Bringing Cancun to Brussels
This year’s UN climate talks might be happening on the other side of the globe, but that doesn’t mean they are passing people by in Europe. Francesca Gater from Friends of the Earth Europe blogs about the events she's been attending closer to home.
Over the weekend Friends of the Earth was part of several events which brought Cancun to Brussels and recaptured the spirit of the movement for climate justice we felt so much part of in Copenhagen. For those of us not travelling to Mexico it was a chance to come together with activists and allies from across Europe and show solidarity with our colleagues fighting for a just outcome in Cancun.
The weekend began on Friday when Brussels’ regular critical mass took on an international dimension. More than 120 cyclists, including a mounted samba band, toured the part of town where the European Institutions are. “System change not climate change” was their message to European negotiators heading to COP16.
The European Assembly for Climate Justice on Saturday brought together activists from Europe, and beyond, to discuss, debate, learn, share, plan...and enjoy amazing locally-grown food. More than 150 of us debated pertinent questions like, ‘Is there such a thing as green Capitalism?’, ‘How can we challenge the current unbalanced food and agriculture system?’, ‘What are the social and environmental costs of expanding carbon markets?’ and ‘How can we change our patterns of production and consumption to ensure everyone has access to basic human needs?’. Exploring these challenging issues with people from around Europe was fascinating.
We were privileged to be joined by some exceptionally inspirational international speakers. Evguenia Tchirikova from Russia told the assembly about the the battle to defend the Khimki forest on the edge of Moscow, in which she is a leading figure. Russian authorities are trying to chop down the forest to make way for a motorway and shops. The protests have been violently suppressed. Her story brought home the local and global dimensions of environmental struggles. The Khimki forest is one forest but is emblematic of the thousands of forests, lakes and other natural resources in Russia and around the world and those who are trying to profit from their destruction.
Qalandar Bux Memon from Pakistan shared his experiences of this year’s devastating floods which left one fifth of the country under water and 10 million people without homes. Unprecedented rainfall was the biggest factor, but this was exacerbated by the climate effect on melting glaciers, and deforestation and mangrove destruction. We heard how ecological disasters affect the poorest hardest. “Climate change is not tomorrow’s problem, we are already experiencing the catastrophe,” Qalander told us – a very powerful message from someone who has witnessed first-hand the impacts of a changing climate.
Singing for the climate
After an intense and motivating day, a trip to the Brussels Christmas market for a relaxing drink was a mistake. All the outdoor heaters and disposable cups were only a reminder of the scale of the challenge, and made me feel very powerless.
But that changed the next day with the climate march organised by the Belgian Climate Coalition. Evguenia , Qualander and myself joined around 4000 other people to walk through the streets of Brussels and assemble at a mass rally to ‘Sing for the Climate’. We definitely couldn’t compete with The Beatles but our rendition of their classic ‘Hey Jude’ had the right sentiment. The song’s lyrics had been rewritten specially with lines like, “Our earth, is not for sale, So we’ll take actions, to save the climate”. Belgium holds the current rotating Presidency of the European Union and is therefore representing Europe in Cancun, and the song called on its negotiators to work for climate justice at the talks.
It was not the spectacle of the ‘The Flood for Climate Justice’ Friends of the Earth organised last year, but it was nonetheless empowering to recapture some of the energy we had experienced in Copenhagen and to again feel part of a growing international movement. And the message hasn’t changed – negotiators at the climate talks must deliver climate justice, nothing else will do.
It feels like a lot has happened to bring Cancun to Brussels already, and that was all before the negotiations had even started! Now we have two more whole weeks of activities to look forward to. The European Youth Climate Justice Convergence organised by Young Friends of the Earth Europe is just beginning. It will see a daily programme of workshops, debates, skillshares, actions and film screenings in parallel to the negotiations which will show we don’t need to be in Mexico to follow the talks, learn, and take action to demand climate justice.