This Is Only the Beginning

This Is Only the Beginning

- in International
On the final day of COP21 in Paris, more than ten thousand people took to the streets to show that the climate is an important political issue. Photo: Tindra Englund

In the climate conference COP21 in Paris, you are either inside or outside. Inside, partaking in negotiations, or outside on the streets among the activists. Lundagård were present in the streets of Paris when the historic agreement was signed.

After 17 hours, the bus lets us off in a grey multi-storey carpark. It is myself and a group of students, and when we alight from the bus and put our backpacks on, we are tired after a more or less sleepless night.

It is Friday, we are in Paris, and it is the last week of the climate conference COP21. Two students who decided to go the climate conference at an early stage are Sara Nyberg and Karl Holmberg.

“I feel that I really want to be at the scene, feel the atmosphere, be inspired, and meet other like-minded people,” says Sara Nyberg, student of Environmental and Energy Systems Studies.

Karl agrees. He is studying political science, is a part of Hållbart Universitet, and wants to be here to influence.

“I want to try to influence in some way. When I have grown old and the youngsters ask me, ‘Why didn’t you do anything?’ I want to be able to say that I took part and tried,” he says.

It is not only politicians, diplomates, and journalists who have gathered in Paris to supervise and influence the UN climate conference. A lot of active members from different organisations are also present. They have come from all corners of the Earth, all with one thing in common: a wish to stop the consumption of fossil fuels, and show the politicians that this is an important issue.

We travel to the activists’ centre. It is a grey concrete building with one ground and basement level and large open plan rooms that resemble a concert hall. In here, the biggest environmental organisations gather and plan actions, have film screenings and workshops.

Every day after the negotiations have finished, a presentation is held about what has actually happened in the conference. In what ways has the agreement been changed? What was removed, what was added? What are the big points of discussion today?

Today, the day before the biggest of the demonstrations during COP21, preparations are well under way. We are sitting in a big group on the concrete floor, most sitting Indian style.

“Tomorrow, we’re going to do some civil disobedience,” a man on the stage in front of us shouts.

The audience applaud, whistle, and shout. The demonstration is arranged by an organisation called “”, and at the moment, it is not legal since a state of emergency has been proclaimed in Paris.

The terrorist attack still is very present in the collective memory, and many people are worried about how police will react when the demonstrators disobey the law. The object of the demonstration is to put the foot down in a peaceful manner. The activists want to be the ones getting the last word in; that is why they have chosen the very last day to act.

Before the demonstration, we talk through the safety measures. Disobeying the state of emergency could result in both fines and imprisonment for a few months. Therefore, preparations are of a larger scale, should something go wrong.

“This is how you protect yourselves from the police, if they attack,” one of the guys in charge of the run-through says. He stretches out his arms in front of him, bending them and putting them close to the cheeks. The elbows are pointing forward and the hands are clasped in a firm grip behind the neck.

Around the room, people are trying out their new skill. Two tiny ladies in their mid-sixties hold their arms up, making sure that the other is doing it right, and peek through the arms.

“Keep together in twos,” those in charge explain. According to French law, a demonstration consists of at least three people who share a common political view – but if we split up, we are not breaking any law, they explain.

Petra van der Kooij is also at the activists’ centre. She is a Master’s student of Human Ecology at Lund University, and a founder of “Cooperide”, a bike ride initiative form Lund to Paris, together with other students engaged with environmental issues. It started out almost as a joke, she explains, but soon, they realised that it could actually be possible to do.

“In the end, it became more than just a cycling trip to Paris. We have stopped in different cities along the way and met with other environmental organisations and climate engaged  activists, arranging everything from workshops to bicycle demonstrations and film screenings,” she says.

And now, it is Saturday 12 December. L’Avenue de la Grande Armée, the street leading up to the Arc de Triomphe, is filled with people, everyone wearing something red. We wander around in the midst of whistles, signs, and placards. Just after twelve o’clock, a loud horn signal is heard and two minutes of silence commence.

Two minutes of silence for all the people already suffering due to climate change. When the horn signals again, people start dancing and shouting – a salsa band play only a few hundred metres away. There are about 15,000 people in the streets, and together, we put a long red ribbon on the ground, putting red tulips down as well, and shout together.


Red Lines action was the name of the demonstration organised by, where every participant wears something red. Photo: Tindra Englund
Red Lines action was the name of the demonstration organised by, where every participant wears something red. Photo: Tindra Englund

After the demonstration and after the COP21 conference, reactions to the agreement have differed. Some feel positive, whereas others think the agreement was not clear enough.

Petra van der Kooij is one of those who hoped for a more ambitious agreement, with clearer guiding principles. She was also rather disappointed in the demonstration, which she did not feel sent a clear enough message.

“There was a great atmosphere and a nice demonstration. But to me, it felt more like a popular festival. And I wish we had succeeded in conveying a strong political message instead of making it seem like we celebrated,” she says.

At the same time, she is happy that the agreement became reality, and that the bigger countries, the USA and China, really signed it. Rather an agreement than nothing at all. And Markuu Rummukainen, who is a climate expert and researcher at Lund University, agrees.

“The important thing is that an agreement was reached. That is really quite a big deal. Above all, it is a clear statement from the international community, directed at the trade industry, among others,” he says.

In contrast to the activists, he was present at the actual negotiations, and even though it was off to a slow start, he thinks that the agreement is a good framework for continued climate work.

At the same time, he wishes that things would be a bit more ambitious; for example, partial goals concerning at what rate emissions are to be decreased. Something that has received a lot of criticism as well is the fuzzy descriptions in the agreement, but Markuu Rummukainen thinks these could be positive in some cases, as well.

“Earlier, a common goal has been to reach 2 degrees centigrade. But to strive instead for 1,5 degrees means that you increase ambition and, at the same time, awareness about how great a problem this is,” he says.

There is not such a big risk that some countries would try to bend the rules and not care, according to Markuu Rummukainen. When enough countries have decided on implementing the agreement into national law, it gains legal force.

What are your hopes for future climate work?
“This is a starting point for continued work. I hope that the countries work to raise the ambition before the new agreement gains legal force in the year 2020. I also hope that climate financing, reporting, and supervision of the countries’ obligations become more distinct,” Markuu Rummukainen says.

How, then, did the year 2015 turn out – is it a year in a spirit of climate? If anything, the demonstration wanted to show that this is not the end. For the activists, the Paris negotiations have reached and end. But the next chapter on the global climate movement has only begun.

Article: Tove Nordén
Translation: Richard Helander

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