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Protest in Paris: Climate Justice Activists Decry Accord as “Death Sentence” for Millions

StoryDecember 14, 2015
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Image Credit: 350.org

While representatives from nearly 200 nations gathered inside the COP21 on Saturday to hammer out the final details of the climate agreement, climate justice activists and civil society groups took to the streets of Paris near the Arc de Triomphe to say the agreement doesn’t do enough to roll back the effects of climate change. “The Paris Agreement is a death sentence for many people,” says Pablo Solón, former climate negotiator for Bolivia. “A world with temperature increases more than 3 degrees Celsius is a world where not everyone will survive.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Climate Countdown. I’m Amy Goodman. While representatives from nearly 200 nations gathered inside COP21, the U.N. climate summit, on Saturday to hammer out the final details of the climate agreement, climate justice activists, civil society groups from around the world took to the streets of Paris. Democracy Now! was there.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! Behind me is the Arc de Triomphe. And protesters have triumphed today. Two weeks after the ban on all protests, of the major march here in Paris, protesters prevailed upon the French government to actually permit this protest, December 12th, the day that the climate accord here in Paris is being released. Thousands are gathering to make their voices heard. They’re carrying placards and signs and banners. They say things like “Leave it in the ground,” “No CO2LONIALISM”—you know, colonialism—”Protect Mother Earth,” “État d’urgence,” which is the state of emergency or the state of urgency, referring to climate. They’re demanding to keep the oil in the soil. We’re going to go speak to some of the people now.

PROTESTERS: What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!

GEORGE BARDA: My name’s George, and I’m from London. I’m part of the Occupy movement and a climate activist of many years. And like so many thousands of others, I had to be here, because the fate of the world pretty much is going to be decided by the combination of the relative failure of this agreement and our ability today and going forward, especially in the next couple of years, to stand up against the insanity that it represents. I mean, we’re talking already with 1 degree about hundreds of millions of people affected traumatically by droughts, floods, crop-destroying rains, typhoons, etc. And meanwhile, you have France and the U.S., apparently part of the “coalition of ambition,” saying they want one-and-a-half degrees, at the same time there’s shale oil, shale gas, coal, tar sands, you name it, and they’re trying to push through all these trade deals, which we all know are going to lock in a situation where it’s virtually impossible to get the change we need to see. So now is the most important time for human history, and it’s strange to be able to say that, having really reflected on that, and I honestly think that’s true. And we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re right next to the Arc de Triomphe. The foghorn has gone off. Thousands of people are here. And they’ve just held up a red line. That line stretches from the Arc de Triomphe to—can you tell us what this red line is?

KAREN NEKESA: This red line is for solidarity. We are up for climate justice. We are not happy with the way our governments are behaving towards our climate. And I come from Kenya. Kenya, people are really suffering. There are lots of floods and lots of droughts.

PROTESTERS: No more pollution! What’s our solution? No more pollution!

TERESA ALMAGUER: My name is Teresa Almaguer. I come from San Francisco, California, PODER. [inaudible]. And blowing the caracola is calling on all our ancestors who have taught us how to take care of the land, how to take care of the Earth. And we’re here because, as granddaughters and grandsons, we’re here to—because we love our Mother Earth, and we want to take care of her. And this is a way in which we want to be able to share that with the world. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: People are waving a large circular banner that says “Climate justice versus Wall Street,” here in front of the Arc de Triomphe, thousands of protesters on the last day of COP21, the U.N. climate summit. Hear their chanting.

PROTESTERS: No war, no warming! Build the people’s economy! No war, no warming! Build the people’s economy!

