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CLIMATE CHANGE: Hope in 100,000 Flavours

COPENHAGEN, Dec 13 2009 (IPS) - The midpoint of a conference on climate change in which tremendous hope has been invested; unsurprising then that demonstrations of popular desire for decisive action against global warming took place around the world.

One of many marches Saturday in Copenhagen. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

One of many marches Saturday in Copenhagen. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

Candlelight vigils were held in 139 countries Saturday, halfway through the Conference of Parties (COP15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

In Copenhagen itself, in Halmtorvet near the site of a parallel conference organised by civil society, Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) held the Flood for Climate Justice. Some 5,000 people, many clad in blue plastic ponchos, surged through the streets bearing signs calling for “Climate Justice Now” before merging with a march of 100,000 people.

Protesters praised Tuvalu, the South Pacific island state for proposing the stiffer 1.5 degree target so many believe will be necessary to avoid ecological and social catastrophe.

Marchers challenged some of the accepted orthodoxies that shape the proposals being officially debated. FoEI chair Nnimmo Bassey, a long-time opponent of the fossil fuel industry in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, rejected the idea that carbon offsetting – trading funding for green projects for the “right” to pollute in excess of agreed targets – could benefit the planet.

“Carbon offsetting has no benefits for the climate or for developing countries – it only benefits developed countries, carbon speculators and major polluters who want to continue business as usual,” Bassey declared.

Fellow FoEI activist Marta Zogbi told TerraViva carbon trading was a false solution, opposed by civil society. “We have an enormous influence; the issue of climate change has been carried forward by organised civil society,” she said. “The corporate lobby is also very powerful, which is why society cannot advance as fast as it would like.”

The “Flood” march advanced to Parliament Square, where it joined a broader mobilisation involving trade unions and environmentalists, peace activists and relief organisations, political parties and carbon traders.

Hope in a hundred flavours has been invested in this Conference of Parties. The aim of drawing 60,000 people to peacefully demonstrate popular desire for decisive action was easily achieved. Danish police estimated 100,000 took part in the six kilometre procession from the Christiansborg Slodsplads to the Bella Center where the UN Conference on Climate Change is taking place.

The sea of people contained a range of opinions.

Activist Clodimir Bogaert came from Belgium just for Saturday’s march. “We hope things change, because the problem is urgent. We see that the first to suffer the effects of climate change are the poorest countries.”

Peter Sprengers, a carbon business analyst with Norwegian renewable energy company Statkraft, said “I came to Copenhagen to get a feeling about what is going to happen with CO2 and energy policies, because it has a huge impact on our business.”

He said he did not come to Copenhagen to lobby or try to influence the agreement because he does not think he can have an impact: “The main decision-makers are the U.S. and China at the moment.”

A very different position was taken by Chilean activist Alicia Muñoz of Via Campesina, the global movement of small- and medium-scale farmers, rural women and indigenous people. She has spent a week taking part in different activities in Klimaforum, the civil society meet held parallel to COP15.

“It is very clear to Via Campesina that we must pressure for an agreement to be reached, because we know the negotiations are not coming up with positive results,” Muñoz told TerraViva.

Also part of the main march as it set off was the now-familiar Black Bloc which brings a radical critique to most major demonstrations.

“I think the Copenhagen Conference is a good sign, but I doubt this meeting will bring a true agreement. It will be just like Kyoto,” Henrik, one of those marching with the anarchists, told TerraViva.

“I am here because we must do something, bureaucrats cannot solve anything. It is the people who must have the power.”

Wearing black clothes, many covering their mouths, the Black Bloc demonstrated with the main march for about half an hour, part of a group calling for “System Change, Not Climate Change” and shouting slogans against capitalism and the police.

Not far from the Amagerbro Metro station in central Copenhagen, police blocked the march’s main route with vehicles and arrested at least 100 of the anarchists.

Elsewhere in the city, a separate anarchist march under the slogan “Never Trust a COP” was broken up by police. By evening, 900 people had been arrested. Climate Justice Action issued a press statement condemning police handling of those arrested – the group says many were kept waiting out in the open for several hours, denied access to water, toilets or medical attention.

The Climate Justice Action (CJA) global network also questioned arrests that took place far from any sign of trouble. Activist Helga Matthiessen, held for an hour before being released, said “Not only have we been denied the right to protest, but our basic human rights have also been ignored in this ludicrous, staged police exercise.”

At the Bella Centre, the final event of the day was a candlelight vigil attended by Noel Laureate Desmond Tutu. The intent was to set out a minimum demand from civil society for the negotiators who have six days to come to an agreement.

The call is for a deal that is fair – providing $200 billion to help poorer countries cope with climate change; ambitious – responding to the scientific consensus that emissions must peak no later than 2015 to keep carbon dioxide levels below 350 parts per million; and binding – only a legally enforceable deal will hold governments accountable.

*This story appears in the IPS TerraViva online daily published for the U.N. Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen.

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