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Caravan of Hope in Durban

Global Day of Action rally on the streets of Durban bring inspiration and hope to the 17th Conference of Parties in South Africa.

Ndayiragije Diendonne

Let me introduce to you Ndayiragije Diendonne, who travelled on a bus more than seven thousands kilometres from Burundi to make his voice heard at the climate change conference in Durban. Ndayiragije is part of the Trans-African “Caravan of Hope” where 300 farmers, youth, and activists from 10 eastern and southern African countries took busses to arrive at COP17 and try to tell the world how climate change is affecting their communities. After all, COP17 is hosted on African soil. And the people here, already disadvantaged by the current economic and political system, are and will continue to be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Before Saturday’s Global Day of Action protest, important gatherings took place in parks and the KwaZulu-Natal University where people shared their stories and talked about what climate justice means to them. Unfortunately, I was at the Convention Centre listening to a United States representative give a media update of hoping to achieve a “balanced outcome”, of major economies not being prepared to sign a legally binding agreement, and of different governments taking different pathways – the same old story.  But what I can write here are some of the messages that were voiced at the protest: “our Africa, our climate, our rights”, “protect our workers and communities”, “grow food, not emissions”, “listen to the people”, “respect the earth”,  “time for climate justice”…

Ndayiragije and the Trans-African Caravan of Hope are leaving Durban today because they do not have the money to stay until the end of the week when the COP17 negotiations come to an end. Meaningful participation of people from the ‘developing’ world in future COPs means that there should be financial resources for both the official delegates as well as for people from affected communities. Climate justice is about building institutional spaces within the United Nations so that ‘people’, and not just official delegates, get to participate in the formation of international law on climate change. The distance between the official delegates in the Convention Centre and those who are protesting outside is too big.

I have asked Ndayiragije if he believed that COP17 would result in an agreement. He just smiled. “Then your seven thousand kilometers journey was a waste of time”, I responded too quickly. He looked at me and then at the protest, and said, “no, this is not a waste of time.”

Please click here for videos on the protest


COP17 Launches in Durban, Canada wins 1st and 2nd place fossil awards for bad faith

On November 28th, another round of climate negotiations started and so far, the prospects are bleak. Canada, has received international attention for rejecting Kyoto and refusing to sign onto another commitment period. On the first day of the negotiations, Canada earned the First Place Fossil of the Day for failing to support a Second Commitment Period for the Kyoto Protocol, and abandoning its current participation in Kyoto. It also took Second Place Fossil due to Environment Minister Peter Kent's open refusal to make a 'guilt payment' to poorer countries, despite the  role of Canadian tar sands oil in rising greenhouse gas pollution. The United Kingdom received Third Place for helping to move tar sands oil into Europe.

Occupy COP17

A new Occupy movement has just started up for COP17 in Durban. They are seeking to protest against the further entrenchment of the carbon market and trading as a solution to climate change. They have poignantly stated  that " [the] very same people responsible for the global financial crisis are poised to seize control of our atmosphere, land, forests, mountains and waterways. They want to institute carbon markets that will make billions of dollars for the elite few, whilst stealing land and resources from the many. We need to organise to protect the planet and safeguard those who depend on and defend our ecosystems." Follow them or join their occupation of the COP by visiting

UNFCCC Adaptation Photo Contest

The Adaptation Fund of the UNFCCC has placed a call out for photos on adaptation. Anyone can apply and the winners will be announced in Durban at COP17. York University will have a delegation at COP17, so please let us know if you have a photo you'd like to submit.

