Follow by Email

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Not so civil, please!

When did we become such compliant people?
One of the most striking aspects of COP17 in Durban early this month was the relative tameness of the protests. Altjhough I was told by one policeman at the Global Day of Action that “these people can be dangerous, you know”, little sign of that was seen. And on the night of 9 December, when a number of people seemed keen to occupy the precinct to make their voices heard by the negotiators, the protest seems to have been rather peacefully organised and negotiated away.
Meanwhile, here in Johannesburg, citizens are enraged that we’ve had a road tolling system imposed on us without consultation, which will become active in February. This will significantly increase commuting costs. (Under other circumstances, I’d be in favour of something like this – it’s one of a number of tactics necessary to reduce the number of cars on the road and boost use of public transport. But because, a) public transport is poor, with trains and buses only on limited routes, and minibus taxis notoriously unsafe and driven by badly trained drivers and b) there’s been a huge lack of transparency in the process, it makes me as angry as the next resident.)
It’s a situation that screams for civil disobedience. If even ten percent of vehicles refuse to install the new ‘e-tag’ licence plates necessary for smooth processing, and then refuse to pay fines, the entire system would freeze within a month or two. Yet I have heard many people discussing this, on talk radio and in public spaces, wondering if it’s okay to do something illegal. Does civil disobedience not have to be “within the law”, I heard one person ask.
Good grief, and you live in South Africa, where we have a splendid record of civil disobedience! That’s what civil disobedience IS: a campaign in which numbers of people state that they will disobey laws or regulations with a certain end in mind – usually it’s getting those laws off the statute books. When people burnt their passes, it was an act of civil disobedience, and very much illegal, with the aim of getting the laws about the dompas wiped out.
The roots of a police state are not the apparatus thereof, it’s the willingness of the people to ‘go along’, to accept, to be policed. That, in my view, was the mindset shown on 9 December: security says we must get out of the building, so let’s negotiate the best way to do this. (To be fair, though, I wasn’t there, not being accredited to the UN precinct, so there may have been circumstances I’m not aware of.)
It’s not the negotiators who get us places, in my experience. They’re very useful once the wall has been partially smashed, once the square has been occupied… but action is necessary to shift the blockages. If we want to change the world, we need to grow some more spine!
“Civil disobedience is the active, professed refusal to obey certain laws, demands, and commands of a government, or of an occupying international power. Civil disobedience is commonly, though not always, defined as being nonviolent resistance. It is one form of civil resistance.” (Wikipedia)
“…the refusal to obey certain laws or governmental demands for the purpose of influencing legislation or government policy, characterized by the employment of such nonviolent techniques as boycotting, picketing, and nonpayment of taxes.” (

Sunday, December 18, 2011

But hey, let's wait till 2020!

A Southern Right Whale off Gansbaai, South Africa - one of the many creatures who are at risk along with Homo sap.

Here's more news which has long been expected, and should have given the suits at COP17 a sense of urgency. But will anything light a fire under the tails of governments and corporates?

Shock as Retreat of Arctic Sea Ice Releases Deadly Greenhouse Gas
Russian research team astonished after finding 'fountains' of methane bubbling to surface
by Steve Connor

Dramatic and unprecedented plumes of methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide – have been seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean by scientists undertaking an extensive survey of the region.

The scale and volume of the methane release has astonished the head of the Russian research team who has been surveying the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf off northern Russia for nearly 20 years.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Igor Semiletov, of the Far Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that he has never before witnessed the scale and force of the methane being released from beneath the Arctic seabed.

"Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we've found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It's amazing," Dr Semiletov said. "I was most impressed by the sheer scale and high density of the plumes. Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them."

Scientists estimate that there are hundreds of millions of tonnes of methane gas locked away beneath the Arctic permafrost, which extends from the mainland into the seabed of the relatively shallow sea of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. One of the greatest fears is that with the disappearance of the Arctic sea-ice in summer, and rapidly rising temperatures across the entire region, which are already melting the Siberian permafrost, the trapped methane could be suddenly released into the atmosphere leading to rapid and severe climate change.

Dr Semiletov's team published a study in 2010 estimating that the methane emissions from this region were about eight million tonnes a year, but the latest expedition suggests this is a significant underestimate of the phenomenon.

In late summer, the Russian research vessel Academician Lavrentiev conducted an extensive survey of about 10,000 square miles of sea off the East Siberian coast. Scientists deployed four highly sensitive instruments, both seismic and acoustic, to monitor the "fountains" or plumes of methane bubbles rising to the sea surface from beneath the seabed.

