Nnimmo Bassey is a published poet, head of Environmental Rights Action,
Nigeria and Chair of Friends of the Earth International. He also runs
Oilwatch International.
Bassey’s poetry collections include We Thought It Was Oil But It Was Blood (2002) and I will Not Dance to Your Beat (Kraft Books, 2011). His latest book, To Cook a Continent (Pambazuka Press, 2012) deals with destructive fossil fuel industries and the climate crisis in Africa.
He was listed as one of Time magazine’s Heroes of the Environment in
2009 and won the 2010-Right Livelihood Award also known as the
‘Alternative Noble Prize.’


Nnimmo Bassey is a published poet, head of Environmental Rights Action, Nigeria and Chair of Friends of the Earth International. He also runs Oilwatch International.
Bassey’s poetry collections include We Thought It Was Oil But It Was Blood (2002) and I will Not Dance to Your Beat (Kraft Books, 2011). His latest book, To Cook a Continent (Pambazuka Press, 2012) deals with destructive fossil fuel industries and the climate crisis in Africa.
He was listed as one of Time magazine’s Heroes of the Environment in 2009 and won the 2010-Right Livelihood Award also known as the ‘Alternative Noble Prize.’

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COP21 agreed to a climate-changed world

COP21 delegates

All smiles, no substance: delegates at the Paris climate talks gather for a photo shoot. ConexiónCOP Agencia de noticias under a Creative Commons Licence

COP21 has come and gone, and like most others before it, the response has been varied. Some have applauded the Paris Agreement as a giant step for humankind. Some are claiming a big win. Others take a holistic look at the future scenario the agreement presents and are aghast that after two decades of climate negotiations greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and the Paris Agreement does not indicate any urgency in tackling this fundamental problem, even though it does indeed recognize the urgency of the crisis.

The Agreement speaks of a desirability to work towards a temperature increase of 1.5oC while aiming also at a target ‘well below 2oC’. We wonder how the COP quantifies the difference between 1.5 and ‘well below’ 2 degrees. And which may be greater in this language of diplomats? The Agreement recognizes everything that needs to be recognized, including the need for finance and technology transfer, human rights, gender and intergenerational equity, but provides no scope for the operationalizing these in a manner that signifies this acknowledgment. Although it is generally agreed that fossil fuels must be kept in the ground if we are to stand a chance of keeping temperature increase below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, the COP, perhaps encouraged by its oil company partners, ignored this and locked the planet on the path of peril.

The path taken by the COP is an irredeemable self-inflicted injury that subverts real efforts to tackle the climate menace

The scaffold on which the entire COP21 hung was the infamous intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs). While the COP itself notes that the figures submitted by countries do not on the aggregate point a way to cooling the planet, it nevertheless stayed the cause of this clearly wrong path. The INDCs, if implemented, will lead to a temperature increase of over 3 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, wiping out communities of people and sparking unpredictable repercussions. The Agreement recognizes that INDCs will also be achieved through removal of greenhouse gases – through sinks and offsets, for example. Thus, the path of the INDCs taken by the COP is an irredeemable self-inflicted injury that subverts real efforts to tackle the climate menace.

Applauding the COP for being a success because for the first time all nations have indicated commitment to tackle climate change on the basis of the INDCs indicates a total disregard of climate science and equity as epitomized by this pathway.

That sinking feeling

We note that the Agreement speaks repeatedly of ‘sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases’. These are wedges to keep the door open for all sorts of carbon offset schemes, including REDD and all its variants, yet-to-be-proven carbon capture and storage, geoengineering and such like. We can thus expect intense externalizing of climate action on climate victims as well as carbon colonialism – which may include what is referred to in the Agreement as ‘internationally transferred mitigation’ (Article 6) rather than direct in-country carbon emissions reduction.

At the launching of a publication of the No REDD in Africa Network (NRAN) at the Climate Forum during the COP, Firoze Manji, the pan Africanist, described carbon offsetting as putting your feet in a refrigerator when your head is in the oven and hoping to achieve a median temperature for your body. Very apt indeed.

Firoze Manji described carbon offsetting as putting your feet in a refrigerator when your head is in the oven and hoping to achieve a median temperature for your body

The agreement ties non-market climate solutions to the enhancement of ‘public and private sector participation in the implementation of nationally determined contributions’. This hints at the privatization of carbon or pollution, which arguably is already happening through carbon trading.

Climate finance remains grossly insufficient, with targets of $10 billion yearly up to 2025 (COP15 said 2020), when this would shift to $100 billion yearly. That these amounts are insufficient can be seen from the fact that the US spent about $68 billion to handle the aftermath of just one hurricane, Sandy. Considering that rich countries spend up to $2 trillion annually in needless wars underscores the fact that what we are seeing is specious power play and climate apartheid. And, by the way, who accounts for the millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases released in warfare? Quite apart from the destruction of lives and the wreaking of havoc on nations and territories, especially those that are fossil-resource rich. It is clear that the paucity of the Green Climate Fund is not due to a lack of available funds but to a determination by rich countries to avoid historical and current climate debt.