The Competition focuses on adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change, which is defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as the adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities (IPCC Third Assessment Report, Climate Change 2001)

The deadline for submission is November 22nd, 2011. Late entries will not be accepted. An entry is considered only if received by the photos must be submitted electronically to the Adaptation Fund Board Secretariat

For more information on submitting your entry, please visit: or contact our delegate Rachel Hirsch at

Climate Politics at the Cross Roads

This article originally appeared in the Science for Peace Bulletin, Fall 2011


For nearly 20 years the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has been the international body responsible for addressing the global problem of climate change.  In 1990, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution formally launching negotiations towards an international climate change agreement and, on May 9, 1992, the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted (IPIECA, 2008: 2). Currently, the Convention has been signed by 191 nations. Historically, the United Nations has been the highest decision making body that nations turn to in order to come to an agreement on how to reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. At the core of the UNFCCC process is the ideal of international cooperation and democratic pluralism leading to collective action to solve the problem of climate change. The UNFCCC represents and forwards the widely held belief that cooperation among interested parties, including states, corporations, and civil society, can result in policies to resolve global warming. The annual Conference of the Parties (COP) serves as a space for nations to evaluate, negotiate, and improve their commitments within the Convention.

However, for several years now, the UNFCCC and its annual COP have come under severe criticism. First of all, the on-going political negotiations of the UNFCCC have not moved the world closer to resolving the problem of climate change despite growing scientific evidence of the serious risks to ecosystems and society. In fact, since the beginning of the Convention, the mean global concentration of CO2 has actually increased from 356.27 ppm in 1992 to 389.78 ppm in 2010 (Mauna Loa Observatory), calling into question the capacity of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol to actually curb and reduce emissions. Secondly, the Conference of the Parties 15 (COP15) in Copenhagen was a turning point in the legitimacy of the UNFCCC insofar as the façade of democratic pluralism (which its legitimacy relies upon) was officially shredded. Over 30,000 official delegates were locked out of the COP15 negotiations and found themselves confronted by police brutality while the Copenhagen Accord was put forward by a handful of states without the support of the G77. The failure of leading industrial nations to be inclusive or deliberative in the face of a major threat to the survival of the human race led many experts and observers to concede that the UNFCCC process is unlikely to provide any meaningful action on curbing GHG emissions. Thirdly, in the last round of negotiations at COP16 in Cancun, the international community agreed to maintain a global temperature rise of 2°C, while suggesting that the controversial Carbon Capture and Storage and REDD+ (reduced emissions through decreased deforestation) schemes should form a new market-based solution to curbing emissions, while also putting forward a new Green Fund for mitigation and adaptation actions for developing countries. Despite the the UNFCCC’s rush to promote these decisions as ‘progress’, Cancun failed to fulfill the central purpose of the UNFCCC which is to establish a legally binding commitment to reduce emissions between countries.

Civil Society and the UNFCCC

From a political perspective, one of the most alarming features of the UNFCCC currently has been its reconfigured relationship to civil society which began in 2009. At COP15, 45,000 official delegates arrived at the conference to participate as official invited observers. This historical turnout proved to be a serious challenge for the United Nations. Logistically, the conference site could hold only 15,000 people, leaving 30,000 delegates stranded outside for days on end. Outraged over their exclusion, NGO delegates protested and joined a climate justice street march. The protestors were confronted with 9,000 police officers who used brutality and arbitrary arrest to dissipate the peaceful march. Amid the chaos, the president of the UNFCCC resigned and the UNFCCC unilaterally decided to formally lock out all 15,000 NGO delegates from COP15 leaving decisions to the state and corporate delegates who were locked behind closed doors. Thousands of invited participants were officially blocked from the multilateral climate process, marking the end of open NGO participation within the UNFCCC.

Reviewing the situation, the UNFCCC realized that civil society was willing to mobilize in large numbers to express its discontent with the UNFCCC process and the failure of democratically elected governments to represent the concerns of citizens. In order to reclaim its legitimacy at COP16 in Cancun, the UNFCCC made a number of strategic manoeuvres. In the first place, the conference was relocated to the Yucatan Peninsula, far away from major population centers. Cancun provided a strategic spatial fix for the UNFCCC insofar as the protests that did inevitably occur in Mexico City had no key location upon which to converge. Secondly, for the first time in its history, the UNFCCC decided to physically separate official NGOs and non-delegate civil society from the negotiation space of the conference. Overall, the conference zone was so large that it would have taken seven hours to traverse the entire zone by foot and just over two hours to traverse the zone by car or bus, a calculation that does not include the delays caused by military checkpoints along the way. In contrast, in Copenhagen the conference was located in one space and was easily accessible by anyone via public transit. This effectively erased all civil society from the space of the official negotiations. Finally, the choice of Cancun also afforded UNFCCC COP16 delegates the opportunity to attend the conference in an idyllic location offering the eco-vacation of a lifetime. To this end, Cancun was transformed into an environmental fantasyland where delegates, who were secured accommodations in all inclusive ‘eco-resorts’, could purchase carbon offsets to ensure their flight to the COP was carbon neutral, wake up to the sounds of pre-recorded birds singing in a transplanted ‘conservation’ forest, gorge on all-you-can-eat daily vegan, and ‘get back to nature’ in their downtime by taking various eco-trips into artificial conservation areas along the peninsula. These actions on the part of the UNFCCC served to re-legitimate the organization in the eyes of delegates, and set forward a new precedent to physically remove civil society from the spaces of power in international climate politics.

