Durban Climate Change Summit report back: 'We have to do it ourselves.'

January 24, 2012

EMEAC Associate Director Ahmina Maxey (far left)
DETROIT -- Following attending the 2011 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Durban South Africa, EMEAC Associate Director Ahmina Maxey expressed both disappointment with the official outcome, and encouragement with the networking done as a delegate for the Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ) alliance during her January 12 report back to the Detroit environmental Justice community at the Cass Corridor Commons.
"We basically felt like this was a farce and that nothing came out of it. We realized that if anything is going to get done, we have to do it ourselves," Maxey said. "There was a press conference at the end basically to call out the United States and Canada because they basically stalled negotiations."
The UNFCCC's 17th annual Conference of the Parties (COP) was designed to uphold the 1997 Kyoto Protocols aimed at reducing the world's carbon emissions and reduce climate change. The UN's stated purpose for having the annual COP is to assess progress toward implementing the Kyoto Protocols, an international environmental treaty signed by 191 nations and requiring countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 percent between 2008-2012.  Of the signatories to the treaty, the United States is the only one not to ratify the treaty, and Canada has stated its intention to withdraw all together.
According to the British newspaper The Guardian, "The Durban conference ended on (December 9, 2011) with a last-ditch deal whereby developed and developing countries will for the first time work on an agreement that should be legally binding on all parties, to be written by 2015 and to come into force after 2020."
The Protocol was initially adopted on December 11, 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, and entered into force in February of 2005.
"If you read the news the entire time we were there, it said India and China stalled the negotiations, and kept things from going forward, but the U.S. was behind the scenes making sure that no decision came out of it," Maxey said. "Most countries wanted the Kyoto Protocol to continue however the U.S. and Canada did not. Canada pulled out of negotiations and the U.S. threatened to."
Maxey, who also attended last year's COP 16 in Cancun, Mexico as part of the GGJ delegation with EMEAC Executive Director Diana Copeland, was also concerned to see the U.N. leave in place controversial "carbon trading" agreements such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation Degradation (REDD) and Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
"Their solution is basically to monetize and commodify trade pollution around the world. That is the majority of what happens inside COP," she said. "Within COP there is a lot of negotiating and lobbying. It is similar to local politics except on a much larger scale.
"REDD essentially is where polluting countries or developed countries like the U.S., Canada, and those of the EU can purchase credits in developing countries like Ecuador or the Philippines. We purchase carbon credits from them, and continue to pollute here in the U.S., in communities like Southwest Detroit.  REDD is also affecting forest communities in poor developing countries. Indigenous peoples who have lived on their lands for hundreds of years are being removed or tricked into selling their land."
Similar to her experience at COP 16, it was outside the conference halls among other grassroots organizations and activists from around the world that Maxey found solidarity in what South Africans call "civil society spaces." During their stay, GGJ stayed at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, which lies among hills in South Durban. While there the GGJ delegation (consisting of 14 people from California, New York, Oregon and areas across the U.S.) met with members of the South Durban Environmental Alliance who took conference attendees on a "toxic tour" of the area.
"Oil refineries are polluting a lot in Detroit along with other industries. It's basically the same in South Durban. That's where their polluters are," Maxey said. "They have paper mills. They have refineries. They are located close to schools and their environmental regulation is a lot more lax than ours. You can see how close the homes are to the refinery.  Maxey opened her presentation by showing slides comparing the oil refineries in South Durban to the ones here in Southwest Detroit. She also met with people from India, Central America and Africa who were fighting their own environmental justice struggles similar to Detroiters around food sovereignty and waste incineration.
"New Africa launched a food sovereignty alliance. I think food sovereignty seems to be the issue that is really hitting everyone everywhere. I think we can learn a lot from other people in that regard," she said.
The learning also extends to India where "waste pickers" are fighting to keep out incinerators in favor of people-powered efforts at zero waste.
"I also wanted to be in consolidation with the other Zero Waste groups," Maxey said. "The waste pickers and Zero Waste movements are in alignment because we are both being threatened by incinerators. Companies are coming into these developing countries to put in waste-to-energy incinerators, and these wastepickers are saying 'we don't need you, we can handle our country's waste just fine without you' ".  International wastepicker groups tout the idea of zero waste, and work to recycle and compost as much trash as they can.  There is a lot the U.S. can learn from these developing countries.
Other issues addressed at the grassroots level were uplifting real solutions to environmental injustice and the threat of climate change by groups like La Via Campasina and the Indigenous Environmental Network. Together with other grassroots organizations from around the world, they began the conference with a 10,000 person march through Durban and a press conference afterwards.
"We are a national alliance of grassroots organizations. We are working to building a popular movement for peace, and democracy in a sustainable world," Maxey said. "Our overall goal was to ask the U.S. State Department to set real emission reduction targets, and follow the Cochabamba Peoples Agreement. The Agreement sets a target of reducing carbon emissions by 50 percent. We also wanted the U.S. to stop pushing false solutions such as carbon trading.