It’s hard to not become frustrated listening to the trite political speeches, witnessing the tiring repetitive dynamic of optimism, disappointment and renewed hope in civil society and hearing the repeated exhortations that this summit will finally be the one that brings about change. If the metaphors used by journalists to caricature the perpetual return of the same (references to the movie ‘Groundhog Day’, ‘cut, next scene’ and phrases like ‘the same procedure as last year’, etc.) appear worn out, then cynicism and hopelessness are not far away.
Something, however, is changing. Although this is not necessarily true for climate policy, the climate movement is indeed experiencing fundamental change. A focal point of the movement is Coalition Climat 21, an organisation born out of a large networking meeting of climate activists in August 2014 arranged to prepare and organise for COP21, and which has become the politically broadest network of climate activists to date.
Coalition Climat 21 overcomes divisions (at least partly)
The most interesting aspect of Coalition Climat 21 is that it potentially paves the way to overcome the divisions within the climate movement. Foremost, this concerns the division that has existed since the 2007 Bali UN climate summit: namely, between those who call for the protection of the climate, i.e. primarily for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and those who demand a far more comprehensive change – climate justice. The differences in these positions surface mainly in discussions surrounding the role of market mechanisms in international climate protection. Climate action activists generally view emissions trading, REDD or the Clean Development Mechanism as promising instruments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Climate justice activists, in contrast, criticise precisely these instruments as modern forms of medieval sale of indulgences that perpetuate ecologically devastating and exploitative structures.
Secondly, Coalition Climat 21 also bridges the division between the process-oriented and the action-oriented wings of the climate movement. Representative for the German debate in this respect is the question whether climate protection can be forced upon governments through direct action such as in the Rhineland and Lusatia coal mining regions, or whether climate measures need to be decided at climate summits.
In the run-up to Paris, all of these different groups, which have been working in separate networks for years, met and in spite of their political differences attempted to join forces. The price of this broad political approach – it must be admitted – was that it avoided true political debate, mainly on questions such as what can be expected from UN climate summits. How important is COP21? What is the role of direct action for the climate movement? And, what about the pivotal question of the green movement: the capitalist growth imperative?
«United we win, divided we lose»
In the extremely tense situation in the wake of the attacks on 13 November, these conflicts threatened to tear apart Coalition Climat 21. Yet, in spite of the enormous political pressure, this alliance of political forces ranging from large unions to radical left-wing activists has remained intact. This is encouraging, as Coalition Climat 21’s spokesperson Nicolas Haeringer put it yesterday. Why has this happened? We are approaching the ‘deadlines of climate policy’, the tipping points of the global system. Many people now have a deep desire to work with other groups. ‘United we win, divided we lose’, slowly everybody in the climate movement, from radical activists to optimistic moderates who believe in the climate process, understands the need to organise beyond the Paris summit.
Yesterday, one of the most important meetings of the summit took place. Under the motto ‘Beyond Paris’ and far away from the hustle and bustle of the UN conference, it discussed the climate (justice) movement’s strategy for the coming years. In the light of the fact that the UN process will not provide satisfactory results, which strategy should the movement follow and what will enable it to become broader and deeper?
Further developing the movement represents a gigantic challenge. Social struggles related to the climate are taking place at all levels; there are local, regional, national, continental and even global struggles. The broad climate movement spans from radicals to moderates, from those who do not cooperate with governments to those who do. Some are committed to climate justice, others to climate protection. Some have relatively large pools of resources; others can hardly afford to send a delegate to international meetings. Faced with this diversity, how are we to develop a common approach? How can we coordinate the struggles at the different levels and increase their impact? We really need greater impact. Whilst the efforts of the climate movement have captured a certain degree of media attention, global greenhouse gas emissions nonetheless continue to increase. The triumphant march of the fossil-fuel economy is a long way from over. Climate chaos is continuing to spread.
Climate protection: a hands-on undertaking
There are two sides to this coin. On the one hand, we are running out of time, pressure to succeed is high, resources scant and divisions and differences abound. On the other hand, people recognise that the climate movement needs to and – as the example of Coalition Climat 21 shows – can cooperate in spite of these differences.
This implies that the climate (justice) movement needs to organise beyond COP21. This also includes practical questions. Where should we meet? People living closer to a location will find travelling there easier. Who should cover travel costs? Who needs a visa and who does not? Practical questions have political implications: a meeting in the Global North, such as in Berlin, as is currently being discussed, promises greater resources but also means that more activists from the Global North than from the Global South would be able to take part.
These are also relevant questions in Paris, even before and during the discussion of shared political principles, goals and strategies. A global movement is in the making. This is a very difficult stage. But if nothing happens here, then where will it? And if we don’t conduct these discussions who will? Climate protection is a hands-on undertaking. This is one point on which everyone agrees.