August 7, 2022

Action on Climate Change Doesn’t Just Come from the COP – It Comes from the People

Almost two years ago, I was part of a protest action which got me kicked out of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 25th Conference of the Parties (UNFCCC COP25). 

It was almost at the end of the negotiations, which span over two weeks. The majority of COP25 had focussed on negotiating remaining provisions of the ‘Rulebook’ to the Paris Agreement, which specified the intricacies of how the Paris Agreement would operate.

The main things still up for negotiation were the amount of finance to be given to developing nations to adapt to climate change and carbon markets, which allow big polluters to buy carbon credits from other countries who have reduced emissions. 

During that time I’d followed the carbon markets negotiations closely, providing information to civil society which assisted them in lobbying governments and organising their media outreach and protest actions. 

While watching the negotiations, I’d seen government officials from my country and others continually advocate for measures which allowed them to put more carbon into the atmosphere. Australia, for example, were advocating for the carry over of credits from the Kyoto Protocol to help them meet their emissions reduction target for the Paris Agreement.

A few halls over, countries continued to refuse to pledge the funds that those who are, and will be, affected by climate change need to adapt. 

I’d watched as, inside the conference centre, governments had their pavilions next to energy companies. Men in suits walked the halls together, and met behind closed doors. In a time when we needed to move away from the old system, the power of the fossil fuel industry was still abundantly clear. 

So by that Thursday, I was pretty fed up with my country actively derailing international agreement on how to mitigate climate change and had lost hope in seeing just solutions on carbon markets come out of that COP. 

And I wasn’t the only one. That day, activists gathered to stage a sit-in, preventing access to the main negotiating hall. This protest was led by Indigenous people and people of colour in civil society groups such as Friends of the Earth, Fridays for Future, Artivists Network from across the world, who will be affected first and worst from climate change. 

They demanded just solutions to climate change, not carbon markets which have caused human rights violations, pollution, destroying and taking away land and in developing countries. They also called on countries to commit to a real transition away from fossil fuels and provide financial support to those affected by climate change. 

A crowd of hundreds amassed, banging implements on silverware – a non-violent protest tactic called cacerolazo. I remember removing my metal drink bottle and fork I’d brought for lunch to join in. They also led the crowd in chants, such as ‘what do we want?’ ‘Climate justice.’ ‘When do we want it? ‘Now’. 

We knew that it was likely that the leaders of the protest would have their badges removed by security, meaning that they would not be able to re-enter the negotiations. So the organisations who had kindly given us our badges wouldn’t face any consequences, we wanted to participate in the protest from the sidelines, but not be at the forefront of the crowd, so we wouldn’t get kicked out. 

But security formed a ring around the entire crowd, opening a door at the side of the conference centre and slowly pushing over three hundred protestors, including us, out. Once everyone was outside, they closed the door, leaving us next to the garbage bins. 

The protests continued outside, to ensure that, even though they had kicked us out, that those inside could still hear our voices. We chanted things like ‘kick polluters out, let the people in.’ Colourful flags and banners were waived. Indigenous leaders led us in songs about the effect that climate change was having on their homes and demanded action from governments. Overhead, the sky was blue. The scene was of stark contrast to the controlled environment inside, with its fluorescent light and carefully engineered spacing and strong, dark colouring. 

We were told that we would not be allowed back into the negotiations. The crowd erupted. In twenty five years of negotiations, this was the first time civil society had been kicked out. As we were marched out of the grounds, the crowd started chanting ‘we don’t need our badges, we need our future’.

As we exited the conference complex, I realised that during this protest was the first time I’d felt hope in the two weeks I’d been at COP. I felt like I’d made a shift in my actions – from passively and voicelessly watching men in suits screw our future.

I was standing alongside the people, speaking truth to power and demanding that they act.

And that doesn’t need to be done from inside the walls of the COP.

That can be done from anywhere across the world.