* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.Those representing people most affected by climate impacts have low expectations for the NYC climate summit
A few days before the elite descend on New York City for the U.N. Climate Summit, a group of grassroots activists from developing countries gathered in Manhattan’s East Side to share their own stories of how climate change is impacting their communities.
The one-day summit at the United Nations in New York will try to mobilise political will for a global climate deal due to be agreed in Paris in December 2015, but the people on the frontlines of the climate battle aren’t too hopeful.
“India’s not (even) represented at the summit,” Indian activist Vaishali Patil said scornfully, as she recounted how a minister in the recently appointed government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said climate change is “not a problem”.
India is one of the countries worst-affected by changing weather patterns. Just this month, deadly floods in Indian-administered Kashmir trapped tens of thousands in their submerged homes and caused damage that may run into billions of dollars.
“I don’t even dream of change,” said Elizabeth Mpofu of the Eastern and Southern Africa Farmers' Forum (ESAFF).
Mpofu’s low expectations were echoed by Martin Viela of the Bolivian Platform on Climate Change. “There will be pledges and commitments, but there’s not going to be any mechanism for the people in the field who are working to curb the effects of climate change,” he said.
What most of the activists were looking forward to and planning for wasn’t the high-profile gathering at the U.N. headquarters, but a big public demonstration that will take over most of Manhattan’s West Side on Sunday.
The People’s Climate March on Sept. 21 is expected to draw tens of thousands of people from every corner of the planet in what could be one of the biggest events of its kind.
So far there are 1,500 partner organisations supporting the New York City march, according to organisers, and over 2,000 events taking place at the weekend in over 160 countries around the world.
“We don’t have any expectations about the summit,” said Lidy Nacpil of the Philippines Movement for Climate Justice. “(The) expectations are on what the march will do.”
The goal, activists said, is to mobilise as many people as possible, and to create a global climate movement from the bottom up - a social movement that will fight the long battle to curb global warming.
Efleda K. Bautista is a survivor of Typhoon Haiyan, a deadly super storm that hit the southern Philippines last November.
Bautista blamed the negligence of the Philippines government for the inadequacy of aid operations in the aftermath of Haiyan. Her community is victim of a system in which so-called “first world” countries are responsible for climate change and developing countries are left alone to bear the brunt of it, she said.
“My presence here is a warning that climate change isn’t a joke, and everyone should be involved,” she said. “As we near the first (Haiyan) commemoration, we hope to get the support of victims of similar calamities to claim justice for all these things that happened to us.”
Activists agreed on one fundamental step they say needs to be taken to avoid a climate crisis: stopping the expansion of the fossil fuel industry and promoting a gradual switch to renewable energy.
“We all demand what science demands - what it has been demanding for 25 years: (the end) of fossil fuels and the protection of nature,” Nacpil said.
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