Climate Agreement: What about the People?

This is a recreation of the original article, published in 2015 by Artefact Magazine. All videos (except Why 2ºC and the Climate Games Trailer) and images by Josh Potter and Sara Gharsalli.

Photo by Josh Potter.

An agreement has been reached.

Signed by 195 countries, the Paris agreement, seen as the first of many steps to reducing humanity’s carbon footprint, will map out a way of keeping Earth from rising the critical two degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial revolution levels.

This agreement has been years in the making, with countries coming together since 1995 to try and sort something out.

But that’s not all that took place in Paris over two weeks around the end of November.

This year’s Conference of Parties (COP21) meeting saw an additional Generations Area set up at Le Bourget, Paris, which housed more than one hundred civil society organisations with stalls dedicated to changing the current path of the climate.

The Generations Area was one of the first of its kind, hosting 27,000 square metres full of stalls, conference halls, and little stations where one could use a bicycle to generate energy and charge one’s phone.

Neither the COP nor the Generations Area were without their sceptics though, with many disenfranchised with the political structure and sceptical of the possibility of any real change, as well as criticising the seemingly isolated location of the Generations Area and the long process it took to acquire a stall there during the summit.

The overall bureaucracy of an event such as the COP has never been without those opposed to it, with previous year’s summits playing host to numerous mass protests and climate change marchers.

This year, even with the Generations Area, things were no different.

Civilian Action

On November 13, tragedy struck Paris when terrorist attacks killed 130 people and left hundreds more wounded. French President Hollande called for a state of emergency and then, several days later, called for a lengthened state of emergency that would last three months.

All protests were banned, which meant all those who were planning on attending protests in relation to climate change had to quickly figure out what to do.

So, on November 29, the date of the planned climate change protest, people took to the streets and lined them with shoes as a representation of what they had planned to do and as a way of voicing their anger at being denied their right to protest.

Not everyone felt comfortable with the ban on protests, however, and several marches and sit-ins did occur, accompanied by heavy police presence.

On the same day, thousands gathered in Place de la Republique in defiance of the ban of protest and were met with officers wearing riot gear and throwing tear gas after several of the protesters threw shoes and bottles at the police.

During the COP21, on December 4, protesters met again outside Le Grand Palais to voice their anger at the new COP solutions exhibit at Le Grand Palais.

The exhibit was labelled as greenwashing by many of the protesters and was accused of being funded by several oil companies.

Artefact planned to meet Xavier Renou of Le collectif les desoibeissants to talk about the protest and the source of some of the anger at the COP, but a heavy police presence meant we were unable to gain access to Le Grand Palais where the protest was happening but we were able to get some shots outside before being escorted away.

The protesters lined up outside the exhibition along with the tourists and members of the public in an attempt to sneak past the dozens of police officers who lined the entrances.

All those who were known to be protesters or who were thought to be protesters were rounded up by the police.

As part of the state of emergency, several of the leading protesters in France were put under house arrest during the COP21 as a way to stop them from joining in.

Alongside the protests was a great deal of civilian action and collective gathering.

The Global Village, organised by Alternatiba, took place on December 5 and 6 in Montreuil, Paris, and saw more than one hundred stalls from numerous organisations from around the world looking to raise awareness for new and alternative ways of dealing with the climate change issue.

The weekend, which was one big festival, also held conferences, talks, and concerts. The area itself was divided up into sections ranging from education to transport to science.

On Sunday, the organisation ANV-COP held their much anticipated 196 Chairs summit.

The organisation, as well as many volunteers, had spent the previous few months going around France, walking into banks, and walking out again with chairs, claiming they belonged to the people.

ANV-COP targeted banks that had avoided paying their taxes and, as chairs were items bought with money that would have been paid in tax, the people of ANV decided to claim back what they believed was rightfully theirs.

All of these chairs were collected at one places and, on Sunday, marched through the streets and into the centre of the Global Village, where a summit took place full of speakers, dancers, and singers.

Though initially called 196 Chairs summit, because of the number of countries scheduled to attend the COP21, there were in fact more than 200 chairs in use on the day.

A central theme around much of what took place during the Global Village weekend but also on a wider scale during the whole of the COP21 was the relationship between art and activism.

Art COP21, which hosted activities and events all around the world, was a “global festival of cultural activity on climate change”, according to their website. Though the majority of activities and events were in and surrounding Paris, events took place all over the world, from London to San Francisco.

Gamers also got on board with the creation of Climate Games, billed as “the world’s largest disobedient action and adventure game”.