The Agreement makes a passing mention of ‘just transition’, with reference to ‘workforce’ and the creation of decent work. Again we see that the COP is so enamoured with dirty energy or fossil-driven energy forms that it dared not name fossils or a call for just transition towards renewable energy. In fact, ‘renewable energy’ is mentioned only once in the preamble to the Agreement and in the context of developing countries. From where did analysts get the idea that the Agreement has declared the obituary for fossil fuels?

With 2020 as the pivot year for the voluntary emissions reduction, it is clear that between now and then the remaining atmospheric carbon budget may already have been taken up. Whether that happens or not, delaying actions until 2020 presents the planet and all beings on it with a very dire future that many will not survive. It also breeches the right of Mother Earth to exist and her right to maintain her cycles, and it speaks poorly of our understanding of intergenerational equity.

In sum, COP21 betrayed the poor, the vulnerable and all those already suffering the impacts of climate change. It set the stage for a climate-changed world, and did little about averting it.

Nnimmo Bassey is the founder of Health of Mother Earth Foundation and Board Chair of Global Greengrants Fund.

Two good days when crimes against nature were exposed


For two days in the Maison des Metallos, Paris, experts, victims, prosecutors and judges presented or listened to cases of crimes against Mother Earth and at the end judgements were passed. There were solemn spiritual moments, moments of awe at the rapacious destructive capacities of humanity and many moments of tears as these destructions, including murders, were painted in words and pictures.

The International Rights of Nature Tribunal held parallel to the UNFCCC’s Conference of Parties where historical and current climate atrocities or real solutions are loath to be mentioned, not even in square brackets.

The tribunal derives its authority from the peoples of the world as the children of the earth. The basic framework comes from the Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth (UDRME) that was adopted at the Peoples’ Summit on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in April 2010 after the spectacular failure of COP15 in Copenhagen. At the commencement of the sitting of the tribunal on 4 December 2015, the presiding judge, Cormac Cullinan, led other judges to vote and formally adopt the Convention and Statutes of the tribunal. These guide the running of the tribunal and underscore the solemn duty of sitting as judges on the cases of infringements against Mother Earth.

This was the third session of the tribunal, having sat first in Quito, Ecuador in January 2014 and then in Lima, Peru in December of the same year. The tribunal was hosted by the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature in conjunction with NatureRights, End Ecocide on Earth and Attac France with Natalia Greene heading the secretariat.

As I sat on the panel of judges along with Tom Goldtooth (USA), Alberto Acosta (Ecuador), Osprey Orielle (USA), Terisa Turna (Canada), Felicio Pontes (Brazil), Damien Short (UK), Attosa Soltani (USA), Ruth Nyambura (Kenya), Christophe Bonneuil (France), Philippe Desbrosses (France) and Dominique Bourg (Switzerland) we were repeatedly reminded that all beings on earth are our relatives and that what we do to anyone of the children of the earth we do to ourselves. The preamble of the UDRME states that ‘We are all part of Mother Earth, an indivisible, living community of interrelated and interdependent beings with a common destiny.’

It also came through that the crimes against Mother Earth are often wilfully committed because some people and the transnational corporations see nature as capital and Mother Earth as a dead organism. In a proposed case against cruel treatment of animals we saw shocking video of a wounded bull being butchered alive with hundreds of people gleefully watching.

The prosecutors, Ramiro Avila and Linda Sheehan led the witnesses in bringing out deep systemic alternatives to environmental protection and seeking to show that it must be acknowledged that ecosystems have the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate their vital cycles and that these ought to have legal standing in a court of law. The line-up of witnesses helped to ensure that Indigenous Peoples and oppressed communities had the space to share their unique concerns, knowledge and solutions about land, water, air and culture with the global community.

The presentations by experts and victims showed that climate change violates Articles 2 Sub sections a-j of the Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth, especially the right to life and to exist; the right to be respected and ‘the right to regenerate its bio-capacity and to continue its vital cycles and processes free from human disruptions.’

Witnesses underscored the fact that although climate change is caused mostly by human activities, it is inaccurate to place that blame and the burden for action on all humans. In his presentation, Pablo Solon stressed that 10 per cent of the richest individuals in the world contribute 49 per cent of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 90 companies contribute over 60 per cent of all GHG emissions. The top corporate polluters include Chevron, ExxonMobil (USA), Saudi Aramco (Saudi), BP (UK), Gazprom (Russia) and Royal Dutch Shell (Netherlands).

Evidence were adduced to show that the trio of governments/politicians, transnational corporations and the UNFCCC are complicit in the climate crimes as they work together to ensure that real solutions are avoided, binding commitments to cut emission are set aside in preference for voluntary or intended actions. In addition, the tribunal rejected the claims that destructive actions were taken on the basis of the necessity of development or that when emissions began to happen, and grew, the polluters did not know or anticipate the outcomes, are unacceptable.

