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Webinar with Payal Parekh

Yesterday we has an amazing webinar with Payal Prayekh from 350.org and we talked about why we should Break Free from fossil fuels.

Payal Parekh is the Program Director at 350.org, leading the organization’s international campaigning and mobilisation work. She holds a Ph.D. in Oceanography from MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Payal has also worked on climate campaigns at International Rivers and Greenpeace International and done climate policy research for NGOs, think tanks and Southern governments.

Payal joined the Climate Tracker team for a webinar about breaking free from fossil fuels, to help inspire your articles. If you missed it, here’s the video and a summary below.




350.org is a climate campaigning organisation started by 7 young people in 2008. We work with grassroots activists all across the world to stop climate change. The main tactic that we use is mass mobilization because we feel that our greatest asset is people power.

The way in which we look at how to stop climate change is undermine the social license of the fossil fuel industry, and we do that primarily through our divestment campaign. This campaign has been inspired and learned from the anti-apartheid campaigns that happened in the 1980s .

One of the other major ways in which we look to stop climate change is actually to stop this dirty fossil fuel projects.



In May, over 10 days, there will be coordinated mass actions all across the world, on 6 continents, 14 different countries. Young people, old people, teachers, parents, grandparents,union workers… are coming together to take action against the dirtiest fossil fuel projects in the world and demanding that all coal, oil and gas needs to stay in the ground, and that we need to have a just transition to 100% renewable for all.

I come from India, and in my country 300 million people still don’t have access to modern energy, and in fact those communities are the ones that are losing their lands and livelihoods because of coal mines and coal plants, but they are not getting any of the benefit.

So this is really about all of us taking a stand against this dirty industry and economy.



Last year 2015 was the hottest year on record and furthermore and climate change is not something that will happen in the future, it is actually happening now. For example, yesterday I was reading newspapers of where I live now, in Switzerland, and one of the main stories was about this drought happening in Somaliland, on the eastern coast of Africa. And it is very clearly linked to the super El Niño. It is super El Niño because of the intensity is much stronger that past El Niños, and there is growing evidence that intensity of El Niños will increase because of climate change. So unfortunately people are already losing their lives because of climate change.

On the more positive side, last december in Paris all governments of the world signed on to the Paris Agreement. And in the Paris Agreement it says very clearly that we must limit global warming to 2 degrees if not 1.5.Unfortunately, the pledges and actions that governments have committed to take are not enough. And that is why it is up to all of us to hold governments accountable and push them to fulfil their promises with signing the Paris Agreement.



I started out in the early 90s thinking about  development and environment, being from a poor country. And I realised very quickly that many of the projects that were being suggested in India, such as mega dams, actually were not going to get poor people out of poverty and they were destroying the environment. And I thought “there has to be a better way”.

It is a cruel irony that the communities that are least responsible for climate change are the ones that are suffering the worst impacts. And I also think that this struggle is really a chance for us to create a new world that is more just, that really gets rid of poverty, inequality and an opportunity to ensure that we create energy in a new way and that the world is more democratic.

I do it because I care about inequality in the world and I think climate change is  the greatest inequality.

And at the same time, I think humans do a lot of bad things but also a lot of good things, and we can be very innovative and ingenious, and I think this is really our chance. So I see a lot of hope in it that we can create a new world that will reflect the values of the 99%.



Many of the actions happening in Australia, India, Indonesia, UK, US are focusing on coal. I think coal is really highlighted the worst fuel of the fossil fuel industry. It is one of the dirtiest, the climate impact that has is really high, it pollutes our water, air… In fact, in most of the coal belt, like India or eastern Europe, we know that asthma rates are really high because of the mining.

In a way we are shooting ourselves in the foot. We are burning these dirty fuels so we can have energy, but we are destroying our health, environment, climate impacts are getting worse, which are impacting the agricultural yields in countries.

If we look at Nigeria, in which oil is a big issue, Shell has destroyed the land of indigenous people, it’s resulted in killings of activists, it’s left Ogoni people with land in which all of their water sources are heavily  polluted.

We need to get out of fossil fuels because, while they have given us access to energy, it’s also left us with lots of negative aspects and primarily the global members of our global community suffer the worst impacts.

We know there is another way. So for every country we need to break free from fossil fuels so we can get rid of all the bad aspects and move our economies to clean energy that doesn’t pollute our air, doesn’t take away land and livelihood of indigenous peoples and in fact improves the quality of their lives by giving the access to clean energy.



In parts of the industrialised world, in particular in Europe, we do see that this is happening, but not fast enough. And there is no question that countries such as India or the Philippines need more energy. But we also know that alternatives exist and that is why we need to focus on the alternatives and leapfrog the dirty industrial pathway that the industrialized countries have taken. That means that those countries most responsible for climate change  also have a responsibility to provide financing and in some cases technical know-how.



