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Perspectives & views from our delegation in Bonn on the People's Climate Summit

What has the People’s Climate Summit achieved? Perspectives and views from our delegation in Bonn.

The People’s Climate Summit is an essential space for the climate justice movement. It does more than simply reveal the number of people who are willing to get involved and work towards change. Arguably, such will was already on display during the 25,000-strong demonstration in Bonn and the Ende Gelände campaign’s protest action on 4 and 5 November, in which 4,500 activists took part. Yet, events such as the People’s Climate Summit are important because they offer a venue for like-minded people to meet – where the atmosphere is both focused and empowering.

  • "I have learned that change just happens when our voices are heard and when we acknowledge that consensus building on our goal is a very important task to aim at!"  Nguy Thi Khanh, Green ID, Vietnam
In particular, the People’s Climate Summit held on 3-7 November was a place to discuss those questions that are only marginally mentioned at the official UN climate summits, if at all. One such example is the link between climate change and militarism. Discussions focused on the ways extractivism increases tensions and fuels conflicts, military confrontation and wars, as well as on how conflicts are used to secure access to raw materials, natural resources and trade routes.
  • "Demilitarisation is a mandatory step to address the Ecological crisis we are in. War is an important carbon emitter, if funds spread in the war industry was directed in renewable energy, global warming trends would stop by 2030. In the Indian Ocean, because of militarisation, our people have been deported from their land, nations are breaching our souverenity due to capitalism extractivism politics concerning natural resources present in our Ocean (fish, petrol, gaz, polymetallic nodules), as well as in other region of the world. The underlaying lobby of these nations generates social injustice and reduce our capacity to address the  ecological crisis at our level.      David Sauvage, CARES, Mauritius

A further important point of discussion was the critique of potentially dangerous technologies such as bio-energy with carbon capture (BECCS), an approach based on sucking large amounts of CO2 out of the atmosphere. As the discussions highlighted, these technologies depend on large agroindustrial-scale tree plantations, devastating land grabs and a significant pesticide load, and would not only displace people but further intensify the competition for already scarce land. The danger that lies in such approaches is the fact that they are built on the illusion that there is no need to rush to globally cut back on greenhouse gas emissions.

A further issue discussed at the People’s Climate Summit was the question of a just transition. The focus was on the diverse perspectives of unions and climate activists. One question was how to ensure fair and just working conditions in the renewables sector. However, the issue is actually much broader. As the discussions highlighted, the renewables sector too is tied to questions of resource distribution. Their impact on land use, water, endangered species and not least on communities everywhere in the world needs to be discussed. As Nina Somera from the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung office in the Philippines stated, ‘This will require a lot more discussion. We need to examine how we can define a “just transition” so that the concept encompasses the risks, rights and responsibilities of the wide range of actors and interests involved.’

  • "Lives and living in Nigeria are radically being affected by climate change. Today, climate change defines where we live, how we live ... No thanks to climate change, communities border lines are constantly being re-drawn as locals loose both lands and water bodies at incredible speed to climate change."    Vivian Bellonwu, Social Action Nigeria, Nigeria

Even only a quick glance at the People’s Climate Summit programme was enough to grasp the fundamental questions that the climate crisis entails. The issues discussed ranged from ending the fossil era and concepts for a just transition to a criticism of CO2 as the only relevant measure, church initiatives, networking against aviation, free trade agreements, climate migration, the right to food, unions, degrowth and a reduction in working hours. This list also indicates the complexity of the many possible solutions.

Three well-attended evening panel discussions and over 50 workshops taking place over five intensive days showed that the overall concept for the People’s Climate Summit was well received. Many people from all corners of the globe were in attendance, including many interested residents from Bonn who represented all walks of life (students, workers and senior citizens). The alternative summit even attracted the attention of some official COP23 delegates.

It is crucial that conferences such as the People’s Climate Summit are hubs where those involved in the movement can share experiences and network – not only between the five continents of the Global South and North but also within regions. For example, activists from across Europe came together at the People’s Climate Summit to suggest dates and plans for climate camps, demonstrations and protest actions for the next year and discuss how to strategically link them. There is currently a surge in networking activities taking place between European climate activists and an increasing focus on civil disobedience as a means of protest, particularly concerning the fight against coal, but also against the growing gas infrastructure and the still rapidly growing aviation sector.

  • "The “Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth” is of upmost importance, for it protects the whole biosphere against all forms of extractivist practices including State-productivism. Us, People of the Small Island in the Indian Ocean do not have fossil fuel in our ground; do not produce energy by Nuclear Power, our carbon footprint as compared to ANNEX 1 countries are modest, yet we are among the first victims of Climate Change. How many COPs will it need for the UNFCCC to finally break away from its market-based approach? Carbon Trading as promoted by the UNFCCC is only establishing the statu-quo, a hindrance to radical solutions to Climate Change. Today, scientists are talking about the Anthropocene and the trespass of 4 of the 9 planetary boundaries. Renewable Energy Technologies will not help to halt Climate Change unless it comes with a social transformation towards people sovereignty and beyond anthropocentrism.  Millions of Climate activists worldwide are advocating for “System Change and Not Climate Change”; may our voice be heard in this COP 23!"     Kashmira Banee, CARES, Mauritius

A further example were the women from all five continents who shared their stories of struggle against the extraction of fossil resources and the impacts of climate change. It was empowering to see how the women, rather than appearing helpless, clearly voiced their demands with assertiveness. While sharing sobering experiences, they also gave many positive examples of successful struggles and concrete options for taking action.

