On Friday we took a look back at the last 10 years (and a bit) and saw just how far 350 Aotearoa has come. When our organising kicked off in 2008, the climate change conversation was difficult. As part of the global network of 350 groups, our aim back then was to communicate the science behind climate change, which is actually where the name “350” comes from (it refers to the safe level of CO2 in the atmosphere that we need to get back to). We organised creative mobilisations – hundreds of events where we made the number 350 with our bodies, dance battles on cuba street, and bicycle rides to parliament – to draw attention to the issue of climate change. We engaged with MPs, faith groups, councils, schools and built a network of engaged supporters, like you. Ultimately, all those years ago we saw what the climate issue was missing: the people’s voice. We’ve been part of a movement that’s sparked the public’s imagination of what’s possible. It’s not about changing light bulbs anymore, it’s about using our collective power to demand climate justice and create meaningful, systemic change. 

350 volunteers laugh around a table in a trivia quiz

From those humble beginnings, our capacity to build people power has grown. In 2015, Niamh O’Flynn joined the team as Executive Director, starting many of our well known campaigns, including the banks campaign and numerous local divestment campaigns. The legacy of these divestment campaigns is profound. 

  • Firstly, divestment campaigns make a clear connection between the fossil fuel industry and the climate crisis. So much so, it is no longer morally or socially acceptable to be financing, let alone be associated with, oil, gas, and coal projects. 
  • Secondly, local divestment campaigns empower and upskill us to make change in our institutions. Many of us, including Erica and myself, have grown into the activists we are today because of our time volunteering in divestment campaigns. We’ve learned how to build strategic campaigns, effectively communicate climate change, and empower our communities to take action.  
  • And thirdly, the divestment movement has connected people across the globe towards a common goal and target. And best of all, it’s worked. To date, USD$11 trillion worth of investment funds have shifted away from the fossil fuel industry globally. Here in Aotearoa, we have the highest fossil fuel divestment rate per capita. 

We’d like to acknowledge the huge amount of work and energy Niamh has put into transforming 350 Aotearoa over the last four years. She recently stepped away from her role at 350 Aotearoa to pursue other work in the environmental sector. We’re extremely proud of her and grateful for the leadership, innovation, and skill she’s brought to our movement. She has carved a niche for 350 Aotearoa to pursue effective and strategic campaigns to challenge corporate ties to the fossil fuel industry. She’s been instrumental in building strong relationships across the climate movement and she’s left us in a really strong place to tackle bigger and more ambitious goals moving into the next chapter of 350 Aotearoa.

Around 25 people from the 350 Aotearoa team at the anniversary hui 

So now for the big haul. What lays in store for the next 10 years? More than ever our work will need to centre the principles of climate justice. As we put pressure on our governments, our banks, and our institutions to take meaningful action on climate change, it’s imperative that we bring everyone with us. We know that those already facing hardship and discrimination in our communities are most likely to be negatively impacted by extreme weather and climate-related policy change. So we must keep holding those most responsible for the climate crisis to account and ensure that big polluters pay for the price of inaction. We’ll be supporting the work of a fast and just transition to a zero carbon economy that alleviates the economic, social, and environmental pressures people in Aotearoa already face. At the end of the day, we all have a stake in creating a fair society that meaningfully responds to the impacts and origins of climate change.

Most importantly, to sustain this momentum we need to have a strong and resilient community to lead the change. Here’s where we’re well on the front foot -we have an amazing network of dedicated volunteers working across Aotearoa (and there’s always room for more!). Our time over the weekend was invaluable for building and strengthening ties between different local groups. Moving forward, we want to continue to upskill and provide opportunities for our volunteers to contribute their valuable skills and talents. Our volunteer network is fired-up and ready to keep organising the Fossil Free Banks campaign. We’re dedicated to stopping the flow of money from banks operating in New Zealand, to overseas coal, oil, and gas projects.

This year has been massive for the climate movement. It’s true that you can never anticipate the moment when a movement truly ignites, but this year that moment arrived. We stand on the shoulders of many determined people who sparked the difficult conversations. The important thing now is that we ensure this huge swell of momentum and energy is sustained and used effectively. We’ve got many lessons under our belts and we’re prepared for the next 10 years of action.

If you’re interested in joining our volunteer network, get involved here.