The Ecologist

If there's one thing the French are good at, it's demonstrating - as it this huge climate action and anti-nuclear protest outside the Assemblée Nationale, Paris, on 20th March 2011. Photo: philippe leroyer via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).

If there's one thing the French are good at, it's demonstrating - as it this huge climate action and anti-nuclear protest outside the Assemblée Nationale, Paris, on 20th March 2011. Photo: philippe leroyer via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).

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COP21 101 - The Ecologist Guide to the Paris mobilisations

Kara Moses

3rd November 2015

This December, world leaders will meet at COP21 in Paris to negotiate a global agreement on climate change, writes Kara Moses. But the real action and inspiration will be in a host of parallel events, conferences, action and demonstrations attended by tens of thousands of global climate activists. So here's your definitive guide to what will be happening - and how you can join in!

Plans are coming together for the 'largest ever act of climate disobedience' in the form of 'Red Lines' occupations encircling the summit, being organised by an unprecedented coalition of NGOs, trade unions, youth, faith, and grassroots groups.

What can the world expect from the COP21 climate talks in Paris this December?

Will the assembled multitude of negotiators and world leaders come up with a response commensurate to the threat of catastrophic climate change? In short, no.

There's still a long way to go from the very long negotiating text riddled with square brackets that came out of Bonn, to any finished agreement. And even if the talks go well, the emissions reduction pledges proposed have already exceeded the 2C threshold beyond which we face irreversible climate change.

STOP PRESS - Two Paris events cancelled by police for security reasons: the 29th November Global Climate March and the 12th December mobilizations. All other events proceeding as planned.

Major update: 'COP21 actions go ahead: 'We are not defending nature - we are nature defending itself'.' 28/11/15.

The deal they strike won't be good enough, but it could be a great deal better than nothing - and provide a platform for more ambitious future agreements in years to come that might just come up to the mark.

But COP21 is not just about what happens in the Le Bourget conference centre 15km north of Paris - a destination best known for its international airport. There will be a host of actions, demonstrations, conferences, performances, exhibitions and other events.

These are certain to be a whole lot more inspiring and meaningful than the formal negotiation process, creating opportunities for action, networking, dialogue, building alliances and a wider, longer term engagement of civil society driving ever higher climate ambition.

After the spectacular failure of the 2009 Copenhagen COP, the climate movement has learnt some lessons about the dangers of pinning too much hope on a broken process. In the aftermath of 'Hopenhagen', the climate movement withered away under the crushing weight of disappointment and climate change all but disappeared from the political agenda and mainstream media.

The narrative the mobilisations are being framed around this time around is about reclaiming this key moment for the people, and denouncing the inevitably inadequate deal that politicians will make - and then claim to be a 'success'.

It's about having the final word - and building the climate movement for taking bold action together in 2016. Artwork for mobilisations features slogans such as "we are the ones we have been waiting for", "governments don't lead people, people do", and "the final word for climate justice".

So what's happening? And how can I get involved?

The conference itself runs from 30th November - 11th December. But to get in, you will need to have got registration already. And if you haven't, all the easier to dedicate yourself to everything else that's going on.

A good place to begin is at one of the convergence spaces. The main one so far confirmed is the Climate Action Zone (ZAC), open from 7th-11th December. This will be a central hub for daily updates from the COP, action planning, workshops and general assemblies.

From early November, Jardin d'Alice will be a large art-action space for building tools for the marches and actions (such as giant inflatables and banners) and hosting a 500-person kitchen.

Check out ARTCOP21 for mainstream art events throughout the COP. Place to B is holding a space for creating alternative narratives of the COP for journalists and blogger types (with space for sleeping 600 at reduced rates), and Eroles will be holding a creative space for collaboration, workshops and opportunities to get involved.

Let the Climate Games begin ...

On the weekend at the start of the summit (28th-29th November), there will be mass marches all over the world, including London, New York, Paris, Berlin and others. The London march is on 29th November with smaller local marches in other cities including Cardiff and Edinburgh on the 28th (though Belfast will march on the 29th).

Update: the main 29th November Climate March in Paris has been cancelled for security reasons, but other smaller events are being planned to take its place. Find an event near you!

This same weekend Paris will also see the arrival of 'ZAD' (Zone a Défendre, or zone to defend) convoy-marches of tractors, bikes and people on foot from land struggles all over France (and possibly Europe) for a mass convergence and banquet.

The opening day of the COP (Monday 30th) will see the opening round of the Climate Games, an innovative form of political engagement taking the form of a real-world 'Disobedient Action Adventure Game'.

Trialed in Amsterdam coal port this summer, it is essentially a framework to allow for diverse tactics - such as civil disobedience, theatre, art and direct action - to be used together. Teams register, complete their stunts and actions, and submit photos and action reports to the website to be awarded points and prizes for innovation, courage and creativity. The opening round has a focus on 'greenwashing'.

This day will also be a global day of action for students, with students of all ages encouraged to skip school as part of a global Climate Strike, and organise an action for climate justice.

Climate actions

Civil society will gather in Montreuil during the middle weekend (5th-6th December) for the People's Climate Summit - a down-to-earth alternative to the political circus playing out in le Bourget, with debates, workshops, screenings, preparation for action and a Village of Alternatives. There will also be a Global Critical Mass bike ride on 5th December.

Other actions include: the Pinocchio Awards ceremony for dirty corporations on the 3rd; an International Tribunal for the rights of Nature on the 4th; a day of action on food sovereignty and TTIP on the 9th, as well as a participative Art Not Oil performance protest in the oil-sponsored Louvre; and day of fracking action on the 10th.

