Danny Chivers is a climate change researcher, activist and performance poet. He is the author of the New Internationalist's The No-Nonsense Guide to Climate Change: The science, the solutions, the way forward.


Danny Chivers is a climate change researcher, activist and performance poet. He is the author of the New Internationalist's The No-Nonsense Guide to Climate Change: The science, the solutions, the way forward.

‘Every signature was an act of courage’

University students from the Free Papua Organization and the Papua Student Alliance resist police using water cannons during a protest in Jakarta, 1 December 2016. University students from the Free Papua Organization and the Papua Student Alliance resist police using water cannons during a protest in Jakarta, 1 December 2016. West Papua petition
University students from the Free Papua Organization and the Papua Student Alliance resist police using water cannons during a protest in Jakarta, 1 December 2016. Bay Ismoyo/AFP/Getty

Smuggled under the cover of darkness. Hidden among innocent-looking deliveries. Carried by people not known to the authorities, by volunteers along jungle paths, to highland villages unreachable by motor vehicles. Thousands risked their freedom – and their lives – to spread it in secret across a nation.

It’s a lot more effort than we would usually expect to collect signatures on a petition. But this was no ordinary petition – it was a call for human rights and indigenous self-determination in a region where such sentiments are strictly banned. The Indonesian government is determined to hang on to the region of West Papua – a territory which it has occupied by military force since 1963 – and dissent by its indigenous peoples is frequently met with intimidation, violence or arrest. Simply raising the West Papuan Morning Star independence flag could result in 15 years of imprisonment. Distributing a petition calling for an internationally monitored independence vote for the West Papuan people is, in the eyes of the Indonesian state, similarly treasonous.

The petition campaign ran from May to July this year. According to the Free West Papua Campaign, 57 West Papuans were arrested during that time for supporting the petition, and 54 were tortured at the hands of Indonesian security forces. One West Papuan, Yanto Awerkion, is facing a 15-year jail sentence for organizing a gathering in support of the petition.

It is therefore all the more extraordinary that – in just three months – a staggering 1.8 million people signed it. Seventy-one per cent of the indigenous West Papuan population placed their signature – or thumbprint – on paper, in defiance of the occupying regime. Around 100,000 Indonesian settlers living in West Papua also signed in solidarity with the Papuan population.

This result has a huge historical resonance. In 1969, Indonesia’s military occupation was ‘legitimized’ by the ironically titled Act of Free Choice, when 1,026 indigenous West Papuans were hand-picked by the Indonesian military, marched to polling stations at gunpoint and ordered to vote to be part of Indonesia.

Indonesia’s claim on West Papua rests heavily on this fraudulent event involving less than 0.2 per cent of the population. Now, via the People’s Petition, the overwhelming majority of West Papuans have risked their life and liberty to call for a new, independently monitored freedom vote. The contrast with the 1969 sham ‘referendum’ could not be starker.

Gaining a voice

At the end of this summer, the petition was smuggled out of West Papua and officially validated by Dr Jason Macleod of the University of Sydney. As West Papuan leaders handed it to the UN’s Decolonization Committee on 26 September, Macleod confirmed that it was ‘an impressive example of community organization and mobilization across West Papua, one that reflects the sincere demands of the West Papuan people for self-determination.’

Benny Wenda, International Spokesperson for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, said at the UN: ‘Today, we hand over the bones of the people of West Papua to the United Nations and the world. After decades of suffering, decades of genocide, decades of occupation, today we open up the voice of the West Papuan people which lives inside this petition.’

The story of this achievement is one of courage, unity and determination. When the petition idea was discussed by West Papuan independence leaders in 2016, they realized that this project had the potential to give the West Papuan people the public voice they are usually denied. Bazoka Logo, the National Petition Organizer and Spokesperson for the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), said: ‘This petition was essential to provide vital proof that the majority of West Papuans in the cities, in the villages, in the jungle and as refugees, want independence.’

But to make the most of this opportunity, they needed to aim high and throw all of their resources into reaching the population – from the Indonesian-dominated coastal cities to remote villages in the jungle highlands. Logo explained: ‘We divided our team into seven subcommittees. These groups visited local government offices, people in the cities, people in the villages; everywhere. Many people who signed the petition could not write, so they signed with their thumbprints. Others wanted to sign at our offices and needed travel support. Often the teams went from house to house to collect signatures.’

‘We cannot be scared anymore’

From May to July, the bulk of other demonstrations and protests were put on hold as West Papuan activist networks focused their efforts on spreading the People’s Petition across the nation.

Some local leaders were willing to help. ‘There were churches which helped to organize petition-signing events, and there were some churches which were scared to do so,’ explained Logo. ‘There were also some local government officials who helped and who signed the petition (right), and others who could not.’

Logo believes that many people who did not sign still supported the petition’s demands. ‘People told us, “We will not be safe with the Indonesian military and police if we give our names,” but they fully supported the petition.’

Related: West Papua between freedom and disaster. Issue 502 of New Internationalist

Local petition organizer Steven Itlay is Chair of the KNPB in Timika, and was part of the Bomberai regional team who secured 267,437 signatures for the petition. He explained how every signature represented an act of courage: ‘From the start of the petition until now, there are many people who have been arrested and tortured by the Indonesian military and police.’

Mama Togodly lives in a village in the Lapago region of West Papua, and attended a locally organized petition event. She said: ‘I signed the petition because it is incredibly important for our people. I was not scared. We have already been killed, tortured and raped. We cannot be scared anymore. We West Papuan women are never afraid.’

The first response from Indonesian officials was to denounce the petition as a ‘publicity stunt’. This is unsurprising, as accepting the legitimacy of the petition would put the Indonesian state’s hold on power in West Papua at serious risk. The West Papuan people have made their position clear: they have roundly rejected Indonesian rule. Now it is the responsibility of the rest of the world to listen to their voices and support their clear desire to determine their own fate. n

Danny Chivers is a writer, campaigner, performance poet and author of two NoNonsense guides for New InternationalistClimate Change and Renewable Energy.

A musical Counterweight to ugly politics

Thea Gilmore

Your songs have always had a social conscience, but the new album feels like it’s taking things a step further. Is it your most political album yet?

My 2004 album Avalanche also had a definite political edge, and the new album feels like its older, slightly
more well-reasoned sister. I wrote it in 2016 and the world really did shift that year – from the atrocity in Orlando, to Brexit, to the murder of [British MP] Jo Cox – and that all just poured into the songs. I didn’t set out deliberately to make a statement, but if you’re an artist you need to be aware of and reflect what’s going on. And last year there was an awful lot to reflect.

Do artists have a responsibility to tackle these issues?

Anyone with a public platform has a massive responsibility. I get people saying to me ‘stop making your music political’, but everything is political. I’m not talking about party politics, but about building a sense of society and community, which is inherently political. We also have a responsibility to tell the truth; there’s so little truth out there right now.

Rather than despair at the political situation, the new songs seem to be about standing firm and finding hope in difficult times.

I think that’s a product of getting older. There is a part of being in your late teens and early twenties that quite revels in disaster and enjoys writing about it; but you don’t feel that as you get older – at least, I certainly don’t! I mean, you look at kids, whether they’re your own or someone else’s, and think: ‘this is a generation that we have to look after’. So shining a light in the darkness feels like the best thing to do right now.

Does music have a special role to play here?

Definitely. Live music can create this deep sense of connection and community. The first time I played one of the new songs was in my hometown – I played the last song on the album, ‘The War’. I don’t thing I’ve ever had a reaction like it; I’ve never had a standing ovation in the middle of a gig before. They weren’t standing up for me, or even really for the song, but because of what it talked about. It spoke of pulling people together, about Jo Cox, about Orlando – the audience was making a statement about how they felt about those issues, and it was the most incredible moment. I’d never cried on stage before! But that time I did.

So there’s definitely a demand for music that reflects these issues?

Yes, and half the audience was from my hometown (which is really a Tory town), while half had travelled from elsewhere and were probably more left-of-centre. But there was still this shared, collective desire to connect and move through bad times and it was extraordinary.

What gives you hope for the future?

