“System Change, Not Climate Change” – Citizens’ Voices and COP21

As the United Nations Conference on Climate (COP21) approaches, citizens’ organisations and social movements around the world are determined not to let the heads of states and governments make decisions behind closed doors on issues that affect us all without having a say. Two events were recently held in Paris to prepare the civil society’s mobilisation at the margins of the COP 21 – with a strong focus on alternatives.

Originally built by a handful of climate and social justice grassroots activists in Bayonne (Basque country, France) two years ago, the Alternatiba movement has become an essential actor of the citizen debate. Its focuses on concrete alternatives to neoliberal productivism and popular education regarding the articulation of climate-related issues and social justice have attracted an ever growing number of citizens. Starting last summer, hundreds of activists bicycled throughout France (5600 km!), stopping in numerous villages and cities, meeting people on the ground and discussing concrete alternatives with regard to a fair solution to the capitalist-driven environmental and social crises.

Many more curious or committed citizens attended the event in Paris, last weekend of September, held to celebrate the end of their tour. It was the occasion to organise public workshops (on energy transition, climate change, energy poverty, etc.), and to provide a large space for discussion for whomever felt concerned. This success clearly indicates both a citizen’s curiosity and a will not to be kept in the dark – as well as a good omen for the participation in the alternative events that will be held at the margins of the COP 21 by the Climate 21 Coalition, in which Alternatiba will play a significant role. 

The Climate 21 Coalition gathers more than 130 NGOs and trade unions having at heart to build a long-term collective working process and to mobilise citizens on climate-related issues. In other words, if the COP21 will be a key moment for raising consciousness and exerting pressure on the heads of states’ agenda, the Coalition wishes to take root in civil society across Europe and the rest of the world. Hundreds of Climate 21 Coalition’s international activists met up next to Paris on 5 and 6 October to discuss the wide range of actions that will soon be undertaken – from massive demonstrations to panel discussions.

transform! sent a delegation to the Coalition’s international meeting, which allowed us to take part in the joint decision process and to sharpen our proposals for contributions through constructive dialogue with numerous activists. In terms of demonstrations, there are two key dates to remember and widely circulate:

  • On 29 November, the People’s Climate Marche will resonate in Paris with a special echo, and will surely send a powerful message to world leaders the day before they meet for the crucial climate talks in Paris.
  • And on the day after the end of the negotiations, on 12 December, activists and citizens will again take to the streets in Paris for an Action Day for the Climate – in order to show that the Coalition is here to stay, that the cooperation between all these organisations will keep bearing fruits in the future.

On the weekend of 5 and 6 December, a large Citizen Summit for the Climate will be held in Montreuil, at the gates of Paris, and will take the form of three independent, yet intertwined events. The Global Village for Alternatives, initiated by Alternatiba International, aims to provide visitors with alternative experiences, analyses of the environmental and social crises – and much more. Confédération Paysanne-unionised farmers from across the country will bring their products to the Parisian and international crowd, while raising awareness in regard to peasant farming. But as far as transform!’s participation is concerned, the highlight will be the Climate Forum where dozens of NGOs, networks, trade unions, social justice and climate activists will hold panel discussions and conferences.

The details of our proposals for activities will be communicated in the next newsletter. But we already are in a position to say that we wish to hold three panel discussions, and to tackle the following issues:

  • a productive transformation for Europe that would meet social needs and ecological imperatives, while giving prospects for a genuine European cooperation; 
  • common goods and energy democracy;
  • a Left approach to an energy transition for Europe.