4 Reasons to Be Inspired by What Just Happened in Paris

by Annie Leonard

December 14, 2015

As the international community wraps up its talks in Paris with the announcement of a historic climate deal, we must remind ourselves that how we move forward from here is more important than any specific agreement.

Eiffel Tower Human Aerial Art

Hundreds of people gathered to spread the demand for 100 percent renewable energy in an action coordinated by artist John Quigley.

© Yann Arthus-Bertrand / Spectr

Over the weekend, negotiators laudably agreed to limit global warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius, but their own emissions targets are not ambitious enough to reach that goal. We will have to work together to hold governments at all levels accountable, eliminate fossil fuels and replace them with 100 percent renewable energy.

Still, what’s transpired over the last two weeks has greatly inspired me, and I want to share some of the most important things I will take with me into the next year of climate activism.

Necessity Is the Mother of Invention

Security concerns in Paris prompted the cancellation of planned climate marches, forcing activists to find new and creative ways to draw attention to their demands for climate action.

The talks kicked off with Greenpeace inflating a balloon in front of the Eiffel Tower calling for 100 percent renewable energy; later, people came together to form a human peace sign in the same space. Climate activists, including Pope Francis, placed shoes at what would have been the start of a massive march. We saw a giant polar bear reminding us of the rights of the indigenous peoples worldwide whose lives are being impacted by climate change. These same indigenous rights activists also took to the River Seine, bringing back inspiring memories of the kayaktivists from this summer’s protests in Seattle and Portland against Shell’s Arctic drilling.

These creative, non-violent demonstrations show just how dedicated and innovative this movement is, and I’m glad to have such brilliant activists our side.

The People Are Speaking Up, and Leaders Are Taking Action

Our goal beyond Paris should be 100 percent renewable energy for all. Above and beyond the agreement itself, Paris gave us an opportunity to focus the world’s attention on fighting climate change and reaching this goal, and many of the responses were heartening.

At the beginning of the talks, for example, Google announced its goal of using 100 percent renewable energy by 2025, amounting to the largest-ever purchase of renewable energy.

And the Compact of Mayors announced that 360 cities — representing more than 343 million people across the globe — had pledged to drastically reduce their carbon emissions. By the end of the conference, at least 40 more cities had added their signatures to the Compact.

Neither of these announcements depended on the agreement itself, demonstrating just how wide the support is for climate action.

The World Is Showing We Can Work Together

It is impossible to look at the proceedings in Paris without considering the dark shadow of last month’s deadly terrorist attacks. I’m inspired to see the world peacefully cooperate on hugely important issues at a time when we’ve seen so many recent examples of increased extremism and violence.

I’m reminded of the #WeAreBetterThanThis movement, in which organizations confronting a wide range of issues recently collaborated for a joint advertisement in the New York Times calling for an end to the divisive rhetoric contributing to hate and violence across our country and the world.

The climate agreement — and indeed the entire climate movement — are reminders that we are citizens of the world. While we cannot individually confront such complex and global issues, together we stand a chance of making the world more peaceful, sustainable and equitable.

Activists Are Ready for the Next Big Fight

As much momentum as the Paris agreement has given us, there is still work to be done, and the first step in our critical transition to 100 percent renewable energy is to keep fossil fuels where they belong: in the ground.

Paris is a symbolic beginning to the end for fossil fuels, but that end will not come about unless we continue to fight dangerous plans like Arctic drilling or coal mining on our public lands. We’ve been calling for serious action on climate at the international level for years, and the world is finally listening — what a fantastic reason to keep the pressure on for climate justice.

It energizes me to know that we are on the right side of history, and we will certainly use our rapidly growing momentum to achieve even more in 2016.

Annie Leonard

By Annie Leonard

Annie Leonard is the co-Executive Director of Greenpeace USA. Leonard began her career at Greenpeace in 1988 and has returned to help the organization inspire and mobilize millions of people to take action to create a more sustainable future together. She is based in San Francisco.

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