Monday, November 28, 2011

The voice of the poor needs to be heard at Durban

Through the clamour from business and political leaders, it's the voices of the world's poor to which we should now listen.

They are coming from Burundi, from Rwanda, from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia, from Zimbabwe and South Africa.

They are coming from all over Africa, and everyone whom they pass cheers them on and wishes them good luck, their hearts full of hope.

They are the Trans-African Caravan of Hope, and they are on a 17-day journey through ten nations, expecting to arrive in Durban tomorrow, along with the high-flying negotiators from 200 countries.

They are carrying messages from women farmers, from young people, from overwhelmingly poor people, which they hope will reach the ears of the negotiators from the rich nations.

Amongst them is 15 year-old Ashleigh Chimhenge of Townsend High School in Bulawayo. She is marching because she wants to "create awareness of the effects of climate change in my community″.

A woman I know from my home in Lobengula in Bulawayo died recently due to the heat wave," she says, attributing it to climate change.

The marchers may be poor and relatively uneducated, but they are not stupid.

They know that if the average global temperatures rise beyond three degrees, as the recent World Energy Council forecast estimated to be likely if all the fossil fuel burning power stations currently planned are actually built, then their lands will become unfarmable.

Their crops will fail, floods or droughts will wash or burn away their hope.

Ashleigh knows this first hand, having seen droughts and poor rains in the Matabeleland Provinces among other provinces in Zimbabwe. She fears that soon, she or her children will have no choice but to leave her homelands or die.

If you are at the blunt end, the bottom, or the coalface if you like, of the world's economic system, then this is the stark reality.

It's the rich who pollute the most and the poor who suffer the most.

The caravan is organised by the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), a coalition of 300 civil society organiastions in 45 African countries.

The noises coming from the rich countries are causing alarm in Africa, in particular the talk that there will be no legally binding deal and no successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

Therefore the PACJA is trying to get Europe and the United States to listen to what they have to say about the dangers of continued procrastination against climate action.

Africa is already experiencing the effects of climate change. There are predictions of a reduction in crop yields by as much as 50%, the spread of disease, and increasing water stress for 75-250 million in some countries by 2020.

If such threats were being made in Europe or the USA, then Africans know that a far greater sense of urgency would prevail.

What will happen when the caravan reaches the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Conference Centre in Durban, South Africa? Will they even be allowed within a mile of the halls? Or will they be kept well out of earshot of the delegates in suits?

At COP15 and COP16 there were attempts to split the African position on negotiations, and overt bullying of negotiators from poorer countries by those from the UK and the USA, in order to secure a deal that they could sell back home.

A report compiled by the World Development Movement, which campaigns on half of poor countries in the UK, contains testimonies from these negotiators that reveal how countries such as the UK bribed poor countries into signing up to the Copenhagen and Cancun agreements against their interests by making funding conditional on their acquiescence.

A variety of tactics and tricks, from speaking only in English, to back-room manipulation and intimidation, including outright deception and linking agreement to trade deals and aid, are catalogued, at COP15 and COP16.

At COP15, Ed Miliband, then the UK’s climate change minister, told negotiators they must accept the Copenhagen Accord, otherwise the UK would not “operationalise the funds”.

If this would happen in FIFA the whole world would be scandalised!” claimed one developing country negotiator.

Another interviewee told the report's author that developing country negotiators who are outspoken "are taken out of delegations for one reason or another, or booted upstairs, or suddenly are transferred, or lose their jobs, as a result of external pressures, usually in the form of some kind of bribe (not necessarily money), or exchange".

In Denmark, the ‘Copenhagen Accord’ was negotiated by just 26 countries and then presented to a furious plenary.

Such insights into the murky corners of these high pressure talks illustrate the lengths to which parties will go when the stakes are so high.

But it is because they could hardly be any higher that it is the voice of the most vulnerable to which we must pay the most attention.

Ferrial Adam, the climate change and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Africa, speaking to a group of Randfontein community workers this week, said, "What was established in Cancun in terms of outcomes, we need more of that. Political pledges are not enough. We need ambitious targets so that we can hold countries accountable… Small steps will not get us there."

The caravan is taking many steps to reach Durban. They have courage and faith, which they hope is shared by the leaders of the world.

From tomorrow, Ashleigh and many others will be waiting and hoping for the outcome at COP17 which they, and the world, desperately need.

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