"In a very small area, less than 10,000 square miles, we have counted more than 100 fountains, or torch-like structures, bubbling through the water column and injected directly into the atmosphere from the seabed," Dr Semiletov said. "We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale – I think on a scale not seen before. Some plumes were a kilometre or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere – the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal."

Dr Semiletov released his findings for the first time last week at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.
(The Independent, 14 December 2011)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Citizens get it - their governments don't

A recent survey by Yale University’s Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication found that 65 percent of Americans polled “said that global warming is affecting weather in the United States”; half believe it is caused “mostly by human activities,” up 3 points since May. A similar survey by the nonprofit environmental group ecoAmerica found that 57 percent of Americans realize, “If we don’t do something about climate change now, we can end up having our farmland turned to desert.” (From, 16 Dec 2011)
According to the latest Eurobarometer opinion poll (October 2011), 68% of Europeans polled consider climate change a very serious problem (up from 64% in 2009). Altogether 89% see it as a serious problem (either 'very serious' or 'fairly serious'). On a scale of 1 (least) to 10 (most), the seriousness of climate change is ranked at 7.4, against 7.1 in 2009. (From Media Lens, 17 Dec 2011)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Nice work if you can get it

If you've attended every single one of the UNFCCC's Conference's of the Parties since the first in 1995, you'll have visited:
Berlin, Germany
Geneva, Switzerland
Kyoto, Japan
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Bonn, Germany
The Hague, Netherlands
Bonn again (lol!)
Marrakech, Morocco,
New Delhi, India
Milan, Italy
Buenos Aires again
Montreal, Canada
Nairobi, Kenya
Bali, Indonesia
Poznan, Poland
Copenhagen, Denmark
Cancun, Mexico
Durban, South Africa
And joy of joys, the next one will take you to Qatar in the Middle East, where the temperatures late in the year will be in the upper twenties Celsius (good thing it won't happen in July, when 41 degrees is the daily average high). In 2005, Qatar had the highest per capita carbon emissions, at 55.5 tons, so COP18 will take place right in the hot-spot in many ways. Women can legally drive in Qatar, which will make life easier for delegates, but for NGOs and protesters, be aware that the death penalty is used 'mainly for threats against national security'.
Nice work if you can get it. A sort of temperature-tourism. All paid for by taxpayers. (In Durban's case, stories surfaced in the immediate aftermath of COP17 teasing out exactly how many millions of tourist dollars the moveable feast had brought to Durban, as delegates ate, drank and bought the obligatory soapstone carvings and beadwork necklaces.)
How long will this circus continue to roam the world? What happened in Durban constitutes a grave threat to the world: we are simply not going to get it together fast enough to deal with anthropogenic global warming. But, as one person said to me, it's "the only game in town". How else, she askedf, are we supposed to get governments and business and all to negotiate and take action?
I believe it's time to deflate the circus tent and take away the clown's unicycle. Change has almost always happened because a groundswell of the people wishes it, not because governments or other major roleplayers do.
Governments have a very short time-horizon: they're looking to the next election. Some corporates have an even shorter one, but in the fossil fuel game, it is quite often longer - if you're mining a seam of coal, you may have to plan for a life of twenty years and up; coal-fired power stations are in operation for forty years and more. But that's not as long as yours and mine: our time horizon should only begin to fade away as our great-grandchildren utter their first cries.
So we need to pick up the reins of power and tell them what we want. We want food, clean water, clean air, health and a stable climate for ourselves and our seed. That is not a political goal: it's one that virtually every person, of every stripe, can share, whether you're a conservative or a radical lefty, Ba'hai or Roman Catholic, farmer or retail assistant.
How can we do this? It will take creativity and guts and commitment, but it can be done - there are examples in history to inspire us. I will be thinking a lot on these lines in the days ahead, and will share my thoughts here. ("Is there anybody out there?" Pink Floyd)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Deadly delay

After a whole day of driving and not listening to news of any kind as COP17 was coming to its end, I woke up to the depressing yet expected news that real action will be delayed until 2020.
I can only quote Professor Hugh Montgomery again: "If we delay writing a prescription for eight years, we will find ourself writing a death certfificate instead".
Below is Climate Justice Now!'s statement:

2011 COP17 succumbs to Climate Apartheid!
Dec 11

Antidote is Cochabamba Peoples’ Agreement!

