Climate Justice protesters reclaim power as UN talks dither

With ministers and heads of states arriving in Copenhagen, protests surrounded the climate change conference venue, writes Oscar Reyes

December 18, 2009
4 min read


Oscar ReyesOscar Reyes is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and is based in Barcelona. He was formerly an editor of Red Pepper. He tweets at @_oscar_reyes


  share     tweet  

As the UN climate change conference enters its final days, thousands demonstrated in the streets of Copenhagen as part of the ‘Reclaim Power’ protest. Starting from multiple points around the city, the demonstrators approached the Bella Centre to hold a People’s Assembly and give voice to climate change solutions that are marginalised from the talks. Despite significant repression from the police, the groups succeeded in holding the Assembly close to the conference venue. The main protest was organised by Climate Justice Action!

At the same time, about 300 delegates from the Climate Justice Now! network and led by members of the Bolivian delegation and the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus, marched out of the Bella Centre and the official process, attempting to join the protests outside. These delegates were met with police truncheons; some were badly bruised.

‘First they shut the public out of the climate negotiations, then they shut out 80 per cent of NGOs who have been accredited to attend, and now they are jailing people who challenge the undemocratic nature of the climate negotiations, while the future of life on earth hangs in the balance,’ says Dorothy Guerrero of Focus on the Global South.

Hundreds more UNFCCC accredited civil society observers were denied access to the Bella Centre all together, including the entire Friends of the Earth International delegation, who staged a sit-in in the lobby at the Bella Centre in response.

‘In the wake of the mass exclusions of critical civil society voices from the COP15 process, and with the future of our planet hanging in the balance, we joined the mass nonviolent movement in Copenhagen to protest the unjust agenda of the rich countries,’ said Anne Peterman of Global Justice Ecology Project. Proposals to limit global warming to two degrees would ‘literally wipe entire nations off the map,’ she added.

Going nowhere fast

Inside the conference, negotiations remained deadlocked. The US expressed strong reservations concerning a new summary text from the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long Term Cooperative Action, one of two major strands of the climate negotiations. It is seeking to avoid internationally binding targets equivalent to those established under the Kyoto Protocol.

Meanwhile, the Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen came in for strong criticism when he attempted to table a new text that was ‘parachuted from the sky’, in the words of the G77 and China. They called the process ‘illegitimate, undemocratic and non-transparent’, a concern echoed by President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

Chavez went further and echoed many of the sentiments of the protestors outside. ‘The rich countries of the north helped bankers, the big banks. I’ve forgotten the figure, but it’s astronomical.’

‘What they’re saying on the streets is that “if the climate was a bank they would already have saved it”, I think it’s true. If the climate was a capitalist bank, a capitalist bank, one of the biggest ones, they would have saved it.’

Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, also spoke in support of the protests. ‘We understand that there are lots of protests outside and inside, and there need to be. I don’t believe we will come to an agreement because there can be no agreement if it does not challenge the model that created climate change, which is capitalism’, he said.

System change, not climate change

The street protests expressed frustration at a political process that has proven itself incapable of tackling the issues at hand. Inside the talks, climate justice activists continue to oppose and counter jargon-ridden texts on some of the worst excesses of the climate talks – including new Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) schemes, which could trigger land grabs in the global South by many of the same corporations that have driven deforestation.

Pressure from outside sought to draw attention to more systemic failures, too. Whereas market-based solutions translate the problem of climate change into a language of neo-liberal economics – attempting to use the problem of the market to fix the worst market failure, climate change – climate justice activists were inviting a more fundamental rethinking of how goods are produced and consumed, and how the international trade system works.

‘We have no more time to waste. If governments won’t solve the problem then its time for our diverse people’s movements to unite and reclaim the power to shape our future’, said Stine Gry of Climate Justice Action.

Oscar Reyes is a researcher with Carbon Trade Watch, and co-author of Carbon Trading: How it Works and Why it Fails

This article was published in Climate Chronicle – a climate justice newspaper put together during the UN Climate Change Conference

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Oscar ReyesOscar Reyes is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and is based in Barcelona. He was formerly an editor of Red Pepper. He tweets at @_oscar_reyes


Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell

Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths

Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe

How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency

Empire en vogue
Nadine El-Enany examines the imperial pretensions of Britain's post-Brexit foreign affairs and trade strategy

Grenfell Tower residents evicted from hotel with just hours’ notice
An urgent call for support from the Radical Housing Network

Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker

In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing

After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry

Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again

Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood

7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.

After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani

If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945

On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.

Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow

The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite

Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences