For the last two weeks, the climate movement has topped the news, from Oakland to Paris to Melbourne. Leading up to the UN climate talks, hundreds of thousands of people rallied and marched, insisting that the world leaders at COP21 maximize their commitments to a carbon-free future.
Altogether, there were more than 2,300 events around the world, and nearly 800,000 people participated. In Oakland, a broad coalition of climate groups, unions, and community organizations marched on November 21. Leading the way were local Native Americans, protesting the dangerous oil refineries and the trains carrying oil and coal around the Bay Area. Fossil Free California marched, too, highlighting teachers’ demand that their pension fund, CalSTRS, divest not only from coal but from all fossil fuels.
This week, as the talks have begun in Paris, the pressure is on to turn national commitments into an international agreement that will keep global temperatures within a habitable range. That means no more than 2 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial level, and preferably less than 1.5 degrees, as UN climate chief Christiana Figueres has made clear. The current commitments are an excellent start, but they are insufficient. The world is likely to cross a landmark threshold, the 1 °C mark, for the first time this year, and reaching 2 °C of warming would disproportionately impact the world’s poorest citizens.
But there is optimism that real progress is being made. “We are in for some tense negotiations, but I think we’ll come out of the other end with an agreement,” says Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Dhaka, Bangladesh. While stabilizing at 1.5 °C may be politically impossible at this point, the conversation about climate has now changed, and the way is open to the ongoing discussions and decisions that will be required to advance toward a different energy environment, to a world that does not burn carbon.