The case was established that at play is the logic of capital and power and that the major corporations who have caused the problems are the sponsors of the COPs and have hijacked the system.

The fact that the extreme forms of extraction promoted by humans are crimes against Mother Earth came through very forcefully when the case of hydraulic fracturing or fracking was taken. Fracking was presented as a RAPE of the earth and is one of the worst threats against the planet. Facts adduced in this case include that it sets stage for disaster each frack uses up to 2-8 million gallons of fresh water and that one well may be fracked up to 18 times. The process involves the use of up to 750 chemicals many of which, including benzene and formaldehyde are toxic. Billions of gallons of ‘frack fluid’ and 60 per cent of chemicals used remain or are stored underground while the remainder are stored in open air pits. The tribunal received evidence of radioactive wastes, toxic waters being left everywhere fracking takes place: in farms, schools, neighbourhoods as well as offshore. Witnesses and experts also insisted that fracking is guaranteed to pollute ground water. Testimonies of health impacts, deaths, rapes and other social disruptions dropped a pall of grieve over the venue of the meeting.

In the case against the Belo Monte and Tapajas mega dams in Brazil, the tribunal was informed that 60-70 dams were being planned to be built over the next 20 years. Belo Monte alone will destroy 5000km2 of the forest and related biodiversity. The social impacts were described as ecological and cultural genocide against the indigenous communities.

Speaking forcefully about his lifelong work defending the Amazon forest, Cacique Raoni Kayapo told the tribunal, ‘We all need nature to survive and it is fundamental that we protect her. Governments should hear the indigenous people who are in the frontlines of defending nature’ Looking piercingly at the panel of judges and then at the audience he intoned, ‘My struggle is for you, for all of us and for the future of humanity and for the future of our children.’

Other highlights of the sessions include the presentations that demanded that fossil fuels should be left under the ground in line with the findings of science requiring that this be done if we are to avoid catastrophic temperature rise. Oilwatch International presented the case for the creation of Annex Zero (0) nations, sub-nations and territories that have already taken steps or are in the process of doing so, of keeping fossil fuels under the ground. This was presented as real climate action and points at the pathway to a safe world. Examples were given of sites of such initiatives in all the continents of the world. Another highlight was the case for the recognition of ecocide in international criminal law.

The tribunal accepted new cases including those that will try crimes against animals, the depletion of marine life, the Rosia Montana Mines in Romania, the extreme damage of the environment of the Niger Delta by the polluting acts of Shell and the crimes tied to the extraction of tar sands in Canada.

These were two days of plain talks and truth. They were days in which the raw injuries inflicted on Mother Earth and her children were laid bare. They were days of pain as well as of joy. Tears flowed freely from all sections of the hall. Indignation did not give birth to paralysis but to a resolve to stand up for Mother Earth.

In spite of the pains, the aches and the cries of Mother Earth that her children displayed, the words of Cases Camp Horinek kept echoing that the days of the tribunal were indeed good days.

If you like New Internationalist’s coverage of the Paris climate talks, please support our alternative media and independent journalism by making a donation.

Rio minus the principles

Friday marked the end of the Rio+20 Summit and instead of reflecting on the last week I find myself reflecting on the Rio of twenty years ago. What were middle-of-the-road ideas at the Rio Summit in 1992 are now considered radical. Governments last week did all they could to retreat from what they agreed on then.

In 1992 they wanted certain principles to be adopted by the whole world – principles so important they were given the name of the city in which they were born: the Rio principles. But now industrialized governments no longer want to mention the principles explicitly. For example, they don’t want to explicitly reaffirm one of the key Rio principles, that of common but differentiated responsibility. They no longer want to admit that Northern countries have been most responsible for the climate crisis and they definitely don’t want to commit to the responsibility of taking the lead in addressing it.

The same is true of the precautionary principle, a perfectly sensible idea twenty years ago. They don’t want to reaffirm such a principle – and if they don’t reaffirm it they will take the opportunity to jump into irresponsible ventures and push for risky technologies to be introduced worldwide without any regulation. The gains of 1992 are slipping through our fingers. This is the danger of Rio+20. We don't see any progress. Twenty years have passed and we’re standing still.

Beyond the colour green

Green forests, green grass, green is the colour of a healthy environment. But today, when you look around you everything is painted green – the oil corporations, the mining corporations, even the chemical corporations!

Friends of the Earth International has rejected the concept of the Green Economy which is in the Rio+20 text, albeit without much clarity. We have looked beyond the colour green, just as we looked beyond the concept of sustainability when it was conceived 20 years ago.

At the time, sustainability had three legs: economic prosperity, social equity and of course environmental protection. But a solid table needs four legs. There is a leg missing: it is the leg of democratic participation, the voice of the people. Rio+20 has an elongated economic leg that makes the sustainability table a rather wobbly affair.

The economic leg as offered in the Green Economy opens up the path for the commodification of nature and poses the silent but critical problem of the proposal. The United Nations Environmental Programme’s (UNEP) analysis of the Green Economy agenda suggests that the only way to ensure sustainability is by getting the economy right. It claims that when you don't place a monetary value on something, you are not going to value it. In my view this is fundamentally wrong.

