Sceptics are wrong to say that protests don’t make a difference – climate activism in Paris proves this

Ten days ago, more than three quarters of a million people took to the streets in 175 countries to demand action from the Paris climate summit. They gathered in cities, towns and villages to join a growing global movement calling for the transition to the 100 per cent clean energy economies which climate science tells us we need. Most of the 2,300 marches around the world were led by citizens; people determined to have their voices heard. So determined, in fact, that some were willing to risk their lives; in Sanaa, Yemen, they marched despite a bomb falling moments before the event began.

Last week, Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek, argued that these people should not have bothered. The marches would make no difference, they claimed, because they came too late to influence the negotiations. They are wrong: 18 months ago, the vision of 100 per cent clean energy was a pipe dream and politicians believed that climate change wasn’t an issue voters cared about. Those who joined the Global Climate March were also behind the People’s Climate March in September last year; the second biggest climate march in history after last week’s mobilisations smashed this record. Avaazmembers spearheaded both events, and in between, have turned up at every major meeting on climate change, sent tens of thousands of messages to leaders and met with Presidents and Prime Ministers.  Today, the 100 per cent clean energy target is a major element of the deal in the final stages of negotiation in Paris.

This moment of hope was created by people power. Williams and Srnicek say the marches will have no effect on the negotiators here in Paris, yet every single negotiator and politician I’ve met with over the past week has said they were impressed and influenced by the scale and breadth of the marches.

It’s not as if marching is the only way peoples’ voices are being heard. Right now, a team of Avaaz staff are running real-time campaigns from the climate summit – in the past few days alone we’ve delivered messages from flood victims in Chennai to the Indian delegation; a move one of India’s leading news-sites credited with shifting the government position. We’ve forced Venezuela’s chief negotiator to respond to a social media campaign led by our Latin American members. And the President of the Marshall Islands has held up our 3.6 million person petition in the opening plenary as evidence that people around the world stand with his country’s fight for survival.

And it’s working: the Paris agreement could deliver a historic long-term goal to end the use of fossil fuels and transition to a world powered exclusively on 100 per cent clean energy. If it does, the millions of citizens around the world who have signed petitions, sent messages, called their representatives, and yes, marched in the streets, will have played a crucial role in delivering a deal that 18 months ago was considered impossible.

There are no longer any spectators when it comes to saving everything we love. Yes, there’s a long way to go. This climate agreement will be a springboard for our movement, turning 100 per cent clean energy into a reality on national stages around the world and in financial markets. Our children will still be fighting this fight. But the work of this movement, rising in every country on Earth, is giving them a very real chance of winning it.


Emma Ruby-Sachs is acting Executive Director of Avaaz, the global citizens movement.


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