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AMSTERDAM, Feb 8 2010 (IPS) - As the new Executive Director of Greenpeace International I am often asked what changes I plan to make for the organisation. The response I give is one which I believe applies to Civil Society as a whole: I would like us to become even more inclusive in our membership, even more united with other groups in our work, even more determined in talking truth to power, and even more active all around the globe.

Many of our world’s most important international infrastructures are in shambles, which has both contributed to and exacerbated the current series of manmade crises: food crisis, oil crisis, poverty crisis, and, of course, the climate crisis.

We are at a crossroads. We can choose to patch up dysfunctional infrastructures with weak “accords”, pursue unbalanced bailouts, and turn a blind eye to the poor and needy, but this route, apparently favoured by President Obama and other world leaders, does nothing to address the fundamental problems that got us in the mess in the first place.

Or we can reshape our future by creating new infrastructures that will put our society, indeed our whole planet, on a course for sustainability and equability. This is not the easy option, but I believe it is the right one.

In the case of climate, for example, nature demands that certain fundamental changes be made in how we live our lives. We need to change our economy from one run on fossil-fuels and based on consumption to one that harnesses clean and efficient energies and is based on moderation.

Kofi Annan’s Global Humanitarian Forum estimates that 300,000 people a year are dying from the effects of climate change. The horrible irony is that the great majority of those affected are the poor of the developing world although the problem was caused by the rich of the industrialised world. A new infrastructure demands that we look beyond local and national self-interest and think globally because, like most of the biggest problems today, climate change knows no borders. Unfortunately politicians lacked the courage to see to this at December’s UN climate talks in Copenhagen.

Something good did come out of Copenhagen, and that was a real unity of civil society. At Copenhagen we saw the World Council of Churches and other faith-based groups, trade unions, and development organisations that don’t normally get involved in climate issues unite to demand climate justice. This was the aim of the Tck Tck Tck campaign (a coalition of civil society organisations including Greenpeace, Oxfam, Amnesty International, the International Trade Union Federation, and others) and it is this willingness to find the interconnection between different struggles that builds our strength.

As governments continue to pay lip-service to the urgency of the climate crisis without making any substantial commitments, the impacts will become increasingly severe, making people poorer, development more difficult, and health issues more critical as communities are less able to adapt.

At Copenhagen, we collectively demanded that President Obama, Chancellor Merkel, President Sarkozy, and other industrialised world leaders commit USD 140 billion per year to enable the poorest and most vulnerable countries to adapt to and tackle the effects of climate change. In the end only a part of that sum was agreed -and even that is in doubt as they did not state where the money would come from or how it would be delivered. Moreover, they did not all adopt the accord or make it legally binding.

Civil society must continue to work together, as we did in the run-up to Copenhagen, to pressure governments to choose the path that will avert catastrophic climate change. Yes, there are tensions within civil society, between North and South NGOs, differences of opinion on personal issues like the right to choose or Palestine. They must not be allowed to get in the way, because ultimately there is much more that unites us than divides us. This is what we focused on at Copenhagen, and although we are far from winning the battle for climate justice, I believe we have made a good start.

We must also intensify the use of peaceful civil disobedience, drawing on the inspiration of Mandela, Tutu, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, and Gandhi. Those with power need to be kept under intense pressure if we are to ensure that they deliver the urgently needed change. In the words of the inspirational Howard Zinn (who passed away January 27), “What matters is not who’s sitting in the White House. What matters is who’s sitting in!” Let us all sit-in.

The battles ahead will be tough and we will need courage -but courage can take many forms. There is the courage of my four Greenpeace colleagues who carried out a peaceful act of civil disobedience at Copenhagen (which resulted in their spending 21 days in prison over the holidays, despite the fact that have not yet had their day in court), the courage of families to make life-style changes, of ordinary men and women to write letters, attend rallies, and use all non-violent means at their disposal to ensure that government and industry make the changes necessary for us to pass on a healthy planet to our children and our children’s children. A better world is possible, it is up to us, the people, to build it. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Kumi Naidoo is the Executive Director of Greenpeace International.

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