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Extinction Rebellion, David Attenborough and the Green Party have combined to revolutionise the climate change fight

So successful has this movement been that their demands are well enough known to trip off the tongue of every frustrated London cabbie

Molly Scott Cato
Monday 22 April 2019 17:45 BST
Extinction Rebellion protesters perform 'die-in' at Natural History Museum

A banker, a politician, a teenage climate activist and a supporter of non-violent civil disobedience walk into a bar for a drink.

The banker pays, saying he has the funds to buy the best drink, while the politician says she wants to ensure that all drinks are of the same high standard. The climate activist complains the drinks are too long coming, while the supporter of civil disobedience says he’ll smash the glasses if the drinks aren’t good enough. This could be the tale of the last week in the battle against our climate emergency.

Last Monday, activists from Extinction Rebellion began their international rebellion, with a pledge to shut down London. Waterloo Bridge was transformed from a noisy traffic thoroughfare to a vibrant garden bridge. Boris Johnson’s version wasted £53m on designer and construction contracts and was never built. This one appeared literally overnight, created by people bringing trees, plants and flowers, constructing a skate park, play areas and entertainment stages. People have begun to wonder if a post-fossil-fuel era might actually be a lot of fun.

So successful has this movement been that its demands are well enough known to trip off the tongue of every frustrated London cabbie: the government must tell the truth about climate change; reduce net carbon emissions to zero by 2025; and hold a citizens’ assembly to plan and oversee the changes necessary to save our planet from ecological collapse.

On Tuesday I had the delight of listening to an electrifying speech by global climate hero Greta Thunberg when she spoke to MEPs in the European parliament. The teenager, whose lone protest last summer has turned into the powerful global school strikes movement, is now considered one of the 100 most influential people of 2019 and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace prize.

By Wednesday, Mark Carney was getting in on the act. The Bank of England governor pointed to how the financial sector must play a central role in a massive reallocation of capital to help prevent catastrophic global warming.

And in a similar vein last Thursday, the sustainable finance agenda took a big leap forwards as MEPs backed the world’s first mandatory disclosure regime for a major financial market. When people found horsemeat in their lasagne it was a scandal, but we have not had the right to know whether our pension fund was invested in a windfarm or in clearing a rainforest for a palm-oil plantation. Now citizens will have the right to transparency when buying financial products.

So, approaches to solving our climate crisis are diverse. All have their place; the climate change bar must be open to everyone – financiers, legislators, campaigners and activists – to share ideas and work constructively on tackling the most important crisis of the 21st century.

As Greens we are uniquely placed to work with all to help push the urgent transition needed. At a policy level, European Greens announced 10 priority measures to save the climate. This made clear there must not be a penny more in subsidies for fossil fuels; currently the fossil economy enjoys at least €55bn of public subsidies in Europe.

From now on every single pound and euro invested must be checked to ensure it serves projects that are truly sustainable. We also need a fair price on carbon, ensuring the biggest polluters, such as aviation, energy producers and heavy industry pay their fair share.

This would not only make the polluter pay but generate revenue in the order of €28bn a year to invest in sustainable alternatives such as rail travel, renewables and energy efficiency, as well as training people in jobs to support the transition to a low-carbon economy.

But there is also a rebel inside every Green. I was proud to have signed a letter declaring support for Extinction Rebellion and to have joined the first mass rebellion in London which shut down five bridges November. And while other politicians have been shy to endorse the school strikes, Greens have welcomed them, urging headteachers and principles to embrace them and support students as they take part in an act of citizenship to help safeguard their future.

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Equally, as an economist, I am happy to rub shoulders with financiers and bankers. The EU’s agenda on sustainable finance – which I helped lead – is one of the most important tools we have to ensure systemic change to halt climate breakdown.

Before we raise our glasses to all those who have embarked on saving the planet from climate and environmental breakdown, we should welcome a late arrival to the table. This 92-year-old naturalist and broadcaster has beamed the wonders of the natural world into our living rooms for more than 60 years. David Attenborough last week reached millions in a way that the rest of us have failed to when he presented Climate Change: The Facts.

Whatever it takes and whoever it involves, we must unite to tackle our climate emergency. Let’s drink to that.

Molly Scott Cato is Green Party MEP for the South West of England

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