I really do feel that most people are fundamentally good. If you look at people’s response to tragedy, how people unite in times of true hardship, you can see that. I’m one of the most sceptical, if not cynical, people in the world so if even I can say that, then it must be true! I also look at the younger generation and I feel great hope – I can see the seeds of change in them as well. So there’s a lot of potential to change this mess, but we’re going to have to work very hard at it.

Thea Gilmore’s new album The Counterweight is available now.

Danny Chivers is a writer, campaigner, performance poet and author of two NoNonsense guides for New Internationalist: Climate Change and Renewable Energy.

West Papuans sign banned freedom petition

 a West Papuan signing the petition (credit to Free West Papua campaign)
Freedom for West Papua: a West Papuan signing the petition. Photo: Free West Papua campaign

Some 1.8 million people have defied the Indonesian government by signing a banned petition demanding a new vote for the independence of West Papua – and delivering it to the UN.

Leaders from West Papua’s independence movement handed over the West Papuan People’s Petition to the UN Decolonization Committee yesterday, Tuesday 26 September.

The petition calls on the UN to put West Papua back on the Decolonization Committee’s agenda, organize an internationally supervised independence vote, and appoint a special representative to investigate human rights abuses against the West Papuan people.

Seventy-one per cent of the indigenous population of West Papua – plus around 100,000 Indonesian settlers – signed the petition, despite the risk of arrest, beatings, torture and even death at the hands of Indonesian security forces.

West Papua has been under Indonesian military occupation since 1963. In 1969, this occupation was ‘legitimized’ by the ironically-titled ‘Act Of Free Choice’, where 1,026 indigenous West Papuans were hand-picked by the Indonesian military, marched to polling stations at gunpoint and ordered to vote to be part of Indonesia. Indonesia’s claim on West Papua rests heavily on this fraudulent event involving just 0.2 per cent of the population.

Location of West Papua in Indonesia
The location of West Papua in Indonesia

This stands in stark contrast to the 71 per cent who have just risked their life and liberty to call for a new, fair and independently-monitored freedom vote.

The Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, Manasseh Sogavare, described the new petition as very important and said that the people of West Papua had effectively already voted to demand their self-determination. In a speech to the UN General Assembly last week, he said, ‘They have come in numbers to express their hope for a better future.’

Speaking in New York, Spokesperson of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), Benny Wenda said, ‘Today, we hand over the bones of the people of West Papua to the UN and the world. After decades of suffering, decades of genocide, decades of occupation, today we open up the voice of the West Papuan people which lives inside this petition. We reject the Indonesian government’s fraudulent Act of No Choice that was a gross violation of international law.

West Papua independence leader Benny Wenda presenting the petition to long-time supporter of West Papuan self-determination Jeremy Corbyn
West Papua independence leader Benny Wenda presenting the petition to long-time supporter of West Papuan self-determination Jeremy Corbyn.

‘We, the people of West Papua, supported by the international community, have overwhelmingly put our faith and confidence in the demands of this petition. As a non-self-governing territory with the right to full freedom and independence, we demand to be re-enlisted on the list of non-self-governing territories after being illegitimately removed in 1963. We demand that our fundamental right to self-determination be peacefully exercized in an internationally supervised vote.’

According to the Free West Papua Campaign, 57 West Papuans were arrested for supporting the petition, and 54 were tortured at the hands of Indonesian security forces during the campaign.

One West Papuan, Yanto Awerkion, faces a 15-year jail sentence for ‘treason/rebellion’ for supporting the petition.

 Yanto Awerkion after his arrest in May 2017 (credit to West Papua National Committee KNPB)
Yanto Awerkion after his arrest in May 2017. Photo by West Papua National Committee KNPB

The Global Petition for West Papua, run in tandem with the West Papuan People’s Petition, was also targeted by the government; the website that initially hosted it, Avaaz.com, was blocked across Indonesia.

Dr Jason Macleod from the University of Sydney’s Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, who independently verified the petition, said, ‘The petition is an impressive example of community organization and mobilization across West Papua, one that reflects the sincere demands of the West Papuan people for self-determination.

Related: What’s going on in West Papua? Read our May 2017 issue on the world’s forgotten occupation

‘The petition needs to be understood as a fundamental rejection of the Indonesian government’s claim of sovereignty over West Papua. In a very clear and direct manner, the petition represents Papuans demand for decolonisation and self-determination, their desire to freely and fairly determine their own future. This right has been, and continues to be, denied.’

The Indonesian government is already showing signs that it intends to question the validity of the petition. Speaking to The Guardian in response to the hand-in, Indonesian foreign ministry spokesperson, Arrmanatha Nasir, called the petition a ‘publicity stunt with no credibility’.

At the time of writing, it’s unclear how governments of the rest of the world will react to the petition.

Accepting its legitimacy would put the Indonesian state’s hold on power in West Papua at serious risk.

West Papuans swimming for freedom

West Papua: campaigner Yanto Awerkion, who was arrested in June this year for gathering signatures on a petition. Image from Benny Wenda.
West Papuan campaigner Yanto Awerkion, who was arrested in June this year for gathering signatures on a petition. Image from Benny Wenda

Could you swim for 30 hours? Right now, a six-person swimming team is preparing to do exactly that, relay-style, across the 69 kilometres of Lake Geneva. On Monday 28 August, they will set off across the water, carrying a message from more than 160,000 people to the UN’s headquarters on the far shore.

The swim is supported by the Free West Papua campaign, and aims to raise the profile of the Indigenous West Papuan people’s ongoing struggle against Indonesian occupation. The international petition that the swimmers are delivering – which can still be signed online – calls on the UN to take action to end human rights abuses in West Papua and give the people of that region the vote for self-determination that they were denied in 1969.

This petition shows the growing level of international support for the cause of West Papuan freedom, leading the Jakarta Post to conclude that the ‘campaign for an independent Papua has been relentless and has made significant gains in past years’. To understand the significance of this, just look at how the Indonesian government has responded: by banning the petition across the whole of the country. Anyone signing the petition in Indonesia – and especially in West Papua – risks state violence or arrest.

Yanto Awerkion, of the West Papua independence group the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), was arrested on 23 June by Indonesian security services during a rally and prayer session promoting the petition. He remains behind bars, but this hasn’t stopped him from releasing a video online about his experiences. Despite the risks, thousands of West Papuans have been signing the petition.

Related: Find out more in our magazine special on West Papua’s struggle (available online)

Joel Evans, founder of Swim for West Papua, said, ‘West Papua has been hidden from the public eye for nearly half a century. Hundreds of thousands have died, been tortured, arrested, beaten and imprisoned. Indonesia is trying to cover up a genocide, with the help of its Western allies.

‘We hope this swim can penetrate the shadows and assist the Papuans in their struggle for basic self-determination and liberation. Doing this swim requires us to recognise our shared identity as human beings.’

Benny Wenda, a Papuan tribal leader, spokesperson for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua and refugee with asylum in Oxford, England, said, ‘This swim is a historic moment in our long path to freedom. The swim team are helping to shine a light on one of the world’s longest and most brutal military occupations, and tens of thousands of West Papuans in my homeland are willing them on and signing the petition despite risk of arrest and torture.

‘The actions of every one person can make a difference, and West Papuans need international solidarity work to help the world hear our cry for freedom.’

Morning star rising


A resistance gathering in the West Papuan highlands. © Dominic Brown

Imagine a referendum in which just 0.2 per cent of the population were allowed to vote. Imagine that every one of those voters was marched to the voting station at gunpoint, and told exactly what choice to make. Would you believe the result truly represented the wishes of the people?

This is exactly what happened in the Pacific nation of West Papua in 1969. The occupying Indonesian army marched 1,026 handpicked West Papuans (from a population of 800,000) in front of election officials. These ‘voters’ were ordered to raise their hands at the right moment or be shot. This ‘Act of Free Choice’ was then presented to the world as an unequivocal vote in favour of Indonesia’s claim over West Papua, and rubberstamped at the United Nations by the US, the UK, Australia and their allies. The lands, forests and mountains that had been home to the Indigenous West Papuan people for 50,000 years were handed over to Indonesian President Suharto’s military regime – along with the vast reserves of gold, copper and natural gas buried beneath them.

