As multi-faceted as the negotiations have been thus far at COP15, one crucial factor has been mostly left out of analyses of how negotiations will progress – the role of upcoming protests. But this will likely change as the streets of Copenhagen – and perhaps the halls of the Bella Center – will become the stage for several days of marches demanding climate justice and of direct action protests against companies contributing to global warming.
In addition to focusing on the ways that a climate agreement – or the failure to achieve an agreement – will impact the peoples of poor and low-lying countries, the protests will also criticize the UNFCCC process itself and economic globalization.
Many of the groups I spoke with hope that the protests outside the summit will amplify the demands put forward inside the negotiations by the African bloc, the Alliance of Small Island States and indigenous peoples. The concerns of these delegations are increasingly being sidelined as a deadline for an agreement and the arrival of heads of state nears. A case in point is the inability of the nation of Tuvalu to get a proper hearing of its proposal for a comprehensive, legally-binding treaty.(This morning, the Alliance of Small Island States, of which Tuvalu is part, put forward its treaty proposal. More on this development later today).
“We want to provide a platform for the most impacted and marginalized people,” says Kevin Smith of the Climate Justice Action. But he doubts the UNFCCC process is meant to accommodate these concerns: “Many civil society organizations hold out hope for the process. But the U.N. seems to dangle this carrot in front of the NGOs, who make vague and benevolent statements about an agreement, before whacking them on the head with the stick. It’s gone on for 15 years.”
“Different groups within the climate justice movement have different goals,” says Lidy Nacpil of Jubilee South, an organization also involved in the protests over the next several days. “Some say we can’t expect anything from the UNFCCC process. Others say we should continue with the process. But the one common desire that holds the climate justice movement together is our desire to express to governments and the world’s people that there is an urgent need for climate justice.”
So what is in store for the next days? This morning, protesters targeted corporations involved in the COP15 process. Tomorrow, an international day for climate justice, groups will flood the streets of Copenhagen, taking part in decentralized actions. The next day, there will be a blockade of Copenhagen’s harbor, where the international shipping giant Maersk is located. Organizers hope that a critical mass of people will be able to shut down the facility, foregrounding the role of international shipping companies and economic globalization in climate change.
Other actions will highlight the plight of climate refugees and the impacts of global warming on agricultural. And, on the 16th, protesters will attempt to hold a “Peoples’ Assembly,” perhaps inside the Bella Center. Up to nine thousand Danish police will stand between them and their destination. Thirty to forty thousands people are expected to take part in the marches and demonstrations.
On early Wednesday morning Danish police raided a facility that the government had provided to protest groups, briefly detaining 200. And, just days prior to the beginning of COP15, the Danish parliament passed new laws extending powers to detain protesters.
Bolivian Climate Change Ambassador Pablo Solon told me that the key to the talks was civil society – their ability to elevate the concerns of the world’s poor and most vulnerable, and to push a critique of the economic system that is bringing about ecological catastrophe. Pressure on the U.S. and the E.U. from the climate justice movement, Solon believed, could shift the terms of the debate inside the negotiations. Over the next several days, we will see what promise lies in an inside-outside strategy.