The tactics that have transformed domestic politics in the United States over the last two months may be about to move to a wider stage, with some developing nations considering “occupying” this weeks climate-change talks in Durban, South Africa.
Hopes of any meaningful action coming out of the talks were dashed when The Guardian reported on November 20 that the world’s wealthiest nations had already privately concluded that no new global climate agreement is likely to be reached before 2016, at the earliest, or take effect before 2020.
This comes at a time when scientists are warning that if greenhouse gas emissions do not start falling within the next five years the effect on the climate could be irreversible, and despite earlier government pledges to sign a new treaty before the Kyoto protocol expires in 2012.
The Alliance of Small Island States, whose members are most at risk, quickly charged that a failure to act would be “reckless and irresponsible.” Now diplomats from some of the world’s most vulnerable nations have begun to consider taking matters into their own hands by “occupying” the Durban talks with sit-ins and boycotts.
“I have called on all vulnerable countries to ‘occupy’ Durban,” former Costa Rican President José María Figueres announced. “We need an expression of solidarity by the delegations of those countries that are most affected by climate change, who go from one meeting to the next without getting responses on the issues that need to be dealt with. We should be going to Durban with the firm conviction that we do not come back until we have made substantial advances.”
The Guardian was unable to obtain official comments from spokespeople for the blocs of developing nations, but one unidentified ambassador told the paper, “The Occupy Wall Street movement and the Occupy the Climate Change negotiations movement confront the same problem. We need this if we want to have any positive result. … There is talk of occupying the meeting rooms, but there could be sanctions. So it needs to be big inside in order to have impact and nobody is punished. We are at the beginning.”
Attempting to get meaningful action out of the Durban talks may appear to be a hopeless task, with China, Russia, and India all determined to maintain the looser standards on their own growing emissions that were part of Kyoto. “But even if progress were possible here,” The Guardian notes in a Friday editorial, “President Barack Obama, a year away from an election, cannot face down the Republican-controlled Congress where they think climate activists are a sect dedicated to destroying the American way of life.”
Adopting the methods of the Occupy movement, however, might conceivably cut through some of the intransigence. Tom Athanasiou, writing in the Guatemala Times on Thursday, suggests that the greatest impediment has been the dominance of the “climate realists,” who are contemptuous of calls for economic justice and see “only power, national interest, and merciless competition dynamics that leave little room for negotiated political restraint.”
“We’re not going to get serious until we’re willing to talk about economic division,” he explains. “Which brings us back to Occupy. Which has, in a few short months, managed to refocus the political battle on economic inequality, and to illuminate this inequality as the (not so) secret substructure of modern life. As a substructure that, remarkably, we’d almost given up on noticing. By so doing, it has raised the possibility of a similar refocusing within the climate world, one that would be particularly welcome, and particularly challenging. ”
“Complicated?” he adds. “Yes, but one of the amazing things about Occupy is the way it has dissolved the image of complexity as an obstacle to clear thinking and sharp conclusion. The way it has stripped away the camouflage, and made the simplicity of economic division visible. We could use a similar magic within the climate war, where complexity is always the final excuse for paralysis.”
Photo by Voice of America [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.