Forty-eight years later, in January 2017, I’m sitting in a packed-out conference room in the UK Parliament building in Westminster. We are here to see West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda launch a global petition, calling on the UN to oversee a fresh independence vote in his country to replace the sham referendum from 1969. Benny stands, ceremonial feathered headdress on his head, and tells the gathered MPs, journalists and supporters about the decades of human rights abuses his people have suffered under Indonesian occupation. His speech is accompanied by something I’ve never seen before – a video of demonstrations that took place in West Papua in the previous 24 hours, in solidarity with this meeting. We see groups of West Papuans in jungle villages holding up the Morning Star independence flag – a criminal act that carries a 15-year sentence in Indonesia – and thanking us for coming to Westminster today. One group of protesters have filmed themselves inside an Indonesian jail. Every participant in these actions will have done so at great personal risk of reprisal from the Indonesian military.

The people of West Papua are rising again, determined to reclaim the voice that was denied to them almost 50 years ago. After decades of struggle and brutal repression, recent events have propelled their fight for freedom back onto the world stage. If we’re serious about defending human rights and tackling climate change, this is the moment to stand with West Papua – the survival of an entire culture and the preservation of the world’s third-largest rainforest are hanging in the balance. But time is running out.

West Papua makes up the western half of New Guinea, the world's second-largest island. The division between West Papua and the independent country of Papua New Guinea is an artificial line dating back to when the British, Dutch and German empires colonized the island.

Paradise divided

West Papua is an extraordinary place, with a civilization stretching back tens of thousands of years and rainforests teeming with species found nowhere else on the planet. Ever since Indonesian troops first marched into West Papua in 1961, the government has sought to tighten its grip on this resource-rich, lushly forested territory. This has involved military occupation – at least 15,000 troops are stationed in West Papua1, making it one of the most militarized zones in Southeast Asia – and also the transmigration of Indonesians into West Papua. In several key regions, the Indigenous population is now outnumbered by Indonesian settlers. ‘In 1999, Indonesia had set up just nine regencies [local administrative areas] within West Papua,’ says Octovianus (Octo) Mote, Secretary-General of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP). ‘Today, they have 43, and are planning to expand to 73, each with its own police stations and military base. This is all to accommodate new settlers and further outnumber our people. The kind of colonial history that took Western powers many years to carry out is happening here at high speed.’

If we’re serious about defending human rights and tackling climate change, now is the time to stand with West Papua

Indonesians run the majority of businesses in cities like Sorong and Jayapura; they control most of the wealth in West Papua, while the Indigenous population is treated as an underclass. In the words of Indonesian human rights lawyer Veronica Koman: ‘When you arrive at Jayapura airport, the officers behind the desk are all immigrants, while the West Papuans are the porters. If you go into town, the shop owners are all immigrants, while West Papuans are selling betel nuts on the road.’

This kind of colonial takeover by an invading force puts Western fears over immigration into sharp perspective. Migrants and refugees arriving in Europe, Australia and the US present little or no threat to these countries’ cultural and political dominance; the people of West Papua, on the other hand, are at the sharp end of purposeful transmigration policies from an occupying power seeking to cement control over their lands and natural resources.

Countless and uncounted

Dissent is often met with violence and arbitrary arrest. According to Jason Macleod of the University of Sydney: ‘Acts of state violence occur all over West Papua and are carried out by all parts of the security forces. [Human rights violations] include killing, torture, sexual assault and deprivation of liberty.’

Gathering statistics on these abuses is near-impossible, thanks to Indonesia’s ban on human rights organizations entering the region, and tight media restrictions. Local journalists are routinely bribed, threatened, arrested or killed; foreign media are largely banned.

Estimates of the total number of West Papuans killed by security forces range from 100,000 to 500,000.2 The vast majority of deaths go unreported by official media sources; I have been told of villagers stacking skulls in caves as evidence of atrocities that might otherwise be forgotten.

Unequal access to healthcare, education and employment means that Indigenous West Papuans have much higher rates of poverty, illiteracy, child mortality and HIV infection than the rest of the Indonesian population. Jim Elmslie of Sydney University observed that between 1971 and 2000, the Indigenous West Papuan population grew 50 per cent more slowly than the population of neighbouring Papua New Guinea, resulting in 360,000 ‘missing Papuans’.3

West Papuans gain little benefit from mining and drilling projects from companies like Freeport and BP that trash their food sources and poison their water supplies. Indonesian-backed logging and palm-oil plantations are cutting swathes through the rainforest in a process Octo Mote describes as ‘destroying the lungs of the world’.

Jennifer Robinson of International Lawyers for West Papua is in no doubt that all of this amounts to a slow-moving genocide: ‘It’s a constant, low-level conflict where West Papuans are dying all the time – from state violence, from the HIV epidemic, from a lack of access to healthcare, from being forced off their land. If we don’t act fast to secure their rights then we will lose the West Papuans as a people.’

West Papuan women paint their faces with the Morning Star flag before a freedom rally in Jayapura, 19 December 2016.


United voices

But those people have always refused to go quietly. For decades, the under-equipped and outnumbered forces of the Free Papua Movement (OPM) have maintained a guerrilla resistance from the jungle, supported by a growing civil resistance movement in the cities and now a new wave of international support.

A game-changing event was the foundation of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) in December 2014, an umbrella group that has succeeded in uniting the disparate factions of the freedom movement for the first time. Emboldened by their new united leadership, West Papuans have been taking to the streets in unprecedented numbers. The surge in political arrests in West Papua from 370 in 2014 to 8,000 in 2016 reflects both the growth in the movement, and Indonesia’s increasingly repressive attempts to crack down on it.

The West Papuan people are refusing to be cowed. ‘Last December, the police fired water cannons at West Papuan protesters – and they started dancing in the jets of water!’ says Veronica Koman. ‘Then 17 people were arrested in Jayapura for Free West Papua graffiti. They were released the following day, went straight back and did the very same thing again! They’re not afraid any more.’

Every significant international development now sparks mass demonstrations in West Papua. Smartphones and social media are allowing the movement to bypass the media blackout and share their struggle with the world, which has helped drive a new wave of solidarity action across the Pacific region – particularly in countries like Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands that share West Papua’s ethnic Melanesian roots. This new sense of regional solidarity has in turn helped to push Pacific governments to take an active international stand.

‘They are now free, but West Papua is still under colonialism,’ says Victor Yeimo, chair of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB). ‘Melanesian solidarity is not a racial sentiment, it’s about the responsibility of our brothers and sisters to help their family in West Papua.’ Despite fierce protests from Indonesia, in 2015 the ULMWP was formally accepted as an Observer member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group of countries (MSG), and seven Pacific states spoke up in support of West Papua at the UN in 2016.

Power and responsibility

Portrait of Benny Wenda

Dale Grimshaw

In May 2016, MPs from around the world signed up to the International Parliamentarians for West Papua (IPWP)’s ‘Westminster Declaration’, calling on the UN to oversee a new independence referendum. The event was celebrated with huge gatherings in West Papua that resulted in 2,000 arrests.

Meanwhile, the IPWP’s sibling group International Lawyers for West Papua (ILWP) is calling for the recognition of Indonesia’s actions in West Papua as genocide, pushing for a UN investigation into human rights abuses, and challenging the legitimacy of the Act of Free Choice. Although the legal case is clear – the West Papuans were denied their right to self-determination – getting it heard at the International Court of Justice requires majority support at the UN General Assembly, another reason why international support is so vital for the West Papuan cause.

Meanwhile, a growing number of Indonesian citizens are joining the demonstrations. Surya Anta, spokesperson for the Indonesian People’s Front for West Papua (FRI-West Papua), says: ‘For the first time in Indonesian history we have a united solidarity movement which acknowledges West Papua as a nation and supports their right to self-determination.’ That solidarity is starting to be returned. Activists from the Papuan Student Alliance (AMP) joined Indonesian protests against a proposed land-grabbing cement plant at Kendeng, and against forced evictions in Yogyakarta. This is extremely significant, as the support of Indonesian citizens was key to the successful campaign for the independence of Timor-Leste in 1999.