Butterflies don't send out invoices

Monetary value does not tell us how valuable something is or can be. In the UNEP analysis, there are some case studies that I have read with interest. One is about the 'environmental services' provided by pollinators: insects and birds that pollinate flowers and plants. Apparently worker bees are worth 190 billion dollars a year! Now we all know that when a bee or a butterfly pollinates a flower, it does not send you an invoice or issue a receipt.

What this teaches us is that the Green Economy concept is artificial. It opens the earth up for speculation, financial speculation. Investors can gamble in every aspect of nature – the air, the water, the soil. The Green Economy is a green gamble and the world and its people are at stake.

Nnimmo Bassey is Chair of Friends of the Earth International.

The June edition of New Internationalist is on the Rio Earth Summit. Buy this issue or subscribe from just £7.

Sustainability resides in solidarity

I could be sitting at the table with heads of state right now. But I had to make a choice. I had to choose to sit with them or to be in the streets standing alongside the people for whom sustainability really matters. So of course I am in the streets.

We are here in Rio, in many ways a city of struggles, to strategize and build stronger foundations for struggles of the future. We cannot sit quietly and allow policy makers to hide themselves away somewhere and avoid making decisions. We must be loud, but more importantly, we must unblock stuffed ears.

Friends of the Earth International is here not just to talk about what is going on in the negotiations but to strategize for tomorrow, for the future. When you look at the official process you could go home discouraged. But when we look at the energy in the streets, when we speak with the local people, and activists who come from all over the world, we are inspired to go back home and do more work.

The People's Summit is filled with groups, social movements and communities that are impacted by the multiple crises in the world today: the climate crisis, the financial crisis, the food crisis – just to name a few. Here is the place to connect, to make linkages, to show solidarity with people who are suffering, it is the place to mobilize and to make plans. The work is in the grassroots. Mobilizing at the grassroots level, at the national and regional levels – that’s how we will make things happen globally. We believe that everyone must think and act locally to make change happen globally.

No patents on solutions

I think the major area where we can make a difference is to show that there are multiple solutions for the problems in the world today. There is not one solution that can be patented like the industry would like to have for the purpose of making money or for speculation – but we can build realities around the world and then enjoy our diversity.

We have to listen to those who are experiencing the impacts of the crises. People just want to live. The other day in Ipiringa, a community in Mage near Rio de Janeiro, I was confronted with the sight of mangroves destroyed by an oil spill. The locals call it the mangrove cemetery. There I met with some fishermen and one said: we want to protect the environment, we want to get rid of oil pipelines, we don't want the pollution. What we want is to fish, to live a life in dignity, and with respect, to make an income and take it to our family. We don't want to be fabulously rich, we just want to live.

This is the message that should be given to governments: that people should be able to live, to live in dignity, to walk in solidarity and to create a more beautiful world for the future. This is the message of Rio. Besides the official negotiations we must pay attention to the struggles of ordinary people on the streets. Looked at from a distance, our struggles around the world may appear to be different. When we link hands, however, we see that our fight is one and the same. This is where sustainability resides: solidarity!

We need to be able to look power in the face and tell the truth – that our political structures have been colonized by corporations like Shell, like Monsanto, and the rest of them. It’s time they get their dirty hands off our lives, and to regain our sovereignty over our political structures.

Photo: Nnimmo Bassey preparing for a demo on the streets of Rio de Janeiro.

Nnimmo Bassey is Chair of Friends of the Earth International.

The June edition of New Internationalist is on the Rio Earth Summit. Buy this issue or subscribe from just £7.

Durban became a procrastinators’ paradise

COP17 Wordle

Planeta under a CC Licence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nnimmo Bassey is Chair of Friends of the Earth International

COP17 UN climate talks ran from 28 November to 9 December.

This is the final blog of a four part series.

‘There is no planet B’

This weekend was abuzz with talks of a looming Durban Mandate that would be crystallised as one of the outcomes of the Climate talks.  As delegates try to make sense of the unfolding drama there are strong indications that the talks will end with a political declaration that would essentially lock the world into inaction over the next decade.

It was for precisely this reason that more than ten thousand people took to the streets of Durban on Saturday, 3 December 2011, to demonstrate civil society’s determination for a common goal: climate justice. Protesters from across the world marched, sang, danced and displayed disdain towards the polluters’ unwillingness to recognise that there is no “planet B.”

One of the groups that stood out in the march was the Waste Pickers Association. They see themselves as key actors in the fight against global warming as they engage in rubbish sorting, recycling and reuse. Their clarion call was that their towns should not be incinerated, a direct reflection of their demand for the halting of polluting rubbish incineration. They are  a growing workforce with full official recognition in South Africa.

During a stop on the march outside the climate talks venue, the president of the Conference of Parties (COP), Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, was addressed by representatives from various groups including Friends of Earth International.

