Along with about 45,000 other people I’ve been at the Bella Centre in Copenhagen where the Climate Change negotiations and side events have been happening in a place capable of holding only 15,000 people (see Day One below).
Then I joined 100,000 folk to march on the Bella Centre to demand real action now (see Day Two below).
Finally I took part in an unexpected BBC debate and in our polite but firm Academic Seminar Blockade (Day Three below) before heading homewards.
DAY THREE: Sunday 13th December – Bizarre Radio 5 Interview and an Academic Seminar Blockade
The Radio 5 late night interview after the Copenhagen march was bizarre; and even more bizarrely, some of it was apparently repeated on Radio 4’s Today programme the next morning. I was asked about the huge march and why I was there – fair enough – and then the interviewer wanted to focus on the 968 arrests – fair enough, although I wondered out loud whether the story should really be that a few ‘Black Bloc’ demonstrators broke windows, that the Danish police used that as an excuse to arrest and hold 968 protestors in freezing conditions (later charging only 13), or whether the story should be that 100,000 people of all ages and backgrounds and from all over the world marched to demand the politicians act. Unexpectedly the interviewer then went to an American Republican Party climate denier and I was drawn into a debate about whether manmade climate change is even an issue!
The next day a group of us held an Academic Seminar Blockade at the gates of a coal fired power station near Copenhagen docks. Passionate and informed papers on climate change were delivered, and while I was giving a paper (on the three different forms of denial I believe that we in the climate change movement have to navigate between) three police vans arrived and a policeman came over. I politely but firmly asked him to wait until I had finished giving the paper – which he did. Then Stellan Vinthagen spoke with him and the vans waited while we continued – eventually leaving as we left. The main organiser of the Seminar Blockade – Kelvin Mason, from the Centre for Alternative Technology – pointed out that various Danish based academics hadn’t turned up to join us because there is a real sense of fear here, especially after the 968 arrests; and indeed while we were at the power station, several hundred people were arrested for protesting in other parts of the docks.
On Sunday night I took the 24-hour coach ride back to London and am now heading on to Edinburgh.
Meanwhile in the negotiations the ‘developing’ countries led by Africa walked out yesterday (Monday) because of an attempt by ‘developed’ countries to scrap the Kyoto Protocol – the only legally binding agreement committing ‘developed’ countries (except the US) to emissions cuts. The talks got back on track because the ‘developed’ nations backed down and agreed to a twin track approach: one track to hold ‘developed’ countries (except the US) to Kyoto cuts; and another track to bring the US, China and India into making cuts as well. However since the Kyoto protocol came into fore emissions have continued rising rapidly, and total pledges for 2020 emission cuts stand at a desperately low total of 8-12% cuts on 1990 levels, and once loopholes are taken into account this could end up as a 4% INCREASE on 1990 levels when what is needed is at least a 45% DECREASE by 2020.
It’s not just a Wave (like the great march in Glasgow) nor a Flood (like FoE’s march that fed into the Copenhagen march of 100,000), it is a complete Sea Change that is needed. George Monbiot’s article in today’s Guardian describes it well. As we work flat out to try and make the changes needed, there are three certainties that I hold onto. The first is that the only thing we can rely on is uncertainty: in other words we can never be certain what will happen, we can just do our bit to tip things the right way. The second is that radical social change in the future always looks impossible before it happens (and it happens fast), and it always looks as though it was inevitable afterwards (of course Apartheid ended, women got the vote, the Berlin Wall fell, or in this case people would say that “of course we made the changes, otherwise humanity wouldn’t have survived” – but that’s not how it feels right now). And finally, we are alive now to the extent that we care.
DAY TWO: Saturday 12th December — On the Huge Climate Action March
A fantastic day of civil society taking action on the streets.
I’m too tired to do anything more than paste in here a report I have just sent to the BBC’s Radio 5 Live show who want to interview me tonight …
I came over to Copenhagen on the ferry from Harwich on Thursday, and head back to the UK tomorrow night by a 24 hour coach ride. I am part of the Transition Town movement in the UK (www.transitionculture.org).
I came, like thousands from the UK, because we don’t believe the politicians understand the seriousness of what is happening. So today 100,000 of us from all over the world marched the 6km from Parliament Square to the Bella Centre where Ministers are working out what they will let the world do to limit the damage from climate chaos.
99,500 people on the march were cheerful and colourful (the other few hundred were young kids of the Black Bloc who — after two of them broke some windows — seemed destined to end up being the playthings of the Danish police and their new ‘Rascal law’ giving them powers they needed to prove they deserved). The rest of us danced to samba bands, brass bands, walked alongside floats, under flags and banners, as penguins, as polar bears (well, you know, they have to find somewhere). The colourful tens of thousands carried placards saying ‘Politicians only talk, Leaders lead’, ‘There is No Planet B’ and ‘System Change not Climate Change’. At the end an indigenous leader from the Americas said — to roars of agreement — that the real solution is not the climate market; the real solution is simply to leave the coal and oil and gas in the ground, and not to try and make a quick fix with poisonous nuclear. Before, on the march, he and all the indigenous peoples had been singing ‘The Climate Market is a Big Lie’.
The fear is that the politicians will negotiate a deal where the North just carries on with planet-wrecking business as usual, and pays some money to the politicians of the Global South in exchange for them saying they’ll protect their forests to keep absorbing some of the CO2 — meanwhile carbon levels will keep on rocketing, the arctic melting, forests burning and permafrost melt will increasingly release methane. The fear is that they’ll make it look like a great deal, but it could be just like the G8 meeting in Gleneagles in 2005 when Bob Geldolf and the Make Poverty History campaign got the Governments to promise they’d end poverty in Africa, and then things just got worse.