These are all hopeful signs – but this moment of opportunity could easily be lost, crushed beneath Indonesia’s ever-harsher military crackdowns. International solidarity is urgently needed, and many of us have a special responsibility here. The British and US governments knew in 1969 that the vote was a sham and that most West Papuans wanted independence.4 They and their allies supported Indonesia’s claim at the UN anyway. Today, British, US and Australian corporations profit from mining projects that destroy West Papua’s forests, and from the sale of weapons used to repress its people. We must refuse to be complicit, and speak out.

Together, we can beat Indonesia’s media black­out and share West Papua’s struggle with the world. We can pressure our governments to right the wrongs of the past, and give the West Papuan people the real independence vote they have been denied for so long. As Victor Yeimo says, ‘Tell your government, your media, your church, your organization, your family, your friends. Whatever your skills or talents, find a way to bring them to our struggle. We need you.’

'Women are speaking out’

Rode Wanimbo is a West Papuan organizer, working with women’s organizations and churches in the rural highlands
West Papua is my paradise. But it is being destroyed. Under Indonesian oppression, there is no future, no hope. I feel like I’m a stranger in my own land. My mountains have been destroyed. My rivers have been spoiled. They call it development but it is destruction.
So many of us are now fighting for freedom. Indonesia will say, ‘West Papua wanted this in 1969’, but it’s not true. The Act of Free Choice was really the Act of No Choice.
The voices of West Papuan women are gradually being heard, but still not loud enough. In 2000, we had the first West Papuan women’s congress, where women from across the country came together – that was a historic moment. But many of the women were still being too influenced by the men and not fully speaking their own minds.
This is now changing. In this generation, there are West Papuan women who are wise and strong; they are standing up and speaking out. Sometimes our voices are not welcomed or taken seriously, but women are a vital part of this movement. We need to make sure that the new laws in a free West Papua are not just made by the men.
  1. University of Sydney, 2011, nin.tl/anatomy-of-occupation
  2. University of Sydney, 2005, nin.tl/WP-genocide and The Diplomat, nin.tl/WP-tragedy
  3. Inside Indonesia, nin.tl/WP-disaster
  4. The Foundation for Law, Justice and Society, nin.tl/constitutional-conflict

It's heating up: 'Unions can play a vital role in the battle for climate justice'


Anabella Rosemberg, Policy Officer for Health and Environment at the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). by C Choupas

The climate discussion in the union movement has not been easy. We have so many more immediate struggles, from austerity crises to trade unionists being murdered. But about 10 years ago, in the ITUC Congress, we started bringing unions from the Global South to engage on climate with unions from industrialized countries. Those Southern unions described how everything they were fighting for – social protection, health, education – was being undermined by the terrible public costs of climate disasters. This put the discussion on climate in a different perspective. It wasn’t about the union movement ‘going green’, it was a basic issue of international solidarity.

Meanwhile, many root causes of climate change – greed from an unregulated corporate sector, politicians responding to lobbyists rather than citizens, energy privatization – are strongly linked to other social-inequality issues that we are struggling against. So it made sense to bring this issue into our agenda.

A third, more pragmatic reason: this is a discussion about the transformation of key industries such as energy and forestry. If we aren’t part of that discussion, we cannot expect the needs of workers to be taken into account. There’s a slogan: ‘If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.’

From Copenhagen to Paris: the union movement raises its voice

The Copenhagen climate talks in 2009 saw the mass international involvement of unions on climate issues for the first time. So – unlike for much of the climate movement, for whom Copenhagen was a low point – for us, those talks marked a beginning. We had a very typical union response: sometimes you lose, sometimes you win, but you keep fighting.

We went to the 2015 Paris climate talks with three key things that we wanted in the deal. One was ambition, because the impact on the majority of workers on the planet is going to be huge if we go beyond two degrees [Celsius of global warming]. The second priority was finance, with the industrialized nations providing funds for energy transition, adaptation and the cost of climate damage in the South. The third was seeing a ‘just transition’ commitment in the Paris agreement.

Southern unions described how everything they were fighting for – social protection, health, education – was being undermined by the terrible public costs of climate disasters

The Paris deal is clearly insufficient. Politicians have committed to 1.5 degrees but not to any concrete measures to make it happen. On climate finance, the Paris agreement does not contain any figures or targets. On just transition, at least there is recognition, for the first time, of the connection between environmental justice and the need to secure workers’ livelihoods, although only in the preamble, not the main text.

Breaking free from ‘jobs versus climate’

In general, the union movement acknowledges the urgency of the climate issue and salutes the courage of the activists who took part in the May 2016 ‘Break Free’ direct actions at fossil-fuel sites. However, there are also sensitivities. Many of the workers at the sites that were targeted don’t have a choice but to work in that sector; the alternatives aren’t yet there.

Companies and workers are not the same; they don’t have the same interests. If we treat them as if they are, then we are pushing them together and strengthening the companies’ position.

Actions like Break Free have a theoretical commitment to the idea of just transition, but there has not yet been real engagement with workers or unions on most of the occupied sites. No-one came and asked, ‘What do you, the fossil-fuel workers, want as an alternative for you and your communities?’ But that’s a matter of tactics; it’s normal for these kinds of actions, and it does not mean it will not happen later.

Unified in climate action

We are not expecting a massive global mobilization from unions on climate, but we’re seeing local unions taking action, for example in Canada, as part of the climate justice movement, or in Argentina against fracking. In the Philippines, after Typhoon Haiyan, we saw a huge mobilization by trade unions around climate justice and they have participated in actions, including Break Free. In Tunisia, unions are part of the movement asking for environmental justice issues to be enshrined in the constitution.

This doesn’t mean that the whole labour movement is in consensus – there are other unions, generally those that depend on short-term jobs such as construction, which may support fracking or mining if no alternative job proposals are put forward.

Because of the lack of preparation by governments for the transition to clean energy, I think we will see, sadly, an increase in conflict between environmentalists and unions. Not because our objectives are not aligned, but because there is a huge political gap in the commitment made by governments to workers, and, instead of addressing that, they are letting us fight with each other.

A good way to build dialogue is to find common ground on other issues. For example, Greenpeace US is working on electoral reform with unions, NGOs, faith groups and many others. In Europe and Latin America, unions are working with environmental groups to challenge free-trade deals. These kinds of campaigns create a space to build trust, and make it easier then to discuss difficult topics like the climate transition because you are talking to partners, not adversaries.

The landscape is moving, and on climate justice we need to be on the right side of history. In the end, it’s a question of our credibility into the future. Some unions aren’t yet on the right side for understandable reasons, such as fear, or the lack of preparation by governments, or terrible labour rights situations that prevent them from engaging. For others, it’s just self-interest. It’s basically a lack of wisdom and a lack of awareness of where our societies are going.

My hope is that the general trend in the labour movement is going strongly in the right direction. There are a lot of contradictions and difficulties – internal and external – that come with that. But I think the trend is there.

Anabella Rosemberg spoke to Danny Chivers, an environmental analyst, activist and author of No-Nonsense Climate Change (2011) and No-Nonsense Renewable Energy (2015), published by New Internationalist.

Artful dodging

BP or not BP activists

BP is loath to admit that campaigners have won the art sponsorship PR battle. © Andrew Perry

Five reasons not to buy BP’s story about the end of its sponsorship deals.

In the last month, BP’s high-profile sponsorship deals with the Tate art galleries and the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) have come to an end. BP claims that this has nothing to do with the growing levels of protest against its sponsorship of culture and is instead down to a ‘challenging business environment’.

Here are five simple reasons why you shouldn’t believe that for a second.

1 The amount BP gives to the arts is loose change for an oil giant
Despite the slump in oil prices, BP is still one of the richest companies on the planet. In 2015, it made $5.9 billion in profit. We know from Freedom of Information requests and BP’s own statements that the amount they gave Tate ranged between $200,000 and $700,000 per year. This is less than 0.5 per cent of Tate’s annual income – and for BP, it represents the amount of profit it makes every single hour.

The Edinburgh sponsorship, meanwhile, is believed to have been worth as little as $14,000 per year. The idea that these kinds of sums would present any kind of meaningful saving to an oil giant – particularly one that’s just given its CEO a multi-million-dollar pay rise – is simply laughable.

