by Julian Mocine-McQueen, photos by H. Box
The UN climate negotiations in Durban have come to a close. The results of the talks are not what our world needs. The negotiators settled on a plan to develop a legally binding treaty to address emissions and other climate related issues by 2015. But, this treaty will not go into effect until 2020, that’s right, nine years from now (I’ll be forty!). Despite leadership and pleas for sanity from many African Countries and the low-lying Island nations, an almost decade long delay was settled on. Durban makes it clearer than ever that the real leaders on this issue are not within the negotiating halls, but outside among the millions who are committing their lives every day to address these issues.
I came to Durban as one half of the Million Person Project, a project utilizing the “Story Telling For Change” workshop to help leaders improve their ability to speak about their work in a way that will bring more people to their cause. The curriculum we’re using has contributions from several individuals and organizations, including Green For All, where I’ve learned to teach it. The training allows people to express themselves in a powerful way that builds community and camaraderie among those participating.
Through these trainings, we’ve been able to connect with the real climate change leaders who’ve come to Durban from all over the world. We’ve met a man named Patrick who came by himself from his rural township to share the story of the members of his community who are dying at an alarming rate because of radioactive dust being created by blast mining for coal. We had the honor of working with 45 youth who came to Durban on the “Caravan of Hope” organized by the Pan African Alliance for Climate Justice. Over 160 young people from 10 African countries were represented on this caravan; all of them committed to addressing the needs of the planet and the people. In total we’ve worked with over 200 people who are working in their community to address the issues that need answers now, not in 2020.
The lack of vision and ambition inside the talks stood in stark contrast to the energy and commitment of the thousands of people representing civil society. Time and again when we asked people their intentions for the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP), they referred not to the talks themselves, but the opportunity to learn about new and different solutions, connect with other change makers and a desire to strengthen the movement from the ground up. If we look at Durban in this light, I think it was a tremendous success. Issues like justice, and solidarity were front and center to many of the discussions I took part in. This energy culminated on the last official days of the talks on Friday (they ended up extending through early Sunday morning). With the talks stalling, civil society stood up and made sure that any decision made in Durban would not be made without the voice of the people.
As Friday’s afternoon plenary started, more than 200 people from civil society, organized by 350.org, joined a delegate from Egypt and the head negotiator from the Maldives to speak on behalf of the people. I had the privilege of shouting the first “mic check,” to call everyone to attention using the “people’s mic”. The reply that I received was immediate, loud and crystal clear. The People were ready to tell their story! We marched to the front of the plenary, and for two hours used the people’s mic to make the point that negotiators were not holding the line for the people, but holding up progress on behalf of the polluters. The refrain “listen to the people, not the polluters” was heard over and over again throughout the afternoon. Because the people’s mic allows for anyone to speak we heard from people representing South Africa, Burundi, Kenya, Nigeria the Marshall Islands, the US, Canada, the UK and dozens of other countries. The global north and the global south stood together in unity with a clear message that solidarity among the people is strong and that the whole world is standing with Africa, the Island nations and all of the people who are already feeling the effects of climate change. Many people shared their stories with tears in their eyes and their voices shaking, but with a conviction that could not be missed and a confidence that was infectious and powerful.
The talks yielded a solution that ensures more climate craziness, but the people’s resolve has been strengthened. As we see people powered movements gaining strength in every corner of the world, with true revolutions taking hold, with recent victories like the keystone pipeline decision, and with occupiers changing the debate across the world, we can leave Durban knowing that the voice of the people was heard by negotiators. More important than this, the values of justice and solidarity were expressed, experienced and strengthened over the course of the last two weeks. We know now that the UN will not save our communities, so we can move forward with our own solutions and we can go back to our homes and share the reality that the movement lead by people is gaining in strength, and becoming more capable every single day! The news stories that come out of Durban will be of delay in many outlets, but it should also be one of a people’s movement finding it’s voice and finding strength in it’s own diversity, purpose and resolve. This is a movement that will continue to work on behalf of the people and not the polluters.