Barcelona updates: Greenpeace banner hangs and the African Group walks out

by Mike Gaworecki

November 3, 2009

We’re now just over a month away from the UN climate talks in Copenhagen, which commence on Dec. 7th. World leaders are currently meeting this week in Barcelona, Spain for the last time before Copenhagen. These meetings are crucial to establishing a fair, ambitious, and binding climate treaty in December, yet early signs are not good. Greenpeace activists are there reminding world leaders of their moral obligation to solve the climate crisis. And we’re not the only ones protesting: Several African nations walked out of the meetings to point out that the developed world was simply pursuing business as usual.

Barcelona’s famous church, Sagrada Família, which was designed by renowned architect Antoni Gaudí, was the scene of a series of stunning banner hangs by Greenpeace activists on the first day of the talks. Check out these amazing pics:

Greenpeace activists hang a banner at Barcelona's Sagrada Familia
More than twenty Greenpeace activists climbed the Sagrada Famí
lia, Gaudí‘s monument, in Barcelona, Spain. They deployed two banners at the cranes with the message "Save the climate" — in Spanish, "Salvad el clima." Greenpeace is asking world leaders to make the climate call and to take the responsibility for tackling climate change. © Greenpeace/Pedro Armestre

Greenpeace activists hold a banner at Barcelona's Sagrada Familia
Greenpeace activists hold a banner that reads "Activist for the climate" in Spanish. © Greenpeace/Pedro Armestre

Greenpeace activists deploy a banner at twilight, Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
Greenpeace activists deploy a banner at Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia that reads "World leaders, Make the climate call." © Greenpeace/Pedro Armestre

There’s also video of the activists deploying the clear banner at twilight:

But like I said before, Greenpeace is not alone in protesting the dithering of developed countries on climate change. The so-called African Group walked out of the meetings when it became clear that developed countries were not willing to set aggressive emissions reductions targets. Greenpeace New Zealand campaigner Geoff Keey is on the ground, and posted this report:

The first signs of trouble occurred in the morning when the African Group (the group of African countries at the negotiations who work together) warned that if there wasn’t sufficient progress in the negotiations on developed country emission reduction targets, they’d walk about and not allow further meetings to be scheduled.

The African Group’s threat reflects increasing frustration over the refusal of developed countries like New Zealand to adopt strong climate change targets.

Then in the afternoon, the chair of the meeting to discuss developed country targets told countries to not restate their targets (e.g. New Zealand’s nothing – 20% target) but to talk about how they could increase those targets. In other words, current proposed targets are well below what’s needed.

The request from the chair of the negotiations was met with complete silence from developed countries for around five minutes before South Africa finally said they were disappointed no developed country was willing to speak. From then on a walk-out was inevitable.

According to Jess Miller, another Greenpeacer on the ground in Barcelona, the walk-out has ended and talks will resume tomorrow. No word yet on what resolution was reached between the African Group and developed nations, but Jess adds that “the walk out by the African Group proved to be an effective way to get developed countries to realize that business as usual will no longer be tolerated!”

A bit of background on why the Barcelona talks are important: In December of 2007, the world’s leaders agreed to spend two years crafting a global treaty to stave off the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. The talks happening right now in Barcelona are the last milestone on the road to the UN negotiations that will take place in Copenhagen at the end of the year. The aim of the Copenhagen talks is to establish a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol. Meetings like those going on in Barcelona have happened consistently throughout the past two years, and were intended to be used for laying the groundwork for a successor climate treaty. Alas, little to no progress has been made in the previous rounds of talks.

Hence why the African Group was absolutely right to walk out when developed nations refused to discuss ambitious emissions targets, and why Greenpeace is there on the ground to remind world leaders that it is their moral obligation to lead the world’s response to global warming. Copenhagen is our last, best chance to avert the worst impacts of global warming, and the developing nations of the world will be hit the hardest if we don’t get it right, even though they had an inordinately small role in creating the problem in the first place.

GPUSA climate campaign head Damon Moglen is in Barcelona, and said this of the walk-out by the African Group: “It is clear that for many countries, enough is enough. President Obama can no longer hide behind failed congressional legislation. He must provide ambitious, science-based emissions reductions targets.”

President Obama has the power to use this meeting as a springboard to the treaty that the world needs. If the US fails to show leadership during these crucial moments, our children and grandchildren will pay the price. Take action now and tell Obama that it’s time to sign a fair, ambitious, and binding climate treaty.

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