2 Arts sponsorship gives BP enormous value for money
A 30-second advert in an X-Factor final can cost up to $350,000. For the same amount of money, BP was able to purchase an entire year of high-profile branding, kudos, public support, and exclusive events from one of the country’s most famous art galleries. If BP was just trying to save money from its marketing budget, it would be pushing for more arts sponsorship, not less.

3 Arts world professionals think BP’s reason is a joke
Shortly after the Tate and BP admitted they were parting company, I attended an event called Show Culture Some Love. This brought together artists, museum curators, cultural workers and their union representatives to discuss how to defend arts funding in uncertain times. In front of a room full of cultural professionals, I raised my hand and said: ‘BP tells us that it’s ending its Tate sponsorship because it can’t afford it any more – do you think this is the real reason?’ Even before I’d finished the question, a ripple of laughter had run around the room. On the stage, Dr David Fleming, the president of the Museums Association, leaned forward and said: ‘It’s clearly nothing to do with BP’s finances. Somebody, somewhere was being mortally embarrassed by the campaign – in the Tate, at BP, or both.’

4 BP is desperately trying to hang on to its remaining arts sponsorship relationships
The programme for the current production of Les Blancs at the National Theatre features a full-page BP advert on the back page, proudly trumpeting the oil company’s sponsorship of venues such as the Royal Shakespeare Company and Royal Opera House. This isn’t the behaviour of a company that’s preparing to quietly dump its cultural partnerships. It looks a lot more like an attempt to reassure its remaining arts partners that it still wants to purchase their services, and to build as much public support for its remaining funding deals as it can.

5 BP’s sponsorship is only ending at institutions where it has faced significant protests
BP is a prolific sponsor, slapping its logo on everything from the Paralympics to Alaskan teachers to Hull City of Culture 2017. It even sponsors Student Pride, and a corporate version of International Women’s Day. If BP were shrinking its sponsorship budgets, we’d expect to see these partnerships vanishing left, right and centre. But instead, it says it has chosen to withdraw from the Edinburgh Festival – which hit the headlines last year when campaigners staged two performance protests and a major festival star spoke out against the deal – and Tate, where creative interventions from groups like Liberate Tate and Platform have been building huge support from artists and art-lovers over the last six years.

So why are BP, Tate and the Edinburgh Festival claiming that the reasons behind these decisions are purely financial? The simple answer is: it’s the only thing they can say. To mention the bad publicity these deals were garnering would be to admit that the campaigners had won, which both the company and the institutions are understandably loath to do.

Of course, if BP really has jumped rather than being pushed, then it could well be for business reasons – just not the reasons it claims. When your sponsorship deal is generating more bad publicity than good, then it’s just not value for money any more. When BP talks about a ‘challenging business environment’ it is probably talking about the Art Not Oil coalition’s headline-grabbing protests and interventions.

Oh, and have you seen the line-up for this year’s Edinburgh Festival? It looks fantastic. So much for the arts needing oil money to survive.

If you’d like to join the call for oil-free arts and culture, sign this petition calling on the British Museum to drop BP, and check out this ‘disobedient exhibition’ of BP-related objects at historyofbp.org.

Danny Chivers is a member of theatrical action group BP or not BP?, and author of New Internationalist’s No-Nonsense Guide to Climate Change and NoNonsense Renewable Energy

Cowspiracy: stampeding in the wrong direction?


Kip Andersen, Director of Cowspiracy, in Paris during the COP21 climate talks.

There’s much to admire in Kip Andersen’s viral documentary, but its political framing – and a head-slapping statistical error – threaten to undermine its core message. Long term vegan Danny Chivers ruminates on the matter.

‘Why do you keep talking about fossil fuels? Don’t you know that animal agriculture is the biggest cause of global warming? Why don’t you campaign on that? Watch Cowspiracy!’

If you’ve posted anything online about fossil fuels and climate change lately, the chances are you’ve seen a response like this. Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret may have started as a crowdfunded documentary by US filmmakers Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn but following a year of online success a new version of the film – executive produced by Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio – has now been launched on Netflix. The film follows Andersen’s investigation into the climate impact of animal agriculture, and his attempts to get a series of large US environmental NGOs to speak to him about it. It’s a compellingly told story, as most of the green groups seem reluctant to answer his questions or to justify their focus on fossil fuels rather than livestock emissions.

The film has built a sizable and vocal following, as evidenced by the critical Cowspiracy-inspired comments that frequently pop up on articles about climate change, bemoaning the lack of coverage of the climate impact of animal agriculture. In Paris for the climate talks in December, there was no escape either. I spotted the headline statistic from the documentary – ‘animal agriculture is responsible for 51 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions’ – emblazoned on at least one placard or banner at most of the protests I attended in Paris. Kip Andersen himself even turned up at the anti-oil protest outside the Louvre, with a film camera and the 51 per cent figure printed on his shirt, presumably to denounce such fossil-fuel-bashing antics as a waste of time compared to stopping the livestock industry.

There’s only one problem with this eye-grabbing stat: it’s a load of manure. Emissions from livestock agriculture – including the methane from animals’ digestive systems, deforestation, land use change and energy use – make up around 15 per cent of global emissions, not 51 per cent. I’ve been vegan for 14 years and have been asked to justify my dietary weirdness at more friend and family meals than I can count, so believe me – I’ve looked into it. If meat and dairy really were the biggest cause of global climate change I’d be trumpeting that statistic myself every chance I got.

NoNonsense: Renewable Energy by Danny Chivers. Buy the book. New Internationalist

But I don’t. Because it’s not true. The 51 per cent number comes from a single non-peer-reviewed report by two researchers – a report littered with statistical errors. This study counts the climate impact of methane from animals as being more than three times more powerful as methane from other sources [1], adds in an inappropriate chunk of extra land use emissions [2], and incorrectly includes all the carbon dioxide that livestock breathe out [3].

Setting aside this deeply flawed paper and looking instead at more reliable studies, we find that livestock’s real climate impacts – methane, land use change, energy use – make up just under 15 per cent of the global total.

The thing is, 15 per cent is still a huge amount, more than all of the world’s cars, ships, trains and planes put together. Environmental campaigners – including large NGOs - certainly should be doing more to tackle it. Which is why the 51 per cent fake statistic is so painfully groan-inducing. It undermines an important argument and makes otherwise well-meaning people look foolish when they use it.

It’s perfectly possible to make a powerful environmental case against the meat and dairy industry without using made-up numbers. A lot of the rest of Cowspiracy does just that – the film is packed with plenty of real facts about the dreadful deforestation, water use, and local environmental damage caused by animal agriculture. But there’s another major problem with the documentary: it’s built on the assumption that persuading Western people to change their lifestyles is the best way to save the world.

The film presents its viewers with a conundrum: why have the big green NGOs been telling us all to cycle and change our lightbulbs, when they should have been telling us to go vegan? The suggestion that, in fact, neither of those options are going to lead to significant political change never gets a look-in. I hope that wealthier people in the Global North do voluntarily reduce their impact on the climate – through their travel habits, their diets, and everything else – but this is never going to be enough on its own. We need major changes in the energy, transport and food production infrastructures of the industrialized nations to create affordable, climate-friendly alternatives for all. We also need – as Southern campaigners at COP21 worked hard to point out – a transfer of money and technology from North to South, to allow people to develop out of poverty without trashing the climate. These changes won’t happen without serious political pressure from a global movement for sustainability and justice. Buying a greener brand of toilet paper or cutting meat and dairy out of your diet isn’t going to make that happen.

RELATED: Paris climate summit: Heroes, villains and why there's still hope, New Internationalist magazine November 2015, Issue 487

Cowspiracy also seems to assume that the only people worth targeting with its message are white, Northern and middle-class. One of the most problematic lines in the film is when a commentator says ‘it’s not possible to be a meat-eating environmentalist.’ This statement is presumably meant to prick the consciences of well-off US eco-activists but it sweeps the struggles of millions of poorer Southern and Indigenous peoples under the carpet. Most of the people fighting for a safer global environment aren’t middle-class Northern folks with carbon-heavy lifestyles. They are the people engaged in frontline battles against fossil fuels, local pollution, and – yes – livestock megafarm projects around the world, and they are leading the way in the defence of our shared climate. By focusing on veganism to the exclusion of all else, Cowspiracy implies that if any of these frontline defenders – including the murdered Brazilian land rights campaigners mentioned in the film – eat meat then they’re not ‘proper’ environmentalists. This is deeply offensive and exclusive, and also ignores the cultural importance of hunted meat in many Indigenous societies. To build the genuinely international climate movement we desperately need, Northern campaigners need to think carefully about the language they use to challenge the industrial livestock industry, and avoid sweeping statements that ignore the struggles of millions of people across the world.

