Activists at Barcelona climate talks send loud message to delegates

Last week’s UN climate talks in Barcelona, Spain were the last chance for world leaders to meet before the conference in Copenhagen at the end of the year at which they are supposed to negotiate a successor climate treaty to the Kyoto Protocol. Many, many activists were there on the ground in Barcelona to remind the delegates that the world is watching — and, through creative non-violent direct communications and actions, to remind them that the world is in desperate need of a fair, ambitious, and binding climate deal if we’re to stop runaway global warming.

One of the more interesting bits of activism that went down was the “Adopt a Negotiator” project, run by the folks at the Global Campaign for Climate Action (GCCA), who also brought us (which I wrote about once before here). The program sent a crew of youth activists from 13 different countries to shadow delegates at the talks not just to let negotiators know that the world is watching but also in an attempt to fundamentally change the way citizens engage in the climate treaty-making process:

As young people who will live with the decisions that are being made at the UN for the rest of our lives the fact these negotiations were going on with very little scrutiny or public participation did not seem right. For years negotiations about our future have been happening in a bubble. We thought it was time to burst it!

One of the reasons engagement in the UN process is so hard is because it is complex, dry, and full of language that no one outside the system can understand.

That’s where we come in.

By going to the UN and trying to translate this process into real life situations, we hope to make it open and understandable to many more.

By interacting in the process right at the UN we also hope to bring the voices of the many that can’t be here to the people who have our fate in their hands.

The Adopt a Negotiator crew live-blogged the whole thing in an attempt to allow people around the world to be better informed and engaged with the process. They also staged some great demonstrations to remind negotiators of their historic responsibilities at these talks.

On Nov. 6, for instance, several activists affiliated with Tcktcktck dressed up as aliens from “Planet B” and went in search of “climate leaders.” When it became apparent that the Barcelona talks would not yield any meaningful progress, several activists stood outside of one of the closing sessions holding alarm clocks that were “ringing out the climate alarm” in the hopes that this would wake the negotiators up to the fact that there is a huge mandate for a deal to be made in Copenhagen. You can watch Ben Margolis, Campaign Director for TckTckTck, explain why the event took place here.

Tcktcktck also welcomed delegates to the opening of the talks with 1500 clocks and more than 200 people telling delegates that it was time for a strong climate treaty, a video of which can be seen here. The clocks were followed by Oxfam activists cutting up climate finance checks as the US and EU once again fail to deliver the necessary finance. And WWF activists opened the talks with an interesting dance performance outside the conference center.

Greenpeace staged a number of non-violent direct actions with a similar message for delegates. The first was a banner reading “World leaders, make the climate call” at Barcelona’s famous Gaudí-designed church, Sagrada Família. Greenpeace activists also staged an “extreme weather event” outside the meeting hall to show delegates what we can expect in a world of runaway climate change. And, once the US delegation emerged as the chief obstruction to progress at the Barcelona talks, Greenpeace activists hung a banner reading “Climate Chaos, Who is to blame?” from Barcelona’s famous statue of Christopher Columbus, which symbolically points to America.

Of course, the boldest protest was staged by the African Group, which walked out of negotiations when the developed world made it clear that they were not prepared to even discuss the weak emissions reductions targets they had committed to. This forced the developed nations to agree to discuss their emissions targets, but the US delegation’s quibbling over the proper base year to use effectively stalled talks all the same.

If you, like me, feel that it is unacceptable for the US to be obstructing climate negotiations when President Obama promised to “restore science to its rightful place” in dealing with global warming, sign this petition telling him to step up on climate and be a leader in Copenhagen.

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