By Aura Silva Martinez
There were over 160 people sitting in layers around a big, wide circle at the Climate Coalition 21 assembly. An ongoing wave of comments, questions and answers was being thrown to a multitude of unresponsive chairs. This was an overwhelming experience for me, and despite being a somewhat inefficient space where having a real, meaningful conversation was significantly difficult, it was here were many of my current thoughts about the future of the movement started to flourish.
Many conversations during the past couple of weeks have revolved around the issue of the COP’s legitimacy as a space for change. The need to work on the ground to achieve a rooted movement is evident. However, there must be an informed conversation between the UN spaces and the outside struggles. Despite the fact that Paris 2015 failed in delivering a fair and ambitious legally binding agreement, there are some meaningful outcomes that should be recovered.
The Paris agreement does not represent a solution to the climate crisis because of its lack of ambition and real efforts to implement and comply with the goals set. However, the Paris agreement did provide us with is a tool for accountability. The fact that the majority of countries submitted an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) for their mitigation efforts represent a step forward on the international arena in the fight against climate change. Certainly a small step, but in the end a step forward. What we need to do now is use this deal as a device to hold our governments accountable and to put pressure on the domestic level to comply with what has been expressed in the agreement.
Very early Saturday evening, the Paris agreement had already made it to the front page of all the major newspapers around the world. It was indeed difficult to defy this narrative of success portrayed by the UN leaders and all the media around the world. Especially because many of the civil society’s demands had been co-opted and incorporated into the agreement in a meaningless manner. Key words from the people’s demands such as climate justice, differentiation, equity and ambition were included in the agreement, but the context under which these words were included in the text represents no advance in the fight against climate change.
What we want to avoid is an emotional slump that leads us into inaction, such as the one experienced after the Copenhagen failure. We need to use all the momentum built in the lead up to Paris and transition this into the after Paris struggle. As the UN space and the COP loose legitimacy, it is time for a unified social movement to emerge and deliver the changes that more than 21 years of negotiations have failed to achieve.
The question now is how do we strengthen the power of frontline communities and civil society in our quest for a more socially and environmentally just world? How do we build a force powerful enough to counteract the 1%, to make them weaker? When we think about the post-Paris battle, we need to coordinate a process where local struggles and communities are incorporated into an overarching narrative. In order to transition into a broad front for action, we need to strengthen our capabilities and through this strengthen the movement as a whole.
At the Climate Coalition 21 assembly people talked about their experiences in terms of the formation and development of this coalition. Given the complications encountered, some people wondered what the use of such a broad alliance was, and if it was indeed necessary, given that we already have alignments of our own choice within our little working hubs. Having such a broad coalition and working together with allies on a broader level is beneficial in that it caters the movement with a stronger force, a force that comes from people’s numbers. On the other hand, having such a broad coalition is dangerous because the depth of the political message can easily be lost due to differences in opinions and positions.
The golden middle that is to be found is extremely delicate. On the one hand you can have a very clear political group that agrees but has no numbers, and on the other hand you can have a very broad movement that has no political coherence. In the next steps, when thinking about the transition that the movement has to undergo after Paris, we need to define some common political analysis. We need to evaluate our work in terms of whether it delivers systemic change or not. We should have a common political narrative to be effective on the long term, and then bring other groups into the movement. This strategy needs to be coordinated and coherent, an intentional version that has a purpose and a concrete narrative. We need to think about what are the counterpoints of the systems that we are fighting against?
Now that we are thinking of decoupling the movement from the UN space, we need to contextualize it on the outside. there is an urgent need to have a more tactical systemic analysis that will hold us together. We need to train ourselves not only as activists but as strategists as well, people who are able to build a local campaign that is not always, and most likely will not be, under the same scenario. There is a clear need for some sort of overarching arrangement that coordinates capacity building and skill sharing among struggles in different parts of the world. We need to share stories, experiences, resources and skills, to make us all stronger. Only through learning from each other and coordinating efforts towards a unified goal will we be able to achieve the magnitude of change needed.
Climate change is an expression of a larger system. It has never been solely about climate, it is about racism, about discrimination, about inequality. As Naomi Klein would say, climate change is the struggle that unifies all struggles. The climate justice movement must evolve into a coalition of groups that has different strategies to transition away from the current extractive neoliberal economy and capitalistic system, but that in the end has all of its members working towards a common goal. This fight is the space to lift up and amplify all the work done around the world to counteract the broken system that we live in.
Climate Justice activist during the mach in solidarity with the unemployment movement in Paris, December 2015.
We have a common story and our mobilization should be civil society lead against climate change and in favor of a transition towards a more just world. There is urgent need to escalate our struggles within the context that we are living. We keep on thinking in terms of what is feasible and not what is reasonable. Inside the UN space the conversation is framed around what is politically and economically feasible. We should not be talking about what we can but what we must do. Perhaps thinking backwards is a useful exercise. To reflect on where we would like to be in 20, 30 or 50 years and then work backwards to construct the pathways for action that we need to undertake in order to achieve this.
Our movement must maintain its strong focus on civil society lead change and mobilization. Only by addressing the problems from the very roots will we achieve a successful outcome. The importance of mass participation and diversification of the movement will never be overemphasized. More than ever, after having witnessed the Paris outcome, it is evident that it is us, the people who must deliver the solutions.
I encourage everyone reading this to look around on a local, national and even international level. What are some of the battles being fought around you? How can you engage in them? We keep on thinking about these amazing people around the world fighting on the very frontlines against the impacts of climate change. The truth is that they are regular people just like you and me. They are regular people doing amazing things, and the only difference between them and us is their initiative and combativeness. In order to achieve change at the magnitude and depth needed, we need everyone to be involved. We need to increase our sense of ownership in this movement and realize that this is a fight not for just a few but for all of us. It is a fight for the climate and the planet, a fight for the people, for one and for all. A fight for justice.