on 18th December 2015

Thousands march for climate justice

As negotiators arrived in Paris in early December, thousands took to the streets to call for tough action on climate change at COP21. The Paris talks were widely thought to be world’s last best chance for a planet-saving climate deal, and demonstrators in Atlanta, home of CARE USA, joined thousands of people across the world in demanding an agreement that will aggressively cut carbon emissions and provide support to people already dealing with climate change’s effects.

Many experts agree that, to ensure the survival and wellbeing of people in the world’s most vulnerable countries, global temperatures must not rise more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Staying below this warming target will likely mean slashing net carbon emissions to zero. Organizers of the Atlanta march expressed their support for the zero emissions goal and called on world leaders to ramp up investment in renewable energy sources, like wind and solar.

“We want to see climate action coming out of Paris that gets us to 100 percent renewables by 2050,” said Colleen McLoughlin, the Solar Campaign Organizer for Environment Georgia and one of the march’s organizers.

For McLoughlin and other organizers, the march in Atlanta was an effort to show negotiators in Paris that people around the world demand action on climate change. “Our world leaders need to know that even we, in the Southeast [U.S.], understand that climate change is something that needs to be addressed, and it needs to be addressed now,” she said.

The focus was on Paris, but demonstrators took pains to draw connections between global climate change and local environmental issues. In speeches and in slogans scrawled on poster board, demonstrators insisted that dealing with deteriorating environmental conditions will require more than a deal in Paris. Tackling climate change, demonstrators said, will require reducing inequality everywhere.

For Allie Brown of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, equality and justice are at the heart of the climate change fight. “The underprivileged – the black community, communities of color, and low-income communities – are the ones who suffer from climate change the most,” she said.

With marchers gathered in front of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, just several blocks from CARE’s office, co-founder of the Partnership for Southern Equity Nathaniel Smith recalled Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “garment of destiny.” “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly,” he reminded the crowd. In Atlanta, he said, “what happens in Buckhead affects what happens in Bankhead.” “What happens in Vine City affects what happens in Virginia Highlands.”

He might also have traced threads from Paris to Papua New Guinea, from Durban to Dhaka, Bangladesh.

The Paris climate talks did not produce a deal everyone loves, and there remains much that governments must do to keep warming below 1.5 degrees. Despite the deal’s shortcomings, the Paris meeting offered a glimpse of a greener future. Thanks to the tireless work of activists and civil society groups like CARE, the final agreement stresses the importance of “pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above preindustrial levels.”

The meeting in Paris also, and more importantly, galvanized the climate justice movement. It showed that grassroots action is capable of both changing the conversation around climate change and encouraging policymakers, businesses and individuals to adopt more sustainable policies and practices. The growing power of the grassroots climate justice movement is perhaps the most encouraging outcome of the 21st COP. As Martin Lukacs writes in the Guardian, “It was the movement being built by activists around the globe that shaped the best of the Paris agreement.”

For Atlanta-based environmental activist Roger Buerki, addressing climate change’s many interwoven strands will neither begin nor end with governments and high-level treaties. “It has to start with the individual,” he said. “It’s amazing what you can do if you just decide you want to do it.”

Casey Williams, intern with CARE International’s Poverty, Environment and Climate Change Network 

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Casey Williams

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