At the end of June, two of us representing Rising Tide North America and the North American Mobilization for Climate Justice attended the international Climate Justice Action (hereafter: CJA) meetings held in Copenhagen, Denmark.
The network convened in an old textile factory turned meeting hall/theatre in world-renowned Freetown Christiania, a 90 acre squat (formerly a military base) that is comprised of many smaller collectives and which has maintained an inspiring and victorious 37 years of autonomous operation. From a slow start with introductions, the meetings quickly crescendoed into a space of tangible possibilities; the atmosphere held a contagious enthusiasm.
Discussions ranged from the structure of the network to its purpose to its future. Plans for the organizing around the December UN Climate Change Meetings and related events were brainstormed and hashed out. What follows is a bit of background and a summary of the meetings, including a synopsis of significant discussions and decisions reached through the consensus process.
The CJA is a unique and powerful combination of autonomous groups, activists representing broad grassroots networks from the global South, climate justice NGOs, and radical researchers. The CJA was formed in the Fall of 2008, when autonomous groups based in Copenhagen, Denmark began a mobilizing effort centered around the COP15 climate talks, slated to take place late in 2009. Radical grassroots groups gathered to discuss the (il)legitimacy of the COP’s “business as usual” process and to strategize around how to best intervene in and expose the process by wielding an platform and message of climate justice.
The organizers made special efforts to include grassroots organizations from the global South, and consequently representatives from over 20 countries were present; this first meeting formed the basis of the international CJA network. The next meeting was held in March 2009 in Poznan, Poland. Here over 40 countries were present, and the CJA came to agreement on some common principles and goals1.
Who Showed Up in June?
By the first day of meeting around 100 folks had manifested and numbers rose to around 150 by its end. The majority of attendees were European, with a showing from Germany, France, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Holland, the UK, Russia, Scotland, Ireland, and the Czech Republic. Delegations from the South were also present: Colombia, India, Nigeria, Togo, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Brazil, and Thailand.
List of organizations present (possibly a few left out):
ATTAC France, Third World Network, Geneva networks mobilizing against the WTO summit there, Klimaxx (Copenhagen), Hamburg Collective, Focus on the Global South, CJN!, Klimaforum, Carbon Trade Watch, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Czech Anarchist Federation, Social Youth Network of Denmark (students and unions), Young Christians for Social Justice (Holland), Belgium/Dutch border Climate Camp, UK climate camp, Rising Tide UK, ATTAC Togo, Central Ireland Climate Camp, Action Aid, Klimax (Sweden), Corporate Observatory (Brussels, Belgium), Transnational Institute, Institute for Policy Studies (U.S.), Climate Justice Network, German Young Greens, Nigeria Climate Justice Forum, Thai Networks, India Social Action Forum, Jubilee South (South America and Asian Pacific Network), and Oxfam.
Perhaps you’re noticing the diversity of groups, in terms of aims and mission? It wasn’t long before questions arose as to why larger and more mainstream Northern NGOs such as Oxfam and Greenpeace were present without an articulated desire to collaborate or share resources (or really state their aims/objectives, for that matter). Both GP and Oxfam are part of a coalition of big NGOs called the Global Campaign for Climate Action (GCCA – www.gc-ca.org) that is doing some joint messaging around COP15. It remains unclear what the GCCA’s goals are beyond having their members share a common “tck tck tck” logo on their websites, as they have no common policy platform. Historically, these organizations have at times sold out broad-based and grassroots movements in exchange for watered-down policy “victories” that end up advocating for false solutions or otherwise exacerbating the problem. They have also issued “friendly fire” against non-aligned efforts/organizations, and in many respects behaved as enemies to genuine grassroots organizing. Many folks at the CJA meeting expressed concerns about the potential for these larger groups, who have limited political affinity, to compromise of the CJA’s mission and message.
Representatives of these Northern NGOs expressed an interest in fostering more communication and collaboration, and the discussion unfolded into an examination of the finer points of collaborating with groups of their magnitude. It became obvious that resolving the issue was a bit unwieldy, and so it was left that it would be at CJA’s discretion to determine the level of impact these groups had, as well as what information they were privy to. Direct asks were made of the NGO representatives for there to be no exertion of influence on the plans of the CJA, nor friendly fire emanating from their organizations. The conversation about NGO dynamics continues on the international list-serve…
There was another meeting (in the same building in Christiania) that commenced the day before the start of the CJA meetings, called ‘Never Trust a COP’ (NTAC). NTAC describes itself as “non hierarchical radical left individuals and groups” and has issued a call advocating for decentralized actions to “stop the capitalist flow” during the December COP15 meetings. Some NTAC members were also present in the CJA meetings and described NTAC’s position as being in solidarity with, but not directly affiliating itself with, the CJA. NTAC kept a relatively closed circle about action planning in relation to the December summit, but some in the network did express interest in collaborating with folks in the US who are interested in actions targeting fossil fuel infrastructure projects during the COP15.
