COP 21 - Student Perspective

Published: 15 December 2015

A member of the Glasgow University Environmental Sustainability Team - GUEST - gives a personal view of the UN Climate Change conference in Paris.

Image of the COP 21 UN Climate Change logoA member of the Glasgow University Environmental Sustainability Team - GUEST - gives a personal view from the UN Climate Change conference in Paris.

Carmen Paputa Dutu, GUEST Coordinator, Glasgow University Environmental Sustainability Team.

During the weekend, thousands of people from all corners of the world and all walks of life have gathered in Paris to witness the end of two weeks of UN negotiations on climate change and to ensure that the civil society had the last word no matter what the outcome. This was in spite of the recent tragic events and the State of Emergency declared by the French Government, which placed heavy restrictions and prohibited any unauthorised political protests.

Members of GUCA (Glasgow University Climate Action) and GUEST (Glasgow University Environmental Sustainability Team) joined the mass mobilisation. While some were there for the entire two weeks of negotiations, working hard as part of an international network of enthusiastic and committed young volunteers to report on the process and expose the many issues it involves, the rest of us joined them for the final weekend – some even by bike! Scott Dallas cycled all the way from London, raising money for Keep Scotland Beautiful.

There we had the chance to be part of a wonderful movement, taking part in innovative and creative actions devised to circumvent the ban on protests and demonstrations, such as a geocaching demonstration through which about 3000 people organised in small groups spelled the words “Climate Justice Peace” on the map of Paris: After that, we joined 15 000 people on Ave de la Grand Armeé to draw the symbolic red lines which should not be crossed in order to keep global temperatures at safe levels, all of this at the same time that the agreement was being signed and released by the world leaders.

Shift to renewables

After the disheartening results of COP15 in Copenhagen, COP21 was said to be the last chance to reach a legally binding agreement between the nations of the world that would keep global climate warming at 2°C and avert disastrous consequences. Considering the bleak history of the last 20 years of negotiations, expectations were low, and it is perhaps these very low expectation that have made the new agreement be hailed as progressive and ambitious in mainstream media. Indeed, for the first time the paper aligns with the scientific research on climate change and the demands of climate justice advocates, accepting that 2°C is too dangerous a threshold and that we should instead aim for a maximum of 1.5°C warming. This would involve a major and complete shift to renewables, ending the age of fossil fuels around mid-century.

However, despite this awareness that we need to keep global warming below 1.5°C, the current pledges made by the parties put us on a path of 2.7 – 3°C global warming, a situation which is synonymous with a death sentence for millions of vulnerable people in the developing nations. For the civil society which demanded a fair, equitable and socially just agreement, the result has been beyond disappointing, with the paper failing on all four demands of the People’s Test on Climate.

While Scotland’s carbon emission reduction targets are progressive and ambitious, it is important not to become complacent and lose sight of the bigger picture. We need to stand in solidarity with those who are most affected by climate change and push for more ambitious targets, while also holding policy makers accountable. If you are wondering what the next step is, GUEST will continue working on campus improvements, aiming to help the University reach its carbon emission reduction targets for 2020.

Meanwhile, GUCA is looking at the bigger picture and will release their ambitious and exciting new campaign in the New Year, so keep an eye on their social media. In case you want to be part of the movement as well, we can only advise you to take advantage of your University experience and  be the Change Maker that we world needs: find your own voice and use it for good, because this is just the beginning of a very important struggle for climate justice.

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First published: 15 December 2015