By Adam Kotin and Cecilia Pineda
As negotiators determine the fate of the Kyoto Protocol on the last day of COP17, youth from all over the world, NGO members, and a few distinguished negotiators stormed the hallways of the International Convention Centre demanding climate justice.
Protesters began the march toward the opening plenary for the 7th meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP) singing a mix of the South African miner’s song “Shosholoza” and chants for climate justice. Borrowing the human microphone from the U.S. Occupy Wall Street movement, they voiced their demands for the negotiators to come up with an ambitious, legally-binding treaty to reduce emissions.
“We are here today for the people who can’t be here. We are here today for the people who will suffer the weight of climate change,” they yelled, “We are here today for Africa. We are here today for the island nations. We are here today for the world to say ‘listen to the people, not the polluters.’ We are here today to support those that are inside who are still fighting for a real climate deal. Listen to the people.”
Although everyone was free to speak, the crowd passionately encouraged those from developing and highly vulnerable countries (especially those from Africa) to voice their demands. First to speak was the Environmental Minister of the Maldives, Mohamed Aslam, who used the voice of the people to echo his cry for the Maldives’ “right to live.” He appealed to his fellow ministers, “You can’t decide our destiny.”
As the protesters walked on to escort the Minister to the plenary, they filled the negotiating hallways with cries of “Climate Justice Now” and “Take the world bank out of climate finance.” By the time they neared the end of the hallway, the UN police had linked arms and formed a barricade to stop the masses from reaching the doors of the plenary.
Yet this simple human wall did not prevent the demonstrators from voicing the injustices which have been reproduced since the inception of the Kyoto Protocol.
Voices from Nigeria, Egypt, and Zimbabwe spoke of the rising threats for their lives. Youth reminded the negotiators that they were the ones who were going to suffer from the decisions made today. One pre-medical student marked climate change as the biggest threat to human health in the future. Voices from developed countries joined the conversation, apologizing for their governments’ histories of emissions and lack of adequate action.
This is the 17th session of the Conference of the Parties, and we have taken far too long to come up with an adequate response to prevent our emissions from rising above 2˚Celsius. Although the world really needs a second commitment period to start immediately, the conversations seem to only be about how long we can procrastinate.
For years, Civil Society has fought for its voice within these negotiations. Several Canadian Greenpeace activists were deported last week, and an American student was de-badged for interrupting a plenary session.
And so when the U.N. Security gave the demonstrators two paths to take—one leading to the courtyard beside the hall, where they would be free to stay as long and be as loud as they desired; and the other, to stay there, have their UNFCCC badges taken away, and be removed from the convention—the majority opted to stay, raising their collective voice to the negotiators’ ears before they decide the fate of the world.