When a friend offered me accommodations during the United Nations climate negotiations in Paris, I couldn’t say no.
But the November 13th attacks caused me some trepidation about attending. I was told that large, public demonstrations were cancelled. Undoubtedly, the enthusiasm associated with the negotiation of new global climate commitments would take on a more somber tone.
The climate negotiations, formally known as COP21, were held at Le Bourget airport in Paris from November 30th to December 12th. Accredited individuals were permitted into the United Nations conference, while the general public was permitted into the Generations Climate Area, which contained information booths and activities hosted by indigenous, environmental and labour organizations.
Despite the alluring convergence of world leaders, international delegates and history-making discussions that I knew would take place at Le Bourget, my heart was set on connecting with grassroots groups. In Thunder Bay, where I manage Ontario Nature’s Boreal Program, our citizens’ climate coalition has been gaining momentum and I went to Paris looking for inspiration. I found my Paris home at the Zone D’Action pour le Climat (ZAC), the citizen’s mobilization center at Centquatre-Paris, approx. 12 km from the UN conference. I volunteered at the ZAC for my entire stay.
ZAC hosted film screenings, workshops and art exhibitions from more than 130 civil society organizations, including NGOs protecting the environment and human rights. From the outset we all understood that, while the COP negotiations were a necessary step, any agreement, particularly one without legally-binding GHG emission targets, would be insufficient on its own to combat climate disruption.
Each day, a general assembly updated everyone on the state of the COP negotiations. Hundreds of people – Swedish high school students, British cyclists, Norwegian grandparents against climate change –attended training sessions for peaceful, civil disobedience.
On December 12, 2015, when COP negotiators were signing the final agreement, I joined tens of thousands of people from around the world to celebrate the global climate movement.
The Paris climate agreement is progress based on promises. Citizens must make sure these promises – to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, with an aim of 1.5 degrees – are kept. We must demand that global leaders develop the policies and allocate the funds to accelerate our transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
Julee Boan was Ontario Nature’s Boreal Program Manager. Based out of Thunder Bay, she worked collaboratively with local conservation groups, First Nations, and industry to seek environmentally responsible approaches to economic development in northern Ontario. She has a Ph.D. in forest sciences with research focused on mitigating the impact of industrial logging on woodland caribou.