World governments are about to meet to try to negotiate a global agreement on climate change – for the twenty-first time. The UN-organised climate summit in Paris, known as ‘COP21’, will be the biggest gathering of its kind since the one Copenhagen in 2009. It is expected to renew current greenhouse gas emissions commitments, which expire in 2020, producing a global deal on what happens after that.
The deal is already set to be far from adequate. Scientists have warned that we face catastrophic, irreversible climate change if we pass the critical threshold of 2C warming above pre-industrial levels. If we go on as we are, we are heading for a rise of about 5C. This difference of a few degrees has huge implications for life on earth – the difference between current temperatures and the last ice age is just 5C. The emissions pledges proposed by states ahead of the summit have already exceeded the 2C threshold, setting the stage for another failure to act.
Despite huge pressure from civil society, COP15 in Copenhagen – dubbed ‘Hopenhagen’ as millions looked on hoping for a last-chance deal to ‘save the world’ ended in spectacular failure, falling woefully short of meaningful action. In the aftermath, the climate movement withered away under the crushing weight of disappointment. Climate change all but disappeared from the political agenda and mainstream media, only making a return in Britain when the recent onslaught of fracking brought fossil fuel extraction to people’s doorsteps.
This time there is a widely-shared sentiment within the climate movement – even among NGOs – that whatever the Paris talks deliver will not be ambitious enough, and that trying to influence this broken process is useless.
In the 20 years politicians have been negotiating, emissions have soared by 63 per cent and the suffering caused by climate change has increased massively. The UN and the corporate-sponsored summit process itself is structurally incapable of delivering solutions, representative as it is of the power structures and corporate capture that lie at the root of the problem (look out for more on this from Corporate Europe Observatory). It is disproportionately weighted in favour of global North polluters at the expense of the global South, who will bear the brunt of climate change.
So if we’re not expecting the talks to deliver solutions, and we’re not trying to influence them, why bother going to Paris at all?
Whether we like it or not, the world’s attention will be on Paris in December. We need to use this as a critical leverage point, a moment to bring diverse struggles together and create a stronger, bigger, more determined movement for climate justice to take bold action together in 2016. To go beyond the naive and damaging last-chance-to-save-the-world fanfare and reframe the public narrative of climate change from a middle class concern for drowning polar bears to a systemic issue of global justice.
So-called political leaders will inevitably make an inadequate deal and announce it as a success amid self-congratulation – just as at Copenhagen. Hoorah, world saved, good job everyone. And the wheels of capitalism will keep on turning, ecological limits will continue to be breached, and poor people will continue to be blamed and exploited. We cannot let this go unchallenged. We must denounce the whole process as illegitimate and ineffective. We must have the final word.
As the sun sets on the closing plenaries of the conference, and the sun rises on 12 December – ‘D12’ – we too will rise. Thousands will take to the streets for one of the largest acts of climate justice civil disobedience ever and have that final word. Thousands will encircle Le Bourget conference centre with Red Lines: red lines for a just and liveable planet that must never be crossed. John Jordan will explain more later this week.
And the final word is a call for action, for global escalation in 2016. A call to do more in one year than they have in 21 – because what happens after Paris is more important. There are already big plans for global mass mobilisations in 2016, with callouts for a year of action and a global shutdown of fossil fuel infrastructure in the spring generating excitement (more on this to come from Sam Lund-Harket).
The UN talks will once again fail to reach a deal appropriate to what science tells us we must do. Forget them. They won’t deliver. Let’s reclaim this moment for us. What can we do to make our communities more resilient? What can we do to throw a million spanners into the cogs of the fossil fuel industry? This. This is what we can do. This is where we start. What are you waiting for? If not us, then who? If not now, then when? We are the ones we have been waiting for.
In the run up to the Paris summit, Red Pepper will be publishing a series of articles, including a comprehensive guide to the actions and mobilisations in Paris and the logistics of going, legal perspectives, art-action spaces, the corporate capture of the UN process and more. If you have ideas for articles get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll also be reporting from Paris during the conference.
Mathew Lawrence writes that we need to overhaul the private, profit-driven ownership models wrecking the climate and the economy
Tackling environmental collapse is a matter of class, racial and gender justice, writes Jori Hamilton
We have entered a new, dangerous epoch in the Earth’s history, argue Simon L Lewis and Mark A Maslin. As humanity becomes the primary force re-shaping the planet, how can we avoid destroying it?
There aren't too many people. There are too many profiteers. By Eleanor Penny
Our economies are operating a giant planetary Ponzi scheme: borrowing far more from the Earth’s ecosystems than they can sustain. By Mathew Lawrence and Laurie Laybourn-Langton
Nic Beuret, Anja Kanngieser, and Leon Sealey-Huggins explore the effects of the COP23 negotiations on the global south.