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 (

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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