by Brittany Shoot
- Denmark -
Copenhagen has been buzzing with activity the last two months. After the Olympics committee met here in October with a slough of American cameos from Oprah and the Obamas, the city quickly switched gears to prepare for the upcoming climate conference. Despite its importance, for much of the rest of the world, the upcoming meeting of world leaders is barely a blip on the radar. Only when major media outlets like CNN and The Guardian pull in does the rest of the world realize what the UNFCCC Copenhagen meetings in December could mean.
• In Denmark, thousands are mobilizing in protest, demanding a commitment from world leaders to implement policies that reduce the effects of climate change. This sign reads, "Capitalism is Crisis". Photograph by Christian Liliendahl, courtesy of cphvoice and used under Creative Commons licenses. •
In 2012, provisions of the international environmental treaty known as the Kyoto Protocol – often called the Kyoto Treaty – will run out. In its place, new multinational agreements must be enacted to ensure global compliance with environmental standards. In December, representatives from over 170 countries will converge in Copenhagen, Denmark to ratify new agreements between nations referred to as the Copenhagen Protocol. More commonly known as COP15, the gathering will be the fifteenth in a series of assemblies under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
For many, the meeting is of critical importance, and its organizers have already launched a series of promotional efforts to engage the general public. The worldwide “Hopenhagen” campaign has balanced its hokey message by encouraging people to sign the UN Climate Petition. A COP15 bicycle tour between Kyoto, Japan and Copenhagen in June inspired nearly 3,000 cyclists to ride on eight connected routes between the far-flung destinations.
Locally, Copenhagen’s Technical and Environmental Mayor Klaus Bondam has been leading efforts to encourage embassies and businesses to sign the Curve Breaker Agreement. In an attempt to make the city of Copenhagen carbon neutral by 2025, the agreement begins with the stated goal of 20% greenhouse gas reduction by 2015. Bondam argues that if Copenhagen wants to be seen as an example by world leaders, we must actively pursue greener technology and carbon reduction. Denmark is currently working on national public transit infrastructure for electric cars, because as Bondam says, “Don’t throw stones if you live in a glass house yourself.” Cities, he has said, can set examples for entire nations. While most conference attendees will only see small parts of Copenhagen, Bondam was clear that Denmark as a whole has to be more largely committed to working on sustainable energy and green taxation.
As UN officials and foreign dignitaries prepare to meet in Copenhagen for the climate summit, as many as 100,000 protesters have also been planning December actions. The motley crew of activists believes the conference is an elitist gathering of officials doing too little, too late. In September, a group of organizers staged a demonstration dubbed Shut It Down at a local coal plant. Officially, the protest was an attempt to temporarily close down a coal plant. Unofficially, many believe the demonstration was a test-run for COP15 activities. While the activists were able to briefly get inside the factory, their efforts to stop production were unsuccessful.
Still, many view their endeavor as a symbolic victory. A similar demonstration supported by a variety of NGOS is being planned for December 12th – scheduled squarely in the middle of the summit – and will include a possible blockade or occupancy exercise in an area of the city with high greenhouse gas emissions. Climate Justice Action (CJA), an international network of climate change activists, is also planning additional actions to shut down Copenhagen’s seven major harbors on December 13th. The international hunger strike, Climate Justice Fast, is in effect for the 40 days leading up the conference.
The biggest event on the horizon so far is the Reclaim Power! demonstration slated for December 16th. CJA, in cooperation with the UK’s Camp for Climate Action and The Laboratory for Insurrectionary Imagination, is planning an inclusive, artistic full-day siege on the conference area. The action will include The Bike Bloc, an enormous art and resistance piece made from hundreds of recycled bicycles. Isa, a spokesperson for The Bike Bloc, explains, “We feel that it is tremendously important to not only highlight the complete lack of transparency, accountability, and inclusivity of the negotiations but also to ensure that a truly popular movement prevents the blossoming of green capitalism. We want to stop false market-based ‘solutions’ such as carbon trading [from being implemented] and ensure that the voices of those who are affected by climate change are heard.”
Rumors of preemptive arrests of high-profile activists have been swirling around for a while, and one anonymous source explained that the Københavns Politi (the Copenhagen Police) already have plans in place to detain a number of protesters well before December 12th. While it may seem ironic that global networks of environmental activists are planning demonstrations, this sort of disagreement about the effectiveness of COP15 reveals the nuances of a larger, growing movement of concerned citizens around the world.
• Two women on either sides of the coal plant fence during September's "Shut It Down" protest action. Photograph by Christian Liliendahl, courtesy of cphvoice and used under Creative Commons licenses. •
In response to the demand for inclusive meetings during COP15, alternative conferences like Klimaforum will offer a “global civil society counterpart,” a people’s conference of sorts, for those less interested in political rhetoric and more committed to personal change. Over 150 workshops are scheduled alongside music and theater performances, and no formal registration is required to attend. Prominent climate activists like ecofeminist author Vandana Shiva will attend the opening days of Klimaforum, and 50 participants from developing countries like Ghana, Bangladesh, Nepal, Nigeria, and Paraguay’s Chaco region will speak about how climate change has victimized their countries. In many cases, the participants – who will receive funding from Klimaform for their travel expenses – live in areas that contribute almost nothing to climate degradation. Communities without electricity, for example, may produce almost no significant carbon waste, yet may be some of the hardest hit areas in the world for drought, famine, extreme temperatures, and natural disaster.
However, the “alternative” conference is perhaps the most centrist space in all of this. When I spoke with Klimaforum spokesperson Niels Fastrup he explained that in being open to the general public, Klimaforum might be one of the few accessible commons for folks of all stripes in Copenhagen next month. “There’s a strange situation about the climate change issue,” Fastrup says. “On the one hand, you have this totally urgent destruction threatening all of humankind. On the other, you see virtually no popular mobilization on the agenda.”
He also put to rest any notion of official connection between everyday people hoping to attend the alternative conference events and activists planning disruptive demonstrations. “All kinds of people are planning all kinds of actions in Copenhagen for COP15,” says Fastrup. “We are not involved in any of that, but we are in dialog with some of them to know their plans. And of course, with all of those people, we hope to attract them to come and participate in Klimaforum. We have a very inclusive idea of trying to include as many [people and organizations] as possible.”
In mid-December I'll be keeping my own ecofeminist eyes peeled for scientific luminaries like Vandana Shiva and Bill McKibben. Along with the regular pack of the city’s thousands of bike commuters, I’ll bundle up against the Danish wind and take my two wheels down to the conference center to be close at hand, watching the events unfold.
About the Author
Brittany Shoot is an American writer living in Copenhagen, Denmark. A longtime member of the Feminist Review blog editorial collective, her writing has also appeared in a variety of print and online publications including Bitch, make/shift, WireTap Magazine, and Religion Dispatches.
Brittany earned concurrent Bachelor’s degrees in Women’s Studies, Communication, and Psychology, and has a Master’s degree in Visual and Media Arts. She likes to think of herself as a recovering academic but suspects that another degree in animal ethics might be in her future. A vegan and empathic animal advocate, she hopes to eventually operate her own farm sanctuary. When she isn’t taking photos with vintage film cameras and eating avocados, Brittany can be found moonlighting as a teacher, pet sitter, and farmhand. Visit her website at www.brittanyshoot.com.