COP21 An Opportunity For Climate Justice, If We Mobilize
The COP21 resulted in an agreement that was 25 years in the making, beginning with the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. Until now the world had been unable to reach an agreement on combating climate change. Because the document required unanimous consensus it is the lowest common denominator. Countries that depend on oil as the basis of their economy, like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, as well as those with strong climate denialism, like Australia and the United States, which combines denialism with corporate domination of government, all had to agree.
The lowest common denominator is not good enough. Friends of the Earth International described the agreement as “a sham.” The New Internationalist, measuring the deal against the People’s Climate Test developed before COP21, described it as “an epic fail on a planetary scale.” Climate scientist James Hansen said it was a “fraud . . . fake . . . bullshit.”
Low Expectations for COP21
We had low expectations going into COP21 recognizing the involvement of polluters and corporate underwriting and the reality that developed countries put corporate profits ahead of people and planet. The fact that they achieved a framework based on some science-based goals was better than expected. Now it is up to the people to push for policies at all levels of government to make the Paris Accord effective. We have the potential to use this deal to create a turning point in humanity’s struggle for climate justice and end the fossil fuel era, but only if the people mobilize to make it so.
Countries came to Paris with reduction targets, and renegotiating those targets was not part of COP21. While COP21 ended with an agreement to not raise the Earth’s temperature by more than 2º Celsius (3.6º Fahrenheit) and to attempt to keep it at 1.5º Celsius (2.7º Fahrenheit) the targets of the nations, when combined, go beyond those levels. So nations must lower their targets and put in place policies to achieve greater reductions.
At the halfway point of COP21 there were concerns about the agreement being insufficient, whether nations were representing corporate interests rather than the needs of the planet and whether negotiations would end in disaster. As negotiations continued, civil society pushed negotiators to improve their positions to protect vulnerable communities and speed up the transition to renewable energy. As the end neared, the High Ambition Coalition, representing more than 100 countries, formed in secrecy six months ago, went public to push for a legally binding global agreement.
When the agreement was concluded there was mixed reaction – on one hand it was finally a framework that was universally agreed on, but on the other it provided inadequate funds for developing nations most impacted by the climate crisis, had no enforceable provisions and left it to individual nations to reduce climate emissions. There were no specific policies like a carbon tax or specific reductions in the use of carbon energy, just a framework. On the final day, tens of thousands of people gathered throughout Paris drawing red lines in protest urging climate justice, stopping the construction of carbon infrastructure, moving investment from carbon to clean energy and urging that carbon be left in the ground.
Creative Protest throughout COP21, Protests Bend to the Paris Emergency
The largest climate protests in history were planned for COP21 but the terror-attack in Paris resulted in a state of emergency that prevented large-scale protests. This brought out an ongoing tension between movements and non-profit organizations, between front-line groups and big greens. The big greens cancelled the mass multi-hundred thousand person march that had been scheduled. Thousands of people went ahead with the march and predictably French security forces used pepper spray, tear gas, batons and arrests to stop them.
In ROAR Magazine they make the points that “Both experience and research in civil resistance tell us that our best bet against fear, intimidation and repression is to increase (not decrease!) participation” and that “It is well established that social movements win by polarizing the public and exercising non-cooperation to weaken and undermine power structures.”
Would mass protests have changed the political environment for COP21, resulted in larger amounts of money being agreed to for nations hardest hit, a binding agreement, enforceable goals? Because the COP21 was only a limited success civil society will continue to have to pressure the power structure, so these questions need to be debated, discussed and resolved within the climate movement.
On the same day that police tear gas and arrested 200 protesters, there was the empty shoe protest using shoes to show the thousands of people who would have marched – estimates were as high as 500,000 planning to march – and there was a human chain across Paris, with people holding hands to show solidarity for climate justice.
