A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

COP 15 Commentary by Bettina Wittneben

COPENHAGEN – Bob Dylan’s 1963 classic about floods and rising oceans is taking on new meaning in Copenhagen. The song has become a bit of a theme song for climate action. For the first time in its seventeen-year history, the United Nations climate summit is being bombarded with massive protests inside and outside the conference centre.

COP15_LOGO_B_MInside the conference centre, representatives from poor countries and  small island states have managed to halt the negotiations to bring  attention to their needs. These groups of countries have in the past been treated with much care and given special allowances by the UN,  but really, they were merely seen as the moral voice at the  negotiations, the victims and the ones who will lose out. Tuvalu has  always had the power to make negotiators face the detrimental impact  of their decisions, for example, when their delegate pointed out that  the two degree target proposed by the EU will mean Tuvalu will 
disappear. This sort of statement caused a sober response and a solemn  pause in the negotiations – for about five minutes. In Copenhagen, 
these countries are refusing to remain in the victim’s role. They are 
not willing to be treated as children alongside a much more important 
adult game. They are standing up and speaking out.

This sense of renewed courage is also vivid in some of the main 
environmental nongovernmental groups. It is unusual to see so many 
protests staged inside the summit. Indigenous peoples are being 
encouraged to speak out, climate change victims put on the megaphone. 
Protesters have even been able to climb up on centre stage of the 
negotiations voicing their concern. They have matured from the main 
group organizing the famous NGO party at half time of the negotiations 
to taking a stance even if it is uncomfortable.

Outside, the cold temperatures have not been able to freeze activists’ 
anger and frustrations at the slow pace of international climate 
action. There are solid calls for payment of the ecological debt, 
setting ambitious, science-based emissions reduction targets and 
abolishing false climate solutions such as offsetting, nuclear power 
or clean coal. The number of arrests must be in the thousands by now 
but activists still managed to approach the conference centre in great 
numbers in an attempt to shut down the talks.

Civil society has now been effectively barred from observing the 
climate talks. The Danish police are stepping up the defences of the 
climate bureaucracy. They have already brought out the pepper spray, 
police dogs and batons. There are still the water cannon that are 
rumoured to have been purchased before the summit. A meeting of over 
one hundred heads of state in the coming days will require high levels 
of security, at least for the ones on the inside.

Will these two sets of climate protest merge? Today they almost did. 
The crowds inside and outside the summit wanted to unite but were held 
back by police. Some of the delegates inside the summit have defected 
to the alternative summit outside because they are frustrated by the 
negotiations. Perhaps pushing NGOs outside of the confines of the 
summit will expose them to the more radical thoughts at Klimaforum.

Which one of the two protest movements will create enough momentum to 
change our collective path into climate chaos? Will the heads of state 
come out strong in support of climate change mitigation and 
adaptation? Will the alternative platform gain so much strength that 
its solutions will ripple through grassroots movements across the globe?

The good news is that there is momentum – perhaps for the first time 
since climate action was called for at the UN over twenty years ago. 
Climate change melancholy is over. It is time to roll up the sleeves 
and get a-workin’.

 – Bettina Wittneben is Advisor to the Board of Trustees of the Trust for Sustainable Living.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, December 17th, 2009 at 10:36 am and is filed under Blog, Forest of Life Blog.

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