GroundTruth Blog

Durban climate talks (aka "The Great Escape 3")

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by Marcia Ishii-Eiteman

Not coming to movie theaters near you, but taking place right now in Durban, South Africa is “The Great Escape 3.” This is how Pablo Solon, Bolivia’s former lead climate negotiator, describes the scene at the UN climate talks.

“It’s the same movie — it happened in Copenhagen, in Cancun, and it will happen in Durban. The richest nations are trying to escape their responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions now... It’s really a genocide and an ecocide.”

Not surprisingly, the U.S. delegation in Durban has been central to the looming failure of the talks. For one thing, the U.S. has made clear that it’s unwilling to consider legally binding reductions in emissions until 2020. International reactions were swift:

  •  “The present U.S. position of no new agreement until post- 2020 is really blowing negotiations apart,” said Papua New Guinea’s chief climate delegate, Kevin Conrad.
  • “We can’t afford to wait that long!” warned Wanjira Maathai, daughter of the late Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai. “[In five years] we will surpass the 2 degree Celsius increase in global temperature that will bring about catastrophic effects…We will see people dying in numbers not ever seen before… The U.S. must shape up or get out!”

And a 21-year-old American college student, Abigail Borah, attending the conference as a representative of the International Youth Climate Movement, interrupted the U.S. lead negotiator’s presentation to the 190 nations assembled, stating:

  •  “I am speaking on behalf of the United States of America because my negotiators cannot. The obstructionist Congress has shackled justice and delayed ambition for far too long. I am scared for my future. 2020 is too late to wait. We need an urgent path to a fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty.”

Borah received a sustained ovation from delegates before South African authorities removed her from the room.

Cool it down!

Outside the conference walls, tens of thousands of people have been protesting almost daily since the start of the talks, demanding that governments take decisive action to pull the planet back from the brink of climate catastrophe.

On Monday December 5, more than 1,500 people marched in the streets of Durban, drawing attention to the contributions of industrial agriculture to climate change and to agroecology as a powerful antidote. Farmers from countries such as Mali, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Germany, Brazil and the Philippines took part, chanting and bearing colorful banners proclaiming “Industrial agriculture heats the planet! Agroecology and land reform for food sovereignty cool it down!”

Alberto Gomez, a Mexican farmer in Durban with the international peasants movement, La Via Campesina, explained the urgency of the situation: “The earth’s soil is getting dry and farmers face extreme cases like drought and floods due to climate change.” He urged governments to pay heed to the millions of peasants around the world who know how to nurture and cool the earth with ecological farming. (I agree with this sentiment, and explain why here and here.)

Our sister organization, PAN Asia & the Pacific, and partners explored these issues in a side event at the conference. Their workshop, entitled “Weathering the Climate Crisis: The Way of Ecological Agriculture,” featured farmers and resource persons who showcased successful examples of ecological farming in South Africa and the Philippines. They also sharply criticized the World Bank’s ‘climate-smart agriculture’ agenda as “a smoke screen for the widespread landgrabbing, monocropping, toxic inputs and other unsustainable practices of corporate agriculture that compound the climate crisis.”

Midwest farmers calling it like it is

Back home, Americans have responded to the global call for “1,000 Durban Actions to Support Climate Justice” and have been gathering in public spaces across the country to propose, demand and enact real solutions to climate crisis.

Wisconsin-based Family Farm Defenders,  joined by Occupy Chicago, climate justice and labor rights activists, protested on the steps of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. The groups warned that carbon trading is a false solution, benefiting corporate speculators while marginalizing and exploiting the real hope for cooling the planet — small-scale farmers practicing ecologically sound agriculture.

Family Farm Defenders explains:

Since 2003, the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) served as North America’s largest carbon offset trading venue, until it went belly up last year....Once touted as among the fastest-growing specialties in financial services, the future of carbon trading remains bleak as U.N. climate change negotiations have largely stalled since Copenhagen with no prospect that the Kyoto Protocol will be extended in Durban. According to the London Telegraph (12/4/11) global carbon trading has also fallen prey to criminal racketeering. 

 “The commodification of pollution has been a false solution to climate change since the beginning," explains John Peck, executive director of Family Farm Defenders. "It allows those responsible for greenhouse gas emissions to evade responsibility and shift their burden onto current taxpayers and future generations. Worse yet, carbon trading does not require any actual emission reduction — instead, it just creates another fictitious shell game commodity market ripe for corporate speculation.”

Women lead the way

But here's the good news: real lasting solutions to climate change are being nourished every day by rural women around the globe, who are not waiting for the suits in Durban to fail. The other night in Berkeley I attended an inspiring event put on by the Women's Earth Alliance. We heard how women farmers, community organizers and master trainers from four Northern Indian states came together this year in a grassroots “Women, Food and Climate Change Training.” These women are planting the seeds of ecological and community resilience, and they are doing it now.

Marcia Ishii-Eiteman's blog

is PAN's Senior Scientist and Director of the Grassroots Science Program. Follow @MarciaIshii

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