Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Climate Change, Development & Aid, Environment, Headlines

DEVELOPMENT: NGOs Regroup Around Climate Change After Bali

Marwaan Macan-Markar

BALI, Indonesia, Dec 18 2007 (IPS) - This resort island, better known for drawing foreign tourists due to its tropical splendour and its deep spiritual traditions, is poised to enter the vocabulary of another international set – the rapidly expanding global civil society movement.

Bali will soon join the ranks of places that have served as milestones in the world of activism, such as Seattle, in the United States, and Porto Alegre, in Brazil, for hosting the hugely contentious two-week international conference on climate change that just ended here.

The presence of Walden Bello at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNCCC), held from Dec. 3 – 14, hinted at Bali’s emerging significance. For the 62-year-old Filipino had, till this month, stayed clear from the debates raging about a warming planet due to greenhouse gas (GhG) emissions, the major cause of climate change.

Bello’s central interests in almost 35 years of activism lay in combating dictatorships, opposing the economic policies of the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation, and protesting against United States -led military campaigns in Asia and the Middle East. The thin, slightly greying Bello, who heads Focus of the Global South, a Bangkok-based think tank, had consequently become a fixture among civil society activists drawn to campaigns against exploitation, injustice and the abuse of power.

So what has changed? Why have climate change policies attracted new faces like his to join the more regular crowd of activists from the traditional environmental groups like Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund at the Bali meeting?

‘’We are here because of the broadening character of the climate change crisis and the solutions being proposed at the Bali meeting,’’ Bello told IPS. ‘’It is no more about techno-fixes. It has become a global emergency for which issues such as trade, justice, equity and democracy have to be factored in. And that is where our strengths lie.’’

It was a view echoed by other non-governmental groups and think tanks known for their work in development, poverty alleviation and humanitarian assistance, such as the Third World Network, Action Aid, Oxfam and Via Campasina. They were prominent in the meetings on the consequences of climate change policy for the world’s poor that took place on the sidelines of the main Bali event, which had attracted ministers and government leaders from nearly 190 countries.

According to Bello, there were at least 100 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who have an interest in trade and justice issues out of the nearly 350 NGOs that participated in the UNCCC. ‘’Now there are more players in the arena, because we need to stop powerful governments and corporations trying to profit from the economic issues at stake,’’ he added. ‘’These are areas where the traditional climate change groups have not paid much attention.’’

The five major themes that came under scrutiny during the two-week meeting illustrated this shift in climate change politics. Only one of them – a blueprint to reduce GhG emissions through urgent mitigation policies – was limited to science and technology. Others touched on economic, social and development issues, having a direct bearing on the world’s poor, who, according to scientific reports, will bear the heaviest burden as the climate changes. They included an ‘Adaptation Fund,’ to finance programmes to help the poor in the developing world cope with dramatic changes in the environment.

Environmentalists who have long been involved in the shaping of climate change policies are welcoming the new alliances within the civil society organisations (CSOs) that were forged during the Bali conference. ‘’These new voices are welcome, since the classic environmental NGOs, like ours, have been focusing most of our attention on mitigation and in trying to reduce greenhouse gases,’’ says Michael Goo, climate legislative director, at the Natural Resources Defence Council, a Washington D.C.-based green lobby.

‘’Five years ago, adaptation was seen as a kind of dirty word among environmental NGOs. There was concern that adaptation was going to be used as an excuse to avoid mitigation,’’ he said here in an interview. ‘’But, there has clearly been a shift over the past few years in the climate change world.’’

Government officials from the developing world who were in Bali to draft a roadmap to deal with the future challenges of climate change also gained from the new CSOs who have stepped into the climate change arena. During the second week of the conference, activists from the global humanitarian agency Action Aid held a briefing with the Group of 77 and China, a bloc that represents 130 developing countries, to expand on the links between a warming planet and poverty.

‘’The analysis they presented to us at that meeting became very useful during the official negotiations here. It revealed the depth of inequity the poor would face from some of the solutions that were being discussed,’’ Pakistani ambassador Munir Akram, chairman of the G-77 and China group, told IPS on the last evening of the UNCCC. ‘’One case in point was the per capita emission levels between the developing and developed countries and also the difficulty developing countries will face in addressing poverty with sustainable development.’’

That meeting was to drive home the message that there was a ‘’missing perspective in the discussion,’’ said Rashed Al Mahmud Titumir, regional policy coordinator for Asia at Action Aid. ‘’It can no more be limited to a discussion only about the environment. What we have in Bali are questions about politics and power, like the issues of trade and finance being taken up. That is why we are here.’’

His group used the meeting in Bali, which attracted some 11,000 people, to drum up support for a new perspective ‘’based on environmental justice.’’ ‘’There has to be a comprehensive approach, integrating climate change with the poor’s right to development,’’ said Rashed, who, like Bello, has long years as a political activist but was a first-timer at a climate change conference. ‘’We cannot be fence-sitters anymore.’’

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