The Concerns of The Young Protesters are Justified
At present, many young people are demonstrating persistently for climate protection and the preservation of our natural resources. As scientists and scholars, and based on robust scientific evidence, we declare: these concerns are justified and supported by the best available science. The current measures for protecting the climate, biodiversity, and forest, marine, and soil resources, are far from sufficient.
The Paris Agreement of 2015 (UNFCCC 2015) obliges countries under international law to keep global warming well below 2°C. In addition, all countries have promised efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 °C.
It is critical to immediately begin reducing net CO2 emissions and to eliminate them to zero worldwide between 2040 and 2050 at the latest (IPCC 2018). A more rapid reduction would increase the probability of not exceeding the 1.5°C limit. The use of coal should be nearly ended by 2030, while the burning of oil and natural gas should be reduced simultaneously until all fossil fuels have been replaced by climate-neutral energy sources. Considering global climate justice, Europe must achieve this transistion more quickly (IPCC 2018, Global Carbon Project 2018).
While the need for participation and discussion remains, action must be taken now. Discussion and action are not mutually exclusive. Many social and technological innovations already exist which can maintain quality of life and improve human well-being without destroying our natural resources (e.g. Klima-Allianz Deutschland 2018, WBGU 2011).
In all German-speaking countries, neither the necessary scale nor speed of change are being achieved in the restructuring of the energy, food, agriculture, resource, and mobility sectors. Germany will fail to meet the climate protection targets it has set itself for 2020 (UBA 2019), and the achievement of the goals of the German Sustainability Strategy for 2030 is at high risk (German Council for Sustainable Development SRU, 2018). Moreover, there is still a lack of an effective climate protection law. Austria has set itself goals in its climate and energy strategy that do not in any way do justice to the Paris Agreement (CCCA 2018, Wegener Center für Klima und Globalen Wandel 2018, Schleicher and Kirchgast 2019) and even for this purpose, neither the necessary measures nor the financial means are provided (CCCA 2018). At the same time, soil degradation and surface coverage per person and year in Austria are the highest in Europe (UBA 2018). Switzerland has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions only slightly since 1990; at the same time, emissions caused abroad have increased considerably (BAFU 2018). In the first parliamentary debate on the total revision of the CO2 Act, the lower house proposed to abolish domestic reduction targets and to offset Swiss emissions abroad. In effect, the law has failed for the time being (Schweizer Parlament 2018).
The young people rightly demand that our society should prioritize sustainability and especially climate action without further hesitation. Without far-reaching and consistent change, their future is in danger. This change means, among other things: we will introduce renewable energy with new courage and the necessary speed; we will consistently implement energy-saving measures; and, we will fundamentally change our patterns of nutrition, mobility, and consumption.
Politicians in particular have a responsibility to create the necessary framework conditions in a timely manner. In particular, climate-friendly and sustainable action must become simple and cost-effective, while climate-damaging action must become unattractive and expensive, for example, through effective CO2 pricing (e.g. EFI 2019), elimination of subsidies for climate-damaging actions and products, efficiency regulations and social innovations. A socially balanced distribution of the costs and benefits of change is essential.
The enormous mobilisation of the Fridays for Future/Climate Strike movement shows that young people have understood the situation. As scientists and scholars, we strongly support their demand for rapid and forceful action.
As people who are familiar with scientific work and deeply concerned about the current developments, we consider it as our social responsibility to point out the consequences of inadequate action (see also Ripple et al., 2017).
Only if we act quickly and consistently can we limit global warming, halt the mass extinction of animal and plant species, preserve the natural basis for life and create a future worth living for present and future generations. This is exactly what the young people of Fridays for Future/Climate Strike are calling for. They deserve our respect and full support.
Note: This statement has been published (both in English and German) in a scientific publication in GAIA and is available here. It includes a list of facts (also available here) and has as a supplement the complete lists of initial and final signatories attached. All scientific references can be found here.
G. Hagedorn, T. Loew, S. I. Seneviratne, W. Lucht, M.-L. Beck, J. Hesse, R. Knutti, V. Quaschning, J.-H. Schleimer, L. Mattauch, C. Breyer, H. Hübener, G. Kirchengast, A. Chodura, J. Clausen, F. Creutzig, M. Darbi, C.-H. Daub, F. Ekardt, M. Göpel, J. N. Hardt, J. Hertin, T. Hickler, A. Köhncke, S. Köster, J. Krohmer, H. Kromp-Kolb, R. Leinfelder, L. Mederake, M. Neuhaus, S. Rahmstorf, C. Schmidt, C. Schneider, G. Schneider, R. Seppelt, U. Spindler, M. Springmann, K. Staab, T. F. Stocker, K. Steininger, E. von Hirschhausen, S. Winter, M. Wittau, J. Zens 2019. The concerns of the young protesters are justified. A statement by Scientists for Future concerning the protests for more climate protection. GAIA, 28/2, 79-87.