Durban climate talks: 'Only people-driven and democratic solutions offer genuine ways out of climate crisis'

Protests at COP16 in Cancun, Mexico, December 2010. Protests are being organised to take place at COP17in Durban, November-December 2011.

People's Dialogue statement on climate change, COP17 and Rio+20

Durban, September 2011 -- The People's Dialogue is a network that brings southern Africa and South American rural and popular activists and social movements together to share experiences and strengthen linkages in challenging injustice and building alternatives. The People's Dialogue held a meeting in Durban from September 21-23,  2011, to engage with the issue of climate change and the challenges it poses for rural movements, moving towards COP17 [to be in held Durban in November-December] and Rio+20 [to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on June 4-6, 2012].

The present crisis of climate change facing the planet and humanity is a part of a broader crisis of capitalism, an economic system that is reaching its ecological limits. The planet and its resources are more than capable of providing for the needs of all its people. However, we live under a system of production and consumption that undermines the natural basis of life through a need for constant growth, while only a small minority of the world’s population, historically in the global North and a growing elite in the global South, benefits from the results of such growth. Meanwhile, many of the effects of overproduction and consumption and climate change are felt by the world’s small scale and peasant farmers, the poor and the working class.

The United Nations has created the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to provide the architecture for states to negotiate reductions in their greenhouse gas emissions. The annual Conference of the Parties (COP) meetings since 1995, however, have failed to halt the onset of a drastically changing climate. The negotiations reflect neoliberal ideologies of market-based solutions. However, it is the very operation of the market that has caused the present crisis. The negotiations are heavily influenced by transnational corporations, and governments largely have failed to reduce emissions, fearing they will sacrifice corporate profits and economic growth.

The South African government, the hosts of COP17 in November and December this year, also offer little hope in dealing with the climate crisis. It too sees development as based on high carbon economic growth, and has played an obstructive role in terms of achieving a progressive deal for Africa at COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. In this context, just south of the venue for COP17 in Durban are the communities of south Durban that for years have been choking on the fumes from oil refineries. At the same time, representatives of the country’s largest polluter, electricity producer Eskom, are lead negotiators in South Africa’s negotiating team at the COP. Given the nature of the COP and the South African context, we cannot hope that COP17 will see us move any closer to binding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

As popular movements from the South, we need to reject market-based solutions and propose alternative ways of dealing with climate change. We also need to envision future societies in ways that are driven from the grassroots and aimed at meeting people’s needs. Notions of green economy merely reinforce business as usual and fail to provide a genuine alternative out of the climate crisis. Linked to this is "climate smart agriculture" promoted by the World Bank.

Both approaches promote the further commodification of the environment and the resources that many of the world’s people directly rely on for survival. If a green economy is to mean anything, it must be envisioned in terms that are genuinely "green"; that is, new people-centred, democratic and ecologically sound relations of production and consumption that are grounded in social and ecological justice. These alternatives already exist in the form of agro-ecological practices that cool the planet, food sovereignty, jobs that directly contribute to reducing carbon emissions and build community resilience, and others.

An alternative civil society space at COP17, that will bring together the victims of climate change, activists and social movements from all over the world, will be the only viable space in Durban to discuss and promote concrete and sustainable solutions to the crisis of humanity and climate. Because of the failure of the climate negotiations and the refusal of governments to abandon market-based false solutions to climate change, we will be engaging in mass protest and civil disobedience in Durban in December.

Only people-driven and democratically decided solutions based on solidarity and human wellbeing will offer genuine ways out of the crisis of climate change and towards a humane society.