NNIMMO BASSEY: I am Nnimmo Bassey from Nigeria. We’re standing on the red line because policymakers and delegates debating at the conference of parties on global—on climate change have messed up, have ignored the crisis actually people are confronted with. They have failed to realize that every day’s delay means sentencing millions of people to death. Now they have crossed the line, the red line. They have crossed the red line by not setting real targets for emission reduction. We are hearing from the COP nice talks about 1.5 degrees Celsius, 2 degrees—below 2 degrees Celsius. Sounds very nice, but with all the commitments they have made, the intentions to reduce emissions is sentencing the world already to more than 3 degrees to 4 degrees Celsius, and that means many of our children and many of us cannot survive in a world like that.

PROTESTERS: We are the people! We are the people! The mighty, mighty people! The mighty, mighty people! Fighting for justice! Fighting for justice! And for liberation! And for liberation!

DEREK MATTHEWS: My name is Derek Matthews. I’m from Davis, California, and I’m with the Iraqi Veterans Against the War. We came with the It Takes Roots delegation with Grassroots Global Justice.

AMY GOODMAN: Why are you here in Paris?

DEREK MATTHEWS: We are here to draw the links between climate change and militarism, and uplift the voices of frontline communities.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, the links? What are those links?

DEREK MATTHEWS: Well, the U.S. military is the largest polluter in the world, and so I think it’s difficult to have an agreement, at the COP agreement, that excludes U.S. military’s pollution.

AMY GOODMAN: How is it excluding?

DEREK MATTHEWS: Well, they’re not tracking the amount of pollution that is emitted from the U.S. military as part of U.S. emissions. In addition, the U.S.—the military, militaries across the world help enforce extractive economies. And so, when people, local communities and frontline communities are trying to build movements to keep extractive corporations from taking the resources out of their lands, it is the military, the police and militarism, in general, that is stopping that from happening.

AMY GOODMAN: Derek, where did you serve?

DEREK MATTHEWS: I was deployed to Iraq two times, in—from 2008 to 2010, and I was also in Afghanistan in 2011.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think about the effects of those wars on the people there and on the soldiers that you served with, including yourself?

DEREK MATTHEWS: The effects have been absolutely devastating. We’ve seen entire cities destroyed. The amount of pollution is not just from the exhaust that comes out of the engines. We’re seeing white phosphorus pollution, depleted uranium pollution, and it’s destroying entire areas. So people are fleeing Iraq, people are fleeing Afghanistan, and Americans are shutting their doors on them. And we’ve seen people—veterans with lung cancer from burn pits, and the VA refusing to provide treatment for that. So it’s been a very difficult problem.

SHAWNA FOSTER: Hi. My name is Shawna Foster. I’m from Denver, Colorado, and I’m the board chair of Iraq Veterans Against the War and part of the It Takes Roots delegation with Grassroots Global Justice here in Paris.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you come here to a climate change summit?

SHAWNA FOSTER: So, Iraq Veterans Against the War realized that even if we ended the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, like on a military state-wise, the privatized contractor war—the extraction of resources, the multinationals taking that position for global security—would still be going on. So it’s a much larger issue, where politicians deny climate change on one hand, and then on the other hand they fund billions to the Pentagon in order to plan for climate change, because there is a clear plan they have for climate change—it’s war. That’s what they’ve been doing this whole time. And so, we have got to be able to—the antiwar movement and the climate change movement has to come together and say it’s not just about the animals, it’s not just about the rainforest, it’s the entire economy based on a military economy that has to be switched over to a regenerative economy.

AMY GOODMAN: Where did you serve?

SHAWNA FOSTER: I actually deserted when I realized there was no weapons of mass destruction. I was enlisted as a nuclear, biological, chemical specialist, and never deployed. They wanted to change our MOS to truck drivers. And I realized they didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, so I deserted. I left.

AMY GOODMAN: And what happened to you?

SHAWNA FOSTER: I was underground for a long time, and then my orders expired. And here I am at the climate change, have been doing activism ever since.

PROTESTERS: Oil, oil, gas and goal, we don’t need them, need them! Back up, back up! We want freedom, freedom!