CJN! Press release, 10 December, Durban, S. Africa

Decisions resulting from the UN COP17 climate summit in Durban constitute a crime against humanity, according to Climate Justice Now! a broad coalition of social movements and civil society. Here in South Africa, where the world was inspired by the liberation struggle of the country’s black majority, the richest nations have cynically created a new regime of climate apartheid

“Delaying real action until 2020 is a crime of global proportions,” said Nnimmo Bassey, Chair of Friends of the Earth International. “An increase in global temperatures of 4 degrees Celsius, permitted under this plan, is a death sentence for Africa, Small Island States, and the poor and vulnerable worldwide. This summit has amplified climate apartheid, whereby the richest 1% of the world have decided that it is acceptable to sacrifice the 99%.”

According to Pablo Solón, former lead negotiator for the Plurinational State of Bolivia, “It is false to say that a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol has been adopted in Durban. The actual decision has merely been postponed to the next COP, with no commitments for emission reductions from rich countries. This means that the Kyoto Protocol will be on life support until it is replaced by a new agreement that will be even weaker.”

The world’s polluters have blocked real action and have once again chosen to bail out investors and banks by expanding the now-crashing carbon markets – which like all financial market activities these days, appear to mainly enrich a select few.

“What some see as inaction is in fact a demonstration of the palpable failure of our current economic system to address economic, social or environmental crises,” said Janet Redman, of the Washington- based Institute for Policy Studies. “Banks that caused the financial crisis are now making bonanza profits speculating on our planet’s future. The financial sector, driven into a corner, is seeking a way out by developing ever newer commodities to prop up a failing system.”

Despite talk of a “roadmap” offered up by the EU, the failure in Durban shows that this is a cul-de-sac, a road to nowhere. Spokespeople for Climate Justice Now! call on the world community to remember that a real climate program, based on planetary needs identified by scientists as well as by a mandate of popular movements, emerged at the World People’s Summit on Climate Change and Mother Earth in Bolivia in 2010. The Cochabamba People’s Agreement, brought before the UN but erased from the negotiating text, offers a just and effective way forward that is desperately needed.

For more information, contact: Mike Dorsey –, or call+27 (0)79 863 8756 or +1-734-945-6424 Nick Buxton – or call +27(0)81 589 8564 or +1 530 902 3772 ADDITIONAL


On technology

“The technology discussions have been hijacked by industrialized countries speaking on behalf of their transnational corporations,” said Silvia Ribeiro from the international organization ETC Group. Critique of monopoly patents on technologies, and the environmental, social and cultural evaluation of technologies have been taken out of the Durban outcome. Without addressing these fundamental concerns, the new technology mechanism will merely be a global marketing arm to increase the profit of transnational corporations by selling dangerous technologies to countries of the South, such as nanotechnology, synthetic biology or geoengineering technologies.”

On agriculture

“The only way forward for agriculture is to support agro-ecological solutions, and to keep agriculture out of the carbon market,” said Alberto Gomez, North American Coordinator for La Via Campesina, the world’s largest movement of peasant farmers. “Corporate Agribusiness, through its social, economic, and cultural model of production, is one of the principal causes of climate change and increased hunger. We therefore reject Free Trade Agreements, Association Agreements, and all forms of the application of Intellectual Property Rights to life, current technological packages (agrochemicals, genetic modification) and those that offer false solutions (biofuels, nanotechnology, and climate smart agriculture) that only exacerbate the current crisis.”

On REDD + and forest carbon projects

“REDD+ threatens the survival of Indigenous Peoples and forest-dependent communities. Mounting evidence shows that Indigenous Peoples are being subjected to violations of their rights as a result of the implementation of REDD+-type programs and policies,” declared The Global Alliance of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities against REDD and for Life. Their statement, released during the first week of COP17, declares that “REDD+ and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) promote the privatization and commodification of forests, trees and air through carbon markets and offsets from forests, soils, agriculture and could even include the oceans. We denounce carbon markets as a hypocrisy that will not stop global warming.”

On the World Bank and the Global Climate Fund

“The World Bank is a villain of the failed neoliberal economy,” says Teresa Almaguer of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance in the U.S. “We need a climate fund managed by participatory governance, not by an anti-democratic institution that is responsible for much of the climate disruption and poverty in the world.” “The Green Climate Fund has been turned into