Paris: How people power drove a deal home

Those on the front lines of climate change fuelled change throughout the UN climate summit
Gabrielle Brassard-Lecours

With global momentum to accelerate the energy transition, the pressure was on world leaders to turn out an ambitious deal. On the eve of the Paris climate summit, people around the world made their voices heard, with a clear message: the fossil fuel age is over, and they can either get with the program or be left behind.

Your ad here
Don't like ads?
Automated ads help us pay our journalists, servers, and team. Support us by becoming a member today to hide all automated ads:
Become a member

In over 2,300 events across 175 countries, at least 785,000 people of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs took to the streets to call for a fairer, cleaner, safer world. Some of the biggest marches took place in Melbourne with 60,000, London with 50,000, and Sydney with 45,000. In Paris, which found itself in a precarious situation following the Nov. 13 attacks, the government placed restrictions on large gatherings in a city-wide state of emergency. In turn, organizers got creative and put together a display of hundreds of shoes at Place de la République, including footwear belonging to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Pope Francis, to represent what would have been boots on the ground ahead of negotiations. There was also a human chain, where people joined arms along what was initially the proposed march route.

Despite moving forward on a number of fronts, ambition is still missing.

After the climate talks were kicked off, people continued to mobilize inside the confines of Le Bourget’s convention centre as well as outside. On the banks of the Seine, Indigenous leaders canoed for climate justice to demand that the world’s most powerful figures protect their rights by keeping fossil fuels in the ground. Within UN negotiation halls, civil society groups united for a peaceful sit-in, just hours after ministers unveiled a draft negotiation text for a Paris outcome. Mobilizers, who included trade unionists, youth, gender, and Indigenous peoples, called for an ambitious Paris deal that delivers enough emissions reductions and finance to protect the world’s most vulnerable.

As leaders inched closer towards putting together a final text, there was an even stronger imperative to maintain the energy level among those on the ground. On Dec. 12, the last day of climate negotiations, nearly 10,000 people gathered behind frontline communities to draw attention to climate “red lines,” calling for escalated action to protect people from the harshest impacts brought on by rising temperatures. With the Arc de Triomphe in the background, protesters unraveled 100 metres of red fabric to form a giant red line down stretching over one kilometre on a major boulevard, where they also laid down 5,000 red tulips, opened red umbrellas, and sang and danced to brass and samba bands.

While that action was underway, a historic moment was taking shape over at Le Bourget, where the world’s countries came together to signal that it’s game over for fossil fuels. Faced with a fundamental shift already taking place around the world and no longer able to ignore the growing calls for climate action, 195 governments used their collective strength to forge a legally binding agreement that tackles the growing threat of climate change. The Paris Agreement includes a commitment to a long-term goal to bring emissions down to zero and a regular review of national commitments every five years to get to that place.

The call for action on the basis of morality, protection, health and safety resonated stronger than ever.

However, despite moving forward on a number of fronts, ambition is still missing, and more needs to be done to ensure that communities can adapt and are protected from climate impacts. For world leaders, the hard work begins now, and all eyes are now on nations to move forward with their Paris pledges and urgently speed up the ongoing energy transition towards 100 per cent renewables at a national level, and come back to the negotiating table to increase their climate commitments as soon as possible.

Leading into this climate summit, the most consistent and united calls for a meaningful Paris deal came from civil society groups. From faith groups to health workers, and trade unions to justice workers, the call for action on the basis of morality, protection, health and safety resonated stronger than ever. Paris is a symbolic moment for many, sending a strong signal to many politicians that they have been outpaced by the growing numbers of people who are acting for the climate. The real-world shift from fossil fuels to renewables is set to gather speed post-Paris, with coal stocks already showing signs that their value is tumbling. The quicker these actions this can be scaled up, the greater the chance there is of minimizing global temperature rises while protecting the world’s most vulnerable peoples from the worst impacts of climate change, and of maximizing the benefits for for all for a clean energy future.

You might also be interested in...
Brandi Morin: Stranded on the dark roads of Wet’suwet’en territory with CGL security
Brandi Morin
May 2, 2023
Former tenants say landlord from Montreal fire engaged in ‘campaign of harassment’ to convert units to Airbnb
Zachary Kamel
April 24, 2023