What is very exciting to see is that last year 90% of new electricity generation came from renewables, and we also saw for the first time that fossil fuel emissions didn’t increase. We need them to go down at a very fast rate, but we do see that the tide is turning. And if we think about the country of Scotland or Denmark, in which an increasing percentage of their energy is being produced by renewables. And we know that’s because there has been people’s movements demanding this, which has forced governments to enact policies that support the development of renewable energy.

If we could just imagine shifting all of the subsidies that the fossil fuel industry gets to support the renewable energy industry, I think we could ever more increase this transition.



Everything that has been worth doing has not been easy.  The fight to women’s rights, independence in India, getting rid of apartheid in South Africa, the civil rights movements in the US… of course it won’t be easy, but it is worth fighting for and we do see that the tide is starting to shift. Things like the Panama Papers coming out, that are showing us very clearly what the 1% does, how they try to undermine democracy, how they try to get out of their responsibility.

But again, this transition is really a chance and we have to fight for it. And what can mean is that we actually have jobs that work, not only for people but also work for the planet. Because it doesn’t make sense to have a coal plant in which the workers may have been unionised in Germany, it is actually destroying their health and their planet.

Nowadays the coal plants that are coming up in places like my country, India, they are not even allowing people to unionise, so even increasingly people and unions are seeing that we need to get rid of this ill and that there is another way to create jobs and people power an economy that actually instead of putting the environment against workers, brings them together.



If any of you live near an action it would be wonderful to have you participate and to report on it. Sending out live tweets, writing, live blog while you are attending one of the events.

In the lead up, write articles, in particular if there is an action in your country or region of the world, explain people from your region why we are doing this.

If you are not near an action, you can watch them live, you can be an international observer, you can watch the actions, you can amplify the messages coming out of the actions on social media. And in the case that police start arresting or mistreating activists, you can be an international observer and get the word out.

I think there is a lot of ways in which writing and reporting, amplifying the messages, would be extremely helpful and just as important as those who are going to be on the streets.



What is the connection of Panama Papers to the Fossil Fuel industry? Are there any information on persons/countries/companies involved in scandals with ties to the fossil fuel industry?

Yes, there are lots of connections. Zuma, the president of South Africa, his nephew was in the Panama Papers because of setting-up an offshore account. He was able to get some lucrative oil and gas contracts. That’s one clear example. We know that there are lots of links to Russian politicians and the Panama papers. People are still doing their analysis but I believe that something like over 15 oil and gas companies have been named. The information is coming out and we’re hoping to publish a blog soon that makes clear the link between politicians and the fossil fuel industry and offshore accounts.


How big is the influence of the fossil fuel industry in US elections and how will this affect our campaign for clean energy?


In the US they don’t have any rules on donations to political campaigns. We know clearly that oil and gas firms in the US are part of the 1% and they heavily finance campaigns of democrats as well as republicans. 350 local activists are demanding of Hillary Clinton that she not take any money from the fossil fuel industry. We have activists working on that. The United States is still the most powerful country in the world and naturally it will have an impacts and we know if the democrats are elected, even Pres. Obama did try to make climate a center of his administration, he could have done more than his done. Naturally, if democrats come to office after him, we have a much better chance that the US continue along this pathway. Of course, grassroots activism in the United States are going to continue to pressure the government.


How can we engage the government to stop investing in coal when they are not listening or prepared to take on suggestions?

From the mass mobilization or campaigning side, it’s being able to show elected officials that there is a mass movement of people that want this. Not just through mass demonstrations but through flash mobs or twitter storms. It’s very interesting to show demonstration projects to show in your countries where it has worked as well as examples from other countries so that politicians see that it is possible and that there is a mass movement in your country that want this.


What is the best way to answer governments of developing countries who use the argument that we still need to develop and this is why we need to invest in fossil fuel?


We know that we need to keep at least 80% of fossil fuels in the ground. From an equity perspective, the little amount of fossil fuels that can still be burned should be developing countries that have the access to that. But in the long run, most of the developing countries in the world like the Philippines, is also very vulnerable to climate. We are shooting ourselves in the foot. We’re saying we want to develop by using fossil fuels but we are increasing climate impacts which means many more people in our countries start to die, agricultural yields go down. It doesn’t make any sense.

Second, there is massive potential for solar and wind. This is a chance. Do we want to be a part of the old system that is dying? Do we want to build up an infrastructure that is a dinosaur as opposed to being at the forefront of the new economy?

Finally, I would say that many of our people in our countries are in very far, remote areas and why do we wanna spend billions of dollars building an infrastructure when decentralized renewable energy can get them the energy they need much more cheaply and much more quickly.

And lastly, we have to continue to demand that the countries that are most responsible for climate change are financing this transition and providing technical know-how.

About Anna Pérez Català