Demanding justice – young voices at COP21

Demanding justice – young voices at COP21

Date: 22 December 2015

On 11-13 December, at the climate of the Paris climate talks, I was part of a group of students and young activists organised by Global Justice Now to travel to Paris to demand climate justice and stand in solidarity with others in the global movement. It was a powerful experience that left us with a lot to say and think about.

Some remained optimistic in the face of a disappointing treaty. Anoushka maintained the energy that fuelled her through Saturday’s protest actions: “We will continue the fight today and tomorrow until the people truly have the last word,” she wrote.

“It is paramount that we don’t disregard the power of [ourselves] as individuals,” she continued. “Too often our strength as a community is underestimated but we saw over the weekend that when we assemble, the world listens.”

Joe said he felt motivated to act after the conference. “The most important idea I have taken from the weekend is that WE have to hold our governments accountable,” he said. “People power does have an impact and we can have an effect on the general narrative… We can take back the power that has for too long been held by irresponsible politicians and a media [environment] that supports them.”

There was a huge amount of activity going on across the weekend, and we participated as fully as possible. Friday evening saw a hundreds of activists gather at a cultural centre in the north of Paris to hear climate justice stories firsthand.

During the assembly, we were briefed by Nick Dearden, Global Justice Now director, and James O’Nions from the activism team, on the contents of the negotiations thus far. They emphasised the problematic behaviour of the rich countries – with the US in particular shaping the discourse to remove responsibility from wealthy countries. Furthermore, the mainstream media was failing to challenge such damaging narratives.

In addition, the agreement does nothing to touch trade policy. “We need to massively revolutionize the economic system,” said O’Nions, indicating that the energy chapter of the Paris Treaty endorsed free market dogma, doing nothing to stop monster trade deals like TTIP. “That’s going to be more tar sands coming into the EU…it’s going to be a disaster for the climate.”

We discussed our options and decided that we wanted to join the protests the next day, despite the state of emergency.  The focal point was the #D12 Red Lines action, which saw over ten thousand protestors take over the Avenue de la Grande Armée in what was planned as an “unpermitted event”. We were there to show that red lines cannot be crossed – there needs to be justice for those most affected by climate change, for fossil fuels to be kept in the ground, for the rich countries to accept their historic responsibilities.

As it turned out, the French government allowed the action at the last moment. They kept a close eye on protesters, however – police in riot gear blocked the avenue on all sides. Marching past the Arc de Triomphe, we made our way to the Champ de Mars, forming a human chain in front of the Eiffel tower. Then, some members of the group, involved in the campaign group Students Against TTIP, broke into song! TTIP, the trade deal between the EU and US, is a huge threat to positive action on climate change – so Students Against TTIP have written some anti-TTIP Christmas carols for a bit of satirical festive cheer:

All in all, the mixture of passion, joy and collective energy on the weekend was very powerful. Reflecting on this, Anoushka commented, “We are a mass force when we stand together.”

“Take on the challenge, start the movement. African American rights, ending apartheid, abolition of slavery; none of these were achieved because of politicians’ good will,” she added. I couldn’t agree more. We need to continue the fight, and use our collective power to demand change. 

Here’s a selection of images from the weekend, including quotes from the youth group: