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Copenhagen: People's summit develops a people-powered response to the climate crisis

By Lauren Carroll Harris, Copenhagen

December 15, 2009 -- Green Left Weekly -- Just over a week into the December 7-18 United Nations climate change negotiations in Copenhagen (COP15) , thousands of ordinary people from around the world have already participated in what is being billed as the “people’s climate summit”, Klimaforum09, also taking place in the Danish capital. The difference between the two forums could not be more stark.

Outside Copenhagen’s Bella Centre, where COP15 is being held, has a circus-like quality, with delegates battling their way through a gauntlet of protesters and lobbyists. One group carries a banner emblazoned with the slogan “EU: pay your climate debt” and chants “The world is watching”. Inside, registered delegates, government diplomats and NGO members make their way through airport-style security checks to participate in what is increasingly seen as a redundant talkshop.

By contrast, the Klimaforum is open, free and a genuine meeting of different groups, activists, scientists, farmers and artists to discuss a democratic, people-powered response to the climate crisis.

Organisers estimate 25,000 people have already taken part in hundreds of plenaries, workshops, stalls, films, exhibitions and theatre pieces. Issues discussed include: the impact of global warming on women; nuclear power; alternatives to the false market solution of carbon trading; climate justice and tourism; indigenous communities’ responses to climate change; agriculture; Cuba’s experience of creating a post-oil economy; and how to strengthen the climate justice movement.

The forum is truly accessible and international in scope. Interpreters translate the major talks into four languages and special efforts hve been made to include speakers and participants from underdeveloped countries already feeling the effects of global warming.

Twice daily, forum organisers share reportbacks and analysis of the latest developments from the Bella Centre.

Radical demands

Copenhagen is flooded with an almost hysterical atmosphere of greenwashing — the city is plastered with a “Hopenhagen” PR campaign to promote Denmark’s “green” credentials, alongside corporate partners such as Coca-Cola and Siemens.

By contrast, at the core of the Klimaforum is an understanding that the outcomes — if any — of the COP15 talks, will reflect the needs of the big businesses most governments are subservient to. The overwhelming sentiment is that the people of the world can no longer wait for world leaders and the free market — that is, those fuelling the crisis — to act, and that the solutions to runaway climate change cannot be purely technological or environmental, but must be based on social justice.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the climate justice movement — the radical wing of the environment movement — is picking up where the anti-corporate globalisation movement left off. It is adopting a more holistic critique of the system that has created not just the environmental crisis, but cyclical economic depressions and widening inequality between the First and Third Worlds.

Ten years ago, the anti-corporate movement burst onto the international stage when thousands converged to overshadow another meeting of world leaders in which the rich countries aimed to make the poor pay more — the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in November 1999.

In fact, the 100,000-strong protest on December 12, and the Klimaforum, were an explicit attempt by activists to “Seattle” Copenhagen. Like the climate justice movement, the protesters at Seattle created their own parliament of the streets and exposed the hypocrisy of the official talks.

Like those at the Klimaforum, protesters at Seattle were scathing of an inherently volatile financial system based on a tornado of speculative, exponentially multiplying debt.

Like the climate justice movement, the protesters at Seattle critiqued the dominance of corporations on governments, and the impact of unchecked industrialism and rampant consumerism on the environment, on workers' rights and on deepening Third World inequality.

The issues that the anti-corporate globalisation movement flagged 10 years ago -- the unsustainable nature of a system based on bottomless corporate greed -- seem more relevant than ever in the wake of the biggest global economic crisis since the Great Depression and the growing climate crisis. The two are increasingly linked in many people’s minds as having a common, systemic cause.

Alternatives

However, there is less clarity, and more debates, about the systemic alternatives to capitalism. The forum is characterised by a great receptivity to radical ideas and of genuine, constructive debate and discussion.

Conference participants offered sharp critiques of the market-friendly proposals put forward by the First World at COP15, particularly carbon trading. Naomi Klein, author of No Logo and The Shock Doctrine, addressed the forum’s 1000-strong opening meeting. She said “the polluter pays” principal must be at the heart of any meaningful emissions-reduction deal. Cuban biologist and activist Roberto Perez hosted a workshop of more than 100 people on Cuba’s organic agricultural and urban garden system.

A session on “Capitalism and the Climate Crisis: Left Alternatives”, attended by several hundred people mostly from the European left, revealed a consensus among those present about the need to actively combat the false market-based solutions to climate change.

Ian Terry, a British employee of wind turbine manufacturer Vestas (occupied by its workers in mid-2009 after it was closed) and a Socialist Workers Party member, spoke of “the need for the workers’ movement to relate to environment sentiment” and vice versa.

Discussion was mostly limited to how to advance the immediate demands of the radical climate justice movement. Socialist solutions — the need for radical economic and social restructuring to achieve a shift to a carbon-free society while pushing for real social justice and preserving workers' rights — were briefly touched upon.

COP15 fights

COP15 has become more and more discredited over the last week, in part due to the draft “Danish text”, leaked on December 8.

Put together by the Danish, US and British governments, the document puts forward a range of proposals that would hand administration of any emissions-reduction deal to the World Bank, the institution that has long been an instrument of First World control over the indebted Third World.

