Monday, 10 January 2011 07:57

Reflections on Climate Justice at COP-16 Featured

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By Arielle Balbus, Brown University Attending the various civil society events in Cancun one was struck by how differently the participants framed the issues from their presentation at the UNFCCC negotiations down the road. Both the Klimaforum and La Vía Campesina presented economic liberalization, the multinational corporations, urbanization, and the acceleration of technological change as direct causes of the climate crisis, and proposed a revalorization of “traditional” knowledge and practices as the first step towards averting environmental disaster.
However, the contrasts and similarities between Klimaforum and La Vía Campesina were striking. Klimaforum ’10 took place at the Global Ecovillage, built on a polo field.  According to Kareem Kohn of Nomads United, the principal manager of the conference, an average day saw 100-300 attendees from over 40 countries. From sunrise yoga to late-night ceremonies, there was a constant buzz of organized and informal discussions on the nuts and bolts of carbon-negative communities, the mandate of “degrowth”, and the legal definition of ecocide, as well as the inner dimensions of global warming and yoga for better relationships. The conference attempted to be a radically democratic, inclusive venue, and certainly made great strides in that direction (compared, for example, to the Cancun Messe) but the extreme diversity of backgrounds of the attendees made true cohesion difficult. The conference hosted a preponderance of extremely progressive 18-30 year-olds from relatively well-off backgrounds, and despite the respect (bordering on reverence) for one ubiquitous Quechua couple from Bolivia and the Mayan leaders who led several ceremonies, the majority of the discourse at Klimaforum was very much tied to a Global North mindset and lifestyle. One could not escape the tensions within the climate justice movement between the rural communities with subsistence lifestyles who became the face of the movement in Cochabamba and the cosmopolitan environmentalists championing the same cause with different terms. La Vía Campesina was a dramatically different scene.  Around 3,000 people from 36 different countries arrived with climate justice caravans at Jacinto Canek Sports Center in downtown Cancun to participate in the Alternative Forum for Life, Social and Environmental Justice. A majority of the attendees lived among or as farmers, and despite the striking diversity, the gathering felt far more unified than the much smaller Klimaforum.  The Cochabamba Conference was invoked continually, particularly food sovereignty. Farmers bemoaned observing substantial imbalances in their ecosystems and struggling to maintain the lifestyles they had inherited.  The visuals and the discourse at La Vía Campesina were a bit more incendiary, even violent, with the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) a prominent presence throughout the proceedings. There has been an overwhelmingly positive response to the alternative forums at COP-16.  Both events produced declarations denouncing the Cancun Agreements and proposed alternate solutions. Over those two weeks, activists formerly split among tangential social and environmental issues became unified under the banner of climate justice. Continued dialogue across social media websites demonstrates the momentum of these increasingly strong networks and their importance in the run up to the next major round of climate negotiations in Durban this December.  As Cancun demonstrated, these civil society forums are at no risk of fading away anytime soon.
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