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COP 21, Paris: Does This Change Everything?

People holding banners at last year's Climate March in Paris. Photo: Lindsay d'Andrea via Flickr

Where we are on the UN climate summit

With the UN COP 21 climate summit opening in Paris on the 30th of November, the need to reconsider where we are on the climate situation is more pressing than ever. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) aims to acknowledge ‘the existence of anthropogenic (human-induced) climate change’. Following the horrific recent attacks in Paris on the 13th of November, the intersectionality of concerns over climate and social justice not being explicitly articulated by politicians over the UN table has compelled climate activists to question more than ever before the entire UNFCC process as corrupted in favour of fossil fuel corporations and the interests of global capital.

The escalated concern over security issues in France surrounding the upcoming summit means that the discussions are likely to divert to terrorism and curtailing the IS rather than coming to a definitive conclusion on how progress on issues such as enforcement and accountability of a climate agreement, and how changes in the world’s energy systems, will be financed.

It had been noted by environmental groups that no new substantial commitments have been made to the agenda of the conference, following the failure to produce any binding obligations and agreements to keeping the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees C at the Copenhagen summit in 2009. According to recent equity reports, national pledges amount to less than half of the reductions that are needed in absolute emissions levels in order to meet the 2 degrees C. Even this is not exactly a ‘safe’ level of climate disruption, and The Climate Action Tracker now projects a 92% probability of exceeding 2 degrees this century, taking into account all pledges are implemented, which is also unlikely.

Despite French outlawing of mass protests in Paris following the attacks, attempts to raise awareness and encourage action to raise hopes for a more adequate agreement at Paris and a more sustainable carbon-free future have continued through using mediums such as art and cinema in the form of the global climate art festival (ART COP21), and the 29th Global Climate March, that is still happening in other parts of the world.

So does this change everything?

So is it in our hands – as students and citizens – to challenge fossil fuel interests and highlight alternatives in deciding our own sustainable futures? And more importantly, does this change everything?

The screening of the climate change documentary film ‘This Changes Everything’ directed by Avi Lewis and based on the book by Naomi Klein, last Wednesday the 18th, organised by Fossil Free KCL, raised these issues and how students at King’s contribute to these discussions.

One of the main points of the film – minus the unfocused treatment of who it is to be held accountable for the climate and social costs to economic growth – was the intersectionality of the issue of climate change and a fossil fuel economy, and I think this was taken up by King’s in a relatively intersectional way also; having representatives speak from the Left Forum, Think Tank, and KCL Environment Society, despite a large portion of student representation missing.

The documentary sets out to challenge the conventional wisdom that all growth is good regardless of the cost, by looking at the personal experiences of ordinary people suffering from the devastating effects of climate change – from Alberta’s tar sands to the coasts of South India. This is a powerful message – however, it leaves us as Western consumers on the affluent side of the globe wondering how we are to be held accountable for the battle between ‘capitalism and the climate’.

The global warming warning is dramatized not, unlike most eco-docs, through polar bears or what-not, but rather through the message that ‘this is the best chance we’ll ever get to build a better future’.  The ultimate message is that it is the protestors that are the ‘keepers of that other story’ – not the free-market-capitalist-growth-at-all-costs story – an invitation ‘to join the struggles of the victims because their struggles are our struggles’, in the words of founder of Fossil Free KCL, Tytus Murphy.

Campaigns to highlight community-centred alternatives to the fossil fuel economy have been underway in the form of the Climate March on the 29th, with a high King’s student participation, as well as ART COP21, and the Climate Games.

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