How is it that after 17 years of negotiations the UN climate change conferences have utterly failed to adequately address the issues at hand and have instead overseen decades of rising carbon emissions and worsening climate injustice?
Most people are now well aware of the vested financial interests that have engineered and perpetuated a global system that’s predicated on widening social injustice, impoverishment and indebtedness of the masses. The same financial, corporate and government bodies responsible for the global financial crisis have also seized control of the environment, commodifying the atmosphere, land and waterways to trade and profit from. It’s no surprise that emissions continue to rise when you know that carbon is a commodity with a tradable value, with dedicated carbon markets and accompanying corrupt schemes such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). Without climate change continuing to worsen the markets created around it wouldn’t exist, hence nothing proactive is done by the architects and gatekeepers of the system who have taken power. Realising this, people all over the world are claiming back the legitimate and urgent concerns around climate change from the corporate clowns and Occupy COP17 was part of that reclamation of power.
Although small in number, we were strong in spirit. Every day during the conference we sat and talked under the trees, the way millions of people meet and work out problems all over the world. We had no air conditioned conference halls or PA systems, instead we had the hum of traffic going round our small island of grass (directly outside the fortified UN compound) and the human microphone to amplify our voices. Our rallying cry was Climate Justice, Not Carbon Markets. We had poetry from Nigerian activist Nnimmo Bassey. Live art from South African performer Ewok (who also provided us with a soundtrack). Guerrilla gardening from AmBush. Actions to get the World Bank out of climate finance and Canada out of the tar sands. Five hundred women from throughout Africa forming the Rural Women’s Assembly joined with us and hundreds of civil society delegates from the Democratic Left for a spirited march which was full of song and dance, power and passion, things that were curiously curtailed in the officially designed march the next day.
There were many who came out of the conference to join and speak with us, including Bolivian activist Pablo Salon, South African Commissioner for Gender Equality Yvette Abrahams and the UN Ambassadors from the small island states of Seychelles, Grenada and Nauru. Our aim was to create a safe space where everyone could come and speak, using non-hierarchical organising and consensus decision-making. Most of those who came were not invited to attend COP17, yet they were the people who needed to be heard most, those who are at the front line of climate change and crying out for Climate Justice.
We connected with a group of people who had faced repeated evictions from their dwellings in nearby KwaMashu, deemed unsightly reminders of the government’s failure to meet the needs of ordinary people. They had been evicted ahead of the World Cup a few years previously, and now had been evicted ahead of COP17. This time not only were their shacks demolished but, to make sure they stayed away, all their belongings, including food and clothes, were taken from them. Still they fought back, taking over a community hall and becoming Occupy KwaMashu. Their plight exemplified the enormous gulf between what many of the insulated negotiators on the inside were discussing and the real problems that were being laid bare by those outside.
So what are the solutions? As with many problems of this nature they are not easy to summarise or solve. But we do have a roadmap to work with and a popular mandate from the people, and that is the People’s Agreement of Cochabamba. It lays out a just and fair plan to avert catastrophic climate change and create a more equitable and harmonious world. It’s our job to make sure this is the route followed, rather than the suicidal path that is currently being pursued by those calling themselves leaders.