Building on the experience of climate protesters in other European cities, the Climate Games were getting organized for a series of protests months before the COP21 meeting. Not only were they working on the big mass march, but also on smaller autonomous protests that would occur throughout the meetings. When the mass march fell apart the other protests continued. Climate Games organizers say that their purpose was not to shut down COP21 but build momentum for a spring offense for climate protests, knowing the results of COP21 would require escalation.
There were a series of a wide variety of protests that did go forward. Indigenous peoples used kayactivism to urge keeping fossil fuels in the ground, Paris was plastered with wanted posters for ‘Climate Criminals’, US fracking opponents disrupted Paris talks, a massive sun was painted around the Arc de Triomphe demanding renewable energy, the Indigenous Environmental Network denounced false corporate ‘solutions’, a bank was taken over by song and dance protesting coal investment and ‘brandalists’ took over advertising posters throughout Paris highlighting the corporate takeover of the COP21. The Louvre was the site of protests, inside an oil spill denounced polluting carbon energy corporations sponsorship of the museum and outside the museum, performers dressed in black held up umbrellas with letters spelling out the phrase “Fossil Free Culture.”
By the end, with a call for mass action, activists said they would move forward on a mass protest despite Hollande’s ban and defy the ban. They decried the deal saying it had failed humanity and the planet and promised to draw redlines throughout the city. They drew lines in banners, cloth, red roses and umbrellas calling for keeping fossil fuels in the ground and declaring no peace without climate justice. Police were out in force but they just watched.
Paris is not the end but just another stage in the growing climate justice movement which has seen important victories in the United States this year like stopping the KXL pipeline, stopping Arctic drilling and decentralized protests that delay and make carbon infrastructure more expensive. During the COP21, the threaten of protests resulted in the Obama administration delaying a fuel auction of federal lands. And, Australian protesters shut down the three largest coal ports.
Activists are already planning an active spring, with coordinated protests being planned for May to shut down the most carbon polluting projects on the planet. And protests against carbon-fuel infrastructure are continuing. Next Wednesday we are helping to organize protests against Bank of America for its funding of carbon pollution projects, our focus is on demanding BoA stop funding the fracked gas export terminal at Cove Point and other fracking-related projects.
The reality is that the slowness of the transition to a fossil free, nuclear free energy economy is not only inconsistent with climate science but also inconsistent with the renewable energy technology that already exists. At a COP21 side event, a group showed that technology solutions for a 100% renewable energy are in place, finance options are available and scalable, and resource availability is plentiful. National Geographic published an interactive map of the world that showed the mix of renewable energy for each country and how much money would be saved per person in each country. A report this week showed 2015 will be the United States solar market’s best year in history with a record-breaking fourth quarter. If world leaders listened to the science COP21 would have set a goal of complete transfer to clean energy within a generation, the goal should be a just transition by 2030.
Instead polluting corporations who profit from selling energy that is causing the crisis of climate change had a display of false solutions at the COP21. Some of the biggest polluters were pushing false solutions like clean coal and fracked gas; nuclear power and agribusiness were pushing their wares, along with bioenergy and REDD. The latter is not forest protection but cover for an offset scheme that undermines Indigenous rights while allowing for mass tree plantations. Bill Gates was in Paris to push a new initiative that was exposed as a front for new nuclear plants. Activists organized “toxic tours” of the false solutions exhibit and were immediately arrested by undercover police. Even media covering the event were removed.
In the final week of COP21 negotiations, a leaked document showed that there cannot be climate justice if the triad of trade agreements being negotiated becomes law. These agreements, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)) and the Trade In Services Agreement (TiSA), create a polluter’s paradise of legal protections , have no enforceable environmental standards and encourage extreme extraction and export of carbon energy. The leak showed that EU negotiators were told not to agree to anything that would restrict trade – putting corporate profits ahead of the needs of the planet. People concerned with climate change must mobilize to stop these corporate trade agreements or all other work for climate justice will fail. Click here to take the action pledge.
