Why we walked out of the UN climate change talks

Last Thursday, the trade unions – together with civil society partners from various environmental, development, women’s and social justice organisations – walked out from the COP 19 UN Climate Change Conference in Poland, just one day before its scheduled conclusion.

Although it was an act of protest and solidarity, we also did it out of a deep respect for the process.

We have always believed that the COP was the only legitimate space for governments to agree on a solution to protect people and the planet.

A solution that has to come with the participation of all countries in a democratic manner.

It is precisely because of our respect for this international process and its main objective –to keep emissions of greenhouse gases within safe limits to guarantee sustainable development – that we left the talks.

You could almost say that governments walked out long before we did. Many have spoken for years now about their commitment to the process but their rhetoric has been contradicted by every single one of their contributions.

Governments across the world have been building a complex architecture on climate change that is not accompanied by the necessary commitments on mitigation, adaptation or compensation to affected communities.

For years now, they’ve been selling their small and incoherent steps as ‘progress’ but in reality they have only demonstrated an overall decline in ambition.

The lack of commitment from the developed countries that are meant to be leading the change has been nothing short of criminal.

But our departure should not be confused with abandonment.

Now more than ever, we are committed to the fight against climate change. We call louder for the transformation of our productions systems to low emissions which will guarantee decent jobs for workers today, and of the future.

We left the COP 19 because it was embarrassing to be part of a discussion where negotiators and ministers arrived with no mandate to negotiate on anything that responded to the magnitude of the problem we face.

We saw no advance in the short-and medium-term commitments which will guarantee the long term change that governments claim – hypocritically – to defend.

What was on the table last Thursday was very far from what is required to reach an agreement by 2015 that could meet the climate challenge. And we desperately need one.

Obviously, this is nothing new. We’ve faced similar scenarios at previous COPs, but we have patiently waited for change and progress – even though science is clearly telling us that waiting is collective suicide.

Now, we will wait no longer.

To witness such indifference following the tragedy which followed Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines; to witness the way in which this COP had become a showcase for companies which are amongst the biggest pollutants in the world; to witness prior pledges rejected by the same governments which made them just years later, forced us to finally say “enough is enough”.

We know that in order for things to really change we have to increase the mobilisation of the wiling.

We need to come back stronger, with more people, with more ideas and with a more mobilised society that is ready to combat climate change and ensure a ‘just transition’.

The diversity of the coalition that formed the walk-out was beautiful both in its breadth and its deep sense of solidarity.

The fact that some of the people most committed to the UN process were outside of the plenaries of COP19 will undoubtedly send a strong warning to the world’s governments.

No more collective hypocrisy and no more disaffection. This process matters and we have to make it count. Volveremos.