False solutions and real alternatives at the UN climate talks

False solutions and real alternatives at the UN climate talks

Date: 7 December 2015

It reminded me of a drawing I’d seen. It was a line drawing showing a young woman emerging from a London underground station right in to the middle of an English woodland. It felt very much like that arriving in the village of alternatives during the Paris climate talks this weekend. You arrived out of the Metro and into the middle of a Parisian square which seemed so different from the rest of Paris. It was a space that was filled with things being done in a different way, in very much the way they should be. Here the French climate coalition had organised a celebration of the alternatives. Alternatives to energy systems run on fossil fuels and controlled by corporations, alternatives to sending tonnes of packaging to landfill every day, alternatives to the detrimental use of chemicals and alternatives to agribusiness (corporate controlled agriculture).

Some of the positives that were on display were demonstrated by renewable energy systems, energy co-operatives, small scale producers and NGOs and unions. The farmers’ union Confederation Paysanne had their slogan nos fermes ne sont pas des usines! (our farms are not factories!) writ large above one of their organic, small scale producer food stalls. A sense of the alternative to our fragmented society was in the air with communal meals and music and street theatre which ran throughout the weekend.

There was a more academic side too, suitably this was in the school up the hill, where the coalition had organised workshops and skill shares. Global Justice Now contributed to these with a workshop on the financialisation of nature and energy democracy. Guest speakers were invited from grass roots movements from Africa, Asia, the US, and South America and the audiences were even more diverse. So there was a wealth of information from each participant and not just the speakers.

This alternative summit is where the real alternatives lie. However, simultaneously in a different part of the city it’s a different story. Dubbed ‘False Solutions COP21’, Solutions COP21 is a large expo happening alongside the climate talks. It’s a chance for big business to promote itself as part of the alternative. Large corporations pay €75K for an exhibition place or €250 for an evening event. And the very same companies responsible for climate change use it as an opportunity of green wash themselves. The corporate partners of Solutions COP21 include companies such as GDF Suez (now Engie) – which owns some of the dirtiest coal fired power stations in the world, Suez Environment – who suggest fracking as part of the solution to our future energy needs as well as Coca-Cola and Renault-Nissan.

It’s a sad state of affairs, but the good news is that, on the day the event opened we were there as well. A group of activists had organised toxic tours of the event, exposing the massive hypocrisy of the corporations which were there. Dozens of people were dragged out by security for just speaking out and telling the truth about the practices of these companies. Having opened at midday the organisers were forced to shut down the expo by three in the afternoon.

This weekend was a vibrant demonstration of the strength of our movement. There are some that say there is only one way to create change, and that there way is the best way. But if we want to make real change happen we need to apply pressure at all levels. We need to demonstrate and be part of the positive solutions and if we want change to happen now we need to directly resist those that are profiting from the wrecking of our planet and our society.