The link between stopping corporate power and climate change is one that links critically important issues. We must fight corporate power to achieve climate justice. The illegitimate rise of corporate power parallels the rise of climate gasses in the atmosphere. In “Apocalyptic Capitalism” Chris Hedges forces us to face the reality of what we are up against:
“The global elites have no intention of interfering with the profits, or ending government subsidies, for the fossil fuel industry and the extraction industries. They will not curtail extraction or impose hefty carbon taxes to keep fossil fuels in the ground. They will not limit the overconsumption that is the engine of global capitalism. They act as if the greatest contributor of greenhouse gases—the animal agriculture industry—does not exist. They siphon off trillions of dollars and employ scientific and technical expertise—expertise that should be directed toward preparing for environmental catastrophe and investing in renewable energy—to wage endless wars in the Middle East. . . And as the elites mouth platitudes about saving the climate they are shoving still another trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), down our throats. The TPP permits corporations to ignore nonbinding climate accords made at conferences such as the one in Paris, and it allows them, in secret trade tribunals, to defy environmental regulations imposed by individual states.”
This is the harsh reality we must face if we are to act strategically to save the planet. Not only does the campaign for climate justice require all of us to act, it requires us to change everything – how government’s operate on behalf of corporations and how the economy is disfigured for transnational corporate profits rather than the betterment of humans and the planet.
Once we stop listening to the lullabies of elected and unelected leaders and face reality, our course becomes clearer. At the foundation of our strategy must be the recognition that the lives of those in developed countries are not worth more than those in the undeveloped world. The billions who live on less than $2 per day are as valuable as those who spend $100 for lunch. Recognizing this reality creates the global solidarity to move forward.
Also at the foundation of our next steps must be human rights. Climate change will violate the human rights of billions as rights to life, water, food, health, housing and security among others are all undone by climate injustice. Already, 157.8 million people were forced from their homes in the past seven years as a result of extreme weather. These numbers will multiply rapidly. Tens of thousands of people are dying from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress; between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year. We cannot pick whose human rights will be protected, all must be protected.
To move forward strategically it is also important to see something that was highlighted at COP21 but many did not see: the relationship between war, terrorism and climate. The neo-colonialism of western powers, led by the United States, going to war for the oil and resources needed for big agriculture, transit and the computer era is at the root of terrorism and closely connected to climate change. Not only does the war machine produce climate gases at immense levels but it leads to protecting the current fossil fuel- based economy.
Steve Breyman, discussing next steps after COP21, highlights that “the angry and energized climate justice movement is primed to pressure the big polluters like never before.” We have had some victories, have grown our strength and see the connections between issues. We know elected officials and dirty energy corporations “must be hounded and harangued to do what’s needed.” We must demand our country treat the voluntary goals as mandatory and make them stricter, move up the timetables and rapidly transition to a clean energy economy.
Breyman points out there is impressive “climate justice work being done at city, county and state levels” and with a dysfunctional federal government that work is important. Successful campaigns to build on include fossil fuel divestment, pipeline and infrastructure resistance, opposition to fracking and extreme extraction, protests of the fake energy regulator FERC, zero waste campaigns and more. He sees the “prospects for climate justice advocates to more firmly join forces with other movements, especially labor, peace, women’s, and indigenous rights are better than ever.”
The evidence is increasingly on our side so as we stop the carbon-nuclear energy industries we must also be building the alternative. That begins by changing our lifestyles, but also getting government at all levels to make transitions to clean energy. We should highlight the “numerous convincing studies of the economic, ecosystem, and human health benefits of a full transition to a fully clean energy economy” and how it is “far cheaper to take action now than later, that the longer we wait the greater the costs of all sorts.”
This is the path forward not only to saving the Earth and putting in place climate justice but also to building solidarity with people throughout the world and undermining the corruption of corporate power and militarism that currently dominates it. In short, the fight for climate justice is about building a better world for all.