate change. Without demands, the political import of such a global rally is significantly reduced.

It is clear that the federal government is not taking any real steps to stop dangerous climate change and neither are the polluters, so it is up to the grassroots climate movement to apply political pressure to get the changes we need.

It is a shame that the well-attended but tightly facilitated People's Climate March organising meetings held earlier this year focused largely on the aesthetics of the march and gave participants no opportunity to identify common goals or discuss political demands at all.

Given the wide range of organisations represented, the meetings became a lost opportunity for collaboration among attendees and dampened the potential for a united voice calling for strong action on climate change.

The Beyond Zero Emissions Stationary Energy Plan demonstrates that 100% renewable energy is achievable and affordable and we can do it in 10 years. The Australian Energy Market Operator's 100% Renewables Study — Modelling Outcomes also shows that 100% renewables is achievable. That could be a demand.

It is wonderful to look forward to such a huge march. Imagine if the People's Climate March brought this diverse range of groups and individuals together to form a united voice demanding concrete action on climate change, creating justice for land and people. Imagine if participants were united behind clear demands that, if adopted by governments, would mitigate runaway climate change.

Given that the hope for an enormous and united climate movement is not yet a reality, it is important that the voices of those campaigning for real action on climate change are loud and strong, heard by governments and leaders, and that they echo throughout the talks in Paris and beyond.

[Mara Bonacci is a long-time anti-nuclear campaigner.]

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