Environmentalists warn of increased activism after Paris climate talks

The Paris climate change summit is invigorating environmental groups, who warn of a swell of protests over the next year.

Activists joining forces to step up efforts against fossil fuel companies

Kassie Siegel, with the Center for Biological Diversity, moderated an event at COP21 in Paris discussing ways to stop fracking. 1:22

This story is part of CBC News special coverage of climate change issues in connection with the United Nations climate change conference (COP21) being held in Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11.

Oil and gas centres like Alberta are being warned to expect an increase in protests in the new year.

At the Paris climate change summit, environmental groups are banding together and pledging to step up their activism regardless what type of agreement world leaders come to in the next few days.

Two dozen organizations are promising to target coal, oil and natural gas companies as a way of pushing the climate change agenda.

They name Canada as one of the countries where action will take place.

"It's very clear that the governments aren't getting it done and it means it is up to (the) movement and civil society to do it," Payal Parekh of 350.org said during a press conference.

Payal Parekh, with 350.org, promises increased activism around the world against fossil fuel companies. (UNFCCC)

Organizers say people should expect non-violent, civilly disobedient protests.

"We are going to go directly and fight against fossil fuel infrastructure projects," said Parekh.

"You can imagine human chains peacefully blocking oil exports, ordinary people walking arm in arm onto coal fields, defiant marches heading towards the headquarters of fossil fuels companies."

The vows of defiance run contradictory to the collaborative environment Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has strived for by bringing environmental groups and oil industry players together to talk about climate change.

Notley was hoping for "drama-free conversations" in the future.


At the UN climate conference, environmentalists aren't just publicly planning protests, they're also openly sharing with each other the best methods of confronting the energy sector and governments.

Demonstrators celebrate the 'retirement' of fossil fuels at the Paris climate change conference. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

One session at the Paris summit carried the title, "Keeping Fossil Fuels in the Ground: the International Movement to Ban Fracking."

The event featured several activists discussing strategies, goals, and progress in banning hydraulic fracturing.

Commonly referred to as fracking, it's the process of pumping water, nitrogen, sand and chemicals at high pressure to crack rock and free up natural gas or oil.

Since the 1950s, 174,000 wells have been fracked in Alberta, according to the provincial government.

Some ranchers have alleged their drinking water has become tainted because of fracking activity, even leading to legal action.

"When you are in a hole as deep as we are, the essential first step is to stop digging," said event-moderator Kassie Siegel in an interview with CBC News in Paris Thursday.

The panel examined all the different ways to take action such as demonstrations, public protests, and urging scientists to become more active.

"Grassroots organizing is number one," said Siegel, a California-based lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity.

"Another important strategy and one I work on personally a lot, is litigation to block new projects." 

Oilsands a target

Oil companies were warned earlier at the Paris conference about a prolonged, public fight because they are struggling to offer a convincing vision of surviving and thriving in a low carbon world.

The Alberta oilsands are a frequent target because it generally involves a higher degree of greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts to extract crude compared to traditional methods of oil drilling.

"I bet there will continue to be opposition to anything that would expand the tarsands," said 350.org founder Bill McKibben, who also took part in the fracking session.

Bill McKibben, with 350.org, discusses the impact of the Paris climate change summit on environmentalists. 1:08

"There are many tools in the activist toolkit. Most of them are pretty mundane and prosaic, a lot of petitioning and letter writing, Facebook-posting and that sort of thing, but there are times when you also have to be willing to put your body on the line a little bit," McKibben said.

"A lot of people have gone to jail."

Environmentalists say the climate change conference is invigorating and fuelling their desire to take matters into their own hands.

"Enough is enough and no more," said Kumi Naidoo, with Greenpeace International.

"Not only going after the oil, coal and gas companies that actually do the carbon pollution, but also increasingly you are seeing we are going after the people that make the decisions to lend money to those companies."


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