Greenwashing and Protests Underway in Copenhagen

Two nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) – Avaaz and Friends of the Earth – were officially “debadged” after a demonstration they did inside the Bella Center, where UN climate treaty negotiations are making little progress. This comes on the heels of a drastic decrease in the number of NGO observers allowed into the conference center that went into effect yesterday.

While several NGOs have launched protests to decry the crackdown on civil society’s access to the negotiating process, efforts to greenwash whatever outcome these talks produce have already begun.

Friends of the Earth activists launched a sit-in inside the Bella Center in response to conference organizers not allowing their delegation inside today. At very nearly the same time, the “Reclaim Power” action was getting underway to protest the restricted access for all NGOs. From

A crowd of youth, activists, indigenous peoples, and perhaps some delegates, burst in chants of “Climate Justice Now!” and “Reclaim Power!” in the middle of the Bella Center where the Copenhagen Climate Talks are being held. Instantly surrounded by cameras and media, the group began a march out of the center towards the gates of the building where as many as 10,000 people are planning to meet them in what organizers are calling the Reclaim Power action.

Update: You can see footage of the walk-out protest — as well as the violent police crackdown on the protesters (warning: it’s pretty harrowing stuff) — here.

While these protests are happening, the negotiations are continuing, now without so many of those pesky NGO folks watching over the negotiators’ shoulders. And by most accounts they are not going well. Just last night, the US – the world’s richest country with the largest amount of historical greenhouse gas emissions – triggered a major delay in the UN climate talks by insisting on big changes to the negotiating text on long term cooperative action (known by the acronym “LCA” in conference-speak). This maneuver delayed the process for around 10 crucial hours, when progress could have been made.

The US’s negotiators insisted that governments abandon any idea of science-based, legally binding targets and instead try to simply add up any emissions targets on the table and make that the overall outcome for the talks. The US was also trying to toughen obligations on developing countries, while hoping that no one noticed the shamefully weak commitment the US itself has on the table.

Given the state of the talks, it’s probably no surprise that the effort is already underway to greenwash the outcome of the talks, such as it may be. The NYT wrote a piece about how “Negotiators have all but completed a sweeping deal that would compensate countries for preserving forests.” This refers to a deal that is in the works on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation – otherwise known as REDD.

REDD is indeed an opportunity to make big amounts of emissions reductions. It would also safeguard biodiversity and protect tropical forests into the bargain. But without a solid deal to halt global warming, the world’s rainforests and the people who rely on them for their livelihood will be in trouble no matter what, and the carbon they store will be released all the same.

REDD is certainly a necessary component of any effective treaty to deal with climate change, but it is one of TWO necessary components if we’re to prevent runaway climate change – the other being a legally-binding mechanism for causing global emissions to peak by 2015 and be as close to zero as possible by 2050.

So while it’s a great sign that a REDD deal is close to happening (though that deal does have its issues, you can read about those in a post I wrote here), portraying this as a clear victory even in the absence of legally-binding emissions targets for developed countries – which the NYT piece certainly seems to do – is not telling the whole story. That’s why it’s important that we keep letting world leaders know that we demand a real deal in Copenhagen, whether we’re inside or outside.

Image courtesy of Friends of the Earth

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