Read signs on COP26

Australian Greens

This is our code red to act like our house is on fire and avert crisis, catastrophe and extinction. We can see it; our kids can see it. Why cant’t our federal leaders?

By Jo Clay

Two years ago, I was at School Strike 4 Climate in Glebe Park with my five-year-old. She was fascinated with handmade artworks from thousands of kids, but she couldn’t read the words. I told her the gist but I skipped the scary parts.

Some of those signs were funny:

“Why go to school if you don’t listen to the educated?”

“If you act like children, we’ll act like adults.”

“I’ve seen smarter cabinets at Ikea.”

Some were chilling.

“You’ll die of old age. We’ll die of climate change.”

But it was a good day. We marched with 15,000 people, led by students.

They were fierce. They were strong. They were right.

We adults knew we’d finally get through to the leaders. They could ignore us but they could never ignore these children.

A year ago, I was back at School Strike 4 Climate. I didn’t take my daughter this time. By design, there weren’t many people there as it was at Parliament House in the middle of a COVID-19 outbreak. Not a good time to gather.

The signs were back, but they’d changed. They weren’t funny or chilling. They were ash.

“Flaming hell, fund our future not gas.”

“Stop burning our future.”

“Our mother is burning.”

Between 2019 and 2020, nothing had changed in federal climate policy, but everything was different. We knew what inaction meant as 2020 showed us: fire, smoke and destruction. This is the world we are leaving our children.

I’m an ACT Member of the Legislative Assembly as well as being a mother. Leaders everywhere are calling for panic. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says it’s a ‘code red’. Prince Charles calls COP26 our ‘last chance saloon’. Greta Thunberg, that child who leads us all, tells us to act as if our house is on fire.

World leaders use words such as crisis, catastrophe and extinction as if these are a perfectly normal way to talk. And yet our federal politicians still won’t act. The best we get is a vague pledge to do something, maybe, in a few decades.

Is real climate action too hard?

No, it’s not. Big cuts are easy to make. I know because I’ve done it.

I started a climate project in 2017. Frustrated by the federal government’s tiny targets and greenwashed programs, I set out to do better. I decided to slash my carbon footprint, one week at a time. I had no idea what I was doing – I had no idea if it was even possible – but guess what? I cut 73 per cent from my carbon footprint in three years.

The ACT Government has done it, too. ACT climate policy has been based on taking real climate action for a decade. We’ve cut 60 per cent during the past nine years.

Meanwhile, our federal government has made no cuts.


According to their own inventory, the only time emissions went down was while the Greens-negotiated carbon price was in place. Since the Liberals and Nationals fought so hard to repeal it, emissions have been on the rise.

I don’t know what will come out of COP26, nor do I know what 2022 will bring. But I don’t trust the federal politicians who are in charge now to do anything other than what they’ve done since they took power in 2013: worse than nothing.

We need a new mob who will treat the climate crisis with the same seriousness and urgency as COVID-19.

This is our code red and last chance saloon to act like our house is on fire and avert crisis, catastrophe and extinction.

My daughter will soon be eight years old. She knows what we’re doing to this world. She can read the signs. Why can’t our federal leaders?

Jo Clay is the ACT Greens’ Member for Ginninderra.

Hero image: Joana Partyka.

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