It took years of negotiating, but nearly all of the world’s nations have finally agreed on a plan to tackle climate change. On Saturday, these countries’ leaders came together to officially sign the historic Paris Agreement, which pledges real action to keep global temperatures from rising catastrophically.
It was a huge moment for people around the world and for our planet. And though many believe that the accord is not perfect, it does show the power of ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things. During my two weeks in Paris, I witnessed young and old alike marching in the streets, indigenous peoples from around the world standing together, and the most climate-vulnerable nations leading the call for strong action. Along the way, there were concerts, lectures, parties, and plenty of pastries.
After the deal was announced, all of these people spread across Paris, in part to celebrate but also to tell world leaders: We are watching, and we want real action now. This is the beginning, not the end.
At first glance, it may seem as if the technical details of greenhouse-gas emissions are poor subjects for watercolor, stamps, and collage, but to me, climate change is about people — the people I saw on the streets of Paris, and the people who expect more than just empty promises. Ahead, some of my Paris journal entries, which break down the biggest moments from COP21 and what the world needs to know (and do) now.
Caption: On November 29, activists held a day of peaceful demonstrations in Paris. Despite being told that they could not take to the streets because of security concerns, protesters left tens of thousands of shoes in the Place de la Republique to symbolize their presence and commitment.
Editor’s note: Perrin Ireland is a science reporter at Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group.
At the Conference of Youth, more than 5,000 young people gathered to discuss real change. When the group marched past the Bataclan concert hall, where people were killed by attackers from the Islamic State group on November 13, a respectful silence settled over the crowd.
During the first few days of COP21, 150 world leaders gathered in Paris to share their commitment to addressing climate change. Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak steals the show at the opening session of the United Nations by reminding us that for his and other small island nations, climate change is already a reality.
Fifty women gathered at Young Feminist Day at #COP21 to discuss the climate-justice movement from their perspective. See that picture of all the men in suits at the opening session on the right? The feminist group’s goal is to get a bunch more women in the mix.
We heard from author and activist Naomi Klein as she and a diverse group of collaborators presented lessons they learned while creating the Leap Manifesto, a plan for Canada to tackle climate change. Klein told the audience of her holistic view: “We can’t address climate change until we address gender, class, and geographic inequities.”
When you’re running around Paris focusing on the ravages of climate chaos for a week, it’s nice to unwind with your fellow activists with a little hootin’, hollerin’, and singing. The Pathway to Paris concert included Fally Ipupa, Flea, Thom Yorke, Patti Smith, Tenzin Choegyal, Jesse Paris Smith, Rebecca Foon, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, and Dr. Vandana Shiva.
Women on the front lines of the impacts of climate change gathered at the Women’s Environmental Climate Action Network to share stories and strategies for getting their voices heard.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve had some questions about what the components of the agreement are. I sat down with the director of NRDC’s international program, Jake Schmidt, in the middle of the process, to talk me through the nuts and bolts.
Jake told me that the pillars of the agreement the U.N. is trying to write could be seen as characters: mitigation, finance, adaptation, loss and damages, and accountability and transparency.
Jake then explained a little more about those characters. Mitigation is how we’re going to cut emissions. Finance is investing in clean energy technology, and working to help developing economies leapfrog dirty energy. Adaptation is the acknowledgement that even if we cut emissions, we’re going to have to make some changes to live in a climate-changed world, such as building sea walls or cultivating native drought-resistant crops.
And then there are certain things we can’t adapt to, so how do we help those people most impacted? Accountability and transparency are the mechanisms for holding countries responsible to live up to their promises.
So what happens next? In 2016, countries will file their first emissions reports. Five years from now, the next round of commitments are due. From 2018 to 2019, countries will be able to issue even more ambitious limits on carbon emissions. And 15 years from today, we will finally find out if countries have done what they promised they would.
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