The End is Just the Beginning

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The past week has felt like the longest waiting game that has ever been played. As high level ministers talked behind closed doors, we were diligently working to influence the process in whatever way that we could from social media, to press conferences, to direct discussions with negotiating staff about the agreement. We even participated in a few actions within the conference space to let negotiators, and the world, know what we wanted in the agreement. Finally, on Saturday representatives from 196 countries came together in the plenary halls to declare that they had come to an agreement.

This is a historic moment. This is the first time that the global community has come together to create a process to address global climate change that does not just fall on developed nations (although they must do more because they are historically more responsible for emission production), but falls upon everyone everywhere to act on climate, and that is an exciting prospect. All nations agreed that they need to keep global warming on average well below 2℃, in fact they want to aim for 1.5℃ or below in order to protect low-lying islands and desert regions. This means that they will have to phase out of fossil fuels, and keep current reserves in the ground if they want to stay below these targets according to science, which was mentioned in the agreement to happen by the end of the century at the latest.

They also agreed that they would submit pledges every five years that will be monitored, reported, and verified to make sure that countries are complying with what they say they will do. This will be accompanied with finance and support for projects that help with mitigation and adaptation to climate change as well as reparations that are associated with the losses and damages to climate change. Finally, for the first time in international environmental law there are references to equity language such as human rights, gender, and intergenerational equity (future generations), indigenous rights, health, migrants, and persons in vulnerable situations, which links this environmental concern directly to individuals that will be impacted. Many of these ideas are innovative, and it is incredible that we have moved so fast and so far in international climate policy in a few short years, and a lot of it had to do with the global movement that we have created.

In the past couple years the world has demanded that countries take action on climate change from the People’s Climate March, to major religions expressing direct requests for action, to local movements that are getting campuses, cities, and churches to divest. The tides are changing, and people are demanding that the threat of climate change is addressed immediately in just ways.

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Now more than ever it will be important to keep up this momentum, and hold our governments accountable to taking significant steps to addressing climate change as is outlined in this agreement. We need to go home and push our governments to develop plans to uphold their end of the bargain, and push them to do more than they think they can by creating the political will to do so from the grassroots. This is an exciting time for all of us, and it is amazing what we can accomplish when we decide that we need to address something. It is clear now that this is not the end of our work, but only the beginning to decarbonize our future, create just transitions, and prevent warming in order to protect the most vulnerable among us. This is a matter of protecting lives and livelihoods so take this moment, and build momentum from it for our communities, our countries, and our planet.

Week 2: The World Is Ready For Action

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Photo taken by Greenpeace and was a collaboration of groups that put the action together.

The second week of the UN Climate Negotiations is underway. The hallways are bustling, small group meetings are happening throughout the space mumbling about the policy and climate justice, and ministers from all over the world are gathering together to look at the first draft of the Paris Agreement that is to be finalized at the end of the week. You may be wondering what happened the first week and where we are now, well I will tell you.

Last week negotiators were hard at work getting a 54 page text down to 38 pages. That does not sound like much, but they also worked through many of the brackets. Brackets are words that are literally in brackets in the policy, which means they are still being negotiated. The text went from 1700 brackets to 900 brackets this week, and started filtering through some of the options for the policy. Things still up for discussion include the temperature goal (staying below 1.5°C or 2°C global warming on average), the long-term goal (decarbonizing by 2060-2080), finance, frequency of review of country pledges (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) and process for that review, equity language, adaption and capacity building support, and loss and damage as a stand alone policy point. So there is still a lot to get through in the next week, and ministers will have to work through many of these issues to get a deal by Friday.

Civil society, or citizens and non-governmental groups, will be there along the way. Throughout the week, and today, they will be making a lot of noise through media, lobbying, direct action, and civil disobedience. People from all walks of life, all backgrounds, and many organizations are concerned about the outcome of these talks and will have their voice be heard.

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This year civil society even has their own space, which has never happened at a COP before, due to the demand for space within the conference. This civil society area is called the climate generations area, and it is open to the public. Several sessions and the plenaries are broadcasted on monitors throughout the space. It is not a replacement for being able to go into the actual negotiating space, but it does give a place where people can meet and talk about how they can collaborate and show support for climate action in the UN climate talks.

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Finally, there are many more conferences, actions, and events happening throughout Paris where big names like Bill McKibben, Al Gore, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jane Goodall, Helen Clark and others are raising the importance of the issue of climate change. The topics vary significantly within these side events. For example, the World Health Organization held a summit this weekend on health and climate change, CGIAR held the Global Landscapes Forum to talk about the connection between landscapes and climate, mayors came together to make commitments for climate action locally, and there have been training sessions for young organizers so they can learn how they can get involved with the climate movement.

The energy and excitement is high around this conference, and no matter what the outcome is for the Paris agreement, the tide has shifted and the world wants to face this issue head on.

As for me, I have been writing articles, working on social media, and trying to build support for climate action around the world by collaborating with various groups. I specifically focus on protecting equity language in the agreement, which includes human rights, gender and women, indigenous rights, labor, future generations, and food security, in addition to generally putting pressure on countries to put us down the right path to less than a 1.5°C global warming on average world. This morning I did a press conference, representing the Sierra Student Coalition, with the Chinese Youth Climate Action Network to demand ambitious action within the Paris Agreement from the two largest greenhouse gas contributors (shown below). There is too much to do with so little time, but it is exciting that there is so much going on. The next week will be interesting, and it will determine many aspects of our future.

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Sierra Student Coalition demands 100% renewable energy. Photo credit: Ashley Wineland