Strangely enough, we’re here because these meetings of these politicians do nothing. They just seem to rubber stamp the system that has brought us starvation at one end of the world and obesity at the other, brought us cheap flights to sunny destinations which will soon be too sunny to fly to any more. That’s why the most popular placards at today’s march were ‘System Change not Climate Change’ and ‘Our Climate — Not your Business’.
DAY ONE: Friday 11th December — In the UNCCC Bella Centre
Today I was at the side events at the UNCCC Climate talks in the Bella Centre, Copenhagen. I was here to meet up with people I’ll be working with to support forest peoples’ communities in Cameroun to resist and redirect the World Bank’s climate change ‘solutions’. Solutions which are probably no solution at all but will appropriate local peoples’ forests, lead to rapid deforestation, and be used to justify emissions in the Global North through appearing to protect (while actually destroying) the forests of the Global South. Welcome to the UN’s REDDS mechanism (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation in the Global South) — a great idea if controlled by local people and if it isn’t an excuse for inaction in the Global North, but a crazy idea in the hands of the powers that be. Sounds familiar?
There has just been an amazing event at the end of the day: CAN (the Climate Action Network) has just awarded the day’s highly prized ‘Fossil Fool Award’. Under bright lights, with a huge fanfare, speeches, and a huge crowd, the prize was awarded to Canada for being the most obstructive nation at the talks today. Amazingly the Winning Trophy was received by the Mayor of Toronto who is here with a 100 other Mayors from across the world.
The Mayor stood with the trophy on the podium, holding it in front of his face. He said he was proud of what Canadians and cities throughout Canada are doing in response to climate change, but he was receiving the prize because he was ashamed of the Canadian government’s stance. The occasion ended with a glitzy singer singing a song as if from Canada: “We’ll keep extracting from the tar sands until [PM] Harper is gone”. Huge applause, huge appreciation of the no-nonsense, and yet strange to be with such a huge crowd laughing so hard, clapping so loudly, and aware that this is so deadly serious.
Meanwhile, in the inter-governmental negotiations the REDDS initiative is being rapidly watered down. They’ll work through the night on this one, but as things stand there are no targets, the language doesn’t guarantee indigenous and local peoples free, prior and informed consent, and the argument is over questions of finance rather than democracy and climate safety. Sounds as though it is going the way of the whole conference: distant targets instead of present action, more techno-fixes instead of just solutions. On techno-fixes see the Declaration ‘Let’s look before we leap!’
Strangely, at the session on REDDS in the Congo Basin (which was mostly a combination of pedantic obfuscation and entertaining story telling from African Government Ministers), the Kenyan Green Belt movement Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai spoke briefly at the end of the need for African unity and drew laughter when she said we had to get the rich nations to “open their wallets” to save the Congo rainforest. I couldn’t help thinking how unlikely it would be that that finance would serve local people, rather than further enrich the rich. Stranger still (or maybe not) were the two Danish conference security guards who forced people who were standing to leave the packed room (presumably on the pretext of health and safety). They hadn’t done this at any other session. Some of us got up to give people from Africa our seats, and some of us then sat on the floor. When asked to move, I refused. Others came and sat down too instead of leaving, one European woman asking “Am I allowed to stay?”, to which I replied “If you insist on staying, they won’t move you”, Reassured by this self-fulfilling statement, she stayed. But it’s only self-fulfilling if enough selves fulfill it — a metaphor for the collective action needed to replace the inevitable with the impossible?!
In contrast to the Congo Forest session (and to an earlier session on the Convention on Biological Diversity which couldn’t see the people for the science and the finance), a session on the Amazon and REDDS run by indigenous people was full of people and peoples stories. Many of the indigenous representatives were only newly elected to their representative positions and so seemed to know little about the climate issues. They were, understandably, more concerned with the immediate effects of violence against their peoples (in Peru) and with the impact of extractive industries (everywhere). At the start of the session a Minister from Columbia (I think, though possibly it was Ecuador) spoke clearly and passionately about how her Government had changed it’s view of REDDS to place local peoples needs and wishes centre stage. She couldn’t stay for the rest fo the session because she was needed in the main REDDS negotiations to battle against the watering down of democracy and ecology in favour of finance and prevarication.
Before finding a place to tap this out and then head for the alternative summit or Klimaforum, I met someone from Scotland who recently helped initiate a Transition initiative there (here?!), and who also works with communities in Africa. He thought they were operating in completely different worlds — but talking with colleagues from Cameroun we weren’t so sure. We reckoned that recovering community ownership, action and effectiveness in the Global North is as vital as protecting existing communities and shared ownership in the Global South.
Instead of heading to the alternative Klimaforum summit, I went to the alternative alternative summit in what felt like a police no-go alternative collective: Christiania. It used to be a military fort and was turned into a huge squat that covers blocks and blocks. Here the summit was a huge circus tent with good cheap food, conversations, and a discussion focused on how people can make lives and communities that are not driving consumption and catastrophe. The whole place mingled threads of chaos, conversation and laughter — not so different, then, to the so-called main event back at the Bella Centre.
You can keep track of what is happening at the negotiations through Climate Action Networks’ daily bulletins.