So to anyone who’s been moved by Cowspiracy and wants to take action on animal agriculture, I have a few friendly suggestions:

  1. Don’t use the 51 per cent figure. Please. You’re making us all look bad.
  2. Please do go vegan, but remember that it won’t lead to political change by itself. Look for groups and campaigns that are pushing for meaningful action on this issue, or who have good, thoughtful strategies for challenging the culture of mass meat and dairy consumption in industrialized nations.
  3. Resist the temptation to just preach at everyone about veganism. Instead, be prepared to work with non-vegan groups and networks as part of a broader movement for fair and sustainable agriculture, especially those representing agricultural workers, small farmers and Southern communities (such as La Via Campesina).
  4. If you want more people to understand that animal agriculture is a significant part of the climate change picture, bear in mind that there are lots of good reasons why many people are focusing on the fossil fuel industry and it’s not an either/or issue. Fossil fuels are the biggest cause of climate change, and the companies that profit from them wield huge political power. We need to find ways to support each other’s causes and tackle all these problems together, rather than fight over which one is more important.
  5. Find meaningful ways to act in solidarity with people on the frontlines of this issue. For example, if you want to stop the mass felling of trees for cattle ranching and other destructive industries, one of the most effective things you can do is to support forest peoples in their struggle to defend their land rights.
  6. Turn up, join in, and help out. The UK Climate Camps – and their successors, the Reclaim the Power anti-fracking camps – have been challenging the fossil fuel industry since 2006, and have had entirely vegan kitchens for the whole of that time. This is largely due to the fact that enough vegan campaigners were practically involved from the beginning, making the case for animal-free cookery while also playing an active part in the camps themselves. This seems a far more effective way to win people over to the importance of livestock’s climate impact than posting snarky messages on strangers’ Facebook walls.

Well, that’s enough from me – I’ve got a butternut squash that needs roasting. I look forward to sharing houmous sandwiches with you all on an anti-fracking blockade somewhere soon.

Danny Chivers is a professional carbon analyst, performance poet, climate activist, and author of the No-Nonsense Guide to Climate Change and No-Nonsense Renewable Energy.

[1] The standard way to measure the climate impact of greenhouse gases is over a 100-year time period. However, this method tends to downplay the importance of methane, which is a greenhouse gas that has a more powerful impact than CO2, but remains in the atmosphere for a much shorter time. The authors of the report argue that if we instead consider global warming over a 20-year time period, the impact of the methane from cattle is three times higher. They therefore triple the impact of the methane from livestock in their calculations. However, they do not carry out the same tripling effect on all the rest of the methane produced by human activities – for example, from reservoirs, coal mines and natural gas production. This therefore overinflates the importance of livestock compared with other sources of greenhouse gas.

[2] The study makes an estimate of how much CO2 would be saved each year if all the land used for livestock was turned back into forest and allowed to photosynthesize. This is an interesting calculation, but the authors then make the error of adding these imaginary ‘what if’ emissions onto the real-life annual emissions from the livestock industry. This is a major accounting error – it’s adding together apples and oranges (or possibly pigs and chickens). It makes about as much sense as saying that the annual emissions from fossil fuels should include all the emissions that would have been sucked out of the air if all the oil drillers and coal miners had instead been employed planting trees. It’s an imaginary number, and has no place in a study that claims to present livestock emissions as a meaningful percentage of the global total.

[3] The CO2 from cattle’s breathing is cancelled out by the carbon sucked out of the air by the plants eaten by the cattle in the first place. Animal respiration is part of a cycle, not a source of emissions, which is why it is not included in any serious climate change studies.

Why we should feel positive about Paris


'D12' day of action, Paris, France, 12 December 2015. Yann Levy / 350.org under a Creative Commons Licence

Why we should feel positive about Paris

As the final text of the Paris deal was being wrestled into shape, we were standing near the Arc de Triomphe, underneath a huge red line. This stretch of scarlet fabric was one of many held aloft by chanting and singing members of a 15,000-strong crowd. They – we – were there to demand climate justice; to condemn an international deal that we already knew would cross crucial red lines for the climate.

'D12' day of action, Paris, France, 12 December 2015.

Yann Levy / 350.org

At the front of the #redlines demonstration, representatives from Indigenous and frontline communities gave powerful speeches, explaining how the Paris deal contained nothing to prevent the pollution and destruction of their lands and cultures. At the same time, mainstream media outlets – and supposedly ‘progressive’ NGOs like Avaaz – were preparing to announce a ‘historic deal’ that would signal the end of the fossil fuel age and catapult us into a bright, clean energy future.

In reality, the details of the Paris deal are dreadful. The contrast between the analysis from people on the frontlines of climate change, and the triumphant rhetoric of governments and many NGOs, could not be more stark. Indigenous peoples at the talks condemned it as a package of ‘false solutions’. The peasant farmers’ movement La Via Campesina called it a ‘masquerade’. Friends of the Earth International called it a ‘sham’. Our email inboxes are full of quotes from frontline representatives horrified at a deal that – if followed to the letter – would mean at least a 2.7 degree temperature rise and the utter devastation of their communities.

The Truth Behind the Paris Climate Deal

The western media has reported the Paris climate deal as a great success. So why did thousands take to the streets yesterday to denounce it?For an in-depth exposé of the deal: http://nin.tl/1OZaxEt

Posted by New Internationalist Magazine on Sunday, December 13, 2015

We understand why so many people want to celebrate this deal. There’s precious little good news on the climate change front. There is a risk that too much negativity will make people switch off and succumb to the same cold wind of despair that swept across climate change campaigns in the North after the collapse of Copenhagen. But the thing is, we’re not feeling negative. Despite the dire details of the deal, we’re feeling uplifted and hopeful from our time in Paris. That positivity comes not from the negotiation chambers, but from the incredible activities out on the streets of Paris and around the world over these last two weeks.

Of course there are elements of the deal that climate justice activists can use. The fact that governments have theoretically signed up to a 1.5 C degree warming limit does provide, in the words of ActionAid, ‘an important hook on which people can hang their demands’. The vague promise of ‘balancing’ carbon emissions by the second half of the century gives added weight to arguments that the fossil fuel industry is ultimately doomed. Our movements should, and must, use these statements as tools in our struggles. But to openly celebrate this deal would be a kick in the teeth to the hundreds of millions of people for whom its wording spells out the end of their homes and livelihoods.

To praise governments for achieving this agreement would implicitly endorse the bullying and misinformation tactics that were used to create it. From the myth of the ‘high-ambition hundred’ who were really only 15, to the demonising of developing countries for attempting to defend their development rights, to the shameful last-minute attempts by the US to bust the whole deal and go home; by calling Paris a ‘success’ we imply that these methods were acceptable.

The climate justice movement has learned and grown since Copenhagen. Activists went into these talks with their eyes open, knowing in advance that our politicians (and the corporations who massively influence them) would not deliver an adequate deal. Rather than focus their hopes and energies on the summit itself, people have used it as an opportunity to organize, to mobilize, to build new links, strengthen existing networks and announce ambitious future plans for action.

Despite the French government’s opportunistic protest ban, people have come together with courage, creativity and determination to make their dissent known. Despite house arrests and police crackdowns, thousands took to the streets without permission at the start of the talks. Six hundred advertisements across Paris were replaced with works of revolutionary climate art. An unofficial critical tour of the ‘Solutions 21’ corporate greenwash fair was met by an over-the-top police response; our film of the event has now been viewed more than 7 million times. A new global movement for ‘fossil free culture’ was launched with a rebel performance at the Louvre that saw ten arrests and a daring illicit video message from inside a police cell. Hundreds took part in the Climate Games, launching creative stunts from vegetable invasions to toilet-roll hijacks.

