There’s more for us to do.

Paris in the New Year

At the end of last year, it seemed that history was made at the COP21 Paris Talks. Nations managed to come to an agreement on what should be done about climate change. Some of us were optimistic about this arrangement; others were not impressed –  regardless, we may have put it out of our heads for the summer holidays.

The New Year has come and gone and many of us are starting our lives back again. We’re starting to think about our resolutions and responsibilities. What does Paris mean in that context? How do we, as ordinary people, react to such a massive undertaking involving nearly 200 world leaders and negotiators?

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Let’s begin with a little refresher on what the agreement entails:


  • Global leaders agreed to no more than 2°C warming above pre-industrial levels, with a goal of 1.5°C
  • A commitment to women’s rights, indigenous people’s rights, and human rights were all in the agreement
  • Countries will review the agreement and their progress in 5 years


  • The actual commitments made by the countries would still create 2.7-3.7°C warming
  • Women’s, indigenous, and human rights issues are all in the non-binding section of the agreement
  • There is no mention of fossil fuels anywhere in the agreement
  • Renewable energy is only mentioned once
  • The primary focus is on carbon markets, which have shown very little promise as an effective mechanism for decreasing carbon emissions
  • Carbon sequestration is seen as an acceptable form of mitigation – a technology that does not address the need to keep 80% of fossil fuels in the ground
  • New Zealand has committed to a paltry 11% emissions reduction below 1990 levels by 2030, and mitigation is limited to emissions accounting and carbon markets

As we can see there is still much work to be done, but we cannot ignore the improvements compared to the Copenhagen Accord, which contained no commitments to a 2° limit and nothing legally binding. This is perhaps the most important point. Why was Paris more successful than Copenhagen? While the answer is indeed complex, it is vital to point out that the Climate Justice movement grew significantly prior to Paris and learned from Copenhagen’s mistakes.

Though criticised as pessimistic, it was essential to predict that leaders would not simply make an agreement for the sake of the common good. They would have to be pressured by the people – and this time, the people were ready. Through numerous nonviolent direct actions and parallel campaigns (protests in Paris; successful First Nations resistance to the Keystone XL Pipeline; the global divestment movement; people of India’s defeat of a coal land grab; the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance; and much more), activists were able to create a groundswell of people power against big fossil fuel interests, and therefore exerted pressure on world leaders to show accountability in Paris.

Now this pressure must continue. Just as we saw hopelessness and burn-out after Copenhagen, let us see grassroots energy and courage after Paris. We can create change from the ground up while holding politicians, corporations, and other powerful entities accountable at the same time.

What we can do in 2016:

In Aotearoa, the Fossil Free divestment movement is steadily growing. Christchurch City Council, the Tertiary Education Union, Dunedin City Council, University of Otago, and Victoria University of Wellington have pledged to withdraw their investments from fossil fuel extraction. Globally, $3.4 trillion have been withdrawn from investment in fossil fuel extraction! There are currently campaigns for universities and banks, as well as councils and funds, in Aotearoa. Get involved here! Also, check out our divestment resources here.

Divestment shows its importance by delivering a powerful economic blow to the fossil fuel industry. Over 500 institutions globally have realised that fossil fuel extraction is no longer a safe investment – nor is it ethical. We hope to see the industry weaken as governments exert pressure from above and we push from below. Fossil fuel divestment is a strong link Climate Justice chain, and along with other campaigns, we can significantly strengthen the impact of the Paris Agreement.