On Friday, Filipino youth activists stood outside a gleaming office tower with a giant, game show-style check. On it was the amount of financing the multinational bank Standard Chartered has provided to coal companies in the country since 2018, stamped red with the word “cancelled.”
This protest outside the bank’s Manila offices was one of hundreds held in 68 countries on March 19, organized by Fridays for Future, the youth climate activism movement started by Greta Thunberg, an 18-year-old Swede. This time, kids, teens, and adults showed up on the streets and on screens to call out world powers’ “empty promises” to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
In recent months, the activists have persevered through quarantines and Zoom fatigue, and while Friday’s turnout didn’t come close to the 4 million who participated in the massive September 20, 2019, climate strike, the strong coordinated effort suggested they are still a force to be reckoned with.
In the last year, a spate of nations including China, Japan, and South Korea have set net-zero emissions targets — often for 2050 or beyond. Corporations, including Standard Chartered, have also made their own pledges. While some of these goals are aligned with the Paris agreement, they are only goals. Currently, global emissions are surging back after dropping last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, and many governments and institutions continue to plow money into fossil fuel projects.
Focusing on the insufficiency of these net-zero targets and pressuring specific international institutions are new tactics for the global youth climate movement, which has historically made broader demands for action.
“I don’t think Fridays for Future has ever done something that is very specific at a global level,” Jon Bonifacio, a 23-year-old activist with Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines, told Vox on Friday after a long day coordinating protests in the Philippines.
As part of their latest campaign, the activists are highlighting a new scientific framework for inspecting whether net-zero targets are “empty” or impactful. This could inform future protests to hold companies and countries accountable for their new targets.
“Scientists clearly state that what we need isn’t meaningless net-zero targets filled with loopholes — what we need are transparent, legally binding targets that take in account the aspects of justice and equity,” Nicki Becker, a youth climate activist with Jovenes Por El Clima in Argentina, said in a statement to the press.
Here’s what climate scientists say a robust net-zero target should look like, and how activists are pushing one bank to meet higher standards.