Frontline communities have played a leading role in these activities. La Via Campesina targeted Danone’s headquarters in a challenge to agribusiness’ false climate solutions. Indigenous representatives from the incredible It Takes Roots grassroots delegation opened the Paris demonstrations with a powerful healing ritual. Alongside other Indigenous and frontline representatives they held a series of events and actions throughout the fortnight, including a flotilla of kayaks challenging fossil fuel extraction and an outspoken protest at the headquarters of oil company Total.

By December 12th, the ‘state of emergency’ protest restrictions had been largely shown up as unenforceable and - with huge numbers expected - the French government had little choice but to give permission for the #redlines action by the Arc de Triomphe. Thousands of people chose to push things further, with an unauthorised march to the Eiffel Tower and a sit-in on the Pont des Arts bridge. None of this would have seemed possible a fortnight ago – the tens of thousands gathered in Paris had effectively overturned the protest ban and taken back the streets.

Yesterday’s red lines represented the basic criteria for survival that the Paris deal has failed to meet. The protest was a clear statement of intent: if governments won’t defend these lines, then we, the people, will. Unlike Copenhagen – which ended with a freezing, frustrated gathering hemmed in by riot police – people will be flooding home from Paris with renewed determination, connections, and inspiration, ready to bring the fight back to where they live.

Most important of all are the steps that have been taken to build solidarity between Northern campaigners and Southern, Indigenous and frontline activists. To take just one example: an extraordinary gathering called ‘Frontline Fightback’ brought together over 100 people from 30 different countries, from South Africa to El Salvador to Palestine, to share strategies of resistance and build common ground. There is still a long way to go – and some Northern organizers are still getting things disastrously wrong – but the understanding is growing that the true leaders of the climate movement are the people fighting fossil fuel extraction and false climate solutions in their own communities and on their own lands. In the words of Kandi Mossett in yesterday’s Indigenous bloc, ‘we are the frontlines, we are the red lines’.

Indigenous bloc at 'red lines' actions, Paris, France, 12 December 2015.

Allan Lisner / Indigenous Environment Network

It is in these global alliances, in building a true movement of movements, that real hope now lies. So when we see well-intentioned Northern campaigners hailing the Paris deal as a success, or a ‘good first step’ we feel serious concern. If we promote this narrative, then we are shutting out the voices of those whose rights and lives have been trampled by the text of the agreement.

To say that this is a bad deal is not giving in to despair. It is opening the door to a different kind of hope. The Paris deal lays down a marker – it tells us how far our governments have come, and how much further things now need to be pushed. Yes, we can use elements of the Paris deal as tools in the struggle, but most of us know that even a perfect deal on paper would not deliver the real changes we need without serious pressure from below. We need to take our dreams away from politicians and invest them in ourselves.

Through our own actions, we can make fossil fuels politically, economically, physically impossible to extract. We can delegitimize destructive industries through divestment and sponsorship campaigns, and strip them of their power. We can take control of the real clean energy solutions ourselves and force governments to act on their responsibilities. We can defend the forests and small farms that will cool the planet, by fighting for the rights of Indigenous peoples, peasants and local communities. We can challenge the neo-colonial narratives that sacrifice the lives of people of colour around the world to enrich wealthy white elites.

These struggles are already underway, and people around the world are winning important victories, from North American pipelines to Indian coal plants to the rights of forest peoples. Meanwhile, elements of the economic and financial context we are acting in have shifted dramatically since Copenhagen. The slump in oil prices has dealt a potentially catastrophic blow to the oil industry. Suddenly, the most expensive and polluting sources of oil are no longer economically viable. We are seeing fracking companies go under, tar sands pipelines and projects cancelled, and most famously, Shell pull out of Arctic drilling. The low price of coal is having a similarly devastating impact on the coal industry. Meanwhile, the boom in renewables has meant that they are starting to be able to compete with fossil fuels on price in some parts of the world. Even Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, has warned investors that they face ‘potentially huge’ losses from investing in vast reserves of oil, coal and gas that are becoming ‘literally unburnable’.

If the climate justice movement can seize these opportunities in 2016, victories could snowball, leading to a significant change in the political context in which future climate negotiations take place. Imagine a COP where industrialized countries are no longer beholden to fossil fuel giants, and democratically-controlled renewable energy is the main game in town. Imagine a COP where the voices of frontline and affected people hold more sway than the demands of the corporations. Then, and only then, might we get a climate deal worthy of the name.

We the movement – not governments – have taken a step in that direction in Paris. See you in 2016.

Paris deal: Epic fail on a planetary scale


Dallas Goldtooth with the Indigenous Peoples Bloc at the Redlines demonstration. by Allan Lisner / Indigenous Environment Network

Today, after two weeks of tortuous negotiations – well, 21 years, really – governments announced the Paris Agreement. This brand new climate deal will kick in in 2020. But is it really as ‘ambitious’ as the French government is claiming?

Before the talks began, social movements, environmental groups, and trade unions around the world came together and agreed on a set of criteria that the Paris deal would need to meet in order to be effective and fair. This ‘People’s Test’ is based on climate science and the needs of communities affected by climate change and other injustices across the globe.

To meet the People’s Test, the Paris deal would need to do the following four things:

1. Catalyze immediate, urgent and drastic emission reductions;
2. Provide adequate support for transformation;
3. Deliver justice for impacted people;
4. Focus on genuine, effective action rather than false solutions;

Does the deal pass the test? The 15,000 people who took to the Paris streets today to condemn the agreement clearly didn’t think so. Here’s New Internationalist’s (NI) assessment.

Test 1. Catalyze immediate, urgent and drastic emission reductions: ‘In line with what science and equity require, deliver urgent short-term actions, building towards a long-term goal that is agreed in Paris, that shift us away from dirty energy, marking the beginning of the end of fossil fuels globally, and that keep the global temperature goal in reach.’

NI assessment: Fail.

The Paris Agreement aims to keep the global average temperature rise to ‘well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.’ But the emission cuts contained in the agreement are based on voluntary pledges called ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’ (INDCs) that governments drew up individually before the talks, based on what they were prepared to deliver, not what science or equity demanded. These cuts have now become an official part of the deal, but go nowhere near far enough to achieve a 1.5°, or even a 2° goal, and the agreement does not require these targets to be re-examined until 2020.

In the words of Asad Rehman from the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice, ‘This agreement is a great escape for the big polluters, and a poisoned chalice for the poor. We’ve got some warm words about temperature levels, but no concrete action. Rich countries aren’t pledging to do any more about their inadequate emissions reduction targets which are going to lead us to 3.7° warming of the planet. None of the developed countries are doing their fair share to reduce their emissions and move away from dirty energy.’

This agreement is a great escape for the big polluters, and a poisoned chalice for the poor

According to Kevin Anderson, Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, ‘The Copenhagen text included aviation and shipping emissions, that together are as large as the emissions of Britain and Germany combined, but they are not mentioned in the Paris text.’ Overall, he says, the agreement ‘is weaker than Copenhagen’ and ‘not consistent with the latest science’.

The Paris deal requires no emissions reductions from countries before 2020. Steffen Kallbekken, Director of the Centre for International Climate and Energy Policy, explains that ‘by the time the pledges come into force in 2020, we will probably have used the entire carbon budget consistent with 1.5°C warming. If we stick with the INDCs we will have warming between 2.7°C and 3.7°C.’

In order to have a decent chance of reaching that 1.5° target, we need to keep at least 80 percent of known fossil fuels in the ground, and urgently halt the exploration and extraction of new sources. We need to stop deforestation and reduce other greenhouse gases such as methane, by tackling major drivers such as the growth of animal agriculture. But the Paris agreement contains no mention of the words ‘fossil fuel’ – no coal, no oil, no gas - and not a whisper about the livestock, palm oil and other industries driving deforestation either.

‘Our survival is non-negotiable. But after all the hype about high ambition and the 1.5°C aspirational limit for global warming, the final version of the climate agreement is sentencing us to even more deaths and destruction’ said Lidy Nacpil, coordinator of the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD).

Test 2. Provide adequate support for transformation: Ensure that the resources needed, such as public finance and technology transfer, are provided to support the transformation, especially in vulnerable and poor countries.

NI assessment: Fail.

