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December 15, 2015 | The Next Frontier of This Movement

Saturday marked the “last day” of the 21st Conference of the Parties in Paris, the UNFCCC climate change negotiations that have been hailed for years as the “last chance” for the global community to come together on an agreement to address the climate crisis. Tens of thousands of activists, delegates and observers had passed through the gates of Le Bourget, the compound housing the conference, during the previous two weeks. Before the COP began, most reports about the potential ambition of the negotiations danced around the 2˚C-warming cap; many high-emitting rich nations have pledged to support a more ambitious 1.5˚C limit. And the agreement reached on Saturday afternoon showed that world leaders were indeed able reach consensus on the final wording that will stand in history as the strongest agreement international negotiations on climate change can produce.

So what’s next? Regardless of what was decided at this COP, those involved in the climate justice movement know that the real work is only just beginning. A symbolic agreement struck in Paris is only valuable in as much as it signals to nations and markets that the people expect action to follow. Organizers and activists worked for months and years to prepare for this COP, and international pressure for climate action can in many ways be seen as a victory. But even with a battle won, the war is far from over. We must now turn to a new struggle: the fight against corporate influence.

Naomi Klein, the author of This Changes Everything, spoke last week in Paris about corporate power and its devastating potential to disrupt any progress that was made during this COP. According to Klein, trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and TATIP are tools for corporations to derail climate action. “This climate deal [at COP21] in a way failed before it even began…the U.S. cannot take a binding climate deal to the congress because it is bought and paid for by the oil and gas industries…in exchange for setting targets for warming that may allow low-lying islands to survive, our governments are explicitly demanding that those countries give up their rights to seek loss and damage.” In other words, though the agreement text including a 1.5˚C limit may be seen as ambitious and respective of the plight of poor and vulnerable nations, it is in fact a ploy by rich nations and corporations to continue business as usual.

Ilana Solomon, director of the Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program, explained to crowds in Paris, “In the U.S., our trade policy is set by the U.S. Trade Representative — and they’re almost exclusively representatives of big business. Everything we need to do to fight the climate crisis is threatened by these trade agreements.” Many of these trade deals, including both the TPP and TATIP, would allow corporations to have rights equivalent to states, and sue for their loss and damages. In other words, “Instead of polluter pays, it’s the polluter gets paid.”

And yet, we must remain optimistic. The climate crisis is a rallying call for social justice efforts of all stripes to unite against corporate greed. In the U.S., we’ve seen an unprecedented coalition of people coming together to demand climate justice. With promising new developments such as protests against trade deals, the #LeaveItInTheGround Declaration, the federal investigation into Exxon’s funding of climate denial and misinformation, and the potential for carbon pricing legislation blossoming in states like Massachusetts and Washington, there’s a lot to be hopeful about. This COP will stand in history as the turning point for activists, young and old, indigenous people, and everyone in between hoping for a better tomorrow. As Klein put it, “The climate movement is on a roll; we come here even though our politicians lack vision and boldness, and we have many more victories on the way.” This movement will continue to struggle against corporate interest until we create a society where our governments serve us, and communities around the world work together to protect the only planet we have.

 

Shana Gallagher is one of Conergy's Future Solar Leaders. Shana is an aspiring marine conservation biologist and climate change activist who attends Tufts University in Boston, Massachussetts.