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Five climate struggles to watch in 2019

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Protestors of the Extinction Rebellion movement. Photo: Stuart Mitchell/Alamy

1 California breathing

In November 2018, the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) and their allies succeeded in delaying California’s proposed ‘Tropical Forest Standard’. The scheme would allow polluting businesses in California to meet part of their carbon-reduction targets by spending money on tropical forest preservation projects instead of actually reducing their emissions. The carbon benefits of such projects are notoriously hard to prove, and they can effectively privatize vast swathes of forest and push indigenous peoples off their land. The scheme will be up for a vote again in April 2019 – will IEN’s Sky Protectors rally enough support to halt it in its tracks once more?

2 The jury is out

According to the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, over 1,000 climate-change cases have now been filed against governments, corporations and individuals in 24 countries. Many of these have important hearing dates in 2019. Keep an eye out for the young people taking legal action against their governments over climate inaction in the US, Canada, India, Pakistan and the Netherlands; crab fishers in California suing oil companies for the impact of climate change on their livelihoods; the results of an appeal in New York’s climate lawsuit against oil corporations, with other US cities waiting in the wings with similar claims; and the government of Vanuatu exploring how to sue polluting companies and governments for climate damages.

3 The rebellion goes global

The new direct-action network Extinction Rebellion (XR) burst onto the UK scene in 2018 with a series of blockades and protests that mobilized thousands of (often first-time) activists, caught the attention of the media and injected a new sense of energy and urgency into parts of the climate movement.

However, XR’s spokespeople have faced criticism both for their strategy of praising London’s Metropolitan Police – an institutionally racist organization responsible for multiple abuses against marginalized and protest groups – and for neglecting to put at the heart of their communications Southern communities who are most impacted by climate change; some racial justice campaigners and frontline Southern organizers reported feeling actively excluded by XR’s messaging. A number of people within XR are pushing the organizers to change their approach.

In 2019, XR is planning to spread its message and tactics more widely, with international action dates set for April and over 100 groups signed up in around 20 countries (mostly in Europe and North America). Two questions remain: will XR’s tactics spread as they hope, in the style of Occupy? And, if experienced climate organizers in other countries pick up the baton, will its messaging evolve to include wider justice struggles outside the West?

4 Rainforest protection in Brazil

Jair Bolsonaro’s Far-Right government in Brazil has promised to wreak havoc in the Amazon, threatening the land rights – and lives – of indigenous peoples in his effort to tear down the rainforest for maximum profit. Indigenous leaders have pledged to resist what is, for them, a familiar conflict – as Luiz Eloy Terena, lawyer for Brazil’s Association of Indigenous Peoples, told Amazon Watch: ‘For us indigenous peoples this election represents a continuity of our struggle and encourages us to do what we have always done in defence of democracy and our rights.’

A crucial question for 2019 is whether the world will stand with them. Can Bolsonaro’s election create a new wave of international support for these frontline defenders of the forests and ‘carbon sinks’ that are vital to a safer climate?

5 Palm oil out of biofuels

The link between palm oil and deforestation has been gaining attention. Less well known is the fact that more than half of the palm oil that is imported to the EU goes not into food but into fuel tanks. The EU Parliament voted in 2017 to end subsidies to the most polluting and destructive biofuel producers, including palm oil, but the EU Commission has not yet acted on these instructions. Industry lobbying seems to have stalled the process (insert greasy palms joke here) and campaigners fear the legislation will be watered down. It is time for the Commission to step up to its responsibilities.

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