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Locked out, but not giving up

Posted Dec. 9, 2011 / Posted by: Karen Orenstein

Doing anything at the climate talks that could create even a miniscule stir is quickly silenced by UNFCCC security. In some ways, it feels like an authoritarian state. Civil society is locked out of most meetings. We scramble to get “leaked” copies of papers that should be openly available. Our influence is often reduced to standing outside of closed rooms, sticking our hand out in front of delegates entering the rooms, trying to get them to take our one-page flyers with suggestions for how they can improve negotiation text (that we are often not supposed to see in the first place). Last year, at the climate talks in Cancun, we were even denied the right to sing a Christmas carol about the World Bank.

That’s why yesterday’s small action to support strong positioning by African countries here in Durban was considered risky. And what was the threatening action? A bunch of folks broke out in song in an outside cafe, with these “menacing” lyrics:

Shosholoza (shosholoza)

Kulesontaba

Stand strong, stand strong for Africa

Shosholoza (shosholoza)

Kulesontaba

Stand strong, we support Africa

After five or 10 minutes of really quite delightful singing, UN security forces started to descend upon us and we dispersed.

Some young folks from Canada had even more gumption. Six youths from the Canadian Youth Delegation bravely stood with their backs facing Canada’s environment minister as he delivered his opening address, with the following prominent message on their t-shirts, “Turn your back on Canada.”

While the audience applauded, UN security went in the for kill, taking the youth away and permanently kicking them out of the conference.

There are many more examples of this type of heavy-handed approach towards civil society. These power dynamics at the UNFCCC are unreasonable. The whole process is in dire need of serious reform, not the least because of the tremendous problem of climate change that it is meant to tackle.

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