Getting a climate deal was tough. Now the real work starts

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 16 December 2015 13:00 GMT

Demonstrators mark out climate "red lines" in Paris, Dec 12, 2015. PHOTO/My Eye-Fi Photos/Yann Levy -

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Civil society, from businesses to divestment activists and women's groups, gears up for post-‪Paris‬ push on climate change

(Updates with Paris Pledge for Action)

At lunchtime on Saturday, as France's president and the U.N. secretary-general urged some 195 governments to adopt a new global climate change agreement, activists were out on the streets of Paris unfurling two 100m-long red banners, symbolising their determination to protect their climate "red lines".

It is a phrase often used in negotiations meaning something you won't budge on. For the 10,000 or so participants in the weekend demonstration, many carrying red tulips to honour those who have suffered from climate change impacts, one of their key "red lines" was ending the use of polluting fossil fuels.

"There is no way to meet the targets laid out in this agreement without keeping coal, oil and gas in the ground," said May Boeve, executive director of, one of the groups behind the action. "The text should send a clear signal to fossil fuel investors: divest now." 

"Our message is simple: a livable climate is a red line we’re prepared to defend," she added.

Other key "red lines" for campaigners included strong protection for the rights of indigenous people and money to pay for the losses and damage caused by unpreventable climate change impacts, such as rising seas and creeping deserts.

The final agreement does not deliver on most of those demands - and crucially outlines no firm pathway to reaching its goal of keeping global warming to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius. Current emissions reduction promises add up to a temperature rise of between 2.7 and 3.7 degrees Celsius.

That is why activists say they will continue their efforts to "break free from fossil fuels".

“If politicians won’t keep fossil fuels in the ground, we will," said Payal Parekh,'s global managing director. "We pledge to escalate on all fronts through resistance, non-cooperation and building alternatives for a rapid and just transition to 100 percent renewable energy. It is time for climate disobedience.”

The next big wave of that is planned for May next year, with plans afoot for a series of actions - from Indonesia to Turkey, Nigeria and Canada - aimed at shutting down "the world’s most dangerous fossil fuel projects" and supporting the most ambitious climate solutions.


But it is not only activists who say the Paris agreement doesn't go far enough in bringing about the energy shift needed to have any chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as the deal aspires to do.

Following the adoption of the accord, nearly every section of civil society – including businesses – put out statements saying much more work will be needed to make the deal’s aims a reality.

Indeed the agreement itself, which is due to take effect only in 2020, will not enter into force until 55 countries that account for at least 55 percent of global emissions have ratified it.

Sam Bickersteth, CEO of the Climate and Development Knowledge Network, which helped some of the poorest countries draft their climate action plans, said the agreement would increase the flow of money for low-carbon development.

But if emissions reductions are not ramped up in the coming years, he warned, the temperature limits will be in danger, as will the achievement of a new set of global goals that include ending poverty and hunger by 2030.

Paul Polman, CEO of consumer goods giant Unilever, described the Paris deal as "a down payment" on the broader ambitions of the Sustainable Development Goals, agreed at the United Nations in September.

"It’s this simple: if we don’t tackle climate change we won’t sustain economic growth or end poverty," he said.

"Paris is just the beginning," he added. "It now falls to all of us, whether in business, government, finance or civil society, to work together to take the promises on paper and turn them into action on the ground.”

On Wednesday, more than 400 businesses, 150 cities and regions, and 120 investors controlling $11 trillion in assets announced their support for the Paris Pledge for Action, promising to help implement the Paris agreement quickly and effectively.


Environmental organisations, aid agencies, women's groups and associations of indigenous peoples have all vowed to keep up the pressure on governments to implement the new deal, and are taking their own steps to achieve what is important to them.

Gender campaigners, for example, are pushing to open up more space for women to be involved in efforts to reduce emissions and spread clean technology, rather than being confined to traditional roles in adapting to the effects of extreme weather.

Some indigenous people want a bigger part in schemes to produce tradable carbon credits by managing forests sustainably, while others have vowed to oppose market-based systems for conserving their forests.

International development charity ActionAid said that, as climate change worsens and affects millions more, people are beginning to ask their governments for the transformative change needed to secure their homes, jobs and futures.

The new deal won’t provide it, but "despite the disappointment, the Paris agreement provides an important hook on which people can hang their demands," said Adriano Campolina, ActionAid's chief executive.

Irrespective of whether the Paris deal is enforced, there is a need to focus right now on dealing with climate change impacts, such as intensifying floods and storms, which will continue to unfold over the next two decades due to warming that is already locked in, said Saleemul Huq, director of the Dhaka-based International Centre for Climate Change and Development.

"The poor and the rich are going to have to face these (impacts)," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "In many ways, the rich are more vulnerable than the poor who are used to living with disasters, and can learn from them."

Governments everywhere will have to change their national spending priorities and put more money into adapting to a warming world if they want to protect their economies, he added.

"We are all moving in the right direction; we just need to gather speed," he said, on the outcome in Paris.

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