Speakers  made strong calls for negotiators and governments to realise that the COP was not meant to be a Conference of Polluters but one to take real action to combat a planetary crisis.   I spoke on behalf of African civil society and  underscored the fact that Africa was a crime scene and it would be unacceptable for politicians meeting in Africa would agree on a deal that would cook the continent.

The COP president assured the marchers that she will ensure that talks are transparent and inclusive and that the voices of the people would be heard. That promise however, did not align with information emanating from the meeting halls as well as ongoing private consultations.

Since the second week of the talks began, ministers of environment are arriving and the politics of climate change get thicker. Indications are that developed nations are still unwilling to commit to anything that requires compliance in terms of emissions reduction and will make sure that Durban’s outcome will practically be hollow and devoid of substance.  At the same time, the climate politicians are keen on spinning that outcome as progress in the right direction.

The substance of any truly progressive outcome would have to acknowledge the Kyoto Protocol, pledge to work on it and promise a binding agreement for another commitment period by say 2020.

Meanwhile, the inadequate system of voluntary and non-binding pledges cooked up at the two previous round of UN talks – Copenhagen and Cancún – is likely to take over.

Analysts believe that the pledges made by the developed polluting countries since the Cancún summit would place the world on the road to a 5ºC temperature rise above pre-industrial levels. If that happens, Africa will experience a temperature rise of between 7ºC and 8ºC.

Analysts have also shown that developing countries have made higher pledges than developed nations, those responsible for the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions historically and thus the most responsible for climate change.

However, developed nations in Durban insist that ‘growing economies’ – particularly Brazil, South Africa, India and China – are not doing enough.

The Unites States –the largest historical contributor of greenhouse gases – is one of the countries flying this kite while not making any real commitment to cut its emissions.

The alarm bells are already ringing on the continent of Africa and the Small Island States.  Experts believe that even a two degrees temperature rise Africa would face cataclysmic impacts in terms of water stress, desertification, droughts, floods, coastal erosion and major crop failures. With already visible impacts on the continent, Africa is becoming a climate crime scene.

Agreeing to a so-called Durban Mandate will negate years of negotiations, avoid reaching agreement on a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and will launch these negotiators into a new round of dithering and fiddling while the planet burns.

Nnimmo Bassey is Chair of Friends of the Earth International

COP17 UN climate talks will run from 28 November to 9 December.

This is penultimate blog of a four part series.

The Kyoto protocol is in grave danger

The UN climate talks here in Durban are very different  from the previous ones I attended, in Copenhagen and in Cancún.

In the earlier summits negotiators spent the first week speaking in a way that suggested that real action was about to be taken to tackle global warming. Then came the second week, the ministers and presidents arrived, and narrow national interests took over.

In Durban this week we are seeing and hearing something different. The opening statements sound more like conclusions. But, of course, there are a few blank spaces to be filled as the days drag by.

Negotiators will be grappling with two key issues this week and next. The first is whether to have a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol or whether to bury it and raise a Durban Mandate in its place.

The Kyoto Protocol is the only legally binding agreement that requires industrialised nations to cut their emissions at certain percentages relative to 1990 levels. As the first commitment period expires next year, a second commitment period ought to kick in. The rails for that train were buckled in Copenhagen in 2009. Powerful developed countries have been trying to erase the Protocol ever since.

If we are to have a chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change, developed nations must agree to a second commitment period with strong targets and no carbon trading, offsettings or other loopholes. This is highly unlikely to happen in Durban.

The developed nations are simply trying to get rid of their historical responsibility for creating the climate crisis. Developing nations see this as a clear negation of a historical debt. While the emissions of industrializing countries like China, India, South Africa and Brazil are rapidly increasing, they have still made a much smaller contribution to the climate problem overall than the rich developed countries who are responsible for three quarters of all emissions historically while hosting only 15 per cent of the world’s population.

A whole lot of the foot dragging here is about money. Avoiding responsibility means holding tight to one’s money bag. And the rich countries, reeling from the financial crisis, do not want to take any step in the direction of doing the right thing.

This brings us to the second key issue in Durban: the Green Climate Fund, which was created to support people in developing countries – people who are the most affected by the climate crisis but are the least responsible for it.

Developed countries led by the USA, the United Kingdom and Japan are seeking ways of establishing a private sector facility within the fund, which would give corporations and financiers direct access.

More than 160 civil society organisations wrote a protest letter on Thursday  1 December to oppose this move. It would allow companies to bypass developing country governments and their national climate strategies to get their hands on public money.

Meanwhile, hundreds of people rallied just outside the conference centre to voice their opposition at this attempt to turn the Green Climate Fund into a Greedy Corporate Fund.

I am truly worried because developed countries are suggesting a model favoured by the private sector arm of the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation (IFC). The IFC channelled almost two-thirds of its investments to multinational corporations from rich countries between 2008 and 2010, leaving local outfits vastly under-funded.