According to the International Energy Agency, the transformation to a fossil-free world will require $1,000 billion per year by 2020. Around two-thirds of this – so $670 billion - will need to be spent in developing nations, hence the need for a significant transfer of finance from North to South. This is only fair, because industrialized nations have grown so wealthy by burning fossil fuels for the last 200 years; countries containing just 10 percent of the world’s population are responsible for around 60 percent of the greenhouse gases currently in the atmosphere.

However, the Paris Agreement only commits to ‘mobilizing’ $100 billion per year by 2020, to cover not just emission cuts but also adaptation (see 3, below). This is far short of the support required, and there is no firm commitment to increase this figure, merely an aspiration to review it by 2025. Meanwhile, the definition of ‘mobilize’ is purposefully broad, to include loans, private finance, grants with strings attached, and the reallocation of aid budgets. There has even been talk of calling the money sent home by migrants working in richer countries a form of climate finance, and counting it towards the total ‘mobilized’ by those rich countries.

This is inadequate and mean, especially given that governments spend an estimated $5,300 billion per year on direct and indirect subsidies to fossil fuels. Janet Redman, Director of the Climate Program at the Institute for Policy Studies, puts the finance required in perspective: ‘We spend $2,000 billion a year on our military and mobilized $14,000 billion to bail out banks. Wealthy nations have to shift money from banks and tanks to clean energy and climate resilience.’

Test 3. Deliver justice for impacted people: ‘Enhance the support for adaptation in a new climate regime, ensure that there will be a separate mechanism to provide reparations for any loss and damage that goes beyond our ability to adapt, and make a firm commitment to secure workers’ livelihoods and jobs through a Just Transition.’

NI assessment: Fail.

According to the UN Environment Programme, on top of the $670 billion needed for emissions cuts per year by 2020, vulnerable countries will also need around $150 billion per year for adaptation measures to protect them from the worst impacts of climate change. That’s more than $800 billion per year in total – so the $100 billion ‘finance floor’ represents less than 15 percent of what is actually needed.

Developed countries have done the most to cause the problem, and therefore have the responsibility to solve it, but this crucial principle (known as ‘Common but differentiated responsibility’) has been watered down in the Paris text at the behest of the US and other industrialized nations. Rather than a clear statement that richer countries should provide finance to poorer nations for adaptation, the Paris deal just says that developed countries should ‘take the lead’ on providing finance, as part of a ‘shared effort’ by all parties.

While the US and some NGOs have been quick to blame developing countries for not pulling their weight in the agreement, the 'Fair Shares: A Civil Society Equity Review of INDCs' report, from climate justice organizations, social movements, faith groups, trade unions, environmental and development organizations, shows that the opposite is true. Many developing countries are pledging to do more than their 'fair share' to cut emissions while rich countries are dragging their feet.

The US and its allies do not want to pay for loss and damages which countries like mine are already experiencing

Furthermore, as climate change is already happening, many countries are already being hit by devastating floods, storms and droughts. These will continue – and worsen – for many years, even if the world succeeds in keeping temperature rises below 1.5 degrees. They deserve compensation and financial support to deal with the loss and damage caused by rich countries’ pollution. But the Paris Agreement denies them this by introducing a clause that says the deal provides ‘no basis for any liability or compensation’. Many climate-vulnerable nations fought hard for the right to compensation, but were bullied, bribed and browbreaten by the US and EU into accepting this clause.

As Asad Rehman puts it, ‘the EU, the US, and the umbrella group of rich countries have imposed a clause which absolves them of the legal, moral and political responsibility for the carbon pollution that they’ve created and that has devastated the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.’

Magline Peter, an Indian fisherfolk leader whose flight to Paris was delayed because of the floods in Chennai, also denounces this clause. ‘The US and its allies do not want to pay for loss and damages which countries like mine are already experiencing, whether through rising sea levels or freak floods, like the latest in Chennai. It’s absurd to see these developed countries continue to blame India for blocking a fair and just climate agreement.’

The concept of a just transition – that governments should provide training and financial support to ensure that workers in the fossil fuel industry can find alternative employment in the shift to a zero-carbon world – is mentioned in the preamble but not in the core, agreed text of the Paris deal. And the requirement that human rights should be taken into account has been stripped from the text.

This means that the rights of Indigenous peoples has also been removed from the binding part of the text. As Dallas Goldtooth, of Indigenous Environmental Network, explains: ‘It’s hard to take as an Indigenous person that our ability to decide and self-determine our futures, where we get our food from, where we get our water from is not legally recognised by the nations of this world. It’s destructive, it’s hurtful, and it shows that this agreement is a failure.’

Test 4. Focus on transformational action: ‘Ensure that renewable and efficient solutions are emphasized rather than false solutions that fail to produce the results and protection we need, such as carbon markets in land and soil, dangerous geoengineering interventions, and more.

NI assessment: Fail.

The agreement talks vaguely about ‘technologies’ and ‘actions’ without defining what these are, leaving the door open to all kinds of false solutions. Renewable energy is mentioned just once, in relation to Africa. The deal aims to ‘achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century’. This could mean anytime between 2050 and 2100, when a 1.5 degree target would require a definitive end to fossil fuel use by 2050; and the purposefully slippery language allows for the possibility of continued fossil-fuel burning ‘offset’ by ‘removals’ via dubious carbon capture, geoengineering or forestry schemes.

The door is left open for carbon trading mechanisms – which have so far been wildly ineffective at cutting emissions – with ‘internationally transferred mitigation outcomes’ recognised in the text as a legitimate solution. Meanwhile, there is no mention of effective and fair solutions such as respecting the land rights of forest peoples, promoting clean democratic energy or ensuring food sovereignty for communities and small farmers, all of which would keep carbon safely locked up underground and in trees and soils. Regulations to rein in destructive industries, halt deforestation and keep fossil fuels in the ground are not even hinted at. Worse, there is no language in the deal to give it precedence over imminent trade agreements such as Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and Trans-Pacific Partnership, which are threatening to give corporations the power to overturn environmental regulations that affect their profits.

The Paris agreement is a farce. Any discussion of carbon markets and carbon trading is a false solution

In the words of Dallas Goldtooth, ‘The Paris agreement is a farce. Any discussion of carbon markets and carbon trading is a false solution. The truest solution, which is backed up by science, is that we have to keep fossil fuels in the ground. We must see a moratorium on fossil fuel development, and we must see a just transition for all those communities that are dependent on fossil fuel economies. Whether we’re from the global north or the global south, we need help and support to create a future that has renewable energy for 100 percent of people on this planet.’

NI Final score: 0/4.

Scored in this way, the Paris Agreement is a disaster for the world’s most vulnerable people. The headline target of 1.5 degrees and eventual decarbonization look good on paper but there’s no sign that governments are willing to make them a reality yet. Paris could mark the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel industry, but much more needs to change before that becomes a reality.

So what next?

None of this comes as a surprise to climate justice campaigners. As Asad Rehman puts it: ‘When we came into these Paris talks we had very low expectations. These expectations have been exceeded in how low they are. It’s what happens on Monday that’s the most important thing. Do we return to our capitals, do we build a movement, do we make sure our countries are doing their fair share? Do we stop the dirty energy industry, do we invest in new climate jobs, do we invest in community-owned decentralized energy? And most importantly, do we stand in solidarity with the millions of people across the world who are struggling for climate justice?’

Dallas Goldtooth agrees:

‘The decision-makers of the world can’t make the changes that we want. It’s on us as people to make that change. And we’re already seeing the power of the people. Look at North America – the Keystone XL pipeline was taken down because of people organizing. It wasn’t the governments who made that choice, it was the ranchers and farmers, the Indigenous peoples on the frontline in the heartland of America that made that choice, and the politicians adjusted accordingly.’

People shouldn’t be surprised that the deal is bad, Goldtooth says. ‘Industry has heavily influenced these negotiations. We have nation states who are dependent on a fossil fuel economy influencing these negotiations. Grassroots people who are advocating for the alternatives are not allowed in those negotiations. So we shouldn’t be surprised. Instead we are using this moment to reinvigorate our base, to continue forward demanding climate justice, and to show the world, show the countries, show the corporations what people can do when we unite for climate justice.’

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