“An avalanche of hope and energy”: The power of the Paris Agreement, five years on

Five years on from the signing of the Paris Agreement at COP21, and at the end of one of the most difficult years for climate action in recent history, in this series we celebrate five individuals that remind us of the power of the people in the climate movement.

Five years ago today the landmark Paris Agreement was signed, signalling a new era of hope and global ambition in the face of our most complex challenge – climate change.  

Today in 2020, in the shadow of COVID-19, political turmoil and the emergence of timelines more pressing than originally modelled by scientists, the challenge could seem more daunting than ever. The systemic nature of the problem has also revealed itself, and the way in which climate change is connected to issues of racial justice, gender, health, our economies, infrastructure and wellbeing. 

But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been progress, and that’s because of the people who make up the climate movement – individuals that over the last year, or five years, or for even longer, have continued to drive the transition forward with ambition, innovation and energy. 

The moment had “finally” arrived

Melissa Capcha is originally from Huancayo, in the central highlands of Peru. She has worked in the climate space since 2012, contributing to projects in Hungary, Costa Rica, Indonesia and Ghana. She is president of the Perú-based NGO Centro de Innovacion Climatica y Sostenibilidad, or The Centre of Innovation for Sustainability and the Climate, and this time five years ago she was at COP21 watching the agreement unfold. 

“It was the most glorious and rewarding experience I’ve ever had as a climate activist,” she recalls. 

Melissa was in Paris as a representative of the civil society group of the Peruvian government, and despite the long hours, hard work and pressure that comes with the annual negotiations, she says she felt like the moment had “finally arrived” for her and other young people around the world. At last, they had an agenda they could take to their leaders in the effort to combat the threat of climate change.

“I remember the feelings of hope I had the day the countries of the world reached an agreement and signed,” she says. “It was a symbol that decision makers were finally deciding to act together to save humanity.” 

Five years on

Today, Melissa lives in northern Germany, where she is doing a Masters in Sustainability, Society, and the Environment at the University of Kiel. This summer she participated in EIT Climate-KIC’s summer school programme, The Journey, and on December 12 2020, five years on from Paris, she’ll be participating in the EIT Climate-KIC Alumni meeting.  

“It is an incredible coincidence.” She says. “But having the Alumni meeting on that day reminds me that we are many that want to fight for a better world.”

She says that compared to 2015, she feels like the climate coalition has grown exponentially. “I’m looking forward to commemorating the anniversary of the signing of the Paris Agreement alongside talented people and other fighters from the EIT Climate-KIC community, especially as COP26 – a key moment for the Paris Agreement – was postponed this year due to COVID-19.”  

‘Urban click’

COVID-19 might have slowed down political negotiations in 2020, but it didn’t put the brakes on Melissa’s contributions to climate action.

As well as her Master’s thesis on reducing emissions and greenhouse gases in the construction sector, this year she has been working with a pan-European team of other summer school participants to develop a project called Urban Click, which focuses on tackling construction and demolition waste in cities.

“Technological innovation should not promote these systemic patterns.”

Separately she also has an individual project, a virtual game that tackles construction waste and the circular economy called ‘Cities are material banks’.The initiative was recently selected to receive funding from the EIT Climate-KIC Alumni Micro-Award. 

“Innovation plays an important role in promoting solutions to climate change,” she says. “But with innovation, and especially technology, we must take into account the impact on people and quality of life. All earth’s resources are not renewable, and many are scarce due to over-exploitation. Technological innovation should not promote these systemic patterns.” 

A day to remind us

Although 12 December this  year won’t have the same level of global attention or feel like such a landmark moment in the climate movement, for Melissa the experiences are connected by a belief in people power and systemic change. 

“December 12 is an important day to remember, but it is only a date,” she says. “What the signing of the Paris agreement in 2015 brought is an avalanche of hope and energy from people around the world, from the southern globe and the northern globe, who day by day fight to combat climate change. December 12 is a date to remind us that yes, the inhabitants of the world have the will and strength to stop climate change.” 

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