There are indications that South Africa is one of the countries working behind closed doors to keep vital negotiations on the Green Climate Fund off the radar. ‘Such moves will greatly undermine the legitimacy, and ultimately the effectiveness, of the fund.’ warned Bobby Peek from Friends of the Earth South Africa. ‘Whatever happens in Durban must be fully transparent.’

As we approach the end of the first week of negotiations I am alarmed to hear that some African delegates have been told not to waste their time and energy trying to negotiate emissions reductions from developed nations, which should be the main objective of the UN talks here.

Instead, they were urged to devise means of making their beggars bowls attractive for crumbs from what may indeed turn out to be the Greedy Corporate Fund.

Maybe they will take their cue from the helpless brothers soliciting for help at so many of the Durban crossroads. 

Nnimmo Bassey is Chair of Friends of the Earth International.

Nnimmo will be blogging for the New Internationalist throughout COP17, which runs from 28 November to 9 December.

Challenging climate apartheid

In downtown Durban, the climate negotiators have settled into their beachfront hotels, ready for the official UN climate negotiations starting Monday. Already, voices speculate about cracks in the existing negotiating blocs. Will the developing countries  hold together all the way? Will the so-called emerging economies flex individual muscles?

But as the technical negotiations begin, I want to focus instead on two events last weekend that moved me deeply. Both communicated the people’s desire for climate justice. The first was a speech by Pablo Solón, Bolivia's former chief negotiator.

‘We are here to fight genocide; we are here to fight ecocide,’ he said, speaking at the Kwa Zulu Natal University, home to civil society in Durban during the talks. ‘We refused to endorse the Cancún agreement because we would not agree to join those causing genocide.’

He was addressing an animated crowd who had gathered to greet the Caravan of Hope. The caravan – organized by the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance – rode through ten African countries from 9 to 25 November. The journey started in Burundi and passed through Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe before entering South Africa with two million signatures demanding climate justice, which were collected along the way.

The second inspiring event of the past week was the ‘We Have Faith’ rally at Durban Kings Stadium. Here Archbishop Desmond Tutu warned those who think they will survive when climate change reaches tipping point and spins out of control, that they were fooling themselves.

Tutu said that although some people may ‘go first’, others will also be sure to be hit. Most of the speakers in the stadium that day expressed their hopes that negotiators and political leaders will step up to the plate and do the right thing.

And what would the right thing be?  As Solón told the Caravan, if the Cancún agreement and its non-binding pledge-and-review system stays, then the world can be expected to warm by as much as 4 to 7 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. If that happens, Africa will be cooked.  

A speaker reminded the rally of a saying of St Francis of Assisi who had urged, ‘Let us begin, brothers, for until now we have done nothing.’ Another speaker noted that though the prospects are tough, Mandela had once said, ‘it is impossible until it is done.’

Archbishop Tutu reminded everyone that there is only one human race and that we are designed to live in community, caring about one another. He stressed the truth of the African concept of Ubuntu – that our humanity is wrapped up in the humanity of the next person.

Will those entering the talks today take heed of any of these wise words? Some believe that only loud protests outside will remind representatives that climate change negotiations are not a carbon stock exchange. Right now there are signs that demonstrations will be held throughout the conference. And it is worth remembering that South Africa is seen as the land of possibility. The fact that a determined resistance by the people overcame apartheid keeps echoing in discussions here.

Some go as far as seeing the reluctance of the developed countries – those historically responsible for most of the emissions in the atmosphere today – to take real action on climate change as a form of apartheid. Apartheid against Mother Earth; apartheid against the poor; against farmers, fishermen, women and children.

At the last two UN climate conferences the whiff of cash somehow stimulated poor countries to endorse agreements that were patently not in their interests. Some wonder if the Durban conference will see again see Africa and Small Island States being sold for thirty pieces of silver.

There was singing and dancing  for the Caravan of Hope and the ‘We Have Faith’ rally. In Durban dancing and singing can signify or ignite anything. Whatever that is, I have my dancing shoes at the ready.

Nnimmo Bassey is Chair of Friends of the Earth International.

Nnimmo will be blogging for the New Internationalist throughout COP17, which runs from 28 November to 9 December.

Are Durban climate talks worth the bother?

With climate talks set to open Monday, African civil society activists are alarmed. The Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zewani, who is the spokesperson for the African Union, is credited with saying that Africa will be ‘flexible’ in the negotiations.

This announcement would considerably weaken the hands of African negotiators who have taken a strong stance against the failure of developed countries to deliver on their moral and legal obligations for climate action.

Besides the highly vulnerable small island states, Africa is really set to be worst hit by catastrophic climate change. The impacts are already here: droughts and famines have raged in the Horn of Africa; a rise in unusual rains and floods; increased desertification. It is also uncontested that Africa will experience heightened levels of temperature increases above global averages, further compounding the damage.

These ominous predictions set the scene for the 17th round of UN climate talks, or ‘COP17’, due to open in Durban, South Africa, next week. The city itself sits under a thick cloud from its coal fired plants. Last year, South Africa’s public electricity company, ESKOM, received a huge loan from the World Bank to build one of the largest coal fired power plants in the world.