RAE ABILEAH: I’m Rae Abileah from San Francisco, California, and I’m here with the Climate Ribbon Project. And we’ve been asking people around the world, “What do you love and hope to never lose to climate chaos?” People have been writing their message on ribbons and mailing them in here to Paris, and they’ve been displayed all over the city, tied to trees as hopes and prayers and wishes. And today, we’re putting people’s prayers and hopes out on the streets as a symbol of the red lines that negotiators must not cross, as a reminder to these negotiators that this is what we stand to lose.

AMY GOODMAN: And tell us what some of the messages are? Can you read the red ribbons?

RAE ABILEAH: Sure. One of them here says, “Life before money.” And another: “Life cannot exist without choices. Let’s make the right ones.” The one that was really moving to me is this one. This is from Lydia in Wautoma, Wisconsin. She says, “Playing outside on my swing set.”

AMY GOODMAN: And what about that one?

RAE ABILEAH: “Let’s end the expiration date.” Looks like that’s from Jordan.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell me about the tulips?

RAE ABILEAH: The tulips were part of the action here today that people were reading the names of people who were killed by climate injustice. And we’re putting the tulips down in the street as a sign of honor, respect and love.

PROTESTERS: We are unstoppable! Another world is possible!

DEBORAH HART: Deborah Hart. I’m from Melbourne. We’re the Climate Guardian Angels. We’re from Australia. We’ve chosen angels as the symbol for climate justice, because angels protect. They warn against danger, and they protect children, in particular, and the innocents.

AMY GOODMAN: And how is climate change affecting Australia?

DEBORAH HART: Australia is one of the worst affected of all, as predicted by scientists for a long time. We’ve had severe bushfires. We’ve had really exceptional weather patterns for quite some time, very dry conditions. We had a nearly 15-year drought that was directly exacerbated by climate change. The dry—the hydrological systems are completely disrupted. But we see it happening all around the world. I mean, at least we are a relatively wealthy nation, so we can cope in much better ways than other parts of the world, other people who are directly affected now, as well, and who don’t have the resources that Australia has.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you come to Paris?

DEBORAH HART: We wanted to be part of the global movement, and we felt strongly that our government was not representing Australians, not representing the majority of Australians, who want 100 percent renewable energy quickly, and that we know that they undermined—they’ve undermined ambition for emission reduction targets at every single one of these. They just represent industry rather than people. They’re knowingly and willfully ignoring what’s in the best interests of their own citizens and the global citizens. We’re deeply ashamed.

PROTESTER: De-, decarbonize!

PROTESTERS: De-, decarbonize!

PROTESTER: De-, de-, decarbonize!

PROTESTERS: De-, de-, decarbonize!

SARRA TEKOLA: My name is Sarra Tekola, and I work with Got Green in Seattle, Washington. In Seattle, Washington, we have coal and oil trains that go through our neighborhoods. And we’ve done as much as we can to try to regulate them, but because of the Interstate Commerce Clause in the Constitution, these dangerous, exploding oil trains are actually allowed to go through, even though if one was to explode during, like, say, a Seahawks game, 60,000 people would go up in flames. And the city has tried passing resolutions, tried doing different modes of, like, regulating it, but we’re banned, because on the federal level they don’t allow us to regulate it at all, even though these are affecting our communities. And that’s why now the people have to go out in the streets. We’ve been on the train tracks blocking oil trains, because we have no other solution.

PROTESTER: What’s our solution? No more pollution! What’s our solution? No more pollution!

BLANDINA CONTRERAS: [translated] So, my name is Blandina Contreras, and I’m from the Confederation of Peasants of Peru. In Peru, they have been exploiting the natural resources of our country. We are fighting for water, and we are fighting for Mother Earth.

