With just a few hours notice, civil society took matters into our own hands. In a marked escalation. After a relatively quiet first week until Wednesday morning's disruption by anti-fracking activists, more than 600 people from across the world converged for a mass sit-in outside the plenary hall where negotiations have been taking place. The building rang with chanting, clapping, songs and stamping as movement leaders made their demands heard. ‘It's not 1.5 to stay alive, it's 1.5 to maybe have a chance,’ shouted Majandra Rodriguez, a Peruvian youth with TierrActiva. ‘We’re at 0.86 degrees change right now. Our people are already dying!’
Protesters had initially planned to stage their sit-in inside the plenary, but were not given permission to do so by security. After weeks (indeed, years) of having their voices shut out from the negotiating process, the symbolism was lost on nobody.
Nevertheless, civil society turned out in force. We crammed ourselves into a bizarre hall outside the plenary, surrounded by life-size plastic animal effigies and expensive UN cafes. The demonstrators came from all over the world, representing indigenous, faith, youth, labour, businesses, academic, and environmental groups. With international news crews struggling to wade through the sea of people, speakers from frontline communities and other constituencies spoke powerfully on the need for climate action – punctuated by loud chants and songs for justice.
While these negotiations have been dragging on with little progress for years, the latest round of text is as damning as ever to the world’s most vulnerable. The text has been stripped of crucial language around equity, human rights, and indigenous rights. Powerful nations including the United States have with one hand co-opted language around a 1.5 degree limit, while with another hand blocked the mechanisms needed to reach that commitment – namely loss and damage, finance, and equity.
Loss and damage is an acknowledgement that the world moved too slowly, that it is already too late to achieve adequate climate mitigation and adaptation alone. Disastrous climate impacts are already (and will continue to) damage economies and take lives. Augustine Njamnishi of the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance, explained this perfectly, amplified by the human microphone of 600 voices: ‘Good speeches without action will not stop the droughts, the floods, or put food on the table. We're not asking for aid; we need reparations for the damages caused to our communities.’
The Paris text must deliver on adequate financing, equity and differentiation in terms of emissions reductions, and a loss and damage mechanism – essentially a last ditch effort to provide support to communities and nations dealing with the worst ravages of climate change now. Anything less than this is a literally a death sentence for millions of people.
Yet blocking nations have pushed back and rejected language of compensation, liability, equity, differentiation, and paying of fair shares. Trackers like Corporate Accountability international and Corporate Observatory Europe point out that progress at the UN is blocked at every turn by corporate influence. Bill McKibben from 350.org affirms, ‘We know who is blocking action: The biggest fossil fuel companies on Earth. And we’re not gonna take it anymore.’
The human microphone echoed for an hour throughout the halls of the UN, as voices spoke powerfully in defence of their homes. At last, security told the protesters they needed to leave the area. But instead of dispersing quietly, civil society began to march, chanting ‘We are unstoppable; another world is possible,’ through the UN buildings and into the space outside. Upon reaching an art replica of the Eiffel tower, Yeb Saño, ex-negotiator and climate faster from the Philippines, spoke out, saying that the only pathway to an ambitious climate deal is a path of equity. ‘There is no fairness without finance; there is no justice unless we support those most impacted by climate change.’ Without rich countries paying their fair shares, we cannot achieve a just transition to full decarbonization.
At that time, UN security relented, and civil society began to ‘redecorate’ the fake eiffel tower that sits in the walkway between the hangars here at Paris Le Bourget airport, where the talks are taking place. We pinned up our signs, slogans, and messages, all calling for climate justice. Negotiators from today onward will be forced to pass by it every time they enter the plenary. The art piece that once stood passively over a broken political process has been transformed to a message of resistance, and perhaps, a herald of things to come.
Until Wednesday, the COP had been fairly quiet, with no unsanctioned actions or disruptions. Now, the tone has shifted, and civil society is showing that it will no longer be silenced while their communities and the world’s future is picked apart. Today is Thursday, and only a few more days remain in these climate talks. If the negotiations don’t start yielding the ambition and equity the world needs, we may see a whole new level of dissent from those gathered in Paris.