11 December 2020: Five years after the Paris Agreement, countries continue to outdo each other at being best in doing the worst to fight the climate crisis. But some are always better than others (hint: surprise they haven’t been invited to the Paris Agreement Birthday Party).
Through a fair and democratic voting process (that required no recounts), Climate Action Network, the world’s largest network of 1,300 civil society organisations working on climate change in over 130 countries, chose the USA as the overall winner of the Colossal Fossil of Five Years to mark the 5th Anniversary of the Paris Agreement. USA also won a second Fossil Award for Not Providing Finance and Support. Australia won a Fossil Award for Not Honoring the 1.5°C Commitment, and Brazil won two Fossil Awards for Not Protecting People from Climate Impacts and Not Listening to the People and Shrinking Civic Space.
USA: Colossal Fossil of Five Years
Let’s be honest, the USA has never been the loudest cheerleader for climate action. In some ways President Trump simply said the quiet parts aloud. ‘America First’ has always been the north star guiding the US’ official line in international climate talks, like when verbally bulldozing proposals for climate compensation and finance for Loss and Damage to vulnerable countries, arm-twisting poorer nations into accepting weak climate targets from rich countries and flexing their diplomatic muscle to break or make deals, all the while with handshakes and smiles. Until….2016.
A Colossal Fossil of Five Years can never capture the depths of ineptitude and damage of the Trump years: from amplifying climate denialism, to dismantling domestic environmental policies to undermining progress in multilateral spaces like the UNFCCC, the IPCC, the G20 & G7 and the GCF.
USA: Fossil for Not Providing Finance and Support
In the Trump years, the USA has been particularly stingy on finance for climate action. Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement was bad enough but the USA used its bully pulpit to obstruct finance to developing countries. By ceasing all finance to the Green Climate Fund (inspiring other countries like Australia) it deprived millions of people in poor countries critical resources to adapt to the climate crisis. Funding to the IPCC was also summarily halted, unsurprisingly some might say, by an anti-science administration.
So when it comes to climate change, ‘America First’ only means the USA’s outsized lead as the largest historical carbon emitter. To be clear, this is not a fossil award to the American people. We salute them for voting out a climate denier! Polls consistently show Americans want a climate-safe future and President-elect Biden must act on this mandate. He must take a seat at the international table and ensure the US does its fairshare on cutting its domestic emissions drastically by 2030 and substantially increasing international finance. Rejoining the Paris Agreement and recommitting money to the Green Climate Fund will be the starting steps in this new journey. It is time for the wealthiest nation to put the planet and all its people first.
Australia: Fossil for Not Honoring the 1.5°C Commitment
Before Scott Morrison became Australian Prime Minister, he once brandished a lump of coal in parliament. That was in 2017, when he accused his opponents of having a “pathological fear of coal”. A few short years later, the only pathological behaviour remains his government’s ongoing infatuation with fossil fuels when the rest of the world has moved on. As the largest exporter of coal and gas, Australia’s federal government has done virtually nothing over the past five years to tackle the climate emergency. The government's woefully inadequate 2030 Paris Agreement target is in line with a catastrophic 3°C rise. And it has tried to cheat by using carryover credits from the Kyoto Protocol to meet around half of it. The Australian government has refused to set a national long term target (net zero by 2050)despite every State and Territory of Australia having now set a long term net zero climate target. Australia’s current emission reduction trend will reach net-zero in 300 years! And to top it all, Australia has withdrawn funding entirely from the Green Climate Fund.
The world watched swathes of Australia's bush burn last summer contributing to significant biodiversity loss and impacting the most vulnerable people. Besides stinking up the planet, Australia appears to be reneging on acommitment to net zero emissions made to Pacific Island Neighbours in October 2019. How does Australia face its Pacific Island neighbours, many of whom will be displaced in the next two-to-three decades unless we scale up efforts to limit global warming to 1.5°C? Australia must get sensible fast otherwise the Morrsion government is staring at a dark legacy of climate inaction. Will future generations have to view plastic replicas of the Great Barrier Reef in a museum of climate horrors alongside stuffed mounts of the critically endangered Mountain Pygmy Possum?
Brazil: Fossil for Not Protecting People from Climate Impacts
An alarming climate tipping point could happen much sooner than expected when the dense, green canopy of the Amazon rainforest turns into a dry open savannah, an irreversible process that is being hastened by increasing fires and logging. The policies of “Chainsaw” Bolsonaro have ensured that the ‘"Cooler of the Planet"’ is now a scarred, choking mess. This year’s fires are among the worst in ten years with a 14% increase in fires compared to the already catastrophic figures from last year. The world’s largest tropical wetland, the Pantanal, was consumed by flames this year, wrecking the lives of Indigineous communities there and all its biodiversity. Things look grim in Brazil as Bolsonaro offers concessions to agribusiness and mining magnates, turns his back on Indigenous communities and repeatedly denies climate change. Just to prove the point, Brazil has pledged over 70% of funding under its existing energy plan to fossil fuels and has extended subsidies to offshore oil exploitation until 2040!
Brazil: Fossil for Shrinking Civil Space
Despite tough competition from Russia, Brazil was voted for a fossil for its escalating crackdown on civil society groups resisting its regressive policies and fighting for the rights of Indigenous communities. A leaked document shows Brazil’s military plans to control “100% of NGOs working in the Amazon” and is set to advance policies to starve NGOs of funding. It is no wonder that Brazil ranks number three in the world for the murder of environmental defenders.
"Civil society, despite being threatened in Brazil, must strengthen itself to pressure, nationally and internationally, for effective emission reduction measures, to preserve our forests and protect Indigenous Peoples", said Nayara Castiglioni Amaral, general coordinator of Engajamundo, a Brazilian youth organization.
About the fossils: The Fossil of the Day awards were first presented at the climate talks in 1999, in Bonn, initiated by the German NGO Forum. During United Nations climate change negotiations (www.unfccc.int), members of the Climate Action Network (CAN), vote for countries judged to have done their 'best' to block progress in the negotiations in the last days of talks.
About CAN: The Climate Action Network (CAN) is a global network of over 1,300 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in more than 120 countries working to promote government and individual action to limit human0induced climate change to ecologically sustainable levels. www.climatenetwork.org