Greenpeace activist hangs from a bridge spanning oil pipes from the Sapref oil facility operated by Shell and BP. The activists deployed small banners demanding clean energy on the last day of the Earth Summit meeting in Johannesburg.
"Governments failed to do the job" said Greenpeace Climate
Policy Director Steve Sawyer. "Now it's up to all of us."
report card on the Summit's performance gave it failing marks
overall against nearly every benchmark we had set for success. The
US delegation's backroom strong-arm tactics were primarily
responsible for the failures. The US position consistently resisted
new measures to ensure corporate accountability and opposed
meaningful targets to spur the development of renewable energy.
On the Summit's closing day, Secretary of State Colin Powell
addressed the packed plenary session around noon on behalf of the
United States. Greenpeace and other groups have widely criticised
the US for the lion's share of responsibility for this Summit's
failure to adopt clear renewable energy targets.
"There were probably groups from more than a hundred countries
in there" said Greenpeace delegate Matt Gianni. "There were no
organised plans to have a demonstration... But when Colin Powell
chastised countries for saying "no" to US genetically modified
food, the room simply erupted in boos and catcalls. And when he
tried to claim that the US was defending biodiversity and promoting
renewables, there was this incredible roar of disbelief -- nobody
Powell was unable to continue for several minutes as the gallery
of the conference room voiced its protest: "Shame on Bush" was
among the chants, a banner saying "Betrayed by Governments" was
unfurled, and several representatives were escorted out by
security, still voicing their disbelief. Chairwoman Nkosazana
Dlamini-Zuma called for order, saying "This is totally
unacceptable," but the spontaneous outpouring of protest simply
would not be silenced.
Gianni said "as an American, I was proud to see the US position
here challenged. It's important for the world to know that the US
delegation was not here speaking on behalf of all Americans -- they
were speaking on behalf of multinational corporations. The US
behaviour at this summit was appalling."
Very few non-governmental organisations were allowed inside the
official plenary session. Those who were had to queue for several
hours on Sunday, and then draw a ticket in an impromptu lottery for
the few plenary tickets that were made available.
Many groups protested the exclusion of community representatives
and the voices of the environment and the poor from the conference.
Oxfam has called the Summit a "triumph of greed and self-interest,
a tragedy for the poor and the environment."
There was also protest outside the official plenary session. In
Sandton Square, dozens of protestors wore stickers that said "No
More Shameful Summits" and refused to be moved until South African
police, in what has come to a familiar scene, roughly herded them
into a group and pushed and shoved people out of the Plaza, which
is littered with exhibits by BMW. The German automaker bought
exclusive rights to convey their environmental message in
the square. (BMW's latest car engine, now under development, will
boast more than 460 horsepower of climate-killing petroleum
consumption. On exhibit in the square were only their
Powell was sent as the United States' official representative to
the Summit while George Bush vacationed in Texas. Greenpeace and
the Danish 92 Group sent a
postcard to the US President hoping that he was enjoying his
holiday while the rest of the world met to try and save the
A report by AFP inaccurately stated that Greenpeace had walked
out of the summit. "We have a responsibility to expose what's going
on behind closed doors here" said Sawyer, "and we're not going to
walk away from that responsibility -- even if it would be an
accurate expression of our disgust." Greenpeace Executive Director
Gerd Leipold added that "Being here is like going to the dentist.
Nobody likes it, but not going would be worse."
This morning in Durban, Greenpeace activists did what
governments have failed to do at the Johannesburg meeting and took
action to demand "Clean Energy Now" at a notorious oil refinery
jointly operated by Shell and BP.
Five activists climbed a thirty-meter bridge which spanned oil
pipes leading from the refinery, and dropped huge banners over the
pipes. The poorly maintained pipes run right through the middle of
the local communities. The plant and surroundings are notorious for
oil leaks and toxic air emissions, although neither company has
accepted any responsibility for the poor health of local
This event follows a week of world wide actions protesting the
dominance of big business interests over the true benefits of
sustainable development. Demanding that governments at the Earth
Summit adopt a policy of new renewable energy, activists kicked off
the Summit by dropping "Nuclear Power - out of Africa" banners from
top of the nuclear reactor at Koeberg, protesting its use of such
an unsafe and polluting medium. "Since the protest at Koeberg it
has become apparent that the Greenpeace activists are not the only
people who have broken the law. The total failure of the plant
owners, Eskom, to provide safety, security and evacuation plans
should be investigated by the authorities and is yet another reason
why this first nuclear facility in Africa should be the last," said
Mike Townsley of Greenpeace.
In other actions, (Click
here for pictures) Greenpeace was out in the streets, the
fields and the skies all over the world to try to communicate that
delegates are failing to meet the needs and expectations of the
people of the world. In Thailand, Greenpeace launched a Stop Global
Warming balloon over the Mae Moh coal plant in Lampang. On the seas
off Cape Town we tracked down a plutonium ship carrying a deadly
cargo and put them on the run. On the streets of Manila we
collected signatures to petition the Philippine's Board of
Investors not to invest in dirty fossil fuels. In the political
heart of Australia, climbers hung huge banners from the nation's
flagpole saying 'Stop climate change'. In Chile we launched a
balloon over the crude oil refineries plant at Vina Del Mar. And
outside the halls of Sandton in Johannesburg, Greenpeace's youth
delegation were herded away by security for daring to make a stand
about climate change in front of BMW's exhibition space.
The longer governments fail to take action on poverty and
climate change, the more the international community will rise up
in protest and action of its own.