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From Copenhagen to Paris: the climate justice movement rises

Jesse McLaren

January 23, 2016

On the final day of the Paris climate protests, Naomi Klein compared the mood to the Copenhagen conference in 2009: “The mood was so heavy (in Copenhagen), it felt like the end of the world. We felt really helpless. There was a dynamic between people and politicians where we were almost begging them to act. The mood is not despair today, it’s clarity: we know what they won’t do, and we know what we have to do. There’s grief about what we’ve already lost, but there’s also joy about what we’re building together.”

From Copenhagen to Paris, there has been a significant growth in the climate justice movement. Below is a brief timeline of some of the developments of the climate crisis and climate justice resistance.


Copenhagen was followed by two major climate disasters in 2010: the BP spill in the gulf, and the Enbridge spill in Kalamazoo River. But the year also saw Indigenous peoples rising up to lead the climate justice movement. Internationally there was the Cochabamba conference on Rights of Mother Earth. Locally there was the first Healing Walk by First Nations at ground zero tar sands, the Save the Fraser Declaration uniting 130 First Nations on the West Coast, and the start of the ongoing Unist’ot’en camp. In 2011 the Occupy movement exploded around the world, and the next climate conference in Durban showed growing polarization and development of climate politics.


The year 2012 saw the Frankestorm Hurricane Sandy, which disproportionately affected colonized population in Haiti and the poor and racialized populations of New York. But there were growing climate justice protests. In the context of the Quebec student strike there was a massive Earth Day protest in Montreal against Plan Nord. And on the West Coast 5,000 joined sit-in on the Victoria legislature against Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipelines. The Yinka Dene Alliance organized a Freedom Train across the country, and there was a Toronto conference to broaden opposition to Line 9—learning lessons from Indigenous communities from the Coastal First Nations to Aamjiwnaang. Then the year ended with the explosion of the Idle No More movement, from coast to coast to coast.


In 2013 concentrations of CO2 reached 400ppm, in the context of which there was Tar sands flooding and Typhoon Haiyan devastated Philippines—and the year also saw the Lac Mégantic Disaster. But the climate justice movement continued to grow, with 40,000 people protesting in front of the White House. The NDP election loss in BC was said to have been because they opposed the Kinder Morgan pipeline, a theory disproven by the growth of the movement.

A thousand youth joined the Powershift Conference in Victoria, hundreds protested coal terminal on West Coast and rallied and marched against Line 9 in Toronto. There was growing solidarity with First Nations leading the climate justice movement—from the Solidarity Accord with Save the Fraser—which Unifor and the BCTF endorsed—to solidarity with Elsipogtog First Nation in their resistance to a paramilitary assault to drive a fracking company off their land. At the end of the year there were a hundred climate justice protests across the country to defend our climate and defend our communities.


The 2014 broke another record for the hottest year but also for the climate justice movement. There were huge fundraisers, from the Neil Young tour raising funds for Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, to Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois raising $300,000 to fight Energy East. There was growing awareness, from the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society speaking tour, after their victory in Elsipogtog, to the Powershift conference in Halifax and People’s Social Forum in Ottawa. There was growing solidarity with Indigenous communities, from Unist’ot’en camp to Grassy Narrows. There was a growing divestment campaign across the US and Canada.

There was also growing climate protests. Thousands marched against Line 9 in Toronto, and against Northern Gateway in Vancouver, and there was the historic People’s Climate March that mobilized 400,000 in New York and hundreds of thousands more around the world. This coincided with the release of Naomi Klein’s best-seller This Changes Everything. And the year ended with mass protests driving Kinder Morgan off Burnaby Mountain.

At same time oil prices fall, causing crisis for tar sands with mass layoffs, driven by a surge in fracking and reduced demand from recession. The recession also leading to layoffs of workers who could be building climate solutions, like at Bombardier.


The year 2015 saw more climate disasters, from a spill in Vancouver harbor to forest fires on the west coast. Harper went on the offensive with Bill C-51, which in part seeks to criminalize Indigenous land defenders. But this sparked mass opposition and didn’t dent the climate justice movement.

Protests drove TransCanada out of using Cacouna as a port for Energy East, the Lax Kw’alaams reject $1 billion LNG pipeline, and Heiltsuk stopped DFO from fishing in sensitive waters. Change also came to the Alberta government, with the NDP’s surprise win, after the drop in oil prices caused an economic crisis. There were escalating protests, including 25,000 marching in Quebec City in April and 10,000 marching in Toronto in July for Jobs, justice and the climate. There as also the release of the Truth and Reconcilation Commission recommendations, including "obtaining free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples before proceeding with economic development projects."

In the federal election the NDP began in the lead opposing Bill C-51 and supporting $15 min wage and childcare. When Linda McQuaig spoke out against tar sands it provided a chance for the NDP to become a megaphone for climate justice. The first leader’s debate made clear this would not happen, and as a consequence the NDP missed the rising climate justice wage—including the largest toxic tour to date against oil economy, the Chippewas of the Thames challenge to Line 9, and the Leap Manifesto about real alternative.

There hasn’t been any honeymoon for the Liberals. Two weeks after the election there was a sit-in in front of Trudeau’s residence—which coincided with Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline—and on the eve of the Paris climate talks 25,000 marched in Ottawa, with thousands more marching across the country.

This growing movement forced governments in Paris to announce a target of 1.5 degrees warming, and the next step is to hold them to account. While Trudeau has hoped that his progressive rhetoric can mask his ongoing support for Harper’s oil economy, the climate justice movement is continuing—challenging Harper’s pipeline review process and fighting for climate justice solutions.

From Copenhagen to Paris the climate justice movement is rising, led by Indigenous communities defending their land and with growing support from labour groups fighting for climate jobs. As the Ottawa demonstration made clear, a climate justice future is 100% possible, but it will take system change to stop climate change. has been part of the climate justice movement all these years. Help us continue to expand our coverage: donate, subscribe to our newspaper, or join us

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