Category Archives: New Internationalist

New Internationalist: Durban became a procrastinators’ paradise

Durban became a procrastinators’ paradise

Nnimmo Bassey

As the climate talks crept to an end early Sunday morning, it was clear that leaders had once again displayed their expertise in procrastination.

As things stand, leaders now have up to 2015 to agree a new deal that would not come into effect until 2020. Durban could be dubbed the procrastinators’ paradise.

The world’s polluters have blocked real action and have once again chosen to bail out investors and banks by expanding the now-crashing carbon markets – which like all financial market activities these days, appear to mainly enrich a select few.

The originally scheduled end of the talks was Friday 9 December. As night called the negotiators seemed nowhere near a conclusion.

Frustration raged inside and outside the international conference centre where the talks were going on. Hundreds of climate activists staged a standoff in the corridors close to one of the plenary rooms, demanding ‘Don’t kill Africa!’. They occupied COP17 for over three hours. In the end, security agents expelled some activists including Bobby Peek of Friends of the Earth South Africa, Desmond D’Sa of South Durban Community Environmental Alliance and Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace. On the outside, people defied the rain to gather at the Occupy COP17 space – also dubbed the Speakers Corner. This had become the self-organising space for voices of the people to be raised and messages to be freely sent without having to deal with the security maze at the talks. Friday night was the vigil for the Conference of Parties (COP). Very fitting because the official talks had turned more or less into funeral rites.

Citizens of KwaMashu displaced from their land for a Durban makeover took time here to tell the stories of their travail. They came under the auspices of a group called Abahlali BaseMjondolo, the shack dwellers movement. Kids from the community staged a drama depicting how they were initially evicted when South Africa hosted the FIFA world cup, how they picked up pieces of their lives after the soccer fiesta and how they were again evicted to make the COP sit pretty. They demanded to know why they had no rights as South Africans to shelter, dignity and decent treatment.

Back inside, the talks went on the whole of the next day and eventually closed early Sunday morning. Policy analysts see the talks as an unmitigated disaster.

‘Ordinary people have once again been let down by our governments,’ says Sarah-Jayne Clifton, Climate Justice Coordinator at Friends of the Earth International. ‘Led by the US, developed nations have reneged on their promises, weakened the rules on climate action and strengthened those that allow their corporations to profit from the climate crisis.’

Clifton explains that the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding framework for emissions reductions, survived in name only. ‘The ambition for those emissions cuts remains terrifyingly low,’ she added. ‘The Green Climate Fund has no money and the plans to expand destructive carbon trading are going ahead.

‘Meanwhile, millions across the developing world already face devastating climate impacts, and the world catapults headlong towards climate catastrophe. The noise of corporate polluters has drowned out the voices of ordinary people in the ears of our leaders.’ For Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid, the outcome of the talks is profoundly distressing. ‘This is the worst I have ever seen from such a process. At a time when scientists are queuing up to warn about terrifying consequences if emissions keep rising, what we have here in Durban is a betrayal of people across the world.’

‘The Durban outcome is a compromise which saves the climate talks but endangers people living in poverty,’ Adow concludes. At the closing press conference, the UN was keen to put a positive spin on the result.

United Nations climate chief Christiana Figueres described the talks as ‘a landmark’, saying that the decisions made there ‘have really marked a completely new trajectory for the climate regime.’ ‘It has guaranteed a second commitment period,’ she went on, ‘but it has also laid the path for a broader regime applicable to all in a legal way, and provided mechanisms for developing countries to address their needs of mitigation and adaptation.’

Not everyone interprets the outcome in those terms. ‘It is false to say that a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol has been adopted in Durban,’ says Pablo Solón, former lead negotiator for Bolivia. ‘The actual decision has merely been postponed to the next COP, with no commitments for emission reductions from rich countries. This means that the Kyoto Protocol will be on life support until it is replaced by a new agreement that will be even weaker.’

Meanwhile, as more COPs roll by, millions of people will be swept away by climate impacts while corporations and their shoe-shine-boy politicians smile on their way to the bank or swing in cosy hammocks, as though they inhabited a different planet.

And yet, despite the failure of the talks, I leave Durban this Monday morning with much optimism. I saw the power of the coming together of ordinary people, sharing of stories and building of new linkages. Perhaps a People’s COP may be the way forward. I remember the seeds of such a conference sown in Cochabamba, Bolivia in 2010.