The leaked text also obliterates any difference of obligation between the poor and rich countries, treating North and South as equal. Third World nations have insisted any COP15 deal should place the largest burden for emissions reduction on the industrialised countries responsible for most greenhouse gas emissions — and these nations should provide ample financial assistance to repay their ecological debt and assist with sustainable development of the poor nations.

The Danish text leak has prompted outrage from, and threats of a walkout by, many Third World delegates, and spread public cynicism about the aims of COP15.

In contrast to COP15’s behind-closed-doors style of wheeling and dealing, the Klimaforum is putting forward its own plan for a sustainable world, which people around the world can sign onto (see below). The declaration will be handed to COP15 leaders, “supplying them with inspiration as to how a fair climate justice deal can be put together”.

The declaration, finalised by forum participants, emphasises “the need to create substantial changes in the social and economic structures in order to meet the challenges of global warming and food sovereignty”.

Major cornerstones of the declaration include: “a complete abandonment of fossil fuels within the next 30 years’ including specific five-year deadlines”; “recognition, payment and compensation of climate debt for the overconsumption of atmospheric space and adverse effects of climate change on all affected groups and people”; “a rejection of purely market-oriented and technology-centred false and dangerous solutions such as nuclear energy, agro-fuels, carbon capture and storage”; and “real solutions to climate crisis based on safe, clean, renewable, and sustainable use of natural resources, as well as transitions to food, energy, land, and water sovereignty”.

The declaration recognises that such changes would require “a restoration of the democratic sovereignty of our local communities and of their role as a basic social, political, and economic unit”.

The Klimaforum09 declaration is intended to be a unifying call to arms, a guideline for inclusive movement-building. It declares: “We call upon every concerned person, social movement, and cultural, political or economic organisation to join us in building a strong global movement of movements, which can bring forward peoples’ visions and demands at every level of society.

“Together, we can make global transitions to sustainable futures."

What is clear from the Klimaforum is that the climate justice movement has the determination and openness to grow in breadth and size — and to become broader and more radical in the wake of the inevitable COP15 failure. 

Read the full Klimaforum09 declaration at here. The declaration can be signed here. Visit the Klimaforum website.

[Lauren Carroll Harris is a climate change activist and a member of the Socialist Alliance of Australia.]

 

Copenhagen eyewitness: The rising tide of climate justice


News report by Joe Ageyo from NTV Kenya

By Lauren Carroll Harris, Copenhagen

December 14, 2009 -- One hundred thousand protesters braved near freezing temperatures and took over the Danish capital, Copenhagen, on December 12 to crank up the heat on world leaders at the United Nations Climate Summit (COP15) and demand climate justice.

The protest, in a carnival-like atmosphere, brought together a broad range of groups — from the explicitly anti-capitalist to the lobbying NGOs — and was led by a group of indigenous activists on a 4.5 kilometre march to the Bella Center, where the COP15 is taking place.

The demonstration was the main focus of a fortnight of climate justice protests, and was proceeded by a 5000-strong “flood” of Copenhagen, organised by Friends of the Earth.

The protest involved mainly youth. The many groups included Jubilee South and Action Aid (who both call for reparations from the First World to repay their ecological debt and aid sustainable development in the Third World), the French New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) and the Danish group Attac, which carried a banner saying “Don't let corporate lobbying destroy our climate”.

An Australian contingent highlighted the issue of global dependence on fossil fuels for power, chanting “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, quit coal now!”

A satirical contingent of green capitalists raised the issue of greenwashing —dressed tastefully in white, they carried platters of grapes, glasses of champagne and placards reading “Greed is green“, “Bangladesh: buy rubber boots“, “Stop global whining”, “We heart green capitalism” and “We love green, but we love fossil fuels more”. The lead banner screamed, “Carbon trading: the final solution”. One faux banker urged the crowd to “go home and buy some carbon offsets”.

Protesters chanted: “Carbon trading: big lie.”

Despite the widely acknowledged, clear failure of the COP15 talks, the sentiment among protesters was jubilant, positive and determined. Protesters chanted “Our climate — not your business”, “Our world is not for sale” and “Change the system, not the climate” — in fact, radical politics dominated the crowd, if not the platform.

Official speakers included model Helena Christensen and Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo. Environmental activist Vandana Shiva pointed explicitly to capitalism as the source of the current environmental crisis, telling protesters: “THIS is what democracy looks like, and the COP15 is trying to kill democracy.”

The demonstration indicated a complete rejection of the green posturing, market-friendly solutions and inaction of the COP15, and showed that solutions to catastrophic climate change will come not from leaders who represent big oil and coal, but the grassroots. It will be centred around social justice.

The protesters descended upon the locked-down Bella Center as the sun fell. The crowd was so huge that most could not see the platform or hear the speakers — instead, the demonstration morphed into a radical, candlelit street party.

Though there was an unrelenting police presence and a reported 1000 arrests, the majority of protesters remained unperturbed. Demonstrations will no doubt continue through and beyond the Copenhagen talks.

[Lauren Carroll Harris is a climate change activist and a member of the Socialist Alliance of Australia. These articles first appeared in Green Left Weekly.]

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