“The urgency to keep temperatures down is not just about the planet and the environment. It is about people, and our capacity as humanity to secure safe and dignified lives for all.”
This December I travelled to Paris with Global Justice Now, alongside hundreds of other fellow fervently passionate people seeking social and environmental justice. feel deeply saddened for the frontline communities that are hit hardest by climate injustice, who tried so hard over the past two weeks to throw their voices in front of those behind the closed doors of the summit. Gatherings of indigenous people worldwide reflected the wider community of people who care about the consequences of political inaction.
To have expected a room brimfull with industrialists and politicians bound to corporations to ever legally bind themselves to a climate deal would have been unrealistic. But the marginalisation of human rights in the talks was something I was particularly taken aback with.
Human rights is a pinnacle subject when it comes to carbon storage schemes to offset emissions and the extraction of fossil fuels and earth minerals. Deforestation in Indonesia, fracking in the US and the UK, tar sands and oil pipelines in Canada and Alaska; these are just some of the threats that Indigenous communities face today and to just sidestep these illustrates a fundamental flaw in the agreement.
Irresponsible companies and corporations who push false solutions into the laps of politicians will continue to reap whatever they can from the earth without giving anything back to preserve the environment for future generations. Personally, I believe the minimum expectation of those who profit from nature is for them to saddle the responsibility of future generations if only for the fact it makes future economic sense.
A Guardian article published shortly after the agreement positively remarked on COP:
“The poorest countries of the world, so often left out of international consideration, are those which have done least to create climate change, but will suffer the most from it. Only at the UN are they heard.”
It praises the UNFCCC because it is the only forum where delegates from every country, however small, can stand next to the richest countries and agreement only accepted by consensus.
But what use is that when the smallest communities are not heard above the voices of economic monopolies. There was no strict timeline set within which the delegates have to act, yet time is of the essence for those most vulnerable to climate change.
As many regions where indigenous people live are now left exposed to the licensing of mines and agribusiness and monoculture industries, we can expect a huge swathe of atrocities to follow suit. Moreover, the failure to address TTIP also brings further uncertainty to the most vulnerable regions and whether they will have a leg to stand on when profit will be favoured over people.
The fact that TTIP was not mentioned over the course of the talks is laughable. One of the most scary aspects of TTIP has been the so called ISDS clause: “the bit that allows a multinational company to sue a government in secretive corporate courts if said government decides to pass a law that the company thinks will undermine its ability to profit.” Friends of the Earth. And, of course, anything trying to reduce fossil fuels and amp up support for renewables will inevitably undermine some company’s ability to profit.
However, indigenous people themselves can be the moving force behind taking down these corporations. In Canada the first peoples have been fighting hard against Alberta tar sands, where businesses reap enormous profit off of destroying the landscape and ecosystems that so many people rely on. Furthermore, in a global context, Alberta is responsible for 30% of Canada’s GHG emissions, 23 % of which comes from the oil sands.
However, the Mother Earth Accord, developed at the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Emergency Summit of 2011, united treaty councils, landowners and chiefs on both sides of the border, against the infringement of treaty rights and lack of consultation. Over 20 Canadian and U.S. indigenous groups, as well as private citizens, environmental NGOs and political parties have endorsed it.
The topic of ‘green’ energy alternatives like hydro-power do not sit far from the fossil fuel industry in terms of the damaging procedures involved. Similar to extraction processes of tar sands and shale gas, huge environmental disturbances always ensue, no matter what precautionary measures are claimed to have been taken. Communities are often purged off of their lands, forests uprooted, and ecosystems left scarred by damming of rivers, illustrated perfectly by the ongoing construction of the Belo Monte mega-dam in the Amazon.
Marginalisation of communities most vulnerable to climate change was one of the reasons for the huge swathes of protesters and activists who stood together to draw red lines at the weekend. But COP has confirmed that we cannot depend on politicians to any line when it comes to taking risks. They were able to have a say in their own emission targets, meanwhile those on the frontlines of not just direct impacts of climate change such as sea level rise, but arctic drilling and neo-colonial carbon wars have no say in their own suffering.
Relegating human rights and indigenous land rights from discussions so prematurely in the course of talks rings even more alarm bells. It reflects a larger issue of segregating people from the environment. But we are not defending nature, we are nature defending itself. Wars in the Middle East, desperate poverty in South East Asia, smog in China, water shortages in California, food shortages in Africa, they all generated from the same source and they generate the same response.
Terrorism may have been the reason for a state of emergency in Paris over the last few weeks, but climate change is and will continue to be the state of emergency for the planet until a system change takes place.
However, in the words of a campaign that displayed a commendable level of ingenuity over the course of COP21: ‘It takes roots to weather the storm’. Grass root level activism is where we can find hope, where people can mobilise together outside of the corridors of power.
COP is just one aspect of the attempts to move towards a better world, and it is a slow medium used by slow politicians. Just because they are not ready to change their familiar system, it does not mean to say we aren’t.
The streets are where the real people can be found, and their voices projected, and we saw this when we stood together by the Arc de Triomphe, under the Eiffel Tower and along the streets of Paris. We will take what the politicians agreed to and we will run with it, build on it and move forward in the knowledge that when we stand together, the world will listen. We will defeat oil pipelines, close coal plants, resist fracking, tell trade agreements to shove off, divest for the right reasons, support local ecological farming, drop seeds not bombs, and promote the land rights of the rightful indigenous peoples.
COP may be over for another year, but our fight is just getting started.
If you want to read a bit more about the last weekend of demonstrations in Paris last December, click here.