NI Blog: ‘Don’t Agonize, Organize!’

‘Don’t Agonize, Organize!’

by Sokari Ekine

May 25th is Africa Liberation Day – a day for Africans to celebrate Africa? Or a day to reflect on the past and dream of the future? Officially – according to the Africa Union website – this year’s theme was ‘Building and Sustaining Peace Through Sport’ and I suppose this is referring to the World Cup in South Africa which starts in three weeks’ time. No-one can argue against the fact that sports can support peace-building and break down barriers. In Sierra Leone football was used to bring together previously warring factions of young men and the families of people who had been killed. I read somewhere that German and British troops took time off to play football on Christmas day during World War Two and then went back to killing each other the next day. So although there is a temporary feeling to sport in peace-building, it is a beginning too. Recently two lesbian football teams played in Khayelitsha township in Cape Town, South Africa, watched by some 200 male spectators, with the aim of ‘looking for respect’ and forming new friendships between the women and the spectators.

Being a lesbian can be a death wish in Khayelitsha, where a gay woman is seen as an affront to masculinity – a way of telling a man she is not for the taking – it’s safest not to let it show. So at the match there was more at stake than the satisfaction of winning.

With about 200 sceptical, smirking men in attendance, the players took to the dirt patch looking for respect. And as the smirks broadened into grins in the heat of battle and an epic overtime, respect is exactly what they got.

But a sustainable peace requires more than two hours of football or any other sport on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. In 1996, on the eve of the new South African Constitution, Thabo Mbeki made a famous ‘I am an African’ speech in which he spoke about what it meant to be an African and – more importantly – who was an African. The speech was laden with reminders of ‘ancestors’ – the rich resources of the land and the diversity of races and ethnicities in South Africa.

‘The constitution whose adoption we celebrate constitutes an unequivocal statement that we refuse to accept that our Africanness shall be defined by our race, colour, and gender of historical origins. It is a firm assertion made by ourselves that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white. It is this idea, the idea that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, an idea that is also there in the Freedom Charter of 1955, that we have to hold on to when there is any discussion of who is an African.’

Although Mbeki was speaking specifically of South Africa, the speech also spoke to the whole continent, from Tanger in the north to Cape Town in the south. And not unlike the failure of the South African constitution to live up to its inclusiveness and rights for all, the African Union has also failed in living up to its charter on human rights, respect for diversity and the right for every African to have citizenship. The late Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, who was killed in a car crash a year ago, significantly always referred to Africa Day as Africa Liberation Day and I for one would like to especially remember this great Pan-Africanist who ‘spoke truth to power’.

As I think about the recent cruel and harsh 14 years’ sentence of hard labour for the Malawian couple, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, Tajudeen’s words ‘Don’t Agonize, Organize!’ ring loud in my mind. In the year since his untimely death, African LGBTI people have struggled against increased homophobia. In Uganda, the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill prescribes the death sentence. In Burundi, homosexuality was made illegal for the first time in the country’s history. There has also been an increase in homophobic statements, particularly from religious leaders in Zambia, Tanzania, Nigeria and Kenya. So how do we celebrate Africa Liberation Day when large sections of the continent’s population are increasingly excluded from citizenship and human rights? When two people who love each other are punished with 14 years’ hard labour and not a single African leader speaks; not a single member of the women’s movement speaks? One group which has come out in solidarity is the Abahlali baseMondolo Youth League. I will end on their final comment, which speaks truth to power on the price of silence.

‘Some will say that they did not speak up when they came for the street traders because they are not street traders. Some will say that they did not speak up when they came for the shack dwellers because they are not living in shacks. Some will say that they did not speak up for the people born in other countries because they were born here. Some will say that they did not speak up for the full freedom of women because they are not women. Some will say that they did not speak up for Abahlali baseMjondolo because they never wore a red shirt. Some will say that they did not speak up for the Gays and Lesbians because they are not Lesbian or Gay.

The first price of our silence is that if we do not speak up for others then there will be no one left to speak up for us.

The second price of our silence is that an injury to one is always an injury to all. Gay and Lesbian people are our neighbours, our relatives, our colleagues, and our comrades. We must never forget that the struggle is connected in different ways.

Let us unite and defend the democracy that our forefathers and foremothers have fought for. Let us show the government and those who try to fight for their place in society by attacking others what real democracy is. Let us insist that Africa belongs to all who live in it.’