Occupy COP17



How is it that after 17 years of negotiations the UN climate change conferences have utterly failed to adequately address the issues at hand and have instead overseen decades of rising carbon emissions and worsening climate injustice?

Most people are now well aware of the vested financial interests that have engineered and perpetuated a global system that’s predicated on widening social injustice, impoverishment and indebtedness of the masses. The same financial, corporate and government bodies responsible for the global financial crisis have also seized control of the environment, commodifying the atmosphere, land and waterways to trade and profit from. It’s no surprise that emissions continue to rise when you know that carbon is a commodity with a tradable value, with dedicated carbon markets and accompanying corrupt schemes such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). Without climate change continuing to worsen the markets created around it wouldn’t exist, hence nothing proactive is done by the architects and gatekeepers of the system who have taken power. Realising this, people all over the world are claiming back the legitimate and urgent concerns around climate change from the corporate clowns and Occupy COP17 was part of that reclamation of power.

Although small in number, we were strong in spirit. Every day during the conference we sat and talked under the trees, the way millions of people meet and work out problems all over the world. We had no air conditioned conference halls or PA systems, instead we had the hum of traffic going round our small island of grass (directly outside the fortified UN compound) and the human microphone to amplify our voices. Our rallying cry was Climate Justice, Not Carbon Markets. We had poetry from Nigerian activist Nnimmo Bassey. Live art from South African performer Ewok (who also provided us with a soundtrack). Guerrilla gardening from AmBush. Actions to get the World Bank out of climate finance and Canada out of the tar sands. Five hundred women from throughout Africa forming the Rural Women’s Assembly joined with us and hundreds of civil society delegates from the Democratic Left for a spirited march which was full of song and dance, power and passion, things that were curiously curtailed in the officially designed march the next day.

There were many who came out of the conference to join and speak with us, including Bolivian activist Pablo Salon, South African Commissioner for Gender Equality Yvette Abrahams and the UN Ambassadors from the small island states of Seychelles, Grenada and Nauru. Our aim was to create a safe space where everyone could come and speak, using non-hierarchical organising and consensus decision-making. Most of those who came were not invited to attend COP17, yet they were the people who needed to be heard most, those who are at the front line of climate change and crying out for Climate Justice.

We connected with a group of people who had faced repeated evictions from their dwellings in nearby KwaMashu, deemed unsightly reminders of the government’s failure to meet the needs of ordinary people. They had been evicted ahead of the World Cup a few years previously, and now had been evicted ahead of COP17. This time not only were their shacks demolished but, to make sure they stayed away, all their belongings, including food and clothes, were taken from them. Still they fought back, taking over a community hall and becoming Occupy KwaMashu. Their plight exemplified the enormous gulf between what many of the insulated negotiators on the inside were discussing and the real problems that were being laid bare by those outside.

So what are the solutions? As with many problems of this nature they are not easy to summarise or solve. But we do have a roadmap to work with and a popular mandate from the people, and that is the People’s Agreement of Cochabamba. It lays out a just and fair plan to avert catastrophic climate change and create a more equitable and harmonious world. It’s our job to make sure this is the route followed, rather than the suicidal path that is currently being pursued by those calling themselves leaders.

The sinking of the COP 17

Hubris is a funny thing, but it is also a predictable thing. Without fail, it is has an uncanny ability to make those in power sail full speed into headlong disasters whilst convinced of their own infallibility.

The COP 17 charade is the latest display of hubris and its ultimate epitome. Just as the captain of the Titanic ignored the warning of icebergs and kept going at full speed convinced in his unsinkable ship, so the leaders of the world’s biggest economies ignore the dire science of climate change and keep growing their economies at full speed equally convinced their economies are unsinkable.

So the question now is - when the Titanic has hit the iceberg, which it has, which it is - what do we do as we wait for the inevitable? How do we respond accordingly? If you were on the ship and you had just come up from its bowels with an ashen white face because you have seen the water pouring in, how would you focus everyone's attention in the boat for the most viable and painless outcome?

Would you switch on the ballroom jazz music whilst you await the back up life-boats so everyone can dance their final hours away in bliss? Would you scream at everyone and make them wait in the waiting room until their knuckles are white and they are projectile vomiting with fear into the air? Would you let everyone raid the cabin mini-bars so they drown their sorrows? Or ply everyone with caffeine to work into the night for a solution? Whilst the international flares rocket high and the message for more boats is sent out - would you try and cram everyone onto an already-heaving lifeboat? Or would you set up raft making workshops, using the scrap wood from the boats emergency store? Would you give up on saving lives, put on your cleaning gloves and scrub the floor spotless for whoever finds the wreck? Would you arm everyone with weapons, lie to all with stories of each other's blame, nick the last lifeboat and tear off lonely into the night? Would you share your favourite jokes, sing your favourite songs, let the cabin boy/girl know of your (previously) secret lust for them and share your deepest love for your dearest around you? Would you steel yourself for a night in the icy water and prepare to swim for any lifebuoy on the horizon in the remote hope that you may get there and some others might survive the long swim with you?

Alternatively, you might want to ask yourself what were you doing in the bowels of the ship. Should you not have been up on the deck to make sure that the captain and his crew were not doing something as daft as playing with your life by racing through an ice field in middle of night.  You will curse yourself for not being there and not taking over the bridge to bring sanity to the situation before it was too late. 

The truth is, there are now limited ways to stop destructive climate change. But there are countless ways out there to generate the attention and support mechanisms we so desperately need. Many of us can instinctively join the dots, We can see the connections between war - conflict - climate change and the other big issues - but how to arm everyone to fight the battle, with their heads held high with hope in the long term - is something else altogether.

I don't know! I wish I did.