On Saturday 9 September, thousands of activists joined Extinction Rebellion in a blockage of the A-12 highway in The Hague, to protest against the 37 billion Euro annual subsidy of the fossil fuel industry in the Netherlands. The amount was established by research collective SOMO and consists of direct subsidies and tax exemptions. On the highway and at the support demonstration organised by several Dutch NGOs there were dozens of professors, wearing their gown joining the protest, among them several professors of ISS. Joyeeta Gupta of the University of Amsterdam and winner of the Spinoza price 2023 spoke at the support demonstration. Here is her speech.
Good morning all!
I am here today because I take every opportunity to call for climate justice. My argument today is: Living within Earth system boundaries requires a just approach. There are system boundaries on Earth. from local to global level. Boundaries must be safe and just. Safe – to ensure that the system does not collapse. Just to ensure that damage to people and nature is kept to a minimum.
Globally, we have crossed seven of the eight boundaries. At a local level, at least two boundaries have been crossed on 50% of the land area, affecting 80% of the world’s population. Boundaries relate to climate change, water, nitrogen and phosphorus, biosphere, air pollution.
Climate change is also part of this. The Paris climate limit of 1.5-2 degrees Celsius is not just enough. Already at 1°C, tens of millions of people are exposed to very high temperatures; much more for sea level rise. Extreme weather events are already costing lives and damaging infrastructure. Furthermore, climate change affects all other Earth systems. By not demanding stronger targets, we accept that these millions of people will be affected by our actions. I repeat, by not demanding stronger targets, we accept that these millions of people will be affected by our actions.
Global boundaries determine what we do in each country. Every country must try to reduce its emissions. But rich countries that have emitted heavily in the past must do more. Instead, in the Netherlands we subsidize our fossil fuel sector with 37.5 billion euros annually, while we only provide hundreds of millions in climate aid. That’s mopping with the tap open. And with a very small mop, and a very large tap. We have no blueprint for phasing out fossil fuels, even though we led the world on climate change in 1989. The global fossil fuel sector is worth between $16 and $300 trillion. We must make this sector responsible. A first step, which should have been taken thirty years ago in the Netherlands, is to abolish fossil fuel subsidies in a fair manner, so that it does not affect access to energy for the poorest.
Boundaries mean that we have to share environmental utilization space. This seems painful because we have to produce and consume less. But perhaps that has no influence at all on our well-being, our happiness. We need to redesign our societies to ensure that what we do here does not harm anyone else far away. We must adopt the ‘no harm’ principle. Boundaries mean that we have to share the environmental utilization space. But if we let the market do that, the price of scarce resources will rise and only the rich will be able to buy them. Ensuring that the world’s poorest have access to water, food, energy and housing will put additional pressure on the boundaries we have already crossed. This may sound like the problem is that there are too many poor people. But to meet the minimum needs of the poorest, their additional pressure on the environment is equal to that imposed by the world’s top 4%. And we are among the richest countries in the world. Boundaries mean that we have to share environmental utilization space. Indigenous people and local communities protect at least 22 percent of the world’s most important biodiversity areas – where 80 percent of biodiversity is found. We should support them, not marginalize them. Climate change could even cause the Amazon to become a net emitter of greenhouse gases, further increasing climate change.
We have crossed boundaries on climate change, biodiversity and water. This means we need to use less and share better. We need Earth System Justice – to ensure that we are held accountable for the harm done to others and to ensure that resources are distributed fairly. We need a global constitution. We must mobilize all actors. If governments are unwilling to take action, social movements may have to use their civil rights to convince their governments to do so with peaceful demonstrations. We must get rid of fossil subsidies. We must get rid of fossil fuels. Thank you.
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About the author:
Professor of Environment and Development in the Global South, Faculty Sustainability Professor, Governance and Inclusive Development (GID), Department of Geography, Planning and International Development Studies, Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
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