The World Bank is embedded in the financial architecture of climate change, and the inherent contradictions of South Africa’s energy policy in this vulnerable continent make it the ideal host for the contested COP17 talks.

The general feeling among people coming to Durban – official and non official – is that COP17 will not deliver anything significantly different from what came out of the ineffective negotiations last year in Cancún, Mexico.

Little surprise then, that some activists are wondering whether to bother engaging at all. On Wednesday I attended a fascinating debate at Dirty Energy Week hosted by Friends of the Earth South Africa, where a panel considered whether there was any point in civil society groups turning up.
Many feel that climate talks sap a lot of energy and only set the stage for catastrophic climate change in Africa and around the world.

The other side argued that if civil society does not engage with the UN talks, then that space would certainly be taken up by polluters and by those who see climate change not as a crisis but as a business opportunity, such as carbon traders.

Others characterised the continued participation of civil society at the UN talks as a manifestation of the ‘Stockholm syndrome’ where the kidnapped marries the kidnapper and would not see an open door of escape even if  the door were wide open and unguarded.

Bobby Peek, Director of Friends of the Earth South Africa, sees the fight stretching far beyond the talks themselves. He compares the struggle against climate change to the mass efforts that saw the defeat of apartheid in South Africa.

‘Once again our communities need to organize, mobilise,’ he said. ‘We need to  help build a new just and sustainable world that puts the interests and needs of ordinary people and communities first.’
The question is not so much whether COP17 will deliver an acceptable climate agreement, but whether the peoples’ uprisings in the world will echo in Durban. Are politicians prepared to listen to the demands of the people or will they only hear the  polluters?

Will this be a Conference of Parties, or will it be a Conference of Polluters? Will carbon trading and its accompanying array of market mechanisms run rampant? Will the so-called Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) be finally seen as Corporate Development Mechanism, Corrupt Development Mechanism or Crimes Development Mechanism?

Nnimmo Bassey is Chair of Friends of the Earth International.

Nnimmo will be blogging for the New Internationalist throughout COP17, which runs from 28 November to 9 December.

Leave it in the ground!

Vultures do not need an invitation before they gather wherever carcasses are found. In my land, surging crude oil prices birthed inordinate dreams: of booming production and the accumulation of crude wealth among political élites with a legendary capacity to guzzle cash faster than American SUVs guzzle gas.

Welcome to Nigeria, the nation that best illustrates the contradictions of being a producer of crude oil but an importer of petrol and diesel. As the world’s economic crisis bites, Nigerians wait to see who will be bailing out whom: the masses drowning in rising tides or the fat cats flailing fat arms in receding seas of dollars.

When commercial extraction of crude oil began in Nigeria in 1958, the nation was producing 4,000 barrels per day. This climbed over the years to the current daily 2.2 million. Apart from fuelling climate change, crude oil exploitation in Nigeria has fuelled corruption, poverty, disease and violence – to mention a few.


Daily revelations of underhand dealings in our oil business leaves little room for optimism that we can ever drill our way out of the murky terrain of over-dependence on oil. Indeed, it appears that desperate days are around the corner. With oil prices fluctuating, it is time the voices of the Nigerian masses are heard. While the falling price elicits cautious relief among net oil-importing poor nations, for oil-rent-dependent countries such as Nigeria, it is a cause for panic.

On a recent visit to Awoye, a coastal community in Ondo State, I met with a despondent population. Ten years ago the Nigerian military, working in co-operation with Chevron, attacked unarmed protesting youths here, killing two and wounding many others. Ten years later, these folk’s cries for environmental justice remain unanswered – despite a trial in San Francisco, brought against Chevron by victims of the attack. Decades of oil extraction for these people have meant living with the threat of sea-level rise, regular pollution from oil spills, coastal erosion and incursion of salt water from the sea into fresh water systems through canals opened for Chevron’s operations. With no fresh water and highly polluted swamps, oil has exposed local people to extreme pressures in their daily struggles for survival.

Plans to dig deeper into offshore and onshore fields portend nothing beyond futility. But the people of the Niger Delta have the answer. A 75-year-old veteran community organizer Comrade Che Ibegwura, who had heard much talk about carbon capture and sequestration technologies to make fossil fuels ‘cleaner’, put it plainly: ‘We are offering the world a foolproof solution that needs no technology at all. Simply leave the oil in the ground.’

In a recent meeting in Durban, South Africa, activists and community people from Nigeria and other oil-producing and emerging oil countries across Africa echoed this sentiment, resolving that enough is enough and crude oil found on the continent should be left unexploited.

The Niger Delta was portrayed as the worst-case scenario and a warning to aspiring oil nations. Those living in this savagely exploited environment are crying for the land, the waters and the air to be detoxified. This is a matter of common sense and the only route for the survival of the peoples because their livelihoods are so closely tied to the environment and its carrying capacity. With polluted streams, creeks and rivers, fisherfolk are condemned to tend nets that catch nothing but clods of crude. With polluted lands, farmers contend with wilted crops and barren barns.

