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October 16, 2019

Learning from Greta

Opinion

October 16, 2019

While Greta Thunberg has mostly targeted governments and multilateral bodies for their failure to tackle the climate crisis, the global Climate Strike Movement her Friday protests have inspired may also have inadvertently exposed the shortcomings of international non-governmental organisations (INGOs).

With the kind of global reach and popular mobilisation of which most INGOs can only dream, the climate strikes have succeeded in catapulting the climate crisis to the top of the political and media agendas.

In the process, this movement has exposed the lack of critical interrogation by INGOs of government and corporate inaction to reduce global warming, and shed light on the growing inertia of an INGO sector that trades in incremental change rather than systemic political and economic transformation. So what could INGOs learn from Thunberg and the climate movement’s tactics? Here are four key points.

The most recent week of climate actions from 20-27 September 2019 saw a record 7.6 million people take to the streets in what was the biggest climate mobilisation in history, with more than 6,000 actions recorded in 185 countries. The mobilisation on 20 September was a ‘general strike’ which urged adults in all walks of life to follow the lead of young people. This resulted in over 70 trade unions, 3,000 businesses and 800 civil society organisations supporting actions in the global North and South.

Other popular mobilisations prior to September almost certainly contributed to the unexpected success of the Green parties in the European Union parliamentary elections in May 2019, suggesting that heightened awareness of climate change is beginning to influence political behaviour. Before the strikes, the world seemed locked into a state of cognitive dissonance whereby it recognised the gravity of the climate crisis but was determined to carry on with ‘business as usual.’ But the size and dynamism of the climate protests

is making that untenable.

In part, that’s because the generation that is leading the climate movement is “the first for whom climate disruption on a planetary scale is not a future threat, but a lived reality,” as Naomi Klein puts it in her new book ‘On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal’. Recent research by Barnardo’s and Girlguiding shows that the climate crisis is one of the main concerns for young people and a major source of anxiety.

Research has also shown that young people’s engagement in social actions can reduce anxiety and improve their well-being. Action projects represent a profound learning experience through which people can develop key skills, capabilities, attitudes and dispositions that strengthen their engagement with the issues that affect their lives.

Excerpted from: ‘What INGOs Can Learn From Greta Thunberg and the Global Climate Strikes’.

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