When around 800 members of civil society walked out of the Warsaw climate conference on Thursday, observers asked ‘Why?’ And ‘Why now?’
What made this meeting different from all the others - and what did we hope to achieve?
For some, the answer will be emotional. The willingness of negotiators to expend so much personal zeal on blocking progress, and so little on driving it forward can get to even the most hardened climate campaigner. When this takes place against the back-drop of the human disaster unfolding in the Philippines, and is compounded by the Polish government’s determination to cheer-lead for their coal industry, the grief and anger becomes palpable. No wonder many of us felt a sense of relief as we took off our badges and walked out into the winter air.
But the climate movement must be about more than temporary frustration. Many of the older people fighting for action here have been doing so for many years and understand that this is a life time of hard work. And for the young people fresh to the struggle, they know they are fighting for their lives. They cannot afford to give up.
Which is why, although we have left the Warsaw COP, we will not walk away from the hope for a meaningful global co-operation on climate change. We understand only too well that this is a necessity in tackling the crisis – and that the UN is the only place to secure that co-operation which gives a voice to the vulnerable. Allowing big polluting countries to set the pace of change without any global accountability benefits no-one except the fossil fuel industry.
But it is because we understand this that we also cannot allow ourselves to become mere spectators to these talks. We may occasionally find them fascinating - even very rarely inspiring - as well as regularly horrifying, but our job as civil society is to achieve change, not to document failure.
We have to do more.
Which is why on Thursday, we said enough is enough. We sent the clearest message possible to the hosts and participants of this conference that they had failed us. Now we – and they – must get back to work.
For civil society, the form of that work is changing fast, although its motivation – to protect life on this planet from the results of a massive experiment on our climate – remains the same. We know now, for example, that simply asking our leaders to come together to find a solution, as we did in Copenhagen, will not be enough. They did not listen then, and too many are not listening now.
So instead, we are taking the battle to the polluting industries that are driving this madness - and our inspiration from those who, like the 30 brave men and women still facing long jail sentences in Russia for a peaceful protest against Arctic oil drilling, are willing to risk their liberty trying to prevent it. Around the world, we are challenging the massive energy companies who have hijacked our future, by peaceful direct action - and by working with communities to build an alternative energy system that is clean, safe and democratically controlled.
And we know too, that this struggle does not, and cannot end with the environment movement. Faith leaders and trades unionists, economists, doctors, engineers and business leaders share our goals and have come forward to stand with us. Every day we are finding new partners and working with them to secure our common ground.
It is through this work, that we will re-assert the principle and the hope for global co-operation on the climate. Those leaving the Warsaw stadium on Thursday carried a message of determination as well warning – ‘volveremos’ – we will be back. We will be back in Washington, in Berlin, London, Paris, Rio and Bejing, demanding more from the governments of the world’s polluting nations. We will be back at the UN General Assembly in New York in September, and in Lima at the next round of climate negotiations, calling on those governments to listen to their people, not the polluters. We can do nothin else.
For us, ‘volveremos’ means no turning back.
Ruth Davis is the Political Director of Greenpeace UK