Reflections on the Friends of the Earth delegation to COP 19
Before this year’s Climate Change Conference in Warsaw had even begun on November 11th,Friends of the Earth groups had been working together with other global and national organizations on a global month of action on energy (October 11th – November 11th) called Reclaim Power. The month saw actions and activities all around the world that amplified a set of ‘people’s demands’ on energy – including banning new dirty energy projects and supporting community-owned decentralized clean energy systems.
Our message on dirty energy was one of the core messages that Friends of the Earth took to the Warsaw Climate Change Conference (Nov 11th to 23rd). While the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) is a democratic multilateral space to address the climate catastrophe, this year's climate conference (COP 19) was influenced by dirty energy corporations and their lobby in such a blatant way that we named it the Dirty Energy COP. The space for civil society has shrunk rapidly amidst the ubiquitous presence of the logos of dirty energy sponsors at the conference venue. A campaigner from Young Friends of the Earth Europe (YFoEE), and two other young people from Earth in Brackets were removed and banned from the conference on the very first day. All they had done was show solidarity with the victims of typhoon Haiyan following the powerful and emotional appeal for climate action by Yeb Sano, climate commissioner for the Philippines, at the opening of the talks.
At the conference, we stood in solidarity with those nations and people most affected by climate change, provided our analysis, pointed at the urgency for a radical transformation of the energy system, shamed inert governments, exposed the corporate capture of the climate talks, engaged with Polish citizens in the streets of Warsaw, and linked up with FoE groups and allies around the world in acts of protest and solidarity. We worked alongside many others in civil society, including social movements, trade unions, NGOs and development organizations.
With our actions and events in and around the COP venue in Warsaw we - and particularly our Young FoEE activists and their friends - were among the most visible campaigners for climate justice, conveying our messages in effective, media savvy ways to government delegates and corporate lobbyists on location, to the international press, and reaching out beyond the conference venue via social media, blogs and online publications.
We believe that it is important to ensure that governments attending the UN Climate talks act in the interests of their people and the planet and not those of dirty energy corporate powers. We fought for it in Warsaw, working tirelessly to bring peoples' voices into that space and, along with other organizations, to expose and denounce the influence of these vested interests on decision making at the climate talks.
Toward the end of the conference, when the lack of progress at the talks became painfully apparent, FoE groups and other civil society groups and NGOs proposed to walk out of that space in protest; in protest at the utter lack of political will on the part of developed countries' governments to act rather and not just talk; in protest at the blatant corporate capture of the talks by the dirty energy polluters; in protest at one of the dirtiest COPs ever, and in solidarity with people affected by climate change. When polluters talk, we walk!
We walked out with 800 people! Those who walked out included the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), the Bolivian Platform for Climate Justice, Jubilee South (APMDD), gender organizations, climate justice youth groups such as Earth in Brackets , as well as 350.org, Greenpeace, Oxfam, ActionAid, WWF and others, acting on behalf of millions of people around the world who won't settle for anything less than real climate justice and action.
The official outcome of this year's climate talks confirmed our concerns. Progress towards the kind of ambitious action needed to combat climate change is sorely lacking. Rich industrialised countries refused to work towards agreement on financial help for those worst affected by climate change. Some, such as Australia and Japan, joined climate criminals such as Canada to even weaken their previous inadequate commitments to further reduce CO2 emissions, while the US not only blocked any meaningful progress but continued to push for a deregulated approach that is certain to fry the planet and its people, and the EU proved to be woefully inadequate as ever.
But we should also celebrate our incredible achievements: not only did our efforts stop new carbon markets being established in Warsaw, but our pressure has helped make progress on establishing compensation and emergency funding for climate-related loss and damage. Our actions killed the coal summit and highlighted the corporate sponsorship of the Warsaw talks. Our ability to connect and unite organizations, movements, youth groups and networks made history with our walk out. Our analysis and framing was adopted by many others and dominated how the media talked about the talks. Our spirit of unity, respect in how we work together – bringing together national member groups, young FoE groups – impressed many people outside of our federation. And through the strength of our work in Warsaw we were able to talk to, and introduce Friends of the Earth to, millions of people in every corner of the world, strengthening our Federation as well as inspiring new activists to join us.
While we are disappointed with the lack of progress at the talks, we know that as a Federation we left Warsaw stronger and more confident that a new generation of young leaders has begun to emerge from amidst our ranks and that our movement for climate justice has gained strength. We have shown that when we work together, we can be optimistic about our impact in the years to come.
We will continue to build the movement in our countries and internationally. Only by integrating this work on all levels within our federation and with our allies can we build the momentum for urgent action needed on climate change by the world’s governments. We need to see real progress at the UN level and we need to see real progress at national level. Millions of people’s lives and livelihoods are already being impacted by climate change. They need justice and they need real support. But they also need us to prevent even greater catastrophic climate impacts. For that we need more power, we need to be stronger and we need to be more united. For all of those reasons - we will be back! Volveremos!
And last but not least, thanks for the dedication and hard work of all of you who helped this happen.
On behalf of the COP 19 FoE team,