Social service infrastructures such as school buildings, healthcare centres and roads mean little in this toxic environment. ‘I would rather be healthy and stay healthy, than remain sick and have a beautiful health centre to lie in,’ says Murphy Akiri, a community activist.

Ogoni activists attest that since protests drove Shell out of Ogoniland in 1993 and their oil has been left underground, their environment has enjoyed a slow process of restoration. The rest of the earth now needs such a Sabbath from the claws of oilrigs.

The future of crude oil is already history. Oil has only been ‘cheap’ because environmental costs have been left out of the accounting books. Poor communities have been saddled with subsidizing the cost of oil for a greedy, insatiable world. It is time for the world to make a decisive move to renewable energy. Indeed, if the amount of cash doled out by the industrial nations to bail out their banks were invested in renewable energy, the positive impacts would reverberate in hope across the world.

Leave the oil in the ground. Simple.

www.eraction.org www.oilwatch.org

*Nnimmo Bassey* is a Nigerian human- and environmental-rights activist. He is Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action (ERA), a grassroots advocacy NGO that is part of Friends of the Earth International, and a member of the international steering committee of Oilwatch International, the South-South network resisting destructive activities of oil corporations.

How to tell your parents you’ve been arrested in three easy steps: Step 1 – get them sat down. Step 2 – tea in hand, leave time for the first sip. Step 3 – casually remind them their job is to love you for who you are.

In June, I was one of 29 people who stopped and occupied a coal train on its way into Drax coal-fired power station near Leeds. My parents took it well. The hardest part came when I reported to Leeds police station on my bail date, to be told I was going to be imprisoned for a week for breaching bail. I quickly rang my parents: ‘I love you, don’t worry, I’ll be fine’, repeated seven times. Then the sergeant changed his mind and I had to call them back up: ‘Panic over!’ Fortunately, there’s plenty of tea to drink in Manchester.

The police had threatened to put me in prison because I had said live on prime-time TV news that I would breach my bail conditions from the coal train action to go to Climate Camp – a week-long gathering of climate campaigners last August, dedicated to education, sustainable living and direct action against the root causes of climate change. It is part of a growing international movement that is getting in the way of dinosaur technology – and the authorities are clearly feeling threatened.

As we had identified ourselves as part of Climate Camp, the court had stipulated that we mustn’t go there. But Climate Camp is a legal, legitimate event. I had a right to take part – it’s a few thousand people putting up tents, marquees and ecological amenities to participate in workshops, discussions and action-planning. I decided with six others I was going to go to that field in Kent, overlooking power giant E.ON’s Kingsnorth coal plant, despite the risk to my liberty.

The banner we hung off the Drax-bound coal train was big, yellow, and said ‘Leave It In The Ground’ in font size 5,000, Arial Bold. The massive British campaign against coal power has sprung up because coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels, yet the Government and energy companies are threatening to build a new generation of coal power stations across the country. Considering the country’s commitments to reducing carbon emissions this is a pretty bad idea, no?

When we were on the coal train we made joint decisions, had several days’ worth of vegan food and a sawdust toilet set up in a tent. This was a really important part of what we did – and not just for the obvious reasons! As we demand a move away from a fossil fuel, profit-driven economy, we are armed with concrete examples of ways to self-organize our energy supply, to change our infrastructure, and take steps towards a real democracy in which we share resources fairly across this planet.

Our banner didn’t explain all that though – I blame the size 5,000 font – and we were rightly criticized for seeming to dismiss the crucial importance fossil fuel industries have played for generations of people across the world, coal being a key source of British industrialization and employment through the past two centuries. Still now, our post-industrial era is largely powered by coal.

Nonetheless, the visions, plans and practical applications of radical imagination that really excite me are the ones which look at the whole picture. They draw inspiration from the new renewables industry in Germany that employs 250,000 people – more than Britain’s energy sector in total, alongside community-based wind-power and composting projects. A practical and radical social justice that’s grounded in ecology. We haven’t ruined this planet yet – history is still being made.

So at the moment, possibly for the first time in my life, I’m excited about living in Britain. I feel like something is about to change for the better here. The fact that so many people are coming together to tackle the threat to renew coal power has really inspired me. I’m not saying that everyone’s ready to give up their cars tomorrow – but then, the question isn’t just about carbon dioxide emissions, but how we organize our lives. Participation in a collective process creates space for self-empowerment, which is why ‘direct democracy’ (dealing with your life directly, rather than asking someone else to do things for you), horizontal organizing (no leaders) and consensus meetings (reaching a decision that an entire group is happy fits their shared aims) are great apathy-zappers!

It was surprisingly cosy on top of the coal train – there were 29 of us. I only wished we could have stayed later for some Friday night dancing.

www.leaveitintheground.org.ukwww.climatecamp.org.uk http://e-onf-off.org.uk/http://thecoalhole.org/campaigns/drax

*Mel Evans* is an artist-campaigner with platformlondon.org and planb.org

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