2021 was a year of ups and downs for the state of our common home.
As an example, earlier this year the World Meteorological Organization reported that 2021 was one of the seven warmest years on record. “The average global temperature [for the year] was about 1.11 (± 0.13) °C above the pre-industrial era levels. [By contrast], the Paris Agreement calls for all countries to strive towards a limit of 1.5°C of global warming.”
On the other hand, in 2021 the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity began developing its 2020-2030 strategic plan to conserve the earth’s biodiversity. Scientists are telling us that biodiversity loss is as consequential as climate change, and so this UN process is a big step forward in the global community’s efforts to address a largely ignored problem.
These twin ecological crises were at the center of international and national discussion for much of 2021. Scientists, advocates, and communities marginalized by environmental injustice continue to deliver a clear message: we need to act and we need to act now. We have no more time to waste if we want to prevent the worst effects of ecological collapse from being irreversible.
As 2022 gets underway, we want to share some thoughts about our top priorities when it comes to advocating for the protection of our common home.
As the world’s historically largest emitter of greenhouse gas pollution, the United States needs to reaffirm its moral commitment to addressing climate change by radically reducing its emissions by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. There are emission reduction provisions in the “Build Back Better Act,” which President Biden recently said he would consider removing from the package and possibly try to pass separately.
But as we do the work to create a fossil fuel free future, we must also care for those who either work in the industry or who have historically been harmed by it.
Those who’ve made a living working within the fossil fuel industry must be given the financial and educational resources to transition into alternative careers. In fact, clean energy solutions can be an engine of job creation for low-income and communities of color, coal regions in transition, and communities on the front lines of climate impacts, so long as those communities are meaningfully involved in designing the transition.
In addition to affected workers, we must also care for those communities who are most impacted by climate change but are least responsible for it. The average American is responsible for 14.95 metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution a year. In China it’s 6.5 metric tons per person and in India it's 1.57 metric tons. Meanwhile, citizens in the most climate affected countries in the world, many of whom live on less than $2.00 a day, are responsible for negligible emissions in comparison: Mozambique 0.3 metric tons per capita; Malawi 0.1; Zimbabwe 0.9.
One response to this injustice is for the United States to pay its fair share to the Green Climate Fund (or, GCF). The GCF is the world’s largest multilateral fund used to address climate change. It’s an important way for developing nations to limit their greenhouse gas emissions and also adapt their country’s infrastructure to the impacts of climate change. For a deep dive into the GCF and the United States lackluster participation, read more here.
Biodiversity is the stunning variety of life on Earth. This variety exists at the genetic level, the species level, and the ecosystem level. The complex interactions between these levels have made Earth habitable for billions of years.
And yet, in 2019, an international group of scientists predicted that up to one million plant and animal species face extinction due to human activities. This mass extinction has already started, and it will be more severe and longer lasting than any previous mass extinction event. Scientists are telling us that biodiversity loss is as consequential as climate change.
This year, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity will finalize its 2020-2030 strategic plan for how to conserve the earth’s biodiversity. This will happen at COP15 in Kunming, China, which will take place later this year. You can learn more about COP15 here.
We believe that a core part of the 2020-2030 plan should be conserving, protecting, and defending the land, sea, and their inhabitants. This means conserving at least 50 percent of land areas and of sea areas not already managed by indigenous communities. It also means acknowledging that the planet is losing much of its biodiversity because it’s being extracted for fossil fuels or deforested for animal husbandry and cash crop plantations.
As well as protecting the land, we must also protect the people who live on it. In our times, we recognize the growing number of eco-prophets who, because of their complete dedication to defending life, become eco-martyrs. The lives taken in the name of profit, extraction, consumption, and the accumulation of wealth cannot be simply defined as casualties of growth and development. Citizens of the world must have the right to protest and petition their governments and also corporations, free from threats of violence and harassment. They must also have the right to participate in making the decisions that directly affect them.
To learn more about biodiversity loss, its impact on vulnerable communities, and to hear the stories of environmental defenders, listen to our podcast, Jubilee for the Earth.
The last time the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity created a strategic plan was the Aichi biodiversity Targets for 2011-2020. By 2020, not a single one of the plan’s 20 targets had been met. While we believe that international agreements should include strong, legally enforceable legislation, realistically we understand this doesn’t usually happen.
That’s why an important part of the upcoming 2020-2030 strategic plan - and all ecological policymaking going forward - will be making sure that citizens hold their governments accountable to the goals they agree to. This will mean that more people will need to get involved in advocacy.
Advocacy is an underutilized tool when it comes to protecting the common good.
For example, a 2015 study published by the Congressional Management Foundation found that “direct constituent interactions have more influence on lawmakers' decisions than other advocacy strategies. In three surveys of congressional staff over a 10-year span, 99% (2004), 97% (2010), and 94% (2015) said that ‘in-person visits from constituents’ would have ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ of influence on an undecided lawmaker.”
That study also found that “9 out of 10 (91%) congressional staffers surveyed said it would be helpful to have "information about the impact the bill/issue would have on the district or state.” However, only 9% of staffers say they receive that information frequently.
Clearly there is a big gap when it comes to the decisions elected representatives are making and the citizens that elected those representatives in the first place.
In the United States and other countries with representative governments, key skills for advocacy include sharing your advocacy story, building relationships with your elected officials, and organizing your community to lobby decision makers. You can learn more about these and other advocacy skills by downloading our free resource, The Advocate’s Toolbox.
As 2022 gets underway, now is a great time for each of us to discern how we might get more involved in ecological advocacy at the local, national, and international levels. Each of us has a role to play in building a better world where all of God's creation can live in peace and prosperity.
Copyright © 2024 Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, Washington, D.C.