The UN climate negotiations—the Conference of Parties, or ‘the Cop'—in Durban, South Africa, are deciding to do nothing about climate change for many years to come.
Until this year Pablo Solon was Bolivia's outspoken ambassador to the UN. He told a meeting of 600 African rural women that he had been in the COP all day. “Not one of the negotiators, from the rich countries or the poor countries, would look me in the face. They are all ashamed.”
Another senior negotiator for an NGO said privately, “They are signing off on killing hundreds of millions of Africans.”
Many in the global climate movement are close to despair. But as Solon told the rural women, “Now the only way is if people like you fight.”
Four hundred people attended a conference organised by the One Million Climate Jobs campaign in South Africa. This campaign has the support of the COSATU trade union federation as well as many unions and environmental groups. We talked about how to organise campaigns for climate jobs around the world.
There was lively and angry march of about 12,000 through the streets of Durban. It was much smaller than the one at the Copenhagen summit two years ago. But campaigner Brian Ashley, speaking at the climate jobs conference, was pleased.
“A year ago there was no concern for climate change in South Africa,” Brian said. 'Now the unions and the social movements have come together.”
Many carried signs labelling the COP the “Conference of Procrastinators” or “Conference of Polluters”. They called negotiators “COP Killers”.
COSATU’s official banner read ‘For Climate Justice and Green Decent Jobs—Workers of the World Unite!’
Gideon, a National Union of Mineworkers member who works at a drilling and construction company in Durban, explained that many jobs could be created through the process of fighting climate change by building proper public transport infrastructure and investing in renewable energy. He said 20 percent of South Africans have no access to electricity, and they should be provided with renewable energy.
A large contingent carried a banner calling for electricity companies Sasol and Eskom get out of COP negotiations. Martha explained that they have raised electricity prices beyond the reach of many South Africans. But they supply big industry at cut-rate prices, often on Apartheid-era contracts.
Martha said she had recently attended a demonstration against an explosion and fire at an Engen refinery in South Durban.
Mphatheleni Makaulule, an indigenous woman from Venda, carried a sign opposing a new mine being built by Australian company Coal of Africa. An associated power planet will use up most of the local water supply, but local people have been told the company will supply them with bottled water instead.
One of largest contingents on the march was the Democratic Left Front. They wore t-shirts declaring “Africa is Burning—Transform the System” and “End Capitalism, Not Nature—One Million Climate Jobs Now”.
There were other substantial contingents from the landless people’s movement, the rural women’s movement, faith groups, from the South African Waste Pickers Association, and from fishers and farmers in struggle against the expropriation of land and the privatisation of fishing piers.
The failure of the climate talks is a sad and bitter moment in history. But the fight is not over. A movement will have to be built—outside the five star hotels of the COP delegates.
The demonstration was full of workers, unemployed people and small farmers. A large proportion wore some sort of climate jobs T-shirt. That cause has the potential to unite people in the face of a howling economic crisis.