The Road to Durban COP17

COP17 will take place in Durban from November 28 – December 9 2011. As we approach the eve of another COP, what can we expect in light of the UNFCCC’s recent history and the outcomes of the interim talks in Bonn since Cancun? In a nutshell, we can expect to witness the end of the Kyoto Protocol with no new legally binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to replace it. The failure of the interim negotiations in Bonn last June to produce a draft for negotiation in Durban is a telling sign that the international process to reduce emissions via a legal agreement is unlikely to move forward in the near term, and instead we should expect to see international efforts diverted towards financing and establishing the basis, implementation, and details of the $100 billion per year Green Fund for developing countries by 2020. But, the Green Fund, in the absence of new legally-binding emission reduction targets, will act to divert attention away from the main emitters of GHGs. Instead, the international community’s attention will be placed on technology transfers to the South rather than on substantive cuts for the world’s major emitters, establishing the legally controversial REDD+ scheme, and encouraging new forms of experimental adaptation finance- none of which will achieve the immediate and pressing goals of reducing global GHG emissions to curb catastrophic climate change. Patrick Bond, has described the situation poignantly: “What everyone now predicts is a conference of paralysis. Not only will the Kyoto Protocol be allowed to expire at the end of its first commitment period (2012). Far worse, Durban will primarily be a conference of profiteers, as carbon trading – the privatization of the air, giving rich states and companies the property-right to pollute – is cemented as the foundation of the next decade’s global climate malgovernance” (Bond, 2011: 1). This is evident as the UNFCCC recently called for a ‘quantum leap’ in private sector involvement in investment to combat climate change this September (Chestney and Twidale, 2011). The power of corporate interests in the negotiations has been a prominent feature of the UNFCCC since the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, and the force of market interests is evident in the push forward towards REDD+. Moreover, some elements of civil society appear to be shifting, with Greenpeace announcing a change in its strategic focus, choosing to focus less on the UNFCCC negotiations and more on action against industrial polluter and corporations. To date, the activities of civil society and the climate justice movement for mobilizing action at COP17 appear fragmented, and although it is difficult to predict the future, the location of COP17 in the wealthy guarded neighbourhoods of Durban raises questions regarding the capacity of civil society to adequately impact the process through traditional forms of protest and mass mobilization. In all likelihood, political activism at COP17 is likely to remain outside of the purview of the negotiators and power, as a market-based agenda is pushed forward and entrenched deeper into the UNFCCC and its various non-binding agreements.

