OUTSIDE of the official talks, a gathering of civil society from all over the world has been taking place in central Paris. Despite the security concerns following the recent terrorist attacks, people were determined to come here; to make their voices heard and to meet other activists to share experiences and learn from each other.

On Thursday I was taking part in a programme organised by the network of Catholic development agencies, CIDSE. CIDSE’s network includes many organisations from the global south where climate change is already having a massive impact on already vulnerable communities.

For many of the activists I spoke to, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change process is a complex and frustrating one. The negotiations often lack a sense of the reality faced by poor men and women. There is a sense of frustration at how the international community’s inaction on climate change until now has negatively impacted on people’s rights and well-being – particularly those of indigenous peoples, including women and children.

Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF) partner Dr Riccardo Navarro from El Salvador, for instance, explained: “The climate problem has been generated by the wealthy people on the planet. The injustice is that the people who are being affected the most are not responsible for creating the problem.” Climate change is not just an environmental problem then it is a matter of justice.

At the same time there is a sense of hope and determination. Pope Francis has spoken about climate change recently; pointing out the links between our environmental crisis and social injustice. He calls on us all to protect and cherish our common home.

At various events and talks, people have been sharing their ideas and solutions to the climate problem. In many cases this involves transformational change; thinking differently about the way we organise our economies and how we live our lives in the global north. In doing so, these solutions to climate change also challenge the dominant view of what constitutes progress or development.

The negotiations in Paris are an important opportunity to consider some of these alternatives and set an ambitious agenda for future climate change action. In the run-up to the talks, people around the world have been pushing hard for world leaders to make ambitious climate action a reality. The weekend before the negotiations opened over 600,000 people worldwide took to the streets to call on their leaders to take action on climate change (5,000 of those were in Edinburgh).

But while important, the Paris talks shouldn’t be viewed as an end point. Climate change was never going to be solved in a fortnight with the agreement of one deal. Whatever words are agreed on, Paris should be seen as one step on the journey towards climate justice. Many of my colleagues are already looking beyond the talks to how change can actually be made on the ground at national, local and community levels.

For Stop Climate Chaos Scotland this will involve making sure that all Scottish political parties are committed to taking the bold action needed to deliver the ambitious targets set out in Scotland’s Climate Change Act. Scottish civil society was instrumental in the passing of this Act so we have positive experience to share with others around the world that are pushing their own governments to pass ambitious climate legislation.

New global sustainable development goals agreed by world leaders in September give us another lever to make sure governments deliver climate action. The new goals, designed to tackle global hunger and poverty include meeting targets around sustainability and climate change. They are important because all countries have signed up to deliver them. With the principles of solidarity and universality in mind, Scotland must then ensure government policies are in line with the new goals domestically and make sure it contributes to ensuring the goals are met internationally.

While we know climate change will have an impact on us all, we also know that it is not affecting us all equally, with the richest in society contributing most to the problem, while the most vulnerable suffer the consequences. Civil society will continue to work with those in Scotland to encourage them to consider their own lifestyles and how their behaviour here at home affects people living in poverty beyond our borders. At the same time, we will continue to work with our partners overseas to call for climate justice; ensuring our collective voice is heard by politicians long after the Paris talks are over.

Jo O’Neill is Policy Officer at SCIAF, a member of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, and is present at COP21 in Paris as part of the CIDSE official delegation. For all the latest news from Paris follow @sccscot on Twitter.

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