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Street politics of climate change

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Jan 15, 2010 | From the print edition

image“This is what democracy looks like,” chanted a chorus of young activists, arrested on December 16, when they tried to break into Bella Centre, the site for official un  climate negotiations. The young activists were handcuffed and made to sit in rows that ran deep, on a wet, muddy field in freezing temperatures. The chant was meant for the international television crew present in great numbers.

When asked by a television journalist why they were being arrested, a young woman commented, “I don’t know, I was just trying to get into a shopping mall, and they arrested me.”

That was the exact mood among the international activists outside the negotiating process. They looked at Bella Centre—a former garbage dump turned into a swanky convention centre where official negotiations took place—as a trade negotiation centre completely controlled by business interests.

cop 15 in Copenhagen will remain an extraordinary event for the sheer scale at which people outside the official negotiating process were mobilized. No other climate conference had such large protests or a full-fledged alternative forum for activists gathered from all over the world. These activists had no faith in the official negotiating process. In fact, activists had predicted the negative outcome of the conference from the very beginning.

A parallel process

imageFive km from Bella Centre, just behind the Copenhagen Central station, the people’s summit took place in a sports complex. Klimaforum, or Climate Forum was a network of 32 Danish and 63 international organizations (many of them from the South) coming together to exchange and promote values of a new economy and survival strategy. The declaration of Climate Forum clearly stated, “We DON’T represent vested interests such as bureaucrats, politicans, business or civil servants. We DO represent scientists, grassroots activists, academics, writers, artists and people from all walks of life.” The most important factor in this people’s summit was that most of the organizing groups as well as participants were not ‘climate’ activists or experts. They represented a vast social network of farmers, fishers, industrial workers, forest dwellers, women, youth and community groups. There was an agreement between the activists from both the North and South that the official negotiators had nothing to do with the voices of the people.

In a grand opening of the forum, Nnimmo Bassey, the chair of Friends of The Earth International thundered, “Polluters must be held accountable and policy makers must start listening to the people.” cop 15, in fact marked the end of the inclusive and democratic process that was supposed to be central to any UN process. Within the official negotiation, poorer and smaller countries were kept outside the loop, in which a few rich countries and their friends consulted behind closed doors. Activists and civil society partners, even the pre-registered ones were kept waiting outside Bella Centre for hours in freezing temperature, and finally, entry of observers was resitricted to only 300 people!

Exclusive system

Klimaforum asked for completely new thinking in managing climate change. It asked for ‘system change’. Speakers called for a retreat from the current production and distribution system. La Via Campesina, the international peasant movement, called for an end to free market-based farming by transnational companies. They pointed out that this system marginalizes small farmers and the ecology. Henry Saragih, general coordinator of the movement said, “Climate change is already seriously impacting us.

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