Developing a Radical Climate Politics

Currently, it appears that previous modes of pressure by civil society  have not been able to stop the UNFCCC from putting forward market-based solutions to climate change that privilege economic and corporate interests. Calls for a fair and just climate deal have fallen on deaf ears for nearly two decades, with no change in sight. Moreover, we find ourselves at a moment where the summer Arctic ice extent has reached a record low, where East Africa is experiencing its worst drought in 60 years, and where Texas had the worst wildfires in its history. Yet, these trends which should alarm all of us to the potential devastating consequence of climate change for humans and nature, have been met with further equivoaction by the corporate state and the power elite who claim that the market can solve this unprecedented environmental problem, and even that climate change will bring new unforeseen benefits and an age of “climate prosperity” (NRTEE, 2010). Sheldon Wolin would explain these politics as shaped by the inverted totalitarianism that has been normalized in US and international politics. Unlike classic totalitarianism, where a powerful state dominates the economy, in inverted totalitarianism corporations and the economic imperatives dominate the state. According to Chris Hedges, climate change is inseparable from inverted totalitarianism, and the failure of the liberal class who have placed their hopes in the climate negotiations is that it “sought consensus and was obedient when it should have fought back.  (It) continues to trumpet a childish faith in human progress.....the naive belief that technology will save us from ourselves. The liberal class assumed that by working with corporate power, it could mitigate the worst excesses of capitalism and environmental degradation. It did not grasp, perhaps because liberals do not read enough Marx, the revolutionary and self-destructive nature of unfettered capitalism” (Stryker, 2010 quoting Hedges, 2010). We have failed as a society to address the problem of climate change through our existing political mechanisms and economic structure. For example, the current Canadian government’s tendency to privilege corporate and economic interests at the climate negotiations and its continued support of the Tar Sands is exemplary of the inverted totalitarianism under which we now live. Given the clear directive of the Harper government to ignore the overwhelming majority of Canadian voices (65%) that believe the government should take action on climate change at home (CBC, 2011), and  by extension,  the inaction of our government at the UNFCCC negotiations, suggests that we should seriously re-evaluate what citizens can accomplish through protest or representative politics.  Notwithstanding a major change in government direction after the next election, it may be time to reconsider the shape that climate politics ought to take. It may be time to put aside our hopes that the UNFCCC and negotiations among the power elite can solve the problem. Instead, we should consider preparing for the changes to come as our governments, institutions, and economic structures fail to take the actions necessary to halt climate change. A radical politics of climate change will not be found in a protest march barricaded by police on the outskirts of a dying UNFCCC negotiation in Durban. Radical action on climate change will happen in our communities and among us. At the most basic level, this will include building communities that do not depend on oil for the basis of their survival, a move towards self-sufficient self-governing sustainable democratic communities capable of providing for their material needs outside of capitalist social relations, developing the capacity to grow food outside of the agro-industrial complex, developing economically democratic systems for production, reclaiming the commons that are fundamental to human survival , and above all a fundamental change in consciousness where the human domination of nature, the human domination of other humans, and the human domination of the self no longer forms the basis of our social relations.


Bond, P. (2011).  ‘The Durban Climate Summit (Conference of the Parties 17) Climate Justice versus Market Narratives’, Nature Inc. Questioning the Market Panacea in Environmental Policy and Conservation, Institute for Social Studies, The Hague, 30 June 2011

CBC (2011). ‘Climate Change an Issue in Canada: Poll’, CBC News Online, February 22, 2011

Chestney, N. and Twidale, S. (2011). ‘Climate Investment need ‘quantum’ leap, says U.N. Official’, Reuters, September 14, 2011

Hedges, C. (2010). ‘How Corporations Destroyed American Democracy’, Socialism 2010, Oakland, California, 3, July 2010

IPIECA (2008). The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol: A Guide to the Climate Negotiations.

Medalye, J. (2011). ‘Brave New UNFCCC: Spatial fixes, Environmental Utopia, and the New Governmentality of International Climate Politics’, Canadian Dimension, Web Exclusive, February 9, 2011

Mauna Loa Observatory (MLO)

Medalye, J. (2010). ‘COP15 in and Uneven World: Contradictions and Crisis of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’, Part 1, in Sandberg, L.A. and Sandberg, T. (eds), Climate Change- Who’s Carrying the Burden? The Chilly Climates of the Global Environmental Dilemma, The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives: Ottawa

National Roundtable on Environment and Economy (2010), Climate Prosperity

Stryker, D. (2010). Chris Hedges, Marx, and Climate Change

Wolin, Sheldon, S. (2008). Democracy Incorporate: Managed Democracy and Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, Princeton University

C17 July Meeting: The Movement’s Progress

The Civil Society Committee for COP17 (the committee is known as C17) is a grassroots organization dedicated to making civil society’s climate concerns heard at the upcoming 17th annual Conference of the Parties (COP17) in Durban, South Africa in November and December of 2011. COP17 will pick up where COP16 (in Cancun) left off, which, according to some expert opinion, is at a point of insufficient progress.

