Power to the people?
8 December 2010
Parallel climate forums lend a grassroots voice - and some color - to opaque United Nations talks criticized for being dominated by the wealthy and elite.
By Miranda C. Spencer
For the Daily Climate
CANCUN, Mexico - The black metal barrier halted all progress across the four-lane highway, and a phalanx of police stood by in riot gear to emphasize the point: Nobody was getting through.
The protestors - members of the international peasants movement called La Via Campesina - hurled their message anyway, yelling taunts and cheers and waving signs in Spanish urging "No REDD!" and "The forest, the community and farmers count, too!"
Tuesday's march and a colorful rally that morning on Cancun's main downtown thoroughfare were part of a day of action supporting a "people's agenda for climate justice."
The day's events and those of the past week here are part of a larger tradition as old as the United Nation's climate talks themselves: A series of forums and protests running concurrent with the talks and aimed at giving a voice to those shut out of the official - and often opaque - 193-nation process.
This year three separate forums are lifting that voice. They are centered on a theme - "change the system, not the climate" - and have focused on climate justice, the principle that the globe's poorer nations be accorded full participation and consideration in treaties that have historically been shaped by and, they claim, favor wealthier nations.
The march by Via Campesina, an umbrella group representing some 150 organizations advocating for traditional agriculture, was part of an Alternative Global Forum for Life and Environmental and Social Justice here, which organizers say drew 4,000 indigenous people, farmers, and their allies.
In central Cancun, in two gymnasiums and tents surrounding ball fields across the street from a Wal-Mart superstore, Diálogo Climático is offering plenary and break-out sessions on anti-globalization, climate reparations and food sovereignty.
A few miles away, under tents in a polo field surrounded by jungle, KlimaForum10 is heavily populated by the youth movement and features everything from yoga and dance parties to forums on whether the United Nations needs a convention on "eco-cide" akin to its pact on genocide.
Some KlimaForum participants are camping nearby in a communal Eco Village; vegan lunches are served daily. The idea, says lead organizer Kareen Kohn, founder of Nomads United, is to create a climate of "cooperation and horizontality" where participants live their ideals. "How can we expect something different if we don't do something different?" he asked.
But is anybody paying attention?
The three forums, while close in ideology, are physically distant from each other in sprawling Cancun, to say nothing of the official UN meetings. Some participants believe this is the Mexican government's - and the world's - way of ensuring grievances and ideas generated here go no further.
Yet there have been some breakthroughs.
The movements that these alternative summits represent, particularly Via Campesina, are inspired in part by the Peoples' Summit on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, a convocation of some 30,000 people from 140 countries held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, last spring in the wake of the UN'S stalemate at last year's Copenhagen talks.
At the Cochabamba summit, a "People's Agreement" was signed, outlining a host of criticisms and concerns participants felt the official UN discussions had ignored. Several statements in that accord related to climate justice were incorporated into the official negotiating text considered at UN talks in Tianjin, China, over the summer that lead up to this month's Cancun session.
Miranda Spencer is a freelance journalist based in Philadelphia.
Photo of protestor at La Via Campesina march in Cancun on Tuesday courtesy Robert Brulle.
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