Deal, or No Deal?
Is no deal better than a bad deal? Should the COP15 be shut down? Two ad-hoc CJA meetings occurred in Belem, Brazil in January 2009 during the World Social Forum in which, among other things, the “Is no deal better than a bad deal?” debate was had. Ending without a definitive conclusion, members of the network agreed to respectfully disagree on what level of involvement in the UN process is strategic. While some groups are participating in the official process, others are not, believing that the UN climate negotiations are fundamentally flawed, inherently undemocratic, and unable to deliver what we want: participating lends the UN climate process a legitimacy they do not deserve.
Notably, the strong message from groups from the South was that their populations have more immediately at stake and their strategy must take this into account. If small, non-systemic changes through inside pressure and policy can be reached, then the trickle down could tangibly impact the lives of millions of farmers for the better. For these groups, to eschew participation meant to forfeit what leverage they had at home and abroad, and perhaps delegitimize their own aims on the international stage.
There is a clear agreement within the CJA that the UN process is horribly flawed, and at present is actually doing more harm than good (catering to corporate interests, sidelining the voices of the Indigenous and most affected people, implementing destructive market-based mechanisms to address climate change, etc). From the June meeting’s start, a low-level tension was present over the nature of messaging and the platform of the CJA network. With everyone’s views synthesized, how would the CJA express its goals? Would it support an inside strategy? Was no deal better than a deeply flawed deal? Could multiple visions be achieved?
In the end, the group reached an enthusiastic consensus that inside/outside coordination is strategic and desirable, and that above all, movement building, getting people into the streets, and enacting change from below is our best bet for changing the suicidal course we’re currently on. The messaging and action plans that were agreed to for the COP15 reflect this common ground: rather than saying the COP process won’t work, folks agreed to say that it clearly “is not working.” Momentum around this message was palpable, and it was exciting to see a no-compromise attitude being strongly put forth. With the foundation of a common message and strategy, many breakout groups met and returned to “the plenary” (the whole group) to have their proposals and ideas met with ricocheting explosions of consensus ‘twinkles’. Conversations lingered on in enthusiastic pockets after the conclusion of demarcated meeting times: folks were not exhausted from the process, but inspired by the discussions and breakout groups.
What is the CJA’s function?
Interwoven with the above discussions was the question: Is the CJA an information-sharing network or a network that works collectively on achieving goals and carrying out actions? We discussed this question in small groups, and everyone agreed that it’s both! People want to do more than information sharing; they want to collaborate on agenda-setting for climate justice and frame the climate debate in these terms. It is also a priority for the CJA to connect the climate crisis with the other crises going: water, the economy, food production and availability, cultural genocide, housing, species extinction, etc.
The network agreed to push a common message at the COP15. In short order, the website (www.climate09.org) will be updated and able to facilitate international posting and dialogue. The gist of the CJA’s messaging was:
• The COP process isn’t helping; it’s hurting. Its continuing failure and profiteering off of climate has worsened disparities which result in colonial violence, ecological debt, and environmentally catastrophic CDMs.
• Something different is needed. (like global justice)
• This overarching message will be followed by 4-6 more specific ones:
1. leave fossil fuels in the ground
2. no false solutions, including carbon trading/carbon colonialism
3. we need food sovereignty, relocalization of everything, and a reduction in consumption
4. global North/rich industrialized countries owe a huge ecological debt to the global South that far outweighs the illegitimate financial debt imposed on the South by the World Bank, IMF and other coercive Northern lending institutions
Some previous agreements of the CJA are:
We are stronger together. We will use our common platform to coordinate our efforts and work together whilst recognizing our diversity. We are an international movement and will practice solidarity.
The network is made up of groups with diverse opinions and tactics. We will respect this diversity. No members of the network will use the network to criticize or disassociate themselves from other members of the network.
The network will only make public statements that have been agreed by the network. Members for the network will not use the actions of other members to further their own aims without previous agreement.
Ecological Debt and Climate Tribunals
Several groups in the network are organizing around the theme of ecological debt and reparations. Socially defined, this is the disparity between industrialized nations, which consume a greater share of the global resource pool, and developing nations, who despite their greater share of the global population, consume less.
Ecological Debt and Climate Tribunals
Several groups in the CJA network are organizing around the theme of ecological debt, which encompasses issues of global finance/predatory lending, climate/emissions debt, adaptation, and justice (see http://www.ecologicaldebt.org for more info). This way of framing climate issues and North-South relations challenges traditional ideas of aid and puts the responsibility for dealing with climate change squarely on the people and countries who caused it. Civil Society groups in many Southern countries are working with the premise of ecological debt to highlight the justice issues implicit in climate change, and call for reparations from the industrialized countries to the rest of the world.
