An answer to the climate crisis is emerging right now from Lima, Peru, but it’s not COP20.
At COP 20, political elites haggled over a draft UN climate deal that they hope to ratify next year in Paris. It’s a bad deal. It is narrowly focused on unenforceable commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Those reductions won’t even begin till after 2020 and won’t keep temperature rises below two degrees celsius. At the same time, rich countries, and the corporate lobbyists behind them, worked for a deal that won’t stop them from expanding the extractive industries cooking the planet. And it does nothing to help poor nations adapt to climate change and sustainably lift their people out of poverty.
But outside COP20, a real response to the crisis is emerging: solidarity and resistance.
Thousands of people, representing indigenous communities and their allies from all over Latin America and the world came together for the Cumbre De Los Pueblos, (People’s Summit).
The People’s Summit was an unprecedented moment, particularly for bringing together so many communities from the Amazon and Andean Highlands of Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. Many of these communities are actively resisting extractive projects like gold mining, petroleum extraction, and logging. These communities are connecting their struggles to protect their water from extraction, forests from expropriation and communities from state violence around a framework of justicia climática (climate justice). They are addressing the need to confront neoliberal capital, the system that finances and drives the climate crisis.
The People’s summit hasn’t just created a space for solidarity. Its also created a space for resistance. The communities present are demanding autonomy, so when the news broke that Evo Morales, the President of Bolivia, might speak at the event, many were furious. Nilda Rojas, an Indigenous woman of Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Markas del Qullasuyu explained that a summit with government officials is not a peoples summit. Her community faces state violence that Evo Morales is responsible for. His presence would undercut the autonomy and potential of the summit and communities fighting for their land and water.
People rallied against government inclusion. On Monday, activists with the Ecuadoran group YASunidos used drums and banners to disrupted a speach by the mayor of Lima. After the disruption, Caravana Climática used its radio equipment to broadcast and amplify voices from dozens of indigenous communities saying they were unhappy with government inclusion. The dissent spread, and in the end Evo Morales did not speak.
On Tuesday, hundreds from the region of Cajamarca, Peru arrived in Lima. They immediately took the streets with a giant, river like banner. The people of Cajamarca are fighting the expansion of one of the largest open pit gold mines on the planet, Minas Conga, owned by the U.S. based Newmont Mining Corporation. The energy intensive mine threatens the water supply of Cajamarca, and state repression of protests has lead to the murder of at least five community members.
On Wednesday, up to 20,000 people took the streets in Lima to march in defense of Mother Earth. Nowhere in this march of 20,000 indigenous people, ecologists, feminists, anti-capitalists, could you get away from beautiful banners, and contagious protest songs for land and water and against neoliberal imperialism.
Demonstrators also confronted the World Climate Summit, a meeting of representatives from Multinational corporations. Even though the Police had used tear gas to disperse the initial march, many reconvened in a park closer to the Hilton where the corporate summit was gathering. We marched straight to the Hilton but were stopped one block from the target by a dense police line. In sight of the summit, we held a rally, standing in solidarity with those killed by state violence and denouncing the multi-nationals poisoning our land, water and climate.
If there is one lesson from the week, that is never doubt that you are alone in the fight for climate justice. We are a truly global, and growing, movement.
As we learn to work together, we are creating a real answer to the climate crisis, one based on communities protecting their land, water and forests from the industries destroying the planet. We are coming together to keep fossil fuels in the ground, ensure forests belong to the communities that live there and demanding water be protected as a common good.
The political elites at COP20 won’t end the climate crisis. We will.
Update, December 14: Edited to reflect that the COP20 released a draft climate accord in the early morning of Sunday, December 14.