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“Civil disobedience and mass mobilisation are critical if we are going to avert climate catastrophe”

by Clare Speak

As the 20th COP (Convention of Parties to the Earth Treaty) gets underway in Lima, Peru, Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo speaks to Equal Times about the need for a climate movement that can move the agenda beyond annual conventions, and into mass mobilisation.

(Greenpeace/Marten van Dijl)

Why does Greenpeace keep attending COPs when the outcome is always so disappointing?

COPs, with all their deficiencies, are the only hope we have of achieving a fair and ambitious environment treaty. We continue to put pressure on the COPs, but that doesn’t mean we’re putting all our eggs in the COPs basket. It would be very foolish to do so, because it’s clear that the dominant countries within that system are holding us back.

 

How is the COP in Lima going to differ from Paris 2015?

In some ways, it’s sad that negotiators of different governments decided to downplay Lima and put too much of our efforts on Paris. Lima is not expected to deliver that final, very ambitious environment treaty, but it is expected to lay the foundations, and get some initial agreements and commitments for a meaningful deal in Paris.

 

What is needed in order to grow a climate movement that takes the struggle beyond the COPs?

We have to ensure that climate change is not played out primarily as an environmental issue, which has been the case up to now. Climate change is also an issue about the kind of economy we want; it’s a peace issue, because we can see how climate impacts the driving of conflict and war; it’s a women’s issue, because when there’s a lot of conflict in war women and children suffer the most.

We don’t need to worry about saving the planet. The planet does not need saving, because if humanity warms up the planet to a point that humanity cannot exist, the planet will still be here without us. So don’t worry about the planet, worry about ensuring that we can coexist with nature, so that humanity can survive for centuries to come.

We also have to realise that our politicians will not act unless they’re put under strong pressure, and as history teaches us that civil disobedience is what’s needed to put pressure on political leaders, I would say the climate movement also has to exhibit high levels of moral courage, to maintain a peaceful way of resisting, but be willing to risk arrest and oppression coming from the state.

 

Is mass mobilisation is the only hope humanity has in the fight against climate change?

Mass mobilisation is going to be the critical factor in getting the solution that we need. History teaches us that whenever humanity has confronted a major injustice or challenge, those struggles have only moved forward when decent men and women stepped up and said ‘enough is enough,” and were prepared to go to prison or put their lives on the line, if necessary.

Climate change is probably bigger than all the challenges humanity has faced up to now. If civil disobedience was good enough to use as a tactic around the anti-apartheid movement, civil rights, women’s rights, slavery, colonialism and so on, then I absolutely believe that civil disobedience and mass mobilisation are critically important if we’re going to get these changes fast enough to avert catastrophic climate change.

 

What benefits are gained by building alliances between trade unions and the green movement?

For me, one of the most positive things about the moment we find ourselves in now is that, whereas in the past we used to talk about “red-green tension” and the conflict between labour interests and environmental interests, what you find is today we talk about a “red-green alliance.” What is needed now is for us to recognise that we are on the same side.

 

Before Paris 2015, what can be done to increase mobilisation and climate ambition at the national level?

The idea that we’ll get a climate negotiation in one capital, once a year, to deliver the full result without hard work at the national level is just a fallacy.

The only way we’re going to get the movement that we need between now and Paris is to ensure that significant mobilisation is being brought to every single country around the world, so that when delegations go to Paris they go with the most ambitious commitments and the most ambitious mindset. However, there are some countries that we’d have to put some special effort on, as without it they will block an agreement in Paris.

We also need to increase the amount of visible, peaceful expressions of support for urgent climate action by our political and business leaders. We’ve got to convince them that nature does not negotiate.

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