PABLO SOLÓN: My name is Pablo Solón. I am from Bolivia. And I’m here because I want all my children to live. And I think that a world with more than 3 degrees Celsius as what is allowed in the Paris Agreement will not let all the children of the world live. We will have to choose which children are going to live. And, of course, the children of developing countries, of the poor, are going to be the ones that will not be able to survive. So, I’m here to say, now the solutions are going to come from the ground, from below, from the grassroots, because governments, corporations have failed. Now we have to take in our hands the solutions to climate change. That is why I’m here.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re here at the exact same time that inside the COP, just a few miles from here, the Paris accord, the Paris Agreement, is being delivered and unveiled. What’s your understanding of what it says?

PABLO SOLÓN: Well, the Paris Agreement is a death sentence for many people. A world where temperature increases more than 3 degrees Celsius is a world where not everybody will survive. But on the other hand, if you look at the text, well, the text is not really addressing the issue of greenhouse gas emission cuts; they are opening the door to a new carbon market mechanism, under the name of a mechanism to support sustainable development. They are speaking about REDD. And the climate Paris Agreement is in contradiction. It violates the sustainable development goals that just a couple of months ago the U.N. adopted. Because how are you going to guarantee life for all, as the SDGs say, if you have an agreement that says, “No, the temperature will increase to more than 3 degrees Celsius”?

AMY GOODMAN: They have agreed on 1.5 degrees Celsius. Does that give you any hope?

PABLO SOLÓN: No. I mean, the 1.5 or the 2 degrees Celsius is something that you just put in an article. But what you really have to look at is what are the contributions of emission cuts that governments have presented in this agreement. So when you summarize that, you get a world not of 1.5, not a world of 2 degrees Celsius; you get a world of more than 3 degrees Celsius. So the 1.5 is just a cover-up. It’s a way to hide what you’re really doing. So, I don’t think at all that to have 1.5 in the text—we already had that in Cancún. And did something change? The emissions were reduced in the past five years? No. So, I believe that the real part of the agreement is what each government has presented on the table. And that is really a death sentence for most of the people around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: How does climate change affect Bolivia?

PABLO SOLÓN: Well, it affects Bolivia in terms of our glaciers. If we lose our glaciers, we lose the drinking water for the people, we lose water for every culture, for biodiversity. It affects Bolivia because we are going to see more and more natural disasters, like the phenomenal El Niño that is now coming with huge floods that are going to devastate parts of the country—and not only in Bolivia, in all the Americas. So, this is for real. And what we are seeing in Paris is a joke. That agreement is really a joke, a very bad joke for humanity and for nature.

PROTESTERS: What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now! What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!

YUMI CÉLIA: My name is Yumi, and we are from Japan. And we’re here because of this COP21 and all the climate change meeting, and we want to bring the message from Japan that nuclear power is not a solution for climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you read me your banner?

YUMI CÉLIA: The banner is ”Genpatsu to kakuheiki no nai sekai wa kanou da! Another Fukushima is Possible!” And it means it’s possible to have a world without a nuclear power plant and nuclear weapons. I think the solution is just not enough, and we have to—if we really want to survive, we have to act now, have real solutions now. And I think that the problem about climate change is because—it’s not about saving the planet, it’s about saving people. It’s because people cannot adapt fast enough to those changes that are induced by global warming and climate change. With nuclear power, you have an accident, it’s not like decades or like 20 or 30 years; it’s from day one you have—the environment is completely destroyed, and you cannot adapt. And this is why we think nuclear power is really not the solution.

PROTESTERS: COP21 is not a solution! What we need is a revolution! What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!

AMY GOODMAN: People have marched from the Arc de Triomphe to the road to the Eiffel Tower. Thousands of people have gathered calling for climate justice.

NORMAN PHILIP: So I’m Norman Philip from Friends of the Earth Scotland.

AMY GOODMAN: And what are you doing here in front of the Eiffel Tower?

NORMAN PHILIP: We are adding our voice from Scotland to the voice from all the global countries to say that we want climate change to be—the governments need to do something about that sort of thing. So we’re here because—specifically today, because we don’t think the governments are doing enough. So the people are coming on the streets to tell people, and we’ve came from Scotland to add our voice to that.

