Blog from the huge Copenhagen Climate march

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.

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