Solutions COP21 is a sideshow event to the official summit, exhibiting "products, services, processes and innovations" for addressing climate change.

With corporations able to pay large sums of money for a space in the COP21 itself if they exhibit within the 'solutions' expo, activists have lambasted the exhibition as a symbol of corporate greenwash and vowed to target it with protest. It runs from 4th-10th December in central Paris - get there before the 4th to be ready for mass action.

The talks are scheduled to end on the 11th December, but historically have always overrun, so are actually expected to finish on the 12th - hence the 11th / 12th will be the focus for mobilisation. Saturday 12th, or 'D12' as it has been dubbed, will be the main day for mass mobilisation and is expected to go down in history.

Friends of the Earth International are planning an evening rally of speakers and music at Place de le Republique on the 11th, and the closing round of the Climate Games will be on 11th/12th.

'Climate disobedience' at Le Bourget ...

Plans are coming together for the 'largest ever act of climate disobedience' in the form of 'Red Lines' occupations encircling the summit, being organised by an unprecedented coalition of NGOs, trade unions, youth, faith, and grassroots groups (Coalition Climat 21, or CC21).

The red lines represent minimum limits for a just and liveable planet, that the negotiators are expected to cross in their lack of ambitious action. The occupations will fill roads around Le Bourget with huge inflatable red lines, farmers with tractors, Occupy-esque tent villages, frontline communities, and thousands of determined people.

At the same time, around the world red lines will appear on targets for action in 2016 - sites of fossil fuel extraction, infrastructure and affected communities. The action is being organised in a way that avoids police escalation (though it is impossible to predict police behaviour), making it accessible and safe for people who have never taken civil disobedience before but want to take bold action at this crucial moment.

Plan to be in Paris by noon on the 11th at the latest for briefings and non-violent civil disobedience trainings. And remember - if there's one activity at which the French excel, it's demonstrating.

Mass rally in central Paris

For those not comfortable with the idea of civil disobedience, a rally will also be held in central Paris on D12. Precise details are still being worked out, but current thinking is that twelve blocs will march from twelve locations, carrying red lines representing different themes, to join a giant human chain around Place de la Republique and create a 'Grand Clamor' with drums, bells and sirens sounding.

The human chain will surround representatives from affected communities from around the world who will sing and speak before plans are made for an unprecedented year of action in 2016. The whole day will close with a clear link between all of the actions in Paris and around the world.

Updates on plans for D12 will appear on the CC21, and Climate Justice Action (CJA, a large international coalition of grassroots groups) websites as plans develop.

Update: the main D12 'mobilisation' in Paris has been cancelled for security reasons, but other smaller events are being planned to take its place.

After having the final word on the talks and claiming the moment to build a strong movement for action in 2016 and beyond, whatever the outcome of the UN summit there will be a celebration and Climate Games Award Ceremony on Sunday 13th. Check the Climate Games website for updates and don't miss the party!

Sounds great! How do I get there?

You can of course book your own transport but there are organised transport options that allow you to meet and travel together with fellow activists, and feel part of the mass movement.

A number of NGOs are working together to provide Eurostar 'climate trains' to Paris for the final weekend (11-13th December). Reclaim the Power and People and Planet have teamed up to organise affordable coaches on the 5th and 9th of December, returning on the 13th or 14th for those wanting to stay for longer.

Some people are cycling to Paris, with bike trains coming from all over Europe. Two are leaving from London - Time to Cycle is a five-day ride, and Climate Kilometre a three-day ride that joins the journey of two people running and cycling from the North and South poles to Paris (and they're not the only ones!). Both rides join a mass cycle on D12 and return to London by train on the 13th.

But where can I stay?

CC21 has been negotiating for months with the local authorities to provide large accommodation spaces for free or a small donation. However the authorities are currently not delivering on their promises - you can sign a petition here to tell them to get their act together.

So instead CC21 is also facilitating various homestay options, with people in Paris willing to host activists travelling from afar. Keep an eye on the CC21 and CJA websites for updates as they emerge.

You can also book a free place in a gym or pay for a hostel bed for the final weekend through FOE / Global Justice Now. UK students can book free accommodation with People and Planet.

And you can of course book your own accommodation. There is a list of hostels and hotels that provide beds for under €30 a night that you can book here.

What about food?

Mass catering kitchens are coming from across France to feed the tens of thousands of people expected to descend on Paris during the summit. Some giant pots that can hold soup for 200 hundred people and take six hours to boil are being specially made!

Details are still being worked out but it's likely that there will be a few locations for eating en masse, with payment by donation. There'll be a constant need for help cooking and washing - a great way to be useful and meet new friends. Just turn up.

And don't forget the Jardin d'Alice 500-person kitchen, open from early November.

Preparation, updates, information

There are trainings and info share events popping up all over Europe where you can get skilled up, find out information and meet other people who are going.

In the UK, Reclaim the Power are organising events in Bristol and Manchester and holding weekly meetings in London.

As plans develop they will be put out on the CC21, CJA, Climate Games and websites. This page will also be updated with fresh information.

What about after Paris?

As it's recognised that what happens within the walls of le Bourget will not bring the solutions needed, there is an emphasis on what happens after Paris.

There are already big plans for escalation of climate action in 2016, with callouts for a year of action and a global shut down of fossil fuel infrastructure in the spring already generating excitement. More plans and ideas will come out of the assemblies and discussions held in the Red Lines blockades and rally on D12.



Major update: 'COP21 actions go ahead: 'We are not defending nature - we are nature defending itself'.' 28/11/15.

Kara Moses is a freelance writer, activist, and Environment Editor for Red Pepper. See her website


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