AMY GOODMAN: How is climate change affecting Scotland?

NORMAN PHILIP: Again, we have seen our weather conditions changing quite a lot. And there is a lot of risk because of like rising tides and stuff. So, I think we’re not seeing it as bad, so we’re also here in solidarity of the people of other states of the world who are definitely suffering a lot more than we are at this time.

AMY GOODMAN: There’s been a petition in the U.K., a half a million people calling for Donald Trump to be banned, the leading Republican presidential candidate.

NORMAN PHILIP: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: He has a golf course in Scotland, right?

NORMAN PHILIP: Donald Trump is a very important person in the environmental movement, because he took over a bit of coastlines and turned that into a golf course, which was just not needed. He then bought one of the biggest golf courses, because people didn’t want to go to that golf course, so he bought the biggest one, which is a championship course. And recently, with some of his announcements in America about the Muslims and all the fences and barriers he wants to build up, the people in Scotland again have said that we just don’t want anything to do with Donald Trump in Scotland.

AMY GOODMAN: He says he’s investing big-time in your country.

NORMAN PHILIP: Yeah, so money doesn’t buy you a social license from the people. And I think he’s finding that in America, as well. Like just because you’ve got money doesn’t mean that you will get the popularity.

PASCOE SABIDO: Pascoe Sabido from Corporate Europe Observatory in Brussels.

AMY GOODMAN: And the COP just came out with their Paris Agreement. Your thoughts? Why are you here in the streets?

PASCOE SABIDO: We’re here because we’ve known from the beginning that this deal is not going to live up to what this planet needs. And we’ve seen it in the text. It’s not going to do it, so the people are out in the street to make sure it’s us. People from indigenous communities, workers, NGOs, peasants—the lot—have come out to say we’re going to have the final word. If this deal is not going to save the planet, we are. So, what this is about is making sure that we show we are the solution, and if our governments aren’t going to stop fossil fuels, then we are. We’ve got to keep them in the ground. And that’s what all of these people here are going to do.

AMY GOODMAN: We last saw you being taken out of the Grand Palais, the Grand Palace, by security as you were protesting energy corporations. Talk about the effect you think that had.

PASCOE SABIDO: I mean, we’ve seen that in fact the close relationship between the energy corporations, the petro companies, coal and gas companies—their close relationship to our governments has seen us have the deal we have today. They’re far too close. And until we end that cozy relationship, we’re never going to have a deal that’s going to be good enough for the people of the planet.

AMY GOODMAN: Where do you go from here?

PASCOE SABIDO: 2016 is going to be a huge year, already so many things in the pipeline—occupations of coal plants, occupation of mines, stopping more fracking rigs, more pipelines. The movement is getting bigger, it’s converging. In 2016, we’re hoping to see a huge amount, because people are taking back power.

PROTESTERS: What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!

AMY GOODMAN: From Arc de Triomphe to the Eiffel Tower, voices from around the world in the streets of Paris on December 12th, Saturday, the day the Paris Agreement was approved. That does it for Climate Countdown. Special thanks to John Hamilton, Denis Moynihan and Chuck Scurich, as well as the Associated Press team in Paris—Phil Hastie, Dave Pentlow, Colin Mackay, Sean Russell, Brett Stanton, Vidal Cohen, Yohei Morimoto, Kiri Lumsden, James Lewis, Toby Goode, Joseph Dilem—and Democracy Now!'s Mike Burke, Carla Wills, Renée Feltz, Laura Gottesdiener, Deena Guzder, Amy Littlefield, Nermeen Shaikh, Sam Alcoff, Robby Karran, Steve Martinez, Hany Massoud, Juan Carlos Dávila, Pedro Rodríguez, Mike DiFilippo, Miguel Nogueira, Julie Crosby, Becca Staley. I'm Amy Goodman. Our website’s democracynow.org. Thanks so much for joining us.

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