This post was written by Ivana Jakubkova and expresses her personal opinions. You can find more pictures from Paris on Ivana’s Flickr.
I was amongst a group of people from York who went to Paris last December to attend the People’s Climate Summit and other events running alongside the global Conference Of the Parties (COP21) climate negotiations. I wanted to learn about exciting campaigns and initiatives from around the world, to meet interesting people working on issues such as energy democracy, and to witness an important point in history when world leaders, after two decades of negotiations, finally agree to act on climate change. I was certainly not disappointed on the first two counts!
I learned about the Yasuni from Ecuador who are trying to save one of the most biodiverse areas on this planet from oil drilling; about Uruguay taking just 10 years to massively reduce its carbon footprint and move to nearly 95% electricity from renewables while German activists have been fighting against Germany’s obsession with coal. (The Ecologist explains well how the gains from Germany’s impressive and successful renewable energy revolution have been negated by increased exports of electricity leading to increased need for dirty coal.)
I also met some amazing people. I listened to a group of Bolivians explaining how their communities are improving resilience to extreme weather events (such as unprecedented droughts, harsher-than-ever frosts and much bigger hailstones) and resulting unreliable harvests by diversifying produce, abandoning expensive agrochemicals and seeds which might be wasted, and adopting more nature-friendly agriculture. Joseph from the Philippines told an audience of 3,000 about his community facing the ongoing aftermath of the 2013 super-typhoon which broke several storm records. He shared the stage with Naomi Klein during a very enlightening talk on the negative impacts of trade agreements on social and environmental justice (watch the video here). I also met a great couple from the inspiring Lancaster Cohousing project who were anxiously following news from home as flood waters were getting ever closer to their eco house – another “one in 100 years” event happening just six years after the devastating floods of 2009.
At that time I had no idea what was in store for York later in the month when storm Eva hit the city. York is fairly well adapted to flooding and watching river levels rising is a local pastime, but this time was different. Due to technical problems with the river Foss barrier even parts of the city centre and St Nicks ended up under water. Some of the local houses were probably saved from being flooded by water spilling over the nature reserve instead. To me the experience confirmed how relying on technology to solve our problems can have disastrous consequences, and how we need to learn to work with nature rather than against it.
Despite their global spread all those people and communities have something in common – all are living with the impacts of man-made climate change. Do I feel that my third objective for going to Paris was met? Did I witness that crucial point in history? Yes and no – the world leaders did finally agree on wanting to limit global warming and signed the Paris Agreement, but the history was happening elsewhere.
How good is the Paris Agreement?
A lot of better-informed people than me have analysed it and many have celebrated the agreement as a major step forward. Being of a more sceptical nature, I recommend the New Internationalist article Paris deal: Epic fail on a planetary scale which sums up its main failings and climate scientist Kevin Anderson’s blog The hidden agenda: how veiled techno-utopias shore up the Paris Agreement. To put this all into context I also recommend reading Jason Cracknell’s article “The Paris climate change talks are doomed to fail before they’ve begun”.
A major cause for worry is the fact that the Agreement does not trump other global treaties. The same big governments which couldn’t possibly make it binding in any way are busy negotiating very legally binding trade treaties such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). This and similar treaties undermine efforts to curb climate change by allowing governments and corporations to sue others over environmentally and socially just legislation (see Canada’s case). Unless these treaties are stopped or subjugated to it, the Paris Agreement is almost meaningless.
Where’s the hope? In the streets of Paris – and York
Rather than in the stuffy, corporate-funded negotiating rooms, the more promising part of history was playing out in the streets of Paris. The coalition of over 130 diverse campaign groups which organised the 12 December Day of Action represented numerous interests: from civil society, labour unions, international solidarity and faith groups to NGOs defending human rights and the environment. They all agreed to act together because climate change is not just an environmental problem but an issue that affects social justice, health and many other areas of human life. This is not just about the global south vs. north divide either. Even in the UK climate change is more likely to have a bigger impact on the poorest and most vulnerable who have contributed the least to it (as evidenced by Joseph Rowntree Foundation).
Last December on the streets of Paris defiant citizens of the planet were calling for climate justice and I was proud to be amongst a great variety of people: from seasoned activists to an English mum concerned about the future for her young children, native people from frontline communities and Norwegian grandparents who chartered a special train to bring young people with them. I was reminded how our civil liberties, which we often take for granted, have been hard won by people fighting for them — often in non-violent ways which I strongly advocate. If it wasn’t for persistent campaigning and direct action, women wouldn’t be allowed to wear trousers or use contraception and we wouldn’t have the right to have weekends off. True equality for all still hasn’t been won but it’s now time to call for climate justice, to take and demand immediate climate action both on the global and local scale. It’s time to realise that looking after the Earth is a job for everyone and it’s up to us as citizens and York residents to make politicians and businesses see it as their responsibility too.
If you breathe air, drink water or eat food, your life is dependent on nature and climate change affects you. To keep this beautiful and unique planet habitable for all we need to reassess development, drastically cut our energy use and carbon emissions, move from fossil fuels to 100% renewables, and ensure a just transition to circular economy not based on continual extraction and transport of natural resources. The Paris Agreement is highly unlikely to achieve all this without massive public pressure and participation. For the love of York and everything you’d hate to lose to climate change, I urge you join in – be it on the streets or by taking action at home or your workplace. It all counts.
P.S. In case you wondered, I didn’t fly to Paris but, of course, my journey resulted in carbon emissions. I don’t believe in offsetting so instead will try to balance it out with positive actions. My plan for 2016 is to: