U.N. climate talks have 'failed the people', activists say

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Saturday, 14 December 2019 23:55 GMT

Climate activists attend a "Peoples' Closing Plenary" at the U.N. climate talks in Madrid, which went into a day of overtime on Saturday, December 14, 2019. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Megan Rowling

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As talks drag on into a day of overtime, climate change activists say they fear an outcome tilted towards the interests of powerful polluters

By Megan Rowling

MADRID, Dec 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - In Chad, livestock herders are struggling to find grazing for their animals, and crops are not growing as they should due to worsening droughts and floods, according to Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, a member of the African country's Mbororo pastoralist community.

As a result, people are being pushed deeper into poverty and are fighting over shrinking resources, she told a gathering on the sidelines of the U.N. climate conference in Madrid on Saturday, as the talks pushed into a day of overtime.

"The climate emergency is now," she said. "We need our voices to be here... action must start now."

As the two-week negotiations struggled to overcome sharp disagreements, with Friday's scheduled ending repeatedly pushed back, Ibrahim spoke at a "Peoples' Closing Plenary" alongside others advocating on behalf of groups including women, youth, workers and people with disabilities.

Many said the summit, known as COP25, had "failed the people and the planet" and called for "climate justice" instead of an outcome tilted towards the interests of powerful polluters.

In the formal talks, European governments, small island states and the poorest nations struggled to persuade big-emitting countries - from the United States and Brazil to India, China and Japan - to commit in 2020 to making their climate action plans more ambitious.

Jason Boberg, a New Zealand disability rights campaigner and filmmaker, told the people's assembly those with disabilities faced serious threats from climate change.

"From fires and power shut-offs in California to floods and other disasters, disabled people... are the first to be left behind and the first to die," he said.

Speakers criticised the reluctance of wealthy governments to provide financial support for people left hungry, water-short and homeless by worsening extreme weather and rising seas.

And some decried plans to expand carbon emissions trading markets to include forests without guarantees the schemes would reduce emissions or protect local people's rights.

"Our forests are not for sale," said Ibrahim from Chad.

Tasneem Essop, executive director of the Climate Action Network International, said the anti-apartheid movement in her native South Africa had not believed it could ever end the system of racial segregation - but did in the end, thanks to global solidarity.

"People's leadership will save us from devastating climate change," the former government official told a crowd of listeners, of all ages and nationalities, seated on the conference centre floor.

This year's U.N. talks have exposed a wide and growing gap between an increasingly vocal mass movement calling on politicians to step up climate action, and the slow pace of their response.

Scientists have said efforts to cut planet-warming emissions further and faster are urgently needed if the world is to have a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the lower goal adopted in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Current national climate plans, if achieved, would lead to a temperature rise of at least 3 degrees, a level of warming that scientists say could lead to widespread food and water scarcity, more weather disasters and rising seas.

The science and growing public demand for action is heaping pressure on governments to meet a deadline to strengthen their climate plans by the end of next year - but only about 80 smaller-emitting countries have so far said they will.

'TOTAL DISCONNECT'

Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said he had attended the climate negotiations since they first started in 1991.

"But never have I seen the almost total disconnect we've seen here at COP25 in Madrid between what the science requires and the people of the world demand, and what the climate negotiations are delivering in terms of meaningful action," he said.

"The planet is on fire and our window of escape is getting harder and harder to reach the longer we wait to act," he added.

Outside the talks, supporters of the international direct action group Extinction Rebellion stood on 12 blocks of ice with nooses around their necks to symbolise the disappearing time left to "change the trajectory and truly face the reality of the planetary climate and ecological emergency", the group said.

There was a "need to come together now and think bigger" in the run-up to next year's U.N. summit in the Scottish city of Glasgow, it added.

The group also dumped a pile of horse manure on a roundabout in front of the Madrid conference venue, as a metaphor for its view on what was happening inside and where societies would end up unless they transform to a greener way of life, it said.

On Saturday morning, Colombia's Vice Minister for Multilateral Affairs Adriana Mejía Hernández told the U.N. conference a weak outcome from the Madrid talks would be "unacceptable for millions of people around the world asking for ambitious action".

Her words echoed similar calls by Chile and Spain.

Speaking for young people at the people's assembly, Jorge Martinez of Mexico said millions of people were striking on the streets "not because they want to, but because they are terrified of their future and the future of our planet".

Younger generations will continue to fight for a safer, cleaner world, he said, even if governments failed to step up enough to keep dangerous warming in check.

"We will never accept the destruction you are bringing as inevitable," he added. (Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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