They describe themselves as “nature defending itself” and organise civil disobedience through games as a way of raising awareness for climate justice.

On a more individual level, citizens all around the world have been showing their support and raising awareness for climate change.

Other attendees had different stories to tell. On the same day as the terrible attacks in Paris, 35 pilgrims set off from London on a walk to Paris.

These pilgrims were joined in Paris by hundreds of others who walked from their own countries, some walking over a thousand kilometres, to converge in Paris and show their support.

One couple even cycled from Vietnam, journeying for eight months and across ten countries to raise awareness and funds for small villages that have already began to feel the effects of climate change.

The Issues

Since its origin, several issues have been raised in regards to the COP and the attempt to come up with an international solution to climate change.

One issue, though increasingly rare, is that of the climate change denier. Philippe Verdier, a prominent French weatherman, was fired recently after promoting his book which called the COP21 and global warming “a complete hype”.

As the science behind global warming has grown stronger, the number of deniers has decreased but, as seen with Philippe Verdier, there are those who believe it to be false.

The state of emergency put in place after the terrorist attacks, has been another issue with many civil society groups feeling that their voices are not being heard.

The ban on protest, many feel, have taken away their fundamental right. This feeling is perhaps amplified given France’s history with authority and the right to protest, with so much of French culture wrapped in the ability to and necessity of mass mobilisation.

Xavier Renou also raised the issue of what happens after the three months, pointing out that the fight with Daesh/ISIL will not be over in three months and, he believes, the possibility of French President Hollande extending the state of emergency and ban of protest is very real.

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for the disaffection of many people towards the governments and their policies is that many members of civil societies and dissident groups are tired of the politics behind the COP summits. Xavier, for example, is tired of the government “[pretending] to want an agreement”.

In an interview with The Socialist Worker, Ian Angus, a prominent socialist in Canada talked about this difficulty with governmental policies: “Fundamentally, government negotiators say ‘we’ll reduce emissions,’ but they don’t say ‘we will reduce our use of fossil fuels’.

“Fossil fuels are so fundamental to the operation of capitalism and the world today that serious reductions would lead to a period of extraordinary economic disruption. Entire industries would have to stop functioning while they retool, and other industries would just have to disappear.”

Ecosocialism was a central theme around the debates which occurred among many of the civil society groups in places like the Global Village. The question of how to move forward seemed to be on everybody’s mind.

Ecosocialism, as it sounds, is the climate policy which flies in the face of the current capitalist model, calling for peaceful coexistence with the environment and a minimising or resources to simply what is needed.

The general agreement around the COP and the civil society groups is that the current model of the economy cannot continue. It focuses too much on growth and the planet simply cannot handle it.

This raises a problem for how to move forward though, as ecosocialism is not a desirable option for many countries who currently adopt the capitalist model.

In accordance with ecosocialism is the concept of degrowth, quite popular among many civil society groups who seek to practice and highlight alternative ways of living.

The degrowth concept, which gained popularity during the financial crisis of the early 2000s, is an anticapitalist economic model which seeks a decrease in the amount of consumer goods and a drastic reduction on fossil fuels.

Ian Angus, one of the first pioneers of the term ecosocialism, points out that ecosocialism “is a goal”, “a body of ideas”, and “a movement”, but that “there is no trademark on the word”.

Ecosocialism, much like socialism itself, is fiercely debated in not only its efficiency, but also how it should be practiced and its true definition.

Ian recognises the difficulty of pinning down one concept of ‘ecosocialism’ and, in regards to degrowth, says that “Instead of targeting the kind of growth that you get in a system that’s based on commodity production and on capital accumulation, [it seems to] just to be against ‘more stuff.’

“On the other hand, we are never going to build a global movement unless we recognize and accept that two-thirds of the world actually needs ‘more stuff.’ For example, we need to make access to electricity in every home a basic right. That’s going to require building a lot of solar panels and other equipment. So focusing on reducing or stopping growth in the abstract doesn’t get us very far.”

“No matter what happens, there is no such thing as business as usual anymore.”
Elizabeth Dirth

Ian, as well as countless others, recognises that there needs to be a significant amount of reduction, but just how that reduction occurs is the challenge that makes the COP21 so difficult to conclude.

This issue of degrowth and ecosocialism is further complicated when paralleled with not only the current capitalistic models of much of the world, but more importantly with the competing capitalistic models of much of the rest of the world.

Perhaps the biggest reason why many civil society groups are disenfranchised with the current political movement towards a better climate is because, much like the situation after the cold war in regards to nuclear disarmament, none of the major economic superpowers want to decrease their economies more than any of the others for fear that they will become weak in the eyes of their opponent.

