Climate: Disappointment in Bonn, Mass Action in Paris

Article published on Nov. 2, 2015
Article published on Nov. 2, 2015

At a time when urgent commitment to mitigate climate change is essential and the results of governmental action is disappointing, civil society is taking matters into its own hands with mass actions planned around the COP21 climate conference in Paris in November and December.

In the lead up to the COP21, the United Nations climate conference to take place in Paris from 30 November to 11 December 2015, preliminary talks were concluded late week in Bonn, including the issuance of a first draft of the agreement to be adopted in December. The exclusion of all civil society from the Bonn discussions, the elimination of the mention of human and gender rights from the draft, and the erasure of any reference to migration do not bode well for a meaningful outcome to the Paris meeting, where leaders and representatives of 196 world states will come together to discuss climate change.

At a time when urgent and stronger commitments to mitigate climate change are essential, the weak preliminary text produced in Bonn is a bitter disappointment. Mere days after the most powerful hurricane ever recorded hit the Pacific coast of Mexico, and 2015 was declared the hottest year on record by far before it has even ended, the reductions and omissions in evidence in the draft text issued by the Bonn talks are especially troublesome.


Apparently, the Bonn talks were bogged down around issues of transparency – NGOs were not even allowed observer status -- as well as discussions surrounding INDCs – Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or the amounts that developed countries, ostensibly the major producers of the carbon and greenhouse gas emissions that are supposedly behind climate change, should provide to developing countries and/or those most vulnerable to climatic disruption. Past criticisms of the INDCs have included their paucity and voluntary nature.

The United States has vociferously rejected any binding requirements, either with respect to financing or emissions caps, and other countries, such as Canada, have already demonstrated that past climate pledges can be reneged upon at will. The cruel irony is that developing countries, especially those in the Global South already feeling the brunt of climate change, will commit to emissions caps that may hinder their industrial development in order to receive funds that may or may not materialize, while the world’s major polluters, those most guilty of disrupting the climate, hold all the cards and can continue to hold the rest of the world hostage.

Further evidence that the talks are still focused on the needs of the developed world can be found in proposals for temperature agreements. Debates are focusing on whether a 2 degree Celsius cap on temperature increase can be agreed upon. But even a 1 degree Celsius increase and net zero emissions will have devastating effects upon the Global South. Some in Bonn were discussing a 1.5 degree Celsius cap, as if dividing the difference would be more fair, yet even sticking to a 2 degree increase has not been confirmed.

LDCs (Least Developed Countries) and SIDS (Small Island Developing States)

Alliance of Small Island States

« This draft does not reflect the views of developing countries and we have lost a day  reintroducing them”, Amjad Abdulla, Environmental Minister of the Maldives and chief representative of Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) at the talks, complained.

Calling the weakened text “worse than no deal at all”, Abdulla added, “The science clearly says that we have to go to a long-term goal of 1.5 degrees.” Speaking of the countries he represents, currently experiencing devastating losses due to climate change, he said, “Where do the islands end up? We’re part of the world community.”

Carbon Markets and REDD+

Many countries are tying their pledges to global financial commitments. The Philippines, for example, would promise an 80% emissions reduction if outside financing were made available. But the manner of that financing is leading to other complications. While some applaud carbon markets and Bonn’s reinsertion of REDD+ (Reduction of Emissions caused by Deforestation and the Degradation of Forests) projects into the draft, others are not so happy.

According to La Via Campesina, the international peasant movement, “…there are carbon markets and REDD+ projects, that essentially allow the worst GHG [green house gases] offenders to avoid cuts in emissions by turning the forests and farmlands of peasants and indigenous peoples into conservation parks and plantations. None of these ‘solutions’ can work because they all work against the only effective solution: a shift from a globalised, industrial food system governed by corporations to local food systems in the hands of small farmers.”

In a statement issued this week by Attac-Gabon, the regional branch of the Attac (Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions) network claims that the REDD+ mechanism blames agriculture for deforestation without specifying that the major culprit is intensive, industrial agriculture using chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

“Agriculture, which has been relegated to a minor role in these negotiations on climate change for some years, has reappeared, obviously not to the advantage of the people but to benefit carbon markets and the world financial system. A few welcome the renewed focus, but it poses a problem for the rest of us.

The great majority of the preparatory proposal documents for REDD (commonly called R-PP) being drafted in Africa single out agriculture as the principal driver of deforestation, being careful not to point out that it is industrial agriculture with its focus on productivity and intensive use of chemical products which is the cause, to the detriment of small farms which have for decades always known how to respect the climate and protect the environment.”

It’s We Who Must Change, Not the Climate

La Via Campesina and Attac are two of the networks coming to Paris in November and December to bring awareness of climate change and the UN negotiations to the public. Culminating in a massive march on 12 December, a coalition of civil society actors and groups plans to come together during the COP21, largely under the aegis of Coalition Climat 21.  Events such as informational villages, marches, debates, performances, analyses of the negotiations and, above all, concrete solutions that people can do themselves to help combat climate change will be provided.

Climate Games, “the world’s largest disobedient action adventure game”, is already taking place online and is a novel way to keep abreast of the events taking place around the COP21. According to the site, “Your objective is to join the global movements swarming to shift the game against profit and in favour of life.”

On 28-29 November, a major march in Paris is being planned to kick off popular response to the COP21, with simultaneous events to take place around the world. Called the Global March for the Climate, it “will be much more than people walking from one point to another – together, we will be creating a huge transformative experience that will deepen our connection to the fight for climate action, and our connection to each other.”

Next, a People’s Climate Summit and Climate Forum will be held on 5-6 December in the eastern Parisian suburb of Montreuil. “As a central part of the citizens’ mobilisation during the COP21, the Climate Forum shall be a time to take first stock of the negotiations, envision what follows, and above all show en masse who we truly are, as peoples of the whole world, and that we have the solutions.”

The Climate Action Zone (Zone d’action climat, or ZAC) will take place from 7-11 December at the 104 cultural centre in northern Paris. Informational sessions on the negotiations will be held here each afternoon to provide analyses of what happened that day at the COP21.

Finally, a huge demonstration is planned for 12 December, the day after negotiations close. Called D12, organisers are saying it will be “the largest mass action for climate justice ever!”

Under the banner “If governments won’t stand up for us, we will stand up for ourselves,” is calling for civil disobedience and blockades.

“We want to have the last word as the climate talks conclude. And we’ll get it by speaking in the language of movements: by putting tens of thousands of people into the streets of Paris, and making sure business as usual cannot proceed as long as world governments fail to do what’s needed…. The Paris moment will be defined not by what happens in the negotiating halls, but in the streets of Paris and around the world. Politicians aren’t the only ones with power. If enough people agree that it’s time for the world to move in a new direction, and push together, the world will begin to move.”