The Bolivian government is actually holding an official climate “tribunal” in October 2009, to hear testimony and establish specific data and demands to present to the world’s governments in Copenhagen. Bolivian president Evo Morales has already written a letter to the UN calling for an end to the exploitative capitalist relations that have historically fueled both colonization and climate change.
Grassroots organizations from the global South are looking at organizing their own climate tribunal in Copenhagen during the COP15, possibly at the Klimaforum space. December 14th will be an international day of action on the theme of climate justice and ecological debt. This would be an excellent time for solidarity actions, teach-ins, and other awareness-raising activities to happen in the US!
Also on the topic of ecological debt, in August groups in several Asian countries will be holding demonstrations at US embassies – another opportunity for solidarity actions here in the belly of the beast.
N30, the WTO, Copenhagen and Climate
The WTO is meeting in Geneva on November 30, 2009, somehow thinking it is a good idea to attempt to resurrect themselves on the 10 year anniversary of the Seattle protests. While this meeting has been framed by the WTO as a sort of formality and not intended to complete the Doha round, both the Indian government and the Obama administration may be pushing for a conclusion of the Doha round. In any case, there is a clear connection between global trade and climate issues. Parties involved in the Copenhagen negotiations are in agreement that any climate treaty coming out of the UN must also be compatible with the laws of the WTO.
Protests in Geneva will be linking neoliberalism and climate change, financial crisis with climate crisis, corporate colonialism with the commodification of food, water, and the atmosphere. There will be a focus on ecological debt and “change trade not climate”. Groups in the UK and Scotland have already put out calls for action against capitalism and the fossil fuel empire, the root causes of climate change, on N30. There is talk of putting out a joint call from CJA and the Our World Is Not For Sale network. There was a breakout at this meeting to discuss N30 and the WTO, and a committee was created within the CJA to continue working on N30 actions and messaging. The CJA folks mobilizing in Geneva are very interested in coordinating with the MCJ on international actions on N30.
The N30 date is quite significant globally, and has special meaning for the US. Despite the scale and urgency of the climate crisis, a movement around climate has been slow to grow here. For this to change, there must be a recognition of peoples’ differing levels of responsibility in creating the problem, and an understanding of how different groups will be hit differently by climate change as conditions worsen. Climate change affects everything and everyone (some more than others); it cannot be kept in the box of being an “environmental issue,” but must also be understood as the most important social justice issue of our time. Just as Seattle brought together teamsters and turtles, reframed the trade debate and made “WTO” a household word, this year we have the opportunity to construct a movement of movements around climate, and find common ground in struggling for our collective survival.
One function of the CJA will be an overall choreography of actions – sharing information, making sure actions are not competing with each other, planning joint messaging, outreach, etc. Many actions are planned.
There were two main action proposals at the meeting. One pertained to the “new space” or “meeting at the fence” action idea in which it had previously been agreed that sympathetic people inside the conference would come out to the fence to meet people protesting outside the conference to create an ‘other space’ in which the peoples’ demands would be heard. Since the last meeting, a German group put forth a critique of this plan and a counter-proposal. The critique had two main points: one was that the message of the ‘new space’ action could be easily co-opted by politicians and others whose goals we do not share (ie, “Those people are out there because they want a bold climate agreement. I’m with them, I want the same thing!”). The second point was that the Copenhagen negotiations require a serious wake-up call, and actions aimed at the summit need to have a good dose of confrontation and intensity.
This group proposed that, rather than have a civil meeting at the fence, outside the conference center, the CJA would choose one day of the summit to have a “March of the Excluded/March of the Majority” (exact name to be decided later). When the negotiations show their true and predictable colors, the march would have the objective of pushing into the conference center and transforming the UN summit into our platform for the day. The goal would not be to shut down the whole summit, but rather to force the world’s heads of state to listen to the people. “It would be the hour of the movements from below, who would speak for themselves and decide the agenda. In particular, the voices of those affected by climate change from the Global South would have a forum.” If the march gets obstructed before reaching the summit, it could then transform into a sort of “new space.” The action would be coordinated from both inside and outside the conference center, with a broad range of groups.
This counter-proposal was unanimously adopted, to much fanfare! It seemed to reconcile much of the weekend’s debate and discussion into a tangible action framework. The actions working group talked about how to coordinate with all the other actions going on, and did some brainstorming around messaging. With a nod to the literal push from the outside into enter the Bella Center, this action’s message and rallying cry was named “Reclaiming Power – Pushing for Climate Justice.”
