Before we went to Paris, there was already news that the negotiators were talking about a cap of 1.5°C. This may be a noble aim, however without any substance behind it, it was cause for alarm that once again the temperature cap would be the only thing to be agreed on. Furthermore, the voluntary contributions from participating countries were estimated to add to 2.7°C of warming at best, or 3-4°C according to critical commentators. For context, the world has already warmed by 1°C above pre-industrial levels.
By the first evening that we were in Paris, we were informed that all mentions of human rights and indigenous rights had been removed from the COP agreement, thus large powerful states and companies have the freedom to pursue carbon mitigation strategies that push indigenous people off their lands, and means that human casualties of climate change have only limited funds going towards helping them. The indigenous block and global south reported being sidelined in the talks, despite being on the frontlines of climate change and possessing alternative perspectives to the mainstream market approaches to tackling climate change.
Ultimately, the main mechanisms that are supposed to bring us down from the predicted rise are much like the EU emissions trading scheme that has had very little impact other than lining the pockets of the most dirty companies. Furthermore, the deal is not completely legally binding, and the 1.5°C cap is “aspirational” with a real danger of us going above 2°C. If the climate deal was truly one to be respected, then you wouldn’t see the UK government slashing renewable energy subsidies while promoting fracking and increasing fossil fuel subsidies.
Red lines to a just climate solution have been crossed.
D12 was the massive climate action organised by NGOs and other grassroots groups on December 12th 2015. Its aim was to show those within the COP21 negotiations that activists had the last say on supporting ambitious climate justice decisions. That there were red lines that can’t but had been crossed. D12 was about being there to march for these red lines, show them, sing them, dance them, shout them, and re-affirm them.
Our role was to participate in the ‘inflatable cube action.’ These 1.5 by 1.5 meter cubes each had a red line across one of their sides, so when set up side by side and one on top of the other in a coordinated way, the result was a massive inflatable barricade with a very clear red line right across it. A red line that no one could cross (except if you were ready to face the sixty activists guarding these cubes). A red line that represented our determination, hope, and passion for a world where the red lines of climate justice and environmental limits are respected.
At 12pm on the 12th, the time came and in the space of a few minutes, our grand barricade of inflatable cubes took shape with the Arc de Triomphe in the background. The plan was to take advantage of the legalisation of the demonstration to move the cubes across the crowd, and eventually re-gather at the Eiffel Tower by 2pm to join the peaceful demonstration organised there. So we moved with the cubes. We bounced them over the crowd, and then the crowd took over and the cubes were bounced forward, flying over the crowd, bouncing against trees and cars creating the most extraordinary sight. We followed, inflating and patching up the cubes which needed it along the 3km which separated us from the Eiffel Tower. We eventually gathered the cubes in front of the Eiffel Tower and created our grandiose barricade again, asserting that this red line was one that we will stand and fight for.
Converging on Paris for COP21 with thousands of other climate justice activists was an inspiring and empowering experience in many ways. However, the trip also strengthened our understanding of how our own movement is as deeply infected by colonialism as the COP process itself. The movement is still dominated by white, western, middleclass big green groups to the detriment of those whose voices should be prioritised in the struggle. Indigenous peoples and front line communities have offered the most radical solutions to the climate crisis for decades, and they have been at the forefront of fighting for them. They are, however, consistently ignored and exploited by the mainstream movement. The Indigenous Environmental Network were not listened to in the organisation of the red lines action on D12, and the Wretched of the Earth bloc were silenced at the People's Climate March in London. If we want a movement that is really for climate justice, we must be conscious of how pervasive colonialism is and how deeply ingrained it is in our movement. We must seek to amplify and empower the voices of indigenous peoples and front line communities, not silence and erase them. They must lead our movement in word and action.
One of the most special parts of COP21 was how intense it was. That might not sound like a good thing, and it didn’t even feel like a good thing a lot of the time – many of us who went from Sheffield, and presumably many others among the thousands who were there, aren’t the fearless hardcore beat-me-up-I’m-experienced type of activists. Most of us had been to a few demos or protests, but nothing on this scale, nor in these kind of circumstances: so when our prep sessions were largely to do with ‘what to do if you get arrested’ I started thinking “shit, what have I got myself into!?”
So, less-seasoned activists got a little bit scared when facing the full extent of personal risks involved. Why am I trying to say this was a good thing? Because activist groups are generally brilliant at supporting members in engaging with these worries, so we were as a group able to square up against our concerns, realise that measures we could take to minimise risks and know our own comfort zones were actually quite easy to implement, and so feel mentally prepared to take action in the future.
The whole trip was a bit of a rollercoaster and there was no shortage of eye-opening, amazing experiences and moments. For me one of the biggest positives was seeing the people in our group be so inspired and empowered to take action in the future. Funnily enough, knowing that for many of us Paris was just the start of the fight for climate justice is the best feeling of all. We had a big group meeting during the evening after the D12 ‘red lines’ action which I won’t ever forget. We had a simple format where we went around the circle one by one and gave one highlight and one challenge from the trip. It was amazing to hear everyone’s thoughts and I wish I could hear it all again. Powerful stuff.
Although Paris was an incredible adventure, the trip was far greater than the actions that took place in the few days we were there. The energy, inspiration and dedication from all those involved was translated into a something that could be taken away from Paris to all corners of the world. Unity and energy was created within every group and individual involved. The time spent in Paris created a momentum and feeling of a movement which will only grow further and faster.