The school strikes and Extinction Rebellion protests changed the political agenda, leading to Parliament declaring a climate emergency, reports Ellen Graubart
Large crowds filled Parliament Square on Wednesday evening calling for a climate emergency to be declared. It was the culmination of weeks of demonstrations and protests which have shut down streets in inner London and other cities, causing massive traffic disruption.
The protest was called by YouthStrike4Climate, Momentum, Extinction Rebellion and 14 other groups and was timed to coincide with the formal parliamentary debate and vote to declare a climate and environment emergency, which Jeremy Corbyn had hailed as a necessary response to school climate strikers and groups such as Extinction Rebellion.
The crowd was addressed by speakers representing each of the groups, who spoke from the top of a London fire engine, all strongly condemning the government policies and global corporations that have created the problems of climate change and environmental destruction.
Most of the speakers were clear that individual action will not be enough to deal with the scale of the threats we face, that we need structural changes to the way society is organised.
Many of the speakers from the unions, the Green Party, environmental NGOs and Labour support the policies contained in the Green New Deal, which is a plan for huge investment in the economic future of the UK.
It would mean creating a new generation of jobs in the industries and infrastructure that is needed to tackle the climate crisis, and would demand a new approach to running the economy that guarantees decent work, greater ownership and economic democracy, with the main purpose of putting people and the planet first.
And then we were told the result of the vote: The government had been forced to declare a climate change emergency - the crowd was jubilant. Minutes later the mystery guest that had been promised arrived. To massive acclaim, Jeremy Corbyn informed us that in the motion that they had put to parliament, the government had to come back within at least six months with a series of concrete proposals of how pollution will be curbed, investment will be placed in renewable energy and world temperatures lowered.
He said that he wanted the next international climate change conference to be in London so that we can talk with people from all over the world about how we can work in solidarity to solve the climate crisis for the benefit of all. And he linked the struggle over climate change to the wider battle for social justice, “I don’t want to live in a society with food banks or people sleeping rough, and stand idly by while our precious natural world is being destroyed.”
He was also clear that these first steps forward over climate change were being made because of the popular movements and protests of the last few weeks. This was an alliance between the parliamentary left and the wider movements that saw everyone more confident about the chances for change.
Ellen Graubart was born in India of American parents and came to London from Virginia as a teenager to study art. She lives and works as an artist in Hackney. She is a member of Counterfire, Stop the War and Hackney Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
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