'The real power is below'

Solutions from the climate justice frontline.

Angela Valenzuela

Angela Valenzuela, Chilean youth delegate from Earth in Brackets

Two of us wrote a song inspired by the Lima talks, criticizing carbon markets and the politics of the climate talks. The song called on people not to remain silent and frustrated, but to unite and raise their voices. It’s called ‘Hombre de Papel’ [‘Paper Man’], referring to bureaucrats and the technocratic framework. We performed it inside the conference in front of [UN climate chief] Christiana Figueres and other delegates. Right after the song, the delegate from Bolivia spoke, and he was so touched his voice was breaking. He said, ‘Yes, we the Paper Men need to do our work well to secure a safe future.’

It was very unifying. Even though everyone there was so different, in age, political views and approach, the music went to the core of the problem, in which we are all together. As well as practical solutions, we need a cultural change to encourage critical thought and hope that things can be different.

Jim Schulz, Democracy Center, Bolivia

The place where we’re actually going to be able to get some movement is at the sub-national level. Sub-national governments are in a position to do a lot, whether it’s renewables, changing transportation patterns, phasing out dirty energy. The political equations are very different and activists can have much more of a real impact the closer to the ground the decision-making takes place.

Governments are timid by nature. They tend to jump into things after somebody else has proven it works. So post-Paris, people need to be very practical about where they’re going to put their activist energy.

We are locked in a battle with a set of corporate interests that are heavily invested in the status quo and have become skilled at converting money into political power. In The Art of War, Sun Tzu said most battles are decided before they begin by the choice of battlefield. The higher up the political strata you go, the more powerful corporations get and the weaker we get. The closer to the ground you push, the stronger citizens’ movements are and the weaker corporations are.

Harjeet Singh, Climate Policy Manager, ActionAid International, India

Developing countries have been very clear that Paris must not focus entirely on ‘mitigation’ [ie cutting carbon emissions]. ‘Adaptation’ and ‘loss and damage’ are equally important.

This is not just jargon. Even if we stop all the emissions now and have renewables providing 100 per cent of our energy, what’s already been emitted is pretty scary, and we will see climate impacts for the next 50 to 100 years. So where is the system, where is the money, where is the capacity to deal with those impacts, in both rich and poor countries?

There’s a problem when environmental organizations illustrate climate change with a polar bear plus some wind farms and solar panels. That’s not the full picture. Solar panels will not deal with the impacts we’re going to see on agriculture, food security, housing and disasters hitting us. We need money to unblock the ambitions that developing countries have, for reducing their emissions and dealing with the impacts on the ground.

Nnimmo Bassey, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Nigeria

The good news is that while negotiators dither, ordinary people are taking action on the ground. Women are building resilience by fighting big dams in Honduras, and a weaver stopped mining companies from destroying a forest in West Timor. (nin.tl/weaver-stops-miners)

In Nigeria, the Ogoni people have succeeded in keeping the oil underground since 1993 when they expelled Shell from their territory. They have insisted on an environmental clean-up and finally the government seems to be getting serious about this.

In northern Burkina Faso, I met the Man Who Stopped The Desert, Yacouba Sawadogo. Over 40 years he has worked with bare knuckles to grow a 28-hectare forest in the Sahel, using local knowledge and technology. In the fight to halt runaway global warming, the real power is below!

Josua Mata, Secretary General of SENTRO*

I just came back from a labour union discussion to develop our international platform. We all agree the North should pay, but the North is also composed of poor and rich people, so if they use government funds, that means Donald Trump paying the same amount as a single mother on welfare. And that’s not fair! So there must be a class perspective.

It’s exciting that this is the kind of debate we’re having in the labour movement; last year we couldn’t even get them to talk about climate change. People have now realized we’re not asking them to fight something new – it’s connected to the whole system.

The fight for a million climate jobs and energy democracy is mobilizing people and, as a result, on 30 November the Philippines labour movement will bring thousands of working-class people out on the streets under the banner ‘system change, not climate change’.

*one of the biggest trade unions in the Philippines

Lidy Nacpil, Asian People's Movement on Debt and Development, and Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice

How do we use the power of the movement we are building? We need to change the politics in our own countries in order to win the bigger fights.

When we were organizing [against the Marcos dictatorship and its aftermath] we often said we needed to be able to paralyse the state, to stop or disrupt the regular functioning of society. So we built the capacity for transport strikes, general strikes, student walkouts, uprisings – to bring things to a standstill, to weaken the power of those who ruled over us, and force something to change.

It’s not just about bringing millions of people onto the streets – the way you mobilize should paralyse the country, so people can refuse to allow things to go on as usual. We need massive numbers of people who will stop for a day – or more – to say ‘enough!’ What form this takes today may be a little different from what we did before but surely this should be part of our arsenal.

George Nacewa, 350.org Fiji co-ordinator, and member of the Pacific Climate Warriors network

Climate change in the Pacific is about survival. Many of us support our Pacific Island leaders’ call for a moratorium on new coalmines, as well as a binding agreement in Paris to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees. The very future of Pacific communities is at stake.

We are also doing a lot of work on the ground with Indigenous people and frontline communities. In 2014, the Pacific Climate Warriors blockaded the largest coal port in the world to send a direct message to the fossil fuel industry. This year we plan to send a message to those investing in the climate crisis.

We are travelling throughout our countries to collect stories of how climate change is destroying the Pacific way of life. We will weave them into traditional mats and take them to decision-makers. 350pacific.org/pacific-climate-warriors