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Moment that mattered: COP21

Ankri Roger/Demotix/Press Association Images

Two months after the COP21 UN Climate Change Conference drew to a close in Paris, our associate editor Matthew Lee looked back on the talks with US environmentalist and author Bill McKibben. McKibben is a founder or, a global grassroots climate change movement. Here are his thoughts on the COP21 talks.

“[12th December] was a hot day, in the hottest December ever recorded, in the hottest year ever recorded. So I guess it was about time that COP21 got to work. did a variety of things – a mock trial of Exxon for instance, with me and Naomi Klein interviewing witnesses from around the world. And we were one of many groups that cooperated on the big actions on 12th December [when numerous environmental groups staged protests in Paris]. Before the COP we’d helped plan a big march which got cancelled [due to the November terror attack in Paris]. But in a sense it worked out well, because all over the world, in 2,500 other cities, people marched for those in Paris who couldn’t.

Big oil and gas companies are clearly only interested in their own futures, or else they’d stop exploring for new hydrocarbons. Climate change deniers lost the argument 15 years ago, but they’ve mostly won the fight, because fights are about power and their money buys them a lot. That’s why we have to build movements – to counterbalance that money.

[The fact that elements of the agreement reached in Paris, such as setting emissions targets for individual countries, are non-binding] is a reflection of the power of the fossil fuel industry. In particular, their stranglehold on the US Congress means no treaty would get through the Senate. So the whole world instead has these voluntary agreements.

The 2009 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen produced no agreement because no world leader feared going home empty-handed. That’s changed. Once 400,000 people were in the streets of New York [in September 2014], once we’d started beating some of the oil industry’s pet projects – well, they had to produce something.

I don’t know if we will succeed in saving the planet. The momentum of the physics is substantial. The planet itself, as a spherical rock, is obviously safe. The future of our civilizations is less obvious.”

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