By Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project
For the first time since 2004, Global Justice Ecology Project did not sent any representatives to the annual UN Climate Conference (COP). There were numerous reasons for this decision, one of which was a letter sent to us by Ms. Christina Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) “suspending” three Global Justice Ecology Project activists from participating in Doha. The list includes Lindsey Gillies, Keith Brunner and me–Global Justice Ecology Project’s “Head of Delegation.” We were officially banned from participating in any of the UNFCCC negotiating sessions in 2012 as well as any future sessions unless we sign a document agreeing to their terms to abide by their special “code of conduct” for observers. Right.
Our crime? Direct action. Unpermitted, disobedient direct action in both Cancun and Durban designed to highlight the mounting repression against non-corporate observers. (We also worked for over a year to help organize the amazing Reclaim Power action and Peoples’ Assembly at COP 15 in Copenhagen, which exposed the ineffectiveness of the UNFCCC and called for people to take their power back–though the letter did not mention that).
Over the years we have watched the UNFCCC become more and more like the World Trade Organization that we and many anti-corporate globalization organizations rose up against in the latter 1990s and early 2000s.
Like the WTO, the UNFCCC (which we call the World Carbon Trade Organization) now erects giant heavily guarded barriers to hide behind. Why would an organization whose mission is ostensibly to save the planet from annihilation feel then need to hide from the people? Perhaps because, in these talks, a handful of powerful players have rigged the game. They block any forward process in stopping catastrophic climate change while creating new and diabolical schemes for making money off of false solutions. I believe it is for this reason that this year’s climate negotiations are in Doha, Qatar–one of the most repressive countries on the planet. The same place where the WTO went to lick its wounds after its famed shut-down by 50,000+ pissed-off people in Seattle in 1999.
Even back in 2004 at COP 10 in Buenos Aires, we noted the “trade show’ atmosphere and watched the mounting repression against so-called “observers” and increased access by corporations and their profit-motives. The use of neoliberal economic markets as the fundamental strategy to address climate change is now enshrined in the negotiations, even though it is this same economic globlization that has allowed the power elite to amass unimaginable wealth by monopolizing the rich resources of the earth–privatizing what was once held in common–transforming it into capital and destroying the planet’s life-support systems.
We have documented the UN climate circus in annual articles published every February in Z Magazine. After using other groups’ accreditations to access the talks, in 2010 Global Justice Ecology Project applied for and received organizational accreditation as an official UNFCCC observer group. We did this in order to have an accredited organization through which we could take unpermitted action, with the goal of exposing the UN’s true nature–without risking the accredited status of our allies.
The climate COP 16 in Cancun in 2010 followed on the heels of the “Reclaim Power” march out in Copenhagen in 2009. In response, Cancun was particularly repressive, with a zero-tolerance policy for anything not pre-approved. A Global Justice Ecology Project press conference, which we had turned over to La Via Campesina for their “Day of 1,000 Cancuns,” turned into a march out by youth participants; then a spontaneous press conference on the building stairs where it was joined by Pablo Solon–then-UN Ambassador of the Plurinational state of Bolivia. UN security reacted by debadging many particpants–including a GJEP observer who was merely live streaming the event; several youth present (whether they were involved or not) as well as a number of people who had spoken to the press on the building steps.
Many of our youth participants were thrown out and lost their accreditation badges during that action, though one (Keith) managed to get back inside for our big action on the final Friday. In protest of the shutting out of the voices of peoples directly impacted by the climate crisis and the utter lack of progress in the negotiations, GJEP co-organized a takeover of the foyer leading to the UN conference rooms, which were strictly off-limits to observers except for a few who managed to obtain a secondary badge. We were not the only group that organized or took part in the action, but we took responsibility for it to prevent the other groups from losing their accreditation. The remainder of our GJEP delegation took part in the action, where about a dozen of us locked arms and refused to move, including our 70 year old Board member Hiroshi, and Keith, who had been thrown out after the earlier press conference. Security used painful compliance holds on Keith and Hiroshi, who were at either end of the blockade line, in an attempt to make us leave. We were eventually removed, debadged and evicted.
After receiving no word from the Secretariat about our action in Cancun, we registered a host of participants to attend the UN Climate Conference in Durban. Here the repression against observers was even worse, and extended even to accredited media, who were accosted and assaulted by security merely for taking photos or video of observers being evicted. Following a GJEP press conference, one of our invited speakers, dressed as a clown, was detained and evicted by UN security merely for giving an interview to the media. Those of us who had been evicted in Cancun were eventually nabbed by UN Security and made to sign the Observer “code of conduct,” which supposedly meant we agreed to act within its stringent guidelines–which included abrogating our right to free speech and independent thought…
On the final day of the Durban negotiations, youth activists took over the foyer outside the plenary hall. This action, orchestrated by Greenpeace and 350.org took on a life of its own as the youth activists, inspired by the Occupy movement, refused to leave at the appointed time and also took over the scripted ‘mic checks,’ radicalizing their messages far beyond those that were officially sanctioned. GJEP had two youth participants in the occupation–Lindsey and Keith as well as myself. Dedicated direct action advocates and anti-authoritarians, we organized a sit-in when UN security moved in to remove the unruly mass against its will. When Keith and I refused to leave voluntarily, we were carried out. Then, in March we got the letter from Ms. Figueres banning our future participation because we had used the classic and time-honored civil disobedience tactic of non-compliance. A big ‘no no’ in the hallowed halls of the UNFCCC.
Then, this year, the UNFCCC went to one of the most repressive countries on the planet to hold their summit, ensuring that few groups could participate.
Global Justice Ecology Project did not go to Doha. Not actually because we were banned–we made the decision not to go after our experience in Durban (and the other COPs) and as soon as we heard the next summit would be in Doha. The repression we experienced in Durban was not only at the hands of the UN. A severe rift had formed between the hard-core negotiator NGOs and the hard-core radicals. It fractured efforts that had once been united under the radical banner of Climate Justice Now!.
Historically our role at the UN Climate COPs had been to lift up the voices of the front line communities and organizations through our media work. We turned over our press conferences to social movements and Indigenous Peoples, got them interviews by news outlets around the globe, and helped organize Climate Justice Now! press conferences.
Even though Durban was our last foray into the international climate negotiating arena, we continue to support the efforts of grassroots, Indigenous and front line groups working for climate justice. But now we do so from our home base. We’ve had enough of international travel, of endless hours wasted in airports, airplanes, convention centers, hotels and taxis. In addition, we have turned our focus back to our other campaigns and programs. The STOP Genetically Engineered Trees Campaign is heating up as industry inches closer toward a full-scale assault on the environment with their monstrous Franken-trees (which industry also hopes will be part of REDD [Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation] schemes). Plus, we have a new program, Langelle Photography, which is compiling four decades of concerned photography by Orin Langelle to provide a visual documentation and history of the movements for social and ecological justice, and to bring light to the struggles against injustice of indigenous and other communities. This program is just getting off the ground and needs a lot of thought and consideration.
We will, however, continue our work to provide holistic analyses that shine light on the root causes of the climate crisis and to call out the false solutions being promoted to address it–as well as the actors doing so. The corporations and the elite 1% are just getting started on their cooptation of the climate crisis as a tool for both profit maximization and global imperialism, and we will be taking a close look at them and their so-called “green economy,” with the aim of sharing helpful information with the growing movement to stop catastrophic climate change.
We will also work to highlight the thousands of real solutions to climate change that are being developed by and for communities every day–as this is where the real hope lies. Change will never come from the top down. Change always comes from the bottom up.
We look forward to ongoing work with our allies on all of these efforts.