Coming off previous UN talks deemed as failures, with the most notable disaster occurring in 2009 after the COP19 collapsed dramatically in Copenhagen, the climate movement has struggled with the cyclical hype of meetings that produce lofty rhetoric but little-to-no tangible or meaningful progress.

However, Henn said things have changed in recent years. “There’s been a sea change since Copenhagen in how the broader movement thinks about solving this problem,” he said. “Back in 2009, most groups were talking about how to cut emissions by some percentage by some distant date. Now, we’re talking about keeping fossil fuels in the ground today and fundamentally transforming our economy so we can provide 100 percent renewable energy for 100 percent of people. We’re much more real, much more bold, and much more determined to make it happen.”

“We’re talking about keeping fossil fuels in the ground and fundamentally transforming our economy so we can provide 100% renewable energy for 100% of people.”
—Jamie Henn, 350.org

Citing the heavy influence of elite interests and corporations that stand to lose from the kind of urgent climate action that’s needed, the coalition acknowledges that whatever deal emerges from Paris is unlikely to put the world on track to limit temperature increases this century to the 2°C limit already agreed to by governments, much less the 1.5°C target that climate scientists and experts say is necessary.

Despite that, the purpose of the statement is to clarify a shared vision for such an agreement. “The urgency to keep temperatures down is not just about the planet and the environment. It is about people, and our capacity as humanity to secure safe and dignified lives for all,” the document declares. “Peoples’ demands and solutions are based in our vision of the world that recognizes the need to live in harmony with nature, and to guarantee the fulfillment of human rights for all, including those of Indigenous Peoples, women, youth and workers.”

Though not limited to these, the coalition says a just and meaningful global climate accord must entail:

Such demands come amid a growing stack of evidence—including bold acts of direct resistance against Arctic drilling and other extreme energy projects, a recent clarion call for climate action from Pope Francis, and the continued victories being won by the fossil fuel divestment movement—that the necessary paradigm shift will ultimately come from grassroots forces, and not governments. For members of this coalition, despite their dim view of what the talks in Paris might produce, good and necessary changes, in fact, are happening.

The balance of power is changing across the world, they argue, “because people across the world are prepared to fight to protect their homes, their right to energy, their right to food, and their right to a decent job.” What’s key, they maintain, is mobilizing those who possess this shared vision for a better future. And in order for a global agreement to be truly be championed, the coalition says, it must:

However, the document concludes, Paris will not ultimately be about what “governments achieve—or fail to achieve.” 

What the global gathering will demonstrate, rather, is that delivery of the necessary “global transformation” will come from the people and not politicians who, despite whatever good intentions, remain too indebted to the status quo and beholden to the profitable interests that have placed a stranglehold on democracy and progress.

The collective statement by the coalition makes it clear that they see Paris as a “beginning rather than an end” as they called the gathering of world leaders “an opportunity to start connecting peoples’ demands for justice, equality, food, jobs, and rights, and strengthen the movement in a way that will force governments to listen and act in the interests of their people and not in the vested interests of elites.”

In the end, their stated message to world leaders, for both Paris and beyond, is this: We are watching you.

But their larger message—the one aimed at everyone else—appears to be something closer to this: Watch us. Join us. Come and see the more beautiful world that together we can build.

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