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After Paris, the Movement for Climate Justice Has Only Just Begun

Posted on Dec 17, 2015

By Sonali Kolhatkar

(Page 2)

The Paris accord does indeed set emissions reductions goals (that are not ambitious enough). But it leaves out how countries can implement those goals. In the lead-up to COP21, fossil fuel companies, preparing for the inevitable, threw their weight behind a carbon tax as a mechanism to reduce climate change, and in the end the Paris accord mentioned “carbon pricing” as one way to achieve emissions cuts. But without mechanisms to reduce emissions that ensure climate justice, the agreement may be left to so-called market forces like carbon pricing. And market forces have no respect for human rights. Indeed they are predicated on putting a price on human life and dignity.

There are some who understand climate change to be so urgent that the demands for justice are seen as tangential to the fate of our species. But history has shown us that when we create hierarchies of causes, those who are the most vulnerable are always asked to wait for justice, to wait for a day that may never come. Climate change has many victims right now, and poor people of color are unsurprisingly paying the highest price. Just this week alone, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced in the Philippines by Typhoon Melor. The recent record-breaking rains and subsequent flooding in Chennai, India, killed hundreds of people and left millions without basic services. Such natural disasters will continue to strike with increasing ferocity and will cause the most damage to the weakest among us.

If market forces are to mitigate climate change, the lives of millions of poor people simply become part of an equation. The inequality that is exacerbated by global capitalism will remain intact, sacrificing the poor to preserve the rich. And that is why climate justice has to be the framework within which warming is curbed.

Now that nations have agreed on an inadequate protocol to reduce warming, the task of centering justice falls to ordinary people and their communities. Grass-roots activists can hold local municipalities accountable, even if national governments remain unresponsive. As tens of thousands of people gathered in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower last Saturday, Jean Le Goff, a Paris-based activist, surveyed the scene before us and told me, “I think this is the beginning of a big climate movement.” For government and corporate elites, the Paris accord was the end of an era of global negotiations. For climate justice activists, this is only the beginning.

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