David Sauvage, a member of our delegation who works with the NGO CARES in Mauritius, spoke of the great importance of networking: ‘We are not alone in this struggle: everywhere people are taking this forward.’ Summits such as this give strength and hope to participants. They ‘nurture the soul of the movement’, as another member of the RLS delegation put it. Another representative statement came from Liliane Danso-Dahmen from the RLS office in Vietnam: ‘Today I drew the strength I will need for the struggles that lie ahead – from the loud and clear voices I heard during demonstrations and events, and the many people who shared their experiences. Strong voices, calling both for a complete overhaul of the system, but also for approaches that are more tentative. They helped me to clarify my own position and experiences. Our arguments do differ, but the diverse inputs nonetheless clearly show that we cannot postpone this struggle. We need to make change happen now.’

  • "Nigeria suffers greatly from the effects of climate change: from rising sea levels and massive floods in the southern parts, to massive desert encroachment in the north. These occurences have resulted in loss of livelihoods, conflicts and misery. It can no longer be 'business as usual', the world needs to take action to heal this planet. I am in Bonn to contribute to this effort and to ensure that the voices of the victims of climate change count. If not us, then who? If not now, then when? "    Ken Henshaw, Social Action Nigeria, Nigeria   

The angry voices of the Pacific Climate Warriors, who opened the People’s Climate Summit with a ceremony where they cried, ‘We are not drowning, we are fighting!’, also perfectly captured this call to arms. Climate change acutely threatens the twelve Pacific island nations these climate activists call home. In more concrete terms – and this was their central message – their farmland, houses, fishing grounds, communities, jobs and traditions are at risk of being lost due to the imperialist mode of living of the countries of the Global North. The participants of the People’s Climate Summit undoubtedly made their message clear: resistance all over the world is growing.

The summit gave people energy and motivation. However, it also made clear that if the climate justice movement is to convene at each UN climate summit, then its members should meet at one single location during their protest actions, as well as before, after and in between each item on the agenda of the climate justice movement. For organisational reasons, it was unfortunately not possible to host all the events at a single venue in Bonn. Activists thus had to make their way between the university canteen, a school, a research institute and a conference venue that were sometimes several tram stations apart. ‘We sort of lost the feeling of being a movement,’ one member of the RLS delegation said. ‘It didn’t feel like an angry movement ready to take to the streets at any moment. Nor did it feel like a movement that is no longer willing to patiently wait for the transition to somehow happen’

  • "Climate change affects Nigeria in various ways such as salt water intrusion, drought, changes in weather patterns which impacts agriculture negatively especially since Nigeria depends on rain fed agriculture. In Lagos, the city where I live there is an increase in storm surges, malaria  as well flooding, these are some of the effects climate change and poor urban planning and management. About 70 percent of the costal city might be under water in 2050 according to the ministry of Environment"    Chimna George, Nigeria

This feeling was especially driven by the fact that the summit had no pre-defined goal and did not say what the outcome would be from the many ideas, strategies and workshops it delivered. We in no way wish to criticise such a well-organised event in which so many people have invested so much time and energy, but this remains a crucial observation.

Beyond mentioning the importance and success of the People’s Climate Summit, it is also vital to highlight another decisive fact. As a movement of the left, we need to do more than just shout into our own echo chamber. Instead, we need to urgently find creative ways of convincing those who remain sceptical. This will require us to present realistic solutions, and to do this, we will need a range of different approaches and alternatives – both big and small.

  • "The Philippines continue to be among the top five among the countries on the Climate Risk Index 2017 by the NGO German Watch. Sea levels are rising causing the contamination of freshwater. The frequency the population is confronted with disasters makes it challenging to rehabilitate even the more mature mangrove areas that usually protect the islands as in Bantayan. Worse, sea level rise forces people to consider permanent relocation as sea level is already destroying public infrastructures like schools in Cagayan (Jacque Manabat, “A Village on the Edge of the World is Disappearing). In Guiuan, Women, who are  often engaged in food production and marketing have also been impacted. It is already difficult to take part in paid opportunities and find markets for their goods. Their very seaweeds have become affected by "ice-ice” brought by El Nino.

    Climate change increases multiple forms of discrimination and as a result inequality. The concentration of unpaid care work increases, along with violence, that is no longer limited to women and girls. Indeed in the aftermath of Haiyan, lesbians and gays were often marginalised even in relatively gender-neutral jobs like fish-caging. Because same-sex marriage is not recognised, same-sex couples found it difficult to access entitlements and benefits such as temporary housing without  their neighbours vouching for them. Moreover, the working poor - mostly farmers, fisher folks, seasonal and informal workers - also have the least access to water, sanitation, health, education and other social services. Note that up to 13 women die every day because of unplanned pregnancy, including clandestine abortion, according to the UNFPA. It also takes up to 30 minutes for some people to access water, with the poor paying 5 to 10 times more for water.

    The impact of climate change becomes more felt as we go on. Even as it becomes less prominent in the public discourse, especially after the current administration threatened to withdraw from the already weak Paris Agreement, the ongoing war in the South and the tensions in the South China Sea/ West Philippine Sea. And with the misogynist and authoritarian tendencies of the current government, including its affirmation of coal projects, the Philippines appear to be losing its moral capital and leverage in the climate change discussions".    Nina Lourdes Somera, Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, Philippines