While “the big push” will be the CJA’s most highlighted action, there will also be “theme days” to categorically address specific grievances against the UN process. We participated in a discussion to develop a “People’s Tribunal on Ecological Debt” day to mirror similar past popular tribunals in response to economic and resource disparity between the global North and South. Groups from the global South plan to make this a global day of action, with participation from groups in many countries.
There was another proposal made for an action called “Hit the production of climate chaos.” This action would target some carbon-intensive site of production in Copenhagen, calling attention to the root causes of climate chaos and the necessity for regular people to act collectively to shut these places down. The CJA decided to endorse this action as well.
A quick rundown of other planned actions:
- November 30: WTO summit in Geneva, Seattle anniversary; major mobilizations in Geneva and west coast US
- December 11: business summit with BP, Shell, Monsanto, et all on “solutions”
- December 12: global day of protest; march from Parliament to the Bella Center (where the UN is meeting). FOE is also organizing a “human flood” for climate justice in the morning – a carnival-style march through Copenhagen.
- **December 13: Theme day for actions at production/infrastructure sites; energy
- **December 14: Theme day for actions on ecological debt, finance/economy/climate; driven by groups from the global South.
- **December 15: Theme day for actions on agriculture, forests, food, and offsets. Also on the 15th GCCA is doing “project human voices”, setting up a climate refugee camp.
- December 16 or 17: CJA march to fence – “Reclaim Power: Pushing for Climate Justice”. Will also be other street actions; 16-17 is when heads of state arrive and the summit gets ministerial.
- December 18: official end of meetings; will probably continue until the 20th; ending actions…?
Bringing It Home
Departing from the Copenhagen CJA meetings, we felt quite inspired about the possibilities for action and movement-building that exist, despite some trepidation about the current state of the “climate movement” on our home front. The task at hand is daunting: educating, organizing, and mobilizing a broad base of people under the aegis of climate justice in a media-dictated political environment where people look to our “leaders” for answers and false solutions are embraced with open arms.
Yet common ground exists, and the soil is alarmingly fertile for connecting the dots between issues and communities: an energy crisis, a food crisis, a water crisis, a financial crisis, a climate crisis. The international echo of the WTO breakdown still resonates, and we are charged with continuing the broadcast and rebuilding the momentum. For North America and the MCJ, November 30th, 2009 will be both a milestone and an opportunity for a strong intervention in the dominant discourse around climate change. Exposing the failed UN process also means defrocking the corrupted system that gave rise to it, and revealing its true values. We must show how the climate crisis is rooted in a long history of colonization, racism, and capitalism. The movement to end these interlocking oppressions is not new, but has been going on for over 500 years. For a climate justice movement to succeed, we need to situate our current struggle for a livable planet within this long history of resistance, and become more skillful in building alliances across the boundaries of race, class, and culture that have always divided movements for social change.
Effective strategies will begin with supporting and amplifying critical front-line battles; grassroots, locally-based activism must lead the charge (in the cardinal opposite of the corporate top-down model). National networks should be built on a locally-rooted foundation; if national goals exist in their own vacuum, we will only be recreating the same model of the non-profit industrial complex that severs activism from its base and depletes accountability. It seems there are powerful links to be made between climate justice groups from the global South and frontline environmental justice struggles here in the US; these connections should be prioritized in future international collaborations.
We look forward to continuing the conversation about what it means to be building a movement for climate justice with all the groups in the MCJ and beyond. We feel truly privileged to have been able to attend this international meeting and learn from and conspire with folks from other continents. Tons of thanks to Rising Tide and the Mobilization for Climate Justice for sending us (and to the generous folks who made our plane tickets possible)!
Talk to y’all soon,
Abigail and David
* Glossary of British terminology:
Faffed: as in “to faff”, to proceed slowly; lollygagging
Knackered: tired, wrecked
Knicked: arrested, picked off, in police custody, “in the knick” [The second night of the meetings, during a street party gone awry outside a mall in downtown Copenhagen, David was unexpectedly swept up by some overzealous police and hauled down to the station. He was released later that night.]
1 find a summary of CJA principles along with an invite to the June meetings here: http://www.modkraft.dk/spip.php?article10842
2 COP15 – the UN Climate Change Conference 2009
• on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COP15
• Twitter Feed (maintained by the Denmark Ministry of Foreign Affairs) http://twitter.com/COP15
Some other odds & ends:
a. A CJA finances committee was formed, theoretically with representatives from the other working groups
b. the next COP is happening in Mexico!
c. 120-something corporations account for around 90% of all greenhouse pollution
d. The Copenhagen negotiations may be continued at COP 15.5, in Bonn
e. Klimaforum is helping the CJA with logistics and visas for COP15, and will be organizing the next in-person international meeting, October 16-18
f. The media working group is working on a calendar of events
g. The messaging group is working on a press release