Paris, France — The COP21 climate talks in Paris, which began on Nov. 30 and extend through Dec. 12, is the 21st time world leaders have met in an attempt to come to a binding agreement to curb greenhouse gasses. This year’s conference carried an unusual burden of expectation, because it has been billed for years as the best hope for averting climate disaster. But, for many of the climate activists in Paris the reality is the Paris accord could bring more harm than good.
In a statement from Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, “Not only will the anticipated Paris Accord not address climate change, it will make it worse because it will promote false solutions and not keep fossil fuels from being extracted and burned. The Paris COP21 is not about reaching a legally binding agreement on cutting greenhouse gases. In fact, the Paris Accord may turn out to be a crime against humanity and Mother Earth.”
Those are strong words and they were echoed by Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, who said the deal “will be extraordinarily dangerous.”
So how did we get here? How is it that this moment, which was a cause for hope for so many in the climate movement, is now being looked upon with dread? There are many possible answers, but when you trace a line back to the source, you’ll find one very simple and familiar answer: corporate influence.
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Solutions COP21 is an expo at the Grand Palais, a large historic exhibition hall, at the center of Paris. The event’s website says they aim to showcase “solutions for a new era.” So it was surprising that the event’s sponsors include multinational corporations involved with financing, extracting and burning fossil fuels. It turns out, the benefits for corporations sponsoring such an event are numerous. The event is an opportunity for companies to employ greenwashing to distract from their brands’ negative impacts, while simultaneously increasing access to policy makers. Some corporate sponsors spent as much as $250,000 for perks, like the opportunity to host “stakeholders in privileged meetings.”
A group of local and international climate activists decided to hold a toxic tour inside the event to expose the false solutions and the companies behind them. These “false solutions,” like cap-and-trade, which allows companies to emit carbon in exchange for buying standing forests and not cutting them down, or increased use of natural gas, often serve to exacerbate the problem.
Among the speakers at the event was Kandi Mossett of the Indigenous Environmental Network, who stood by the booth for Suez, the world’s largest water privatization company and a member of an international pro-fracking lobby.
“Suez is talking about fracking as a solution to the future. I am from North Dakota where they are fracking my homelands and killing our people in the name of a false solution”
Dozens of activists were forcibly removed by undercover police officers, who reportedly used pepper spray and “stink bombs.” One man who was unknown to organizers called out the swift action to silence any critique of the event, saying, “Every time a voice of dissent is raised … the immediate response is to try to arrest people and try to stop them from speaking.” At that very moment undercover police officers came from behind and dragged the man out.
In a matter of days video of the crackdown posted by New Internationalist Magazine had been seen by more than 6 million and with the backlash, Solutions COP21 increased security measures, using profiling to restrict access of suspected activists. On Dec. 7 the Boulder eco-hip hop artists the Earth Guardians, led by youth activists Xiuhtezcatl and Itzcuauhtli Martinez, were due to perform on the main stage at Solutions COP21.
Having seen the video, the young fractivists decided to use the platform to amplify the voices of dissent that the expo so badly wanted to drown out. Before the final song of a 45-minute long set, Xiuhtezcatl invited leaders from the Indigenous Environmental Network to join him on stage. In the middle of the song he took to the mic to call out the fossil fuel industry whose booths surrounded the stage. “We are here for real solutions,” Xiuhtezcatl said, “and fracking is not a real solution.”
Real solutions are desperately needed to avoid climate crisis, but we shouldn’t rely on COP21 to bring them.
Russell Mendell is a Colorado environmental activists currently in Paris.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.