“We are the last generation that can change the course of climate change.”

You could be forgiven for thinking such a stark statement was made by a hardened climate activist. In fact this was said last year by Kristalina Georgieva, the CEO of the World Bank, and is a good indicator of how the language around climate change has shifted in the last 12 months.

The sentiment – that time is running out to avert planetary disaster – is increasingly repeated by world leaders who have adopted a new language of urgency to talk about the climate and ecological crisis.

And for good reason. We have 30 years to transform societies and economies and we need to do the really heavy lifting in the next decade. Emissions need to be reduced by 60% in the next ten years and the vast majority of fossil fuel use ended by 2050 if the world is to stay under 1.5 degrees of warming.

1.5 degrees

Scientists say 1.5 degrees is a critical guardrail that would limit the frequency of drought, floods, crop failure and extreme weather. By contrast, a 2 degree global average temperature rise may trigger tipping points that put climate change beyond human control.

As well as reducing emissions, vast amounts of greenhouse gases have to be sucked out of the atmosphere to limit warming to 1.5 degrees. This is to say nothing of the ecological challenges: restoring degraded ecosystems; halting and reversing habitat destruction; preventing extinctions and ensuring clean air and water. Of course these challenges can’t be solved separately; each affects the other on a single planet with interconnected ecosystems – indeed, restoring ecosystems and halting habitat destruction have been identified as two of the most important mechanisms for tackling climate change.

Turning words into action

But while a new language of urgency might permeate the discussion around the climate and ecological crisis, policy action does not match this rhetoric. Emissions are still rising, increasing 2.8% last year to reach a record level. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is at a three million year high. Deforestation and habitat destruction are surging. UN summits have come and gone and largely failed. And the consequence of continued failure is suffering and death for large numbers of people.

The failure of conventional politics to effect a shift in direction has created an upsurge in civil society activism, led by groups including Extinction Rebellion and the youth strikers for climate. And it is this latter group that will lead activities tomorrow when the first general strike for climate takes place in towns and cities across the world.

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) is supporting the strike and encouraging employees to participate, because the climate-stable, nature-rich world FFI works for is imperilled by the broader trends and conditions within which that work takes place.

It is clear that the world is faced with a systemic problem that requires systemic solutions. An up-swell of pressure from a broad coalition of groups within society is perhaps the best chance we have of galvanising politicians to make the systemic changes necessary.

The significance of this moment should not be overlooked. The strikes – and the inspirational young people leading them – are a model for the kind of global coordination we’re going to need to tackle this crisis.

That it has come to this – children dragging adults to action in order to save their futures – reflects shamefully on the current state of our politics and institutions.

But the leadership of these young people is also the best reason in a long time to believe we might just find the collective courage to pull ourselves back from the brink and solve the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced.