Last Saturday, after two intense weeks of negotiations, the United Nations adopted the Paris Agreement—a document meant to commit all the world’s nations to taking action against climate change. Yet the accord is striking for how much it doesn't do. It doesn't set binding targets for countries to reduce their emissions, nor does it commit developed countries to provide the money vulnerable communities sorely need. It does reflect, for the first time, a goal of limiting global warming to below 1.5°C, but does not specify how this will be achieved. I’m not surprised. After spending months studying the climate negotiations process, I expected the outcome of a system built on global consensus to lean towards preserving the status quo. And it has.
UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon called it a “monumental triumph.” President Obama said, “I believe this moment can be a turning point for the world.” Indeed, the world will surely remember December 12 as a historic day: the day humanity decided to save itself.
But in my eyes, history is made not in the signing of a single document. It's made in the determined labor of millions of people working towards a brighter future.
It's made on the sacred land of indigenous peoples, where people are fighting to protect their homes and cultures from petroleum companies seeking to profit from their destruction.
It's made in the hard work of journalists like Chai Jing, whose documentary about China’s air pollution crisis shocked a country into action, and the LA Times team that exposed ExxonMobil’s terrible history of funding climate denial.
History is found in the labs of the climate scientists whose research uncovered the crisis that threatens human society as we know it, and in the ingenuity of policymakers and innovators figuring out how to solve it.
So while the world hailed the agreement—some in celebration, others in disappointment—I took the night off, because for now, my work lies elsewhere. It lies in helping to strengthen the global grassroots to reclaim our planet and our economy from the powerful corporations and politicians that control it. It lies in working together with my classmates and colleagues to figure out how we’re going to fulfill a just transition to a democratic, sustainable, and just world.
COP 21 is finally over. But my work—our work—is far from done.