On July 5, 2011, C17 met at Durban’s Botanic Gardens Education Centre. At the meeting, I observed an interesting mix of harmony and disharmony among the various organizations and individuals in attendance. This can be expected, given the range of organizations and individuals present. One of the biggest questions that must be asked is the question of how much progress was made at the meeting (not an easy question to answer in my opinion). I must also concede that this was my first C17 meeting and as such I am in no position to comment on the progress that was made prior to the meeting.

One of the primary purposes of the meeting was to determine a list of principles that C17 should stand for. After small groups discussed the principles, all votes were tallied and universally agreed upon principles were noted. Some attendees felt that the process for deciding which principles for C17 to follow was itself flawed and undemocratic. This stemmed from the fact that if only one single person in attendance didn’t agree with one principle, it would be instantly and permanently scrapped.

All in all, of the 25 principles set out, only 4 were agreed upon:
• Demand a binding agreement for emissions reductions
• Pledge and review system is unacceptable
• Environmentally sustainable, socially just and equitable development
• Safeguard biodivertiy and peoples’ rights

However, several principles were almost agreed upon. That is to say that several principles were agreed upon by all groups except one or two, who made minor alterations to the principle but still ultimately agreed on it (even as little an alteration as changing “drastically reduce fossil fuel emissions” to “reduce fossil fuel emissions”). This left some universally desired principles off the agreed-upon list, with altered principles perhaps to be voted on at a later date.

The presentation delivered from a government official left most attendees disappointed. The government presenter arrived late (thereby forcing a last-minute schedule change), gave a presentation that confused the majority of attendees, and then left without actually attempting to settle the confusion. The presentation was rife with acronyms unknown to almost the entire audience. Even though attendees mentioned to her that members of the audience were confused, she nevertheless failed to explain herself. She agreed to explain the acronyms “sooner or later” yet this never happened.

Another item on the agenda was to decide on a name for the side event venue thus far simply known as ‘the space.’ A relatively unimportant (albeit necessary) decision in my opinion, yet the disagreement that came about from this decision reflected the disagreements occurring throughout the day. The democratically voted-upon name was Amandla oMa, meant to mean “Power to Mother Earth” in Zulu. However, due to discrepancies surrounding the correct translation, the name for ‘the space’ has yet to be decided.

All in all, some progress was achieved to be sure. One notable example was the amount of attendees who signed themselves up to volunteer for C17 as well as events that were registered, mostly to be held during the COP17 conference in ‘the space.’ Of course, progress during meetings of such diverse points of view cannot be expected to come particularly easily or swiftly. Having said this, the movement still seems to be alive and somewhat well, and I am hopeful that any obstacles at this stage can be overcome in the crucial months leading up to COP17.

A Call for Civil Disobedience for the Climate Justice Movement

This week, a number of prominent writers in the climate justice movement including James Hansen, Naomi Klein, Maude Barlow, David Suzuki, and Bill McKibben, wrote an open letter calling for civil action against the Keystone XL Pipeline. This summer, the State Department and the White House will decide whether or not to grant a certificate of 'national interest' to key fossil fuel producers thereby allowing the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. The Keystone XL Pipeline will move oil from Canada's tar sands to Texas refineries. This move would enable faster transport and increased volume of tar sand oil production. However the burning of these reserves would add approximate 200 ppm of CO2 into the atmosphere. Considering that as of October 2010,  emissions were at 389 ppm, and that 350 ppm has been advocated as the safe upper limit for CO2, this improved production capacity could lead to 'run away' climate change. As James Hansen has stated, "if the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over.” In addition, the pipeline would cross through First Nations communities and over the Ogallala Aquifer, where a spill would devastate water supplies. In response, environmental activists will stage a protest beginning in mid-August. Each day through Labor Day, they intend to march on the White House.  The action will continue for several weeks, until the administration can either grant or deny the permit for the pipeline. Canadians are encouraged to join the protest by staging demonstrations in front of U.S. consulates. To become part of this action you can sign up here.

To read the open letter please visit Yes Magazine.

Canada confirms that it will reject a new Kyoto Protocol

Today at the Bonn talks, Canada confirmed that it has no intention of renewing the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012. Canada will not be taking a target under the second commitment period. The prospects of a 2012 deal at the UNFCCC seem increasingly unlikely. Last week, Christiana Figueres, head of the UN Climate Secretariat concluded that there is no longer any time between Durban and 2012 to develop a new legally binding text, which will likely lead to a gap in the global climate governance regime.

Moreover, the US which remains the largest emitter of GHGs in the world, continues to push for a  voluntary approach to emissions reductions. It also refuses to sign any agreement without China committing to emissions reductions, as well. However, China, which is now the second largest emitter in the world, has explicitly stated that it has no intention to take any action that will curb its economic growth.  As such, the international climate talks have reached a stalemate and solutions to bring down global emissions continue to remain unlikely from the UNFCCC process.
Follow the talks and read more at Reuters.

U.N. Unveils its Carbon Footprint

The U.N. has made public its own carbon emissions for a second year in a row. In a new report, the U.N. found that its carbon emissions for 2009 were 1.7 million tonnes CO2eq in total, and 8.3 tonnes CO2eq per staff capita. It reports that more than 50% of the GHGs emitted by the U.N. are from air travel alone. Alarmingly, the U.N.'s goal is to reduce its GHG emissions by a mere 3% per year from 2009-2012. The UNFCCC accounted for 1,363 tonnes of CO2eq, most of which was also from air travel. This is concerning, given the fact that, despite COP after COP, and one round of international negotiations after another, the UNFCCC still has no serious plan of action to actually reduce GHG levels and avoid a temperature rise of the earth's surface. The report recommends that in order for the U.N. to achieve 'carbon neutrality', it should budget to purchase offsets and carbon credits  under the Kyoto Protocol. In addition, sustainable procurement practices are recommend. These recommendations are unlikely to lead to its goal of carbon neutrality. The system of carbon credits and offsetting is in a dire state, with concerns over verification, fraudulent practices, and ongoing issues regarding the social injustices related to afforestation schemes, technology transfers, and land enclosures.  In addition to these problems with offsetting, is the broader problem of addressing climate change via ecological modernist solutions that ignore the underlying social relations that cause GHG emissions in the first place.

For more, please read the U.N report.


Oil Spill in Lubicon Territory: When Pipelines Explode

A discussion on the implications for Little Buffalo and how Toronto can support.

With special guest Melina Laboucon-Massimo from the community of Little Buffalo, Lubicon Cree Territory, Alberta.

On April 29th, 2011, the Plains All American pipeline burst and caused nearly 4.5 million liters of tar sands crude and diluent to spill uncontrollably out onto Lubicon traditional territory.   The Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) in Alberta failed to give adequate notice to the community of the spill or information on clean up efforts. In fact, during the first five days of the crisis, the ERCB sent the community just one fax report and failed to attend a community meeting, though were explicitly invited. Most of the community and Peace River region was unaware of the spill for days outside of rumors. However, children experienced nausea, burning eyes and headaches, forcing the school at Little Buffalo to be closed until May 10th. Corporate negligence, coupled with government inaction, compounded by the racism of indifference has left the community reeling. They have been forced now to take matters into their own hands.

The spill has been exacerbated by wildfires burning uncontrolled in Alberta. The community of Little Buffalo, and now the oil spill site, is located near these dangerous, uncontrolled fires. On May 15th, the company suspended clean up efforts because of the fires. Come learn from a discussion on the implications for Little Buffalo and find out how Toronto can support.

Please Join Us May 23rd
Doors open at 6:30 pm, event starts 7 pm sharp.
Toronto Free Galery
1277 Bloor St W (Bloor and Landsdowne)
Building is accessible.

Join Facebook Event:

For more information, please email Environmental Justice Toronto at or the Indigenous Sovereignty and Solidarity Network at

Event Supported by: Environmental Justice Toronto, Indigenous Sovereignty and Solidarity Network, UTERN and FES York University.