‘Food systems are the number one solution to reverse the climate crisis’

Marie-Claire Graf, young Swiss activist who has launched the Sustainability Week Switzerland, at the UN in Geneva in September 2019 (KEYSTONE/Salvatore Di Nolfi)

Marie-Claire Graf, 24, is a bachelor student in Political Science and Environmental Sciences at the ETH, the Polytechnic School of Zurich. Incredibly active, she has led several initiatives in the fields of climate action, sustainable development, youth and women empowerment, and education such as Sustainability Week International. In September 2019, she initiated the first climate strikes in Switzerland and became part of the Swiss delegation to the COP 25 in Madrid. She is currently the Swiss focal point at the Children and Youth Constituency of the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) and was recently awarded by the United Nations as Youth Climate Champion of Switzerland.

She shares with us her thoughts on the climate emergency, the youth mobilisation in the times of Covid, the priorities she sees, and her reasons to hope. Her email signature quotes a statement by the British economist Nicholas Stern in 2006:

"Climate change is a result of the greatest market failure the world has seen. The evidence on the seriousness of the risks from inaction or delayed action is now overwhelming. We risk damages on a scale larger than the two world wars of the last century. The problem is global and the response must be a collaboration on a global scale."

August 22nd was the World Overshoot Day. A few days before the Swiss Federal Council updated its climate adaptation action plan using the worst climatic scenario as the baseline hypothesis. How do you react to these two simultaneous news?

This is not a coincidence. Despite us knowing very well since many years what actions are needed to reverse the climate and biodiversity crises, all prognosis is following business as usual. This, of course, has an effect on society, behaviours, and business as it seems that no one believes in the necessary change and transformation that needs to be done. Banks and pension funds still invest heavily in fossil fuel-based sectors and adaptation measures are not incorporating a net zero world. It’s frightening to see that we are not managing to accelerate the urgently needed transformation and hence move back the Earth Overshoot Day. We have all the societal and technological solutions as well as an educated society.

“Now it’s become a race between climate and societal tipping points.”

We already crossed several tipping points and caused irreversible damage to the planet. This is one of the reason why we are calling for a systems change as there is no other way to get to net zero by 2030. Now it’s become a race between climate and societal tipping points.

The last climate strikes were before the lockdown. How has the Covid epidemic affected the mobilisation of youth for climate?

We are listening to the scientists. They told us to flatten the curve in order to limit the spread of the virus and the ongoing health crisis and prevent the collapse of our health care system.

Hence we stayed at home, didn’t meet on Fridays, but continued our engagement online. We couldn’t carry out the Strike for Future on May 15th as well as many other already planned actions. The media were only communicating about Covid as it was important to deliver the message of the epidemiologists and virologists to everyone in order to change behaviour and business as usual.

Many strikers engaged in local solidarity actions, and we organised webinars. There were as well some smaller strikes executed, always respecting the regulations. On September 4th we will again meet for strikes across the country and later in September from 20 to 25 we will have a whole week of actions.

How can we keep the momentum in favour of climate action acceleration?

We have to keep up the pressure as it is us who are and will be facing the devastating effects of the climate crisis. We will continue striking and demonstrating but as well use a long-proven method for change: non-violent massive civil disobedience.

“Food systems are the number one solution to reverse the climate crisis.”

On the other hand we have to work closely together with practitioners and farmers, as well the education sector in order to accelerate the transformation. I hope we will soon have “Fridays of the Future” instead of “Fridays for Future” where we live the transformation and change.

We need to focus on transformative aspects, as incremental changes are no longer an option. An area often overlooked and not getting enough attention are the food systems. Food systems are the number one solution to reverse the climate crisis and provide a healthier future for us and nature. The climate strike movement in Switzerland as well as many Fridays for Future groups raise awareness on this issue. But it won’t be enough as we need a complete transformation towards a real and climate friendly food system.

What makes you hope the climate emergency can be addressed?

Covid-19 and all related policies and campaigns showed us, “Yes, we can”. Yes, we can change behaviour within days; yes, we can change business models; and yes, politicians can handle a crisis as a crisis. This is exactly what we ask for.

Our first demand is declaring a national climate emergency. Only if we treat the climate crisis as a crisis can we act accordingly and implement initiatives and regulations halting and even reversing the crisis. Additionally the Covid crisis showed us that humanity is not resilient enough. It was another warning signal that we have to listen to the science and act accordingly. An unprecedented transformation is needed so we don’t have to “celebrate” Earth Overshoot Days anymore.