As the official COP17 climate negotiations got underway in Durban this morning , a radically different meeting was taking shape on a grassy mound just outside the main conference venue, sandwiched between three busy roads.
The meeting was the very first General Assembly of the OccupyCOP movement, a public gathering outside the official COP17 area, where anyone can join in the discussion.
It was exciting to hear people calling for climate justice so clearly, and in such simple terms. There was an overwhelming sense that our leaders in the negotiation rooms are minding the interests of large corporations, listening to the polluters and not the people.
I heard world leaders described as giant puppets dancing on strings running to the likes of Shell and BHP Billiton. And there was a strong feeling that the wishes of the people are not being listened to in those negotiations. The urgency of the situation is being tempered by the interests of profit and bigger bottom lines.
Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that the banner behind our meeting read ‘Conference of the People’; a reminder that leaders should be listening to the people, and not the polluting, greedy corporates.
Although profits and debt crises will dominate discussions inside COP17, in reality people should be the focus of the talks because so many of them, right here in Africa, are already battling with the impacts of climate change.
I came to the meeting this morning a little hesitant about what I’d find. But I think that although OccupyCOP17 has only just taken its first very tentative step, we are in for some riveting dialogues and very human discussions on how to save the planet, and how to get our leaders to listen.
Join the OccupyCOP general assembly: Daily talks at 13h00 on the lawns on the corner of Walnut and Bram Fischer Roads.
Follow @OccupyCOP17 for more details, or click here for a map.