Because of issues like this, many of the COP talks in the past have resulted in little to no progress and the agreement made at this talk still has a great deal of work to be done on it before global warming ceases to be a threat.

Civilian or corporate

In an interview with Nicolas Haeringer, the France campaigner for civil society group 350, an important point was raised about another side of the global warming debate.

So often, with campaigns such as recycling and Green Week, the public can feel that the burden lies on them when it comes to climate change; but, Nicolas points out, 90 companies are responsible for two-thirds of man-made global warming.

Because of this, he argues, it is the companies that have to change and that, even if every person was to become greener but the big companies were not to, there wouldn’t be enough of a difference to the climate to make any significant change.

He also noted that many of the poor in the suburbs of Paris need things such as cars because the public transport doesn’t reach them and they can’t work without a car – even though car ownership is considered to be a bad thing.

Clara Paillard, an association executive for PCS, a UK trade union, told a similar story, highlighting the fact that, not only do oil companies contribute significantly to global warming, but they have connections with many seemingly harmless companies and museums such as the Tate.

In fact, during the weekend of the Global Village, a protest occurred at the Tate because of their acceptance of support by oil companies.

Art not Oil is a coalition of organisations seeking to end the oil industry’s sponsorship of the arts. During the COP21, Art not Oil staged a protest at the Louvre over their sponsorship by Total and Eni.

Because of issues like this, the question can often be raised as to just how much of an effect an individual person can have regarding global climate change and many people can feel quite pessimistic as to the effectiveness of meetings such as the COP.

Paillard, who recognises that there is a need to change on an individual level but also on a corporate level, believes that the biggest thing that can be done in order to create change on a global level is to mobilise and unionise, saying that “every right we’ve got, we’ve got through struggle”.

An equally important issue for Paillard and the PCS is the issue of jobs. Many people fear that the implementation of change will result in a number of jobs being lost and in some areas that is true.

However, Paillard argues that, with the One Million Climate Jobs campaign, though change will get rid of certain jobs, it can actually and will actually create many jobs in other, greener areas.

The future

The reaching of an agreement by all countries involved in the COP21 has been hailed as historic, and for the right reasons; it is an important milestone and a step in the right direction, no matter how small, to solving the global warming crisis.

As society moves forward from these talks, however, it is important to acknowledge the continuing work that needs to be done.

“There will be things that are harder for us, or more expensive for us, or less accessible for us, than for our parents.”
Elizabeth Dirth

Elizabeth Dirth, vice-president of 2050, a climate change group working to raise next generation leaders of climate change in Scotland, spoke with Artefact about the future and what it will bring.

“[This] generation is going to have to live in and deal with a dramatically different world, even if a new ambitious deal is struck in Paris. No matter what happens, there is no such thing as business as usual anymore.”

Dirth talked about the inevitable changes that will occur and that society will have to prepare for no matter what happens now that the COP21 is finished.

She also talked heavily on the future in regards to the next generation of young professionals, believing that it is crucial for them to be involved in the climate change issue and in fighting for change while also debunking the myth that the younger generation simply isn’t interested.

“The idea that young people are not concerned about climate change is a myth. The real problem is that young people feel that they have no power towards the solution.  The scale of the problem is so big, but the scale of solutions that young people are being offered that they can do themselves is so small,” Dirth said.

“Therefore, the biggest hurdle is actually empowerment and not education.  Young people are not invited to participate in decision-making about their future.”

Perhaps, moving forward from the COP21 and into a changing future, the lesson from Elizabeth Dirth is the most important one.

As different civil societies try to change the world in the ways that they believe are correct, as politicians try to make changes while still keeping themselves in power and their interests first, and as giant corporations try to keep things the way they are to maintain constant growth, perhaps the solution to the issues represented in the climate change debate is the inclusion of all people.

Not just young people, as Dirth mentions, but everybody. Ian Angus agrees: “We need to work with everyone who is willing to join in fighting climate change in general, and the fossil fuel industry specifically. We won’t always agree with specific actions or slogans or demands, but that’s just how it’s going to be. Standing on the side-lines criticizing will get us precisely nowhere.”

The agreement has been reached in Paris, and it is historic; but that agreement will still set the earth on course for a three degree Celsius increase in global temperature, which will have dire consequences for many people around the world; and that agreement is still not legally binding.

Perhaps, as emulated by the words of Ian Angus, Elizabeth Dirth, and many others during the COP summit, it is the job of the people to all come together and force the governments and corporations to make the necessary changes to save the planet.