It may be November, but 2015 still holds great promise for the climate change debate.
On December 7th of this year, Paris will host the 21st annual Conference of Parties (COP), resulting in the arrival of over 50,000 visitors, including leading international businesses, governmental and UN personnel. Having originated in Berlin in 1995, and sporadically appearing in the media ever since the COP events have taken place all over the world and are an ongoing platform for international dialogue on climate change. Some have been more fruitful than others, particularly the adoption of the ambitious Kyoto protocol at the third COP in 1997, yet a significant and concrete result from these conferences always seems to be forgone. COP21, also named the ‘Paris Climate Conference’, is set to be the most ambitious gathering thus far – aiming to ensure, for the first time, a legally binding universal agreement, in order to restrict global warming to under 2 degrees Celsius.
Twenty-one years is a long amount of time for negotiation. It’s a precious amount of time, that sees another generation grow up in a world where climate change is intermittently discussed, and more often than not, brushed under the carpet. I myself am guilty of this routine. I was asked by one of my interviewees about my opinions on the current global response to climate change. Where do I even stand about my knowledge of climate change itself? I’ve been raised in a country where my environmental education has been limited and incomplete. My climate awareness education pretty much ended in primary school, aside from the odd poster on display in public bathrooms, and that time I watched ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ on Netflix.
Up until very recently, you could say I thought about our changing climate in the same manner I treat my dietary habits – one or two days of chickpeas, spinach and pilates, and before long I’m cradling a jar of chocolate spread and scooping it out by the spoonful. I get bursts of guilt, and try to change all at once with promises I have no way of keeping, before forgetting my new plans and returning to my old ways. My lack of commitment is not occurring in isolation – our very own leaders are culprits of the same agenda when it comes to climate action.
Where have the 21 years of COP really taken us, as we record the ten warmest years our planet has ever seen within that time? As global sea levels have risen twice as much in the last decade as the last century? As unprecedented floods, hurricanes and natural disasters ravage our continents?
Behind the meretricious front of a COP that promises to be more innovative, more synergistic a storm brews. Disillusioned and disgruntled, thousands of people await yet another fallacious performance from those ‘at the top’. This year, I am sure that Paris will highlight the urgent need to deal with this crisis. However, I am not sure it will be because of COP21.
On December 12th, thousands upon thousands of everyday citizens are planning to occupy the streets of Paris. This event will mark a critical point of two weeks of peaceful demonstration across several nations. Key events, such as the Dublin Climate March and the People’s Climate March London, are receiving rising support on social media and will take part in the lead up to the demonstration on French soil.
No faith in negotiations
Joseph Risdale, of www.timetocycle.org, will be present in Paris after journeying from London on a bicycle, no less. I asked him why it was so important for him to be there post-COP;
“The COP will not deliver what we need, I’m sure about that. Why do I want to be there in Paris? Climate justice is a big reason- I feel the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be edited to include the rights of people who have yet to be born – the right to be born into a world that isn’t diminished. A world where the air is not poisonous, a world where the water is untainted, the seeds are not GM, the natural ecosystems are intact. They have the right to see the animals and plants that would naturally exist and to experience the wonders of nature- the great migration, the huge shoals of fish, flocks of birds. Things that at this rate will only be seen in books. Paris itself won’t change that – but I believe Paris can be a pivotal point where we have a chance to change direction and head toward a sustainable future. It’s try or die. I’d rather say I tried and failed, than simply pretend it wasn’t happening. We have an opportunity to network in Paris, for all these groups to come together and build a legion of people willing to give their normal lives and put survival back at the forefront of their existence.
In Paris we will become stronger, we will grow and we will plant seeds. It’s after Paris that we will see the fruits of our labour”.
The lack of faith in COP21, and similar international negotiation events, is a running theme amongst demonstrators. Sama Flower, of Brighton Bike Train, will also be cycling from London, in a feat she describes as a display of ‘solidarity with frontline communities that are already being seriously affected by climate change’. Something that really stuck with me when interviewing Sama was her view of how we can bring about real difference. “Throughout history, it is grassroots resistance that has brought about the really significant changes that have truly progressed our societies. A significant amount of the real change that we desperately need to see in our world is inevitably going to come from the ground up. Paris can be used as a movement building platform, to strengthen international networks, connect global struggles, and ramp up the volume of the grassroots voices around the demands we wish to see. It is also important to highlight and showcase the real solutions that are already possible, both on a smaller local/community scale and on a larger national/global scale. Paris is a milestone along the journey of building a social movement, not an end point’.
For thousands of demonstrators, Paris is a desperate attempt to catch the attention of the media once and for all and to push climate action to the forefront of public debate. Joseph explained the reasoning behind this;
“In the news, the climate is not a hot topic. It’s often left out or pushed to one side, and when it’s mentioned it’s generally dulled down to sound irrelevant or made more palatable with a little Green-washing. The only way it will reach the top spot in the news is when it’s sensational”.
The journey to Paris
Both Joseph and Sama will cycle over 250 miles to the demonstrations. They were unanimous in saying that the support from family and friends was strong, but that the journey would not come without it’s obstacles, mainly financial. Yet the journey means more than just an eco-friendly way of reaching France, and is worth this struggle. It is a means of forming relations that will lead to a brighter and more sustainable future, as explained by Sama;
“Too often we see transport as a way to reach our destination and the faster we want to get there, the more it is reliant on fossil fuels. To cycle to Paris is to therefore slow down the pace and show an alternative way of transportation that is cleaner, communal, healthy, enjoyable and memorable.
Throughout the 5 days on the road, we will be exploring life as a community, connecting together, training and organising towards Paris. Inevitably, this will create relationships and levels of trusts amongst each other, which I see as a crucial element for taking action. These relationships will last way beyond Paris and will provide a context to keep on acting to create positive change together”.
The global environmental crisis is becoming more and more difficult to ignore as the years slip by. Many of our governments misrepresent what we want, and more importantly what we need. Reversing, or even controlling, the cause and effects of climate change will only begin when we stop acting as individuals – whether as an individual person, community or country – and accept our collective responsibility to work for the greater good of our generation and the generations yet to come.