Hit the Ground Running
By Anne Petermann, Global Justice Ecology Project Executive Director
Upon extracting ourselves from the giant metal tube in which we had been wedged for the previous 8+ hours and emerging into the Copenhagen airport and a brand new time zone, Co-Director Orin Langelle and I were greeted with hugs by friends from the global network Climate Justice Action, accompanied by a video camera.
They were creating a video that would capture the happenings at the climate negotiations and protests occurring here throughout the upcoming two weeks and they wanted footage of activists and allies arriving into the city.
In our post-tube, no-sleep daze, it was a relief to be guided through the maze of Danish trains and taken straight to our hotel. Orin immediately got online to tackle the 300 or so emails that had built up since he has last checked his accounts. I took the opportunity to become horizontal for a little while with the objective of heading off the cold I could feel trying to establish itself.
This did not last long, however, as we promised to visit with a larger group of our CJA friends over dinner in Christiania. We negotiated the fine misty rain to find the bus we had been instructed to take, and a friendly local showed us which stop was ours. Christiania is the section of Copenhagen close to the harbor that was taken over as a giant squat many years ago. It has become a tourist mecca and has a selection of bars, restaurants and music venues, as well as art studios and apartments. When you leave Christiania, an archway announces “Warning! You are now entering the European Union.” The Copenhagen police, over the years, have attempted to evict the squatters in order to reclaim some of the most valuable real estate in the city, but every time they have been turned back by a massive show of force of autonomists. At this point, the city and Christiania have an uneasy truce, though I doubt that city officials have given up their quest to recover that waterfront real estate.
We had been to Christiania on a previous trip to Copenhagen and were excited for the opportunity to go back to this unique place. We found the entrance to Christiania and followed the directions to find the restaurant where we were to meet our friends. The building was long and brick and somewhat foreboding, and the stairway leading up to the restaurant was covered in competing layers of angry graffiti. We did not have any idea what to expect from a restaurant in a graffiti-covered squat, and were pleasantly surprised to find a beautiful and romantic space with tables lit by red candles and decorated with flowers. The food on the hand-written menu was excellent, if not pricey—but this is Denmark, after all. The main reminder of the site of this pleasant spot was the bass and drums pulsing beneath our feet from a punk band rehearsing downstairs. But we felt very lucky to have been invited to this secret gem and very much enjoyed the warm conversation with our friends—feeling like we had found family far from home.
One of the topics of conversation at this gathering, as well as the numerous meetings we have attended in the days since we arrived and hit the ground running was how to deal with the exclusivity of the Bella Center and the UNFCCC. The UN Climate Secretariat had issued a letter to every accredited organization (including GJEP) informing them that there were far more people accredited than could be allowed into the Bella Center (which has a maximum capacity of 15,000), so once the maximum capacity had been reached, a quota system would be implemented for all organizations. What this means is that, for example, GJEP has six people accredited but the quota system might only allow 50% of GJEP’s accredited people into the Climate Conference at any one time. So we will have to take turns participating in the process (to the extremely limited extent that organizations like ours are allowed to participate in the first place).
Another colleague informed us that the prices of food inside the Bella Center are sky high (even for Denmark!). This is significant because of the fact that a) the Bella Center is out in the boonies and there is no other place anywhere nearby to buy something to eat, and b) with the quota system, if you did leave to eat, you might not be able to get back in. It also makes participation in the Climate Conference very difficult for those on a limited budget. Already the cost of transportation to Copenhagen combined with the costs of accommodation (hotels doubled or tripled their normal rates for these two weeks) and the general cost of living here (with costs of most meals 150% to 200% what one would pay in the U.S. for example) have excluded many from participating. It is for this reason, among others, that the Reclaim Power action was called for December 16th—to demand the opening of the climate talks and the inclusion of the voices of peoples around the world that have been excluded up to now. To help provide a more inclusive space for people to participate, Climate Justice Action has organized free accommodations and free food for thousands of folks planning to participate in the Reclaim Power action and other protests outside of the climate talks.
The climate negotiations officially begin tomorrow, as does the Klimaforum—the alternative climate conference organized by Danish NGOs and paid for largely by the Dutch government. Global Justice Ecology Project and Global Forest Coalition (whom we represent here and who generously paid for Orin and I to attend) are organizing several workshops at the Klimaforum on topics ranging from the impacts of the UN’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation (REDD) scheme on Indigenous Peoples, to the link between REDD and GE trees. We are also collaborating with our allies at the Indigenous Environmental Network on an Indigenous Peoples’ Speak Out on Thursday.
But our primary function here is to help get the voices of our allies—especially Indigenous Peoples and those representing communities being impacted by climate chaos, the fossil fuels industry or false solutions to climate change—into the media through our New Voices on Climate Change initiative. We have a ton of interviews lined up or completed already—and the talks haven’t even started yet.
Stay tuned to this blog where we will be posting the links to many of these interviews. And wish us luck as we launch into two weeks of 16-18 hour days collectively acting and strategizing with our allies to create the space where real alternatives to the system that created the climate crisis can be identified, shared and/or created.
“System Change not Climate Change!”