Today at the UN climate negotiations in Durban the whispers of polluting companies were drowned out by the roar of the crowd demanding governments “Listen to the people not the polluters!”
As the talks draw to a close in the coming hours, there is still a deadly gulf between what needs to be done to tackle climate change and what is being proposed, a gulf that can only be bridged by an huge increase in political will from national capitals. It’s a gap seems to be widening and that can already be measured in human lives.
But the bullying by polluting countries and the stalling to deliver a fair, ambitious and legally binding deal to protect people from the climate chaos we are facing have not gone unnoticed. As the last day of the negotiations crept into the late afternoon and ministers and negotiators got ready for the afternoon plenary session, a crowd gathered. The numbers coming together to demand climate action grew and the cries for governments to listen to the people could not be ignored.
The sentiments were clear: Polluting countries are holding the political process ransom and vulnerable countries are paying the price. As the plenary started, we came together to bear witness and show our support for those nations at the negotiations who are fighting for their survival. Those already living with the deadly effects of climate change and most aware of the lack of political will to make a deal to stop it.
We wanted to be sure country delegates would hear us as they continued negotiations and they did. We were told our chants of “2020 too late”, could be heard as the lame US proposal for implementation after 2020 was rejected. We wanted vulnerable countries to know that we support their fight, and climate laggards to feel a little more pressure and from what we hear that’s exactly what happened.
After two hours, UN security police told us that if we left the hallway and moved outside, we could stay as long as we wanted. If we backed-off and left negotiators in peace, we could keep our conference accreditation. But negotiators have had peace and quiet for too long, now they needed to know we were right outside the door as they decided the fate of entire populations.
The peaceful protest carried on until we were removed by UN police, de-badged, and escorted out the ICC. I walked out with other young people from Egypt, the Maldives and South Africa, and we were happy to have taken a stand and raised our voices to the injustice we had witnessed.
On the final day of COP17, NGOs, civil societies and island nation states stood shoulder to shoulder to drown out dissenting voices on the climate, as hopes for a fair deal in Durban sink. But for a few hours this afternoon, in the heart of the conference centre, the governments were forced to listen to the people and not the polluters and our message was clear: Act on climate change now!
So as the talks run into the night, we are no longer allowed access to the UN process. But that is in many ways symbolic. The voices who are calling for action on the climate are in the real world. And that is where we those of us that lost our badges stand tonight. On the outside, united.