Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

The Road From Paris

I remember the day the deal was signed.

For the first time the nations of the world had come together and signed one document which showed that they understood the danger of Climate Change, and that they were committed to doing something about it.

This day would change the world we though: 11th December 1997.

The Road To Paris

Well, it didn't.

I wasn't in Kyoto when the Protocol was signed, I was in Northampton doing my first job as a qualified Social Worker, but I felt I'd done my bit. I'd been part of a disparate team that had towed a bright yellow survival pod around the country for Greenpeace. Tales of our adventures have become taller over the many years of telling them (I'm sure the native inhabitants of Wisbech didn't really mistake the pod for a massive potato and chase us out of town with a giant masher) but what is true is that we collected over a quarter of a million signatures on a petition that was handed to the new Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair.

It was fun, but ultimately pretty pointless. In theory Kyoto was supposed to ensure that by 2012
greenhouse gas emissions would 5% below what they had been in 1990. In practise they were 40% higher.

The reasons for the failure are easy enough to find. Of 2012's two biggest polluters, China and the USA, the first was not covered by the treaty and the other refused to ratify it.

State of Emergency

Eighteen years later and the world's politicians are making a heroic effort to do it all again in Paris.

This time I really am there. Or rather, I really am in Paris, whilst the politicians are six miles away in Le Bourget, clustered round their own airport and surrounded by hundreds of armed police.

A year of actions, including two big marches in London, have built up to this moment so I always intended to go. However the terrorist attacks of 13 November changed the situation. We'd never been welcomed by the French authorities, but now a state of emergency had been declared and gatherings of more than three people were illegal.

I had originally volunteered with Greenpeace France, but after a series of "deny everything Baldrick" style emails I realised they weren't going to be organising anything for wandering British activists. So instead I tagged along with Friends of the Earth, who helpfully sorted me out with Eurostar tickets and a place in a Youth Hostel, and decided to play it by ear when I got there.

The Climate Action Zone in Le Centquarter provided a chance to meet activists from around the world, and indeed from just up the road, as I met up with the rest of the Manchester Campaign Against Climate Change there. A party on the Friday night put on by FOE provided a chance to meet some even more interesting people: Friends of the Earth boss Craig Bennett and - another Greenpeace gatecrasher - International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo.

Actually it was a bit of a weekend for name dropping as I also met Caroline Lucas, Natalie Bennett was around and about and, if you count nodding to someone as they rush past you in the check in queue at Gare du Nord, I also 'met' Naomi Klein.

The mood amongst the activists in the Climate Action Zone was upbeat, but amongst those shuttling in and out of Le Bourget it was far grimmer. We already knew there would be no binding agreement, no 'loss and damages' clause allowing the victims of climate change to sue the polluters who caused it and International Human Rights Day in Paris was marked by all references to human rights being removed from the draft text. There was some aspirational words, but nothing to force anyone to act. Comparing the draft text of the climate deal to that of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP, which will allow companies to sue countries that stop them making money, and you soon see which will one will win out.

However we always knew this would be the case. That's way the big action was planned for the 12th December, the day after the conference was due to finish. We were not going to let them Greenwash this.

Red Lines

Rainforest Action Network
As it happened they were still putting the finishing touches to the agreement when people started to gather by the Arch de Triumph.

Eight key organisers had been put under house arrest by the French authorities, but this made little difference as Paris was awash with people experienced in organising big demonstrations, including many from the UK.

The French police had sealed off the road and there were riot police front and centre with tear gas dispensers locked and loaded on the flanks.

There were rather more than three protesters, making this officially an illegal demonstration. There wasn't the million people we'd have hoped for if it hadn't been for the state of emergency, but there are ten thousand people here, at least. About half of them seem to be from outside France, the other half are mainly clowns. The front back and sides are marked by symbolic red lines, and down at the front bob a dozen or so giant inflatable cobblestones.

We have real cobbles under our feet, but although it's traditional round here, nobody seems minded to lob any at the authorities. Instead the blow up ones bounce up and down over the crowd. About the size of large hay bales, being underneath this barrage was like being in a bad episode of Doctor Who and getting attacked by rather unconvincing space aliens.

The mood of the police was difficult to discern. None were smiling, but none were making any threatening moves either. Between the two lines of police though a party is going on. The Manchester climate change activists have gravitated together, and we stand a discrete distance away from the Manchester Socialist Workers, whilst all the world dances around us.

 Grand Finale

We were to be here for an hour and then, we were informed the night before, there was to be a legally sanctioned gathering under the Eiffel Tower. How do ten thousand people get from an illegal demonstration to a legal one? By an illegal march of course. It may not have been planned, but it's what happened, and so with the wobbly cobbles bouncing along on top of us we marched across Paris until its most famous monument came into view. Somewhere down the end there were speakers, but half a mile of people separated us from them.

And then it was over. The sun begins to set on a grey, but unseasonably warm, Paris day and we all drifted away. Friends of the Earth show us Naomi Klein's new film, but with our job done we volunteers are just a hassle for the hard pressed organisers, so a group of us go to explore the sights of Belleville. I end up in a pub with two anti-fracking counsellors from West Lancashire Borough Council, a Friends of the Earth Energy Campaigner and a Frenchman called Claude who spent twenty five years in the London office of Air France and wants to tell us how much he missed Allo Allo and Are You Being Served.

It's a good night, and the next morning a I have what the French call a guelle de bois ('wooden head'). I really could have done with being on a later train, but after a little while 'examining' the waters of a canal with my name on it I am fit enough to travel home.

The Road Beyond Paris

I have breakfast of coffee and a croissant at 300kph as a mix of renewable, nuclear and fossil fuel generated electricity propels my train across the French countryside. The Paris agreement it seems is a similar mixture of the good, the not-so-good and the outright bad. Time will tell if the moral force of what has been described as the greatest bit of diplomacy ever achieved can save the world, but most of us on the train suspect it won't.

Back in Le Bourget the politicians, civil servants and corporate lobbyists have all left Paris, probably hoping not to have to ever see each other again, and not to have to talk about climate change again for a while.

However those of us who met on the streets and in the fringe groups are planning to get together again as soon as possible. These are the links that will forge a year of action in 2016. We be further away from a binding agreement to limit greenhouse gases today than we were in 1997, but what we have now which we didn't have then is a global campaign for climate action and climate justice.

We have a movement that can put that can put ten thousand people on the streets even in a state of emergency - hundreds of thousands of people in better circumstances - and which is also prepared to take direct action to obstruct fossil fuel infrastructure anywhere on the planet.

Next year there will be marches and demonstrations, blockades and pickets from from Paris to Peru, from London to Lancashire, until we finally get some action to match the words of the Paris agreement.

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