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A matter of survival

By Emma Brindal - posted Wednesday, 16 January 2008

As an observer new to United Nations climate talks in Bali, I found the goings on in the negotiating rooms to be at odds to what climate change means for a majority of the world's population. Just occasionally the diplomatic atmosphere was broken to reveal that climate change is a justice issue that is already affecting many of the world's people.

One of these rare moments was when Dr Angus Friday, Chairman of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), gave an impassioned speech in which he said that for people from small islands around the world, “the outcome of Bali is a matter of survival”.

However, the voices of people calling for climate justice were louder than ever before at these negotiations. They were heard at the official UN side events; at the nine-day long civil society forum being held outside the conference centre; at the women's caucus, at demonstrations inside the conference centre; and at the international day of action in Denpasar.


At the civil society forum I heard stories first hand from people already experiencing the impacts of climate change and their climate change “solutions” to climate change, such as the expansion of the biofuel industry. Indonesian representatives from the People's Alliance of the Archipelago talked about the dispossession of Indigenous people from their land as it gets turned into palm oil plantations. In another particularly poignant presentation, Ana Filipini from the World Rainforest Movement showed pictures of deforested areas throughout the world, and finished off saying “If you do not want the whole world to become this, please help us”.

Indonesia plans 20 million hectares of new palm oil plantations in the coming years, which has huge ramifications for land rights, greenhouse emissions, and loss of biodiversity. While the UN negotiations are attempting to address deforestation in the developing world, they do not focus on the drivers of this process. In fact, it is the demand for biofuels from industrial nations that is the cause of the expansion of these plantations.

Indigenous people, farmers, peasants and people from small islands spoke of the climate change impacts already being felt by their people. Ursula Rakova from the Carteret Islands in Papua New Guinea told the story of her people who are in the process of securing funding so that they can relocate to Bougainville. After years of battling rising sea levels, they now feel they have no choice but to leave. The relocation of people is a topic that is not discussed inside the climate talks, so organisations like Ursula's Tulele Peisa are forced to find funding to relocate themselves.

At the international day of action, held on the Saturday in the middle of the negotiations, the diversity of groups present was evidenced by the different banners being carried at the march. Jubilee South called for developed nations to drop the debt owed by undeveloped nations. This would enable them to channel funds into adaptation projects, as well as contribute to a low carbon path to development.

La Via Campesina, the international peasants movement was also out in force, promoting the positive solutions to climate change of sustainable small scale farming and local decentralised energy systems.

In the conference centre itself, a number of protests were held which aimed to highlight the problems with some of the “false” solutions to climate change such as the use of agrofuels (otherwise know as biofuels), carbon financing, and the problems associated with the involvement of international financial institutions.


One such demonstration criticised the establishment of the World Bank's Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, which aims to include forests in carbon markets. Ironically, the World Bank is the largest carbon broker in the world, yet continues to provide substantial funding to fossil fuel projects in spite of its own Extractive Industries Review recommending it phase out these projects.

At the end of the two weeks, a diverse group of NGOs established an international network, Climate Justice Now! These groups are working on issues ranging from climate refugees to carbon trading and agrofuels to trade and climate change. This network will continue to work to bring voices of affected communities to the negotiations, and to the world, so that we can create climate justice for all.

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About the Author

Emma Brindal is the coordinator of the Friends of the Earth Australia Climate Justice Campaign.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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