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Dispatch from Copenhagen: Demands for Climate Justice

Categories: Western Europe, Denmark, Citizen Media, Development, Environment, International Relations, Politics

An estimated 100,000 people took to the streets of Copenhagen on Saturday and marched from Christiansborg Slotsplads to Bella Center – a distance of six kilometers – demanding climate justice. In one of the strongest messages ever sent to world leaders to be serious and make a ‘real deal’ in the negotiations going on at United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) [1], people from different countries marched in the cold winter weather of Copenhagen.

The day started early for activists when they gathered at the DGI-Byen – the venue of the alternate climate summit Klimaforum09 [2] – in the morning and marched to the Parliament Square, most of them clad in blue, in the symbolic event Flood for Climate Justice [3], organized by the Friends of the Earth International [4]. At the Parliament Square, they were joined by thousands of people, who started a march in the afternoon to Bella Center, the venue of COP15.

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Even though pleasant rays of sunlight provided some warmth for the demonstrators in the afternoon, as the dusk settled, the temperature dropped down. As the demonstration ended in front of Bella Center, people were seen huddled near bonfires lit on the street. The final inspirational speeches were given by significant figures including former UN human rights commissioner, Mary Robinson and the 21-year-old climate change activist from India, Deepa Gupta who is the co-founder of Indian Youth Climate Network (IYCN) [5].

“This global day of action is reminding governments that climate change is hurting people. This is a human rights issue – climate change is undermining people’s livelihoods and their access to health and education. It is affecting poor countries efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals. Copenhagen must deliver deep emissions reductions, and at least $200bn a year in new money to help the poorest countries tackle climate change,” Robinson said.

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I am here in Copenhagen to attend the Klimaforum09 [6], dubbed as ‘The Peoples’ Climate Summit’. It runs parallel to COP15 and has attracted a number of civil society organizations, environmental justice activists and indigenous people. “The Bella Center is the biggest case of disaster capitalism. The deal we really need is not even on the table,” Naomi Klein said in the opening ceremony of Klimaforum09.

Other high profile visitors expected to speak at Klimaforum09 includes Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org [7], and Mohamed Nasheed, the President of the Maldives.

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Ecological debt and climate justice are recurring themes in Klimaforum09 and in Saturday’s demonstration as well.

One of the most colourful groups participating in the demonstration was The Climate Debt Agents [8] clad in bright red suits. They called on rich countries to pay their climate debt to poor countries as part of an MS ActionAid Denmark [9] initiative. Earlier this year, 31 Global Voices bloggers were mentors to students [10] participating in MS ActionAid's Global Change [11] programme. It was a pleasant surprise to meet my mentee among the red suits calling for climate debt to be settled.

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Across the globe, citizens of the world demanded a fair and real deal to be made from the COP15 talks, as they held vigils and marches to mark the weekend of ‘The World Wants a Real Deal’ [12] initiated by the TckTckTck alliance.

Copenhagen is flooded with activists, journalists, photographers and bloggers covering the most important climate change negotiations of recent times. At the Fresh Air Center [13] in downtown, a work environment created by a TckTckTck [14] alliance for bloggers, I met fellow Global Voices author Mac-Jordan Holdbrookes-Degadjor [15]. The Global Voices authors in Copenhagen during this exciting time will try to form a small team [16] covering the lively conversations occurring in blogosphere on COP15.

Blogger Alex Engwete from Congo expresses deep skepticism [17] of any significant deal to emerge out of COP15:

In Copenhagen, the US delegation doesn't seem to grasp the urgency of the catastrophe and is behaving like a bunch of squabblers and obstructionists. And back home in Washington, with vicious and powerful climate skeptics in the Senate of the species of Oklahoma Republican Senator James Inhofe (author of the 2006 confused pamphlet “Skeptic’s Guide to Debunking Global Warming” [18]) who is on record calling global warming a “hoax,” I don’t see how the Obama administration could really take any really significant action in Copenhagen.

Angel, from the Maldives, blogging at FAMUSHU urges people to think and act beyond COP15 [19]:

The COP15 summit has begun at Copenhagen, Denmark and everywhere around the globe the same voice “save our planet – seal the deal” echoes. My home Maldives is one of those helpless and fragile countries that are at the frontline to be affected by global warming, at this very moment we can only hope that the COP15 summit becomes effective, ‘cos the responsibility rests on the shoulders of those countries who emit large amounts of CO2. However, each one of us should take the responsibility to care and nurture for our mother earth – switch off the lights, chargers etc if you are not using ‘em, plant more trees and walk, ride a bicycle or use public transport systems: opt for a ‘greener life’ everyone.

In Copenhagen, a number of artists and organizations are having exhibits in important locations of the city to stress the importance of achieving a fair and binding agreement out of COP15. However, the real decisions are being made by negotiators and politicians at Bella Center, and it remains to be seen if they will listen to the voices of global citizens demanding a fair deal for the future of the planet Earth.

All photos by Saffah Faroog

See more of Global Voices’ climate change coverage on our special coverage page for the Copenhagen Summit [16].