Nina Gualinga from the Sarayaku Community of Ecuador in the Canoe of Life at COP21.

COP21 in the Spotlight

COP21 is being hailed as “historic,” despite its significant shortcomings. This is because this ambitious collaboration brought together nearly all countries of the world to address an enormous issue affecting individuals, organizations, corporations, institutions and governments.

COP21 gathered 196 country leaders to reach a binding agreement to help reduce greenhouse emissions and the impact they effect in the world as well as to renew their-soon-to-expire commitments on these emissions. At this meeting in Paris, countries were expected to reach an agreement for the coming decade, at the least.

This event was particularly important due to the urgency that scientists recommend global warming needs to be addressed. Scientists warn that if greenhouse emissions continue to rise, we will pass the threshold beyond which global warming becomes catastrophic and irreversible. That threshold is estimated at 2°C, but with the current trajectory, we seem to be headed to a 5°C increase. And although temperatures have been rising at a slower pace since 1998, they have not fallen or stalled, putting life on Earth at high risk of hitting the sixth mass extinction of species and a shredding of the web of life.

Since 1992, governments started to become more aware of the dangers of climate change, however, the agreements made over time are not sufficient. Multiple agreements have been made—starting with the Kyoto Protocol in 1997—but none have truly resulted in a fully articulated and binding treaty (none of the countries that failed to meet their commitments have been sanctioned). There has, however, been great advancement since 2009 at COP15 in Copenhagen. The world’s biggest emitters seem to have united towards one single goal: limit their greenhouse emissions. However, some other weak spots shown by official country leaders included their inability to agree to limit emissions to stay below 1.5°C, or to agree to the goal of becoming carbon neutral globally by date earlier than 2050, or to set concrete plans to achieve the agreed upon goals of the Paris climate conference.

Alongside the “official talks” at COP21 was the global civil society coming together to create alternatives to bring forth a thriving, just and sustainable web of life, making it possible to state that the COP represents the opportunity to see the emergence of a unified human species, starting with the people and non-reliant on governmental talks alone—a huge shift for humanity!

Listen to our Global Facilitator Call live from COP21:

Global Civil Society at COP21

The Conference of the Parties had two main spaces, the Blue Zone, where country leaders met daily for a week to find an agreement that would reduce worldwide temperatures to minimize the impact of climate change in the world, and the “non-official” Green Zone, which was the space created for the general public to attend and present conferences and exchange knowledge and experiences. The Green Zone also included an Indigenous Pavilion, a space for worldwide representatives of indigenous nations.

There were also events held outside of COP21, known as side events. These were held by and for the civil society to connect and strategize.

The COP side events each had several hundred people attending. There were two large venues just for the people to come together to inform themselves about the issues discussed in the official Blue Zone. Conferences were offered on topics such as climate crimes against nature, the thread of GMO’s, monetization of Nature, peaceful civil disobedience, Indigenous Peoples’ rights, debriefs and analysis of the official talks, climate change advocacy in Latin America, Asia, Middle East, and many more.

A Growing Civil Society Committed to an Environmentally Sustainable, Spiritually Fulfilling, Socially Just Human Presence on this Planet

While country leaders met in the official Blue Zone, the global civil society had an unprecedented opportunity to gather in different dedicated spaces to plan and collaborate—a demonstration of the power the planetary family has when joining together, in this case to wrestle with the rising temperatures and to keep our home healthy.

Indigenous Peoples Participation

For the second year, the COP dedicated a space for the wisdom, recommendations, initiatives and demands of indigenous peoples to be publicly shared with others, and Pachamama Alliance partners from Sarayaku and Llanchamacocha were present there and in several forums where they shared about the imminent threat they face in their territories. This space was vital as it exposed this conversation about the rights of indigenous peoples—that is oftentimes left behind—to the entire civil society. Meanwhile, at the Blue Zone, Indigenous Peoples Rights were gradually disappearing from the dialogues and as of right now, recognition of indigenous rights only appears in the preamble of the Paris Accord, which doesn’t include binding, enforceable agreements and leaves this topic at an aspirational level. This decision leaves indigenous peoples in further risk of displacement from their lands because they are not legally protected by a globally recognized agreement.

Despite the shape that the COP21 talks were taking, representatives from indigenous nations around the world stood for their rights and had their voice heard at several events in and outside the Green Zone. One event was the Sunrise Canoe of Life Ceremony held by our Kichwa partners of the Sarayaku community in Ecuador. This event brought together indigenous peoples in a call to keep fossil fuels in the ground and urged governments to recognize and respect their collective rights and promote a new and harmonious way of relating with the natural world, this is what they call Living Forest (Selva Viviente) and Plentiful Living (Buen Vivir).

The Agreement

The agreement reached at COP21 is far from what the world needs today, yet there is a strong civil society that has emerged despite the threats humanity faces. Today, the human family is faced with a promise from country leaders to become carbon neutral by 2050, a date that leaves the web of life in high risk. Regarding setting a goal to limit emissions to 1.5°C, we heard U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry announce, “I think you can write that aspiration into the agreement in a way that doesn’t make it the target or guidepost for the agreement.” Non-committal talks are what we heard the most at COP21, yet that is not stopping the civil society. It is undeniable that the people of the world are rising up, educating and preparing themselves to take responsibility for the present and the future. Environmentalist, entrepreneur, and author, Paul Hawken calls this something much bigger than a movement, this is most of humanity coming together to “resist and heal political disease, economic infection, and ecological corruption caused by ideologies. This is fundamentally a civil rights movement, a human rights movement; this is a democracy movement; it is the coming world.”

We must remain hopeful, not necessarily because of the official negotiations, but because of the incredibly, overwhelming, powerful presence and active participation of the civil society.

What is obvious is that it is up to us and not only to governments to address the current ecological and social crisis which requires that we transform our international and domestic legal systems to nurture, rather than allow the destruction of the Earth community. COP21 was evidence that it is outside of the official talks where the holistic, inclusive conversation and action are happening.

Our next step as a civil society, as a united front is to hold our country leaders accountable for the few promises made and to reinforce the importance of binding agreements that will address the current crisis in a timely matter.

Pachamama Alliance is proud to be working together with indigenous peoples in their struggle and using their wisdom to inform the world about the urgency and the possibility of our times.

Our educational programs are stronger than ever in waking people up, moving them from resignation into powerful collective action that can transform the world, and we will continue to do this work as long as it is needed.

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