We have a new lodger in my Paris flat – an activist from the UK who was part of the Seeds of Hope – East Timor Ploughshares group. In 1996, they broke into a British Aerospace factory and disarmed an attack plane intended for the Indonesian military to use against civilians in East Timor. They were arrested but later acquitted of all charges as the jury ruled that they had been using reasonable force to prevent the crime of genocide. During and after the intervention they were very open about their identities and intentions, believing that their actions were completely justifiable and right.
We have had quite a few conversations about activism and how to go about it. She is of the view that activism should be morally justifiable and therefore becomes our duty. It should come from a space of inner strength and conviction which means that there is no fear of being “caught”. So all actions she is involved in are completely openly communicated, police and targets are warned beforehand, and the reasoning and evidence for the action is carefully explained. These are important thoughts to ponder as we go into the second week of negotiations here in Paris and more and more actions are being planned and prepared. What is being achieved through the actions, and are they the expression of a personal sense of restlessness or a defense of something that is legally and/or morally just?
One space to engage in such thoughts (among many other things) is the Zone d’Action pour le Climat (ZAC). It is a creative space in the north of Paris hosting talks, workshops, installations, concerts, training sessions etc.
The venue is large enough to meet most people’s needs, whether it is juggling, sleeping, reading, break dancing, having a ritual ceremony or a protest march – it all seems to be appropriate in this massive venue.
Yesterday, I happened to find myself here:
It was a meeting with partners of Coalition Climat 21, a coalition of more than 130 civil society groups, NGOs, and campaigning organisations that was formed ahead of the COP21 in order to enable its members to have a strong and clear voice during the negotiations. The meeting was open to anyone, and whoever was there had a right to speak and give their consent or dissent. It reminded me of a phrase I’ve often heard in Transition contexts: Whoever turns up are the right people.
The meeting was discussing the future of the coalition. Should a global coalition of climate movements exist beyond this COP? What is the implication of its existence being linked to the COP, and should it try to move away from that? Do the positive aspects of meeting each other in person outweigh the climatic and financial consequences of global travel? To what extent would funding be an enabling or a limiting factor in future work? As somebody expressed: “following funders would be doing the idea of justice an injustice”.
This is when it became interesting. There is a very strong feeling here that we are not “only” dealing with climate change. Or rather, climate change cannot be differentiated from many other (political) issues in the world, say, for example, wars, refugee crises, corporate power, and human rights abuses. There are very complex causal and dependency relationships between all these issues, and most climate change campaigners I’ve spoken to here feel that a holistic approach to climate change requires changing a lot more than climate policy.
Every evening this week the ZAC hosts a general assembly, which begins with some form of debate, and then gives updates from what is happening in the negotiations in Le Bourget and in the activist world.
The debate yesterday was about the relationship between climate change and the militarised responses to terrorism. Nick Dearden from Global Justice Now talked about the very clear links between fossil fuels and wars, saying that through oil extraction we have “lit a match and put the entire Middle East on fire.” Moreover, as oil is the lifeblood of our economy, and the corporations that benefit from fossil fuels are often the same ones that profit from war, there can be no distinction made between global action on climate change, calls for changing our economic system, and protests against wars. They are all the same struggle, and it is time to stop segmenting them into different ones. And even more pertinent was a point raised from the floor concerning the direct environmental impact of the military – “There are no solar powered tanks, no biodegradable bombs.”
Amid these calls for the climate movement to reevaluate and reinvent our economic system and tendency for military intervention, the political processes underway in Le Bourget are scrutinised in minute detail. As the talks enter their second week, the degree of blackmailing, bullying and manipulation is rising. Several G77 countries have reported that they have been pressured by developed countries to undermine the authority of their speaker, who is considered by some to be driving too hard a line. There are many diplomatic paradoxes happening, which are encouraging positive headlines in the media but mean very little in practice. One example is the at first very exciting news that more and more countries are backing the 1.5°C temperature rise limit. But apparently this is only being done by e.g. the US with the understanding that this more ambitious target doesn’t influence their obligations. Basically they are saying that they will back the 1.5° target as long as other states make sure that it is met.
Another example are the discussions around loss and damage (where the effects of climate change such as natural disasters are recognised and affected countries can, theoretically, receive compensation or aid for the consequences). At the moment the US are only agreeing to it being in the agreement as long as it is maintained as a theoretical scenario and they are not compelled to go through with it in practice. Other issues in the talks include the tendency for the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions and finances to be completely determined and monitored on a national level, meaning that there is very little guarantee that they will be fully implemented. This is especially concerning in the light of recent revelations that developed countries’ may have spread false claims concerning the amount of money raised for a climate fund to assist developing countries to adapt to climate change.
So what is the conclusion after two days at the ZAC? In order to do the legally and/or morally right thing, the justifiable thing, the climate movement is about so much more than the climate. Embracing that we are living in a complex and interrelated world, it is impossible to separate campaigning for climate justice from ending militarisation or corporate takeover. I get a feeling in Paris that there is an emerging movement of a diverse range of actors, with diverse interests, who feel some form of unity. Even if the UN talks seem as disjointed, unproductive and contradictory as ever, these two weeks may perhaps see agreements on other levels that are just as important for the future of our planet.