From the 30 th of November to the 12 th of December 2015, representatives from almost 200 countries gathered in Paris to discuss how greenhouse gas emissions can be limited to avoid ‘dangerous’ climate change.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a common problem among hospitalised patients throughout the world. Image by NIAID.
Image by Natalie Selwood.

However, as discussions drew to a close on the 11 th of December, almost 2,000 activists gathered at Les Palais des Congrès – including 5 students from UWE chosen by the Green Team – for inspiring talks and workshops at the People Power Action assembly hosted by Friends of the Earth.

On the morning of Saturday 12th of December, activists gathered in small groups across the city to ‘geolocate’ themselves using their mobile phones to spell ‘Climate Justice Peace’ on a map of Paris to show the world leaders that a deal was wanted. Ellie, Masters student at UWE, applied to come to Paris as she was ‘curious about the attitude on the ground’, which she experienced when 15,000 activists took to the streets of Paris to show their solidarity against the line that cannot be crossed before irreversible climate change is reached.

This was done in spite of a public demonstration ban imposed across the city following the tragic events of November 13th. Activists from around the world gathered between the Arc de Triomphe and La Defense with two 100-metre long red banners to represent the ‘red lines’ of warming we cannot cross. Red flowers were lain and a 2 minute silence was held for the victims of climate change due to the 1°C warming we have already experienced.

The march continued to the Eiffel Tower and, despite concerns over police intervention, they were fully cooperative and roads were blockaded to allow the march to continue uninterrupted.

Eventually, news of an agreement filtered through and history was made. Countries pledged to cut emissions to avoid global temperatures rising 2°C above pre-industrial levels with every effort to limit warming to 1.5°C. It was also agreed that a ‘global stock take’ will take place every 5 years so as to stay on target.

The atmosphere amongst the activists was one of relief and jubilation as a long awaited climate agreement was finally reached by all countries. However, as draft copies of the agreement became available online, it was evident that the success of the talks may have been more about the success of political diplomacy rather than the success of a plan to cut global emissions. If all commitments that had been agreed are met, we will still be committing ourselves to circa 3.5°C warming – well above the 1.5°C target.

In addition, any action to reduce emissions is legally non-binding, i.e. completely voluntary with the agreement wording advising that countries will simply ‘pursue efforts’ to limit warming. There are also no penalties in place if countries fail to commit to their emission reduction plans. Finally, they will look to ‘peak emissions’ as soon as possible before reducing them with China, currently the highest emitter in the world, expecting to peak emissions by 2030 – 14 years from now.

The earth has already warmed 1°C above pre-industrial levels which has led to melting ice caps and rising sea levels. In that case, if warming is to be limited to no more than 2°C, countries must be serious about cutting emissions. The aim is for zero net greenhouse emissions by the second half of this century, but there is no clear plan on how to achieve such goal. 5-year reviews on each country’s pledge may not be enough.

Nonetheless, if the activist support in Paris is a sign of things to come, then world leaders may no longer be able to get away with inaction. As more people become aware that climate issues and extreme weather events are linked to climate change, they will no longer tolerate  national complacency. The Paris agreement should be seen not as a task accomplished, but as the beginning of a long hard road against climate change.

To learn more about what UWE is doing and to get involved, contact the Green Team at The Students Union at UWE.

By Natalie Selwood

Quotes by:

-Rebecca, 1 st year UWE student: I’m here as I want to learn more about climate change and make others aware so as to have a domino effect

-Beverley, Sheffield: The answers are all there. We just need to stop using fossil fuels!