Today I’m off to Paris for the final few days of the climate talks. I have to say from what I hear from colleagues in Paris, there is a lot of work still to do. It seems we may once again to be seriously disappointed with the outcome of the negotiations. Miracles can happen, and God knows we’ve all been praying for one, but it is unlikely we’ll see the divine intervention to deliver on the kind of agreement we need to keep the world safe from the worst impacts of climate change. Powerful vested interests, with their insidious control over governments – in the North and South – have prevailed. They are even sponsoring the conference and trying to censor public protest. Their behind the scenes lobbying to protect their interests has been exposed.
Despite the more cooperative atmosphere compared to 2009, most powerful governments have taken a calculated bet that their electorate prefer incremental action for now. They seem to be opting to protect short-term comforts, special interests and lifestyles, whilst pushing more serious change down the road. Whilst the wild weather this week from Ireland to India has not been lost on them, it will not be enough to change the course of this COP. The dynamic of negotiations does not follow the weather or emotional outbursts. It is depressingly familiar and reflects the same pattern which has dogged inaction for a generation now. Whilst the science has finally been accepted, and there is even talk of a new target of 1.5°c being in the text, the will to move beyond business as usual is still lacking. Targets only mean something if commitment to action follows.
On nearly all five of the measures which Trócaire set out as benchmarks, the current draft text is sorely lacking. The 1.5°c is the main positive. Overall, the current draft is very weak and civil society is now locked out of the real negotiations when the gloves come off. It all happens behind closed doors. Worryingly, wikileaks revelations also emerged this week about secret talks which have been happening in parallel with the COP in relation to EU trade interests at the WTO and with TTIP. On the one hand EU governments are seeking to carve out a deal in Paris to reduce emissions – whilst on the other still privileging the position of the fossil fuel industry and instructing negotiators not to accept a deal which damages international trade. This double-speak is utterly despicable and shows the sham of international negotiations whether at the UN Sustainable Development Goals in September, and potentiality again here in Paris.
For those involved in the climate movement, preparing for this depressing outcome is really important. All year climate leaders have been focused on Paris, but also saying that Paris would not deliver and that the most important thing is not to become demoralised by it. The first two major global summits this year – in Addis Ababa in July and New York in September – were clear indications that governments are playing a game of spinning rhetoric for one audience whilst failing to honour existing commitments and sign up to new ones. The omens for Paris were not good.
The emotional toll of failure, however, will still be great. Just like preparing for the loss of a loved one, however, it is one thing rationalising it in advance, it is another thing experiencing it. Nothing can actually prepare you for the loss and despair. We are all going to feel it like we did in Copenhagen in 2009. So much effort, so much frustration, so much anger. So much love. That emotion needs to be translated into re-doubled action.
The big difference between Copenhagen and now is that the movement is much stronger, much broader, much more technically able, better organised and resourced, and above all has strong leadership. The climate movement is no longer seen as an environmental movement. It comprises faith groups, unions, universities, NGOs, businesses, mothers, fathers, youth, children. It has strong and articulate leaders like Pope Francis, Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, Kumi Naidoo, Mary Robinson, and unlikely heros like the Raging Grannies and the Grandparents for a Safe Earth, who are prepared to pay for this cause at great personal sacrifice. The 785,000 people who marched on the 29th of November are now a force to be reckoned with. They have found their voice. They have a new focus in the fossil fuel divestment campaign. The movement has truth on its side. Despite the expected failure in Paris, the mood amongst activists is buoyant – even full of hope. If 2015 was billed as a big year for big global policies, 2016 will be the year of activism in every corner of the earth.
The challenge for the climate movement is now one of unity. It is about building a counter-force and becoming the future we want to see – following in Ghandi’s footsteps: ‘be the change you want to see’. It is what Brazilian theologian Dom Helder Camara called ‘third force wisdom’ – a future coming into being:
“Don’t waste time with oppositional energy. In the short run, you will have to hold unresolvable tensions, symbolized by the crossbeams on which Jesus was crucified. In the long run, you will usher in something entirely new and healing. This is “third force” wisdom.”
With it, perhaps in this Jubilee year of Mercy, which Pope Francis has launched today, the change will come.