by Lara Shirley and J. Taggart Wass
Today, in an unprecedented show of solidarity between all elements of civil society, there was a massive walkout of COP19. The action involved 800 members of civil society protesting the complete lack of progress in this year’s conference. The move was a culmination of many different frustrations: the corporate takeover of the UNFCCC space, the continued disregard for a fair climate deal by members of the developed world (most notably the U.S., Canada, Japan and Australia), and the overall frustration that it has now been 20 years since negotiations began and still there is no deal. A binding theme throughout was the frustration across civil society at our participation being marginalized by the Secretariat. These issues combined and brought unity to organizations across a whole spectrum of social movements; environmental, labor, women, development, youth and climate justice.
It’s not surprising that civil society got so frustrated. Negotiations haven’t been progressing – pledges made so far have been wholly inadequate; finance is being pushed towards market-based approaches; ADP contains none of the key elements it needs to be an effective global treaty; and loss and damage is being torn apart to the extent that the entire G77+China (that is, 133 countries) walked out of negotiations last night.
Not only that, but corporations have dominated the landscape in the literal and figurative sense throughout the conference: their logos adorn every surface inside the stadium, and their voices are constantly present both in explicit spaces (Wednesday’s Caring for Climate Business Forum, Thursday’s Business Forum, the presence of World-Bank-funded Connect4Climate – the list goes on) as well as in the market-based finance mechanisms being pushed by many countries. The UNFCCC Secretariat attended the World Coal Summit. How much clearer could their influence be? Corporations’ interests are plainly contrary to that of fighting climate change and ensuring equity in doing so – and including them to this extent, or at all, can only delay and corrupt the process.
The action started with a press conference involving the heads of the “Big Greens”. They stated their frustration with this year’s COP and announced the walk out action. Each of us had on two big stickers. The message in the front was “Polluters talk, we walk” and the message on the back “#volveremos – we will be back”.
As they finished their statements, civil society groups from all around the building began heading toward the exit, walking down the hallway and past the plenary. Press was everywhere, making it a slow, single-file march. As we left the building the whole group stopped on the steps that led down from the stadium to street level. Media met the group at the bottom and interviewed many members of the action. The power in the air was palpable as all 800 of us filled the stairs and raised our placards, showing the many issues with the process that had lead us to all walk out in unison.
We re-convened at the convergence space in the center of town to reflect on what had happened. Many people spoke to express their gratitude and excitement for the massive action. It was clear it had been a long time since all the major players of civil society in the climate movement had come together to express themselves as one. The excitement was electric.
It was clear this wasn’t a one-off event: an impermanent outpouring of short-lived dismissal. On our backs we had written #volveremos. We. Will. Come. Back. This was not a rejection of the UNFCCC: it was a rejection of this COP, of its huge inadequacy and inequity – and, in particular, that this inadequacy and inequity is consciously perpetrated by specific actors. Corporations and rich countries block this process, on purpose, for their own profits.
Civil society has come together like never before, and is ready to come back to the next COP even more united and strong than we already are. This is the time to connect with each other and work between us to build and reclaim power together. The challenge will be working hard at home to help push along the results we are hoping for in Lima next year.
It is the first time in the history of these conferences that so many people from so many movements have come together. This marks a turning point, a time of possibility, to create a strong and resilient network that stretches across the world and that’s capable of delivering real outcomes – outcomes that combat climate change, protect the environment and empower all people. The moment is now and the onus is on us. It’s time. Let’s go.