This week, as government ministers gather from around the world to finalize the Paris agreement, civil society is escalating the message. ‘Below 1.5, we might still be alive,’ chanted movement leaders from the Philippines, Sudan, India, Ethiopia and Somalia today, in an action to remind the world that 1.5C of warming is a dangerous upper limit, not a celebrated goal.

‘As we speak right now,’ Gerry Arances, National Coordinator of the Philippines Movement for Climate Justice, said to the assembled crowd, ‘India is flooding. Every year the Philippines is suffering. We are discussing 1.5C or 2C while 0.86C is already killing us. For those of us in the south, we might not still be alive.’

Germany and France were praised late last week for their new support for 1.5C as the temperature goal. ‘This is historic,’ said Emmanuel de Guzman, head negotiator for the Philippines. ‘The call of the vulnerable has been answered by the presidency of the COP and the largest economy of the EU host region.’

Standing before climate justice movement leaders at today’s action, Asad Rehman of Friends of the Earth offered another perspective: ‘When Germany and France mentioned 1.5C, we laughed. It’s hypocritical. If they really meant it they would have arrived with commitments starting before 2020.’

Indeed, no offer on the table from the world's major governments includes pre-2020 emissions reduction commitments in line with either science or justice. At a poorly attended press conference today Malte Meinshausen, a leading Australian climate scientist, spoke about the science behind the emissions cuts needed to stay within 1.5C of warming. His graph showed downwards sloping lines: emissions, heading to zero, starting now.

The graph illustrated the hypocrisy of talking about 1.5C while staying quiet on the pathway to reaching it. The draft Paris Agreement does not include the words ‘fossil fuels’. We need a long term goal of zero carbon emissions and 100% renewable energy by 2050, with industrialized nations cutting first and cutting fast, hitting zero by 2030 while providing finance, technology and compensation for loss and damage for the Global South. This is the only just option for repaying climate debt.

If we needed reminding, Rehman spelled out the history that has gotten us to this point: ‘Rich countries want the South to pick up the tab for them getting rich on dirty energy. They want to stay rich and keep us poor. Hundreds of thousands are dying. This is an issue of justice.’

Across, the city, US Secretary of State John Kerry devastatingly confirmed Rehman’s words: ‘It is time to eliminate the differentiation between developing and developed countries.’

To add insult to injury, earlier today, it was revealed that the US will support loss and damage wording only if there is an agreement that compensation and liability issues would never be raised in future. So much for the empty words of President Obama last week: ‘Our progress will be measured differently – in the suffering that is averted, and a planet that's preserved.’

Negotiations here at the conference happen behind closed doors. No press, no civil society observers. We cannot see any progress in the averting of suffering. Majandra Rodriguez, co-founder of TierrActiva Perú, an activist collective and national network, spoke to this reality: ‘Negotiations are happening here without noticing that people are dying. We speak for the most vulnerable, for they cannot be here today.’

At the end of the action we took off our red vests: system change, not climate change, they say. As each day passes here at COP21, we see just how needed this slogan is.

Morgan Curtis