As leaders hail climate ambitions, activists warn of devastation now

As leaders hail climate ambitions, activists warn of devastation now
© MAZEN MAHDI/AFP via Getty Images

As world leaders on Earth Day emphasized the need for action on carbon emissions but expressed optimism on their ambitious international targets, climate activists addressed climate change’s impacts on vulnerable communities.

Speaking after numerous world leaders at the White House climate summit’s opening session, activist Xiye Bastida called for immediate action, noting climate change’s disproportionate effects on poor and indigenous communities. In his introduction of her, Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenAides try to keep Biden away from unscripted events or long interviews, book claims Overnight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal MORE noted that drought and later intense flooding displaced Bastida from her hometown in Mexico.

"We need to accept that the era of fossil fuels is over,” Bastida said. “We need a just transition to renewables worldwide so that we can stop emitting carbon and focus on drawing down carbon. But most importantly, all of these solutions must be emitted with the voices of Black, brown and Indigenous communities as leaders and decisionmakers."

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“We demand that you stop fossil fuel investments and subsidies,” she added. “We demand that you stop any new fossil fuel infrastructure and existing fossil fuel extraction, including pipelines. We demand comprehensive, non-Eurocentric and intersectional climate education, including literacy on climate justice.”

U.S. climate envoy John KerryJohn Kerry Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington Biden confirms 30 percent global methane reduction goal, urges 'highest possible ambitions' 9/11 and US-China policy: The geopolitics of distraction MORE in a later session praised Bastida for "underscoring the urgency every leader faces to meet this crisis."

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The urgency of her message came in contrast to world leaders, who largely agreed on the need to transition to renewable energy but have emphasized a phased drawdown. President BidenJoe BidenCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Senate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan Biden pushes back at Democrats on taxes MORE has indefinitely halted all new gas and oil leasing on federal lands, but existing drilling has continued. While Biden revoked the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, the president caught the ire of progressive activists over his failure to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Bastida’s comments also came in sharp contrast to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who preceded her as a speaker. Obrador highlighted recent oil discoveries in Mexico and suggested planting more trees to offset carbon emissions, a strategy climate scientists have warned will be insufficient.

Separately, in testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on the Environment, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg slammed fossil fuel subsidies as a “disgrace” and warned policymakers they would be held responsible for inaction on climate.

“Unlike you, my generation will not give up without a fight,” Thunberg said. “And to be honest, I don’t believe for a second that you will actually do this.”

The 18-year-old activist warned committee members their legacies were at stake with regard to climate.

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“We, the young people, are the ones who are going to write about you in the history books. We are the ones who get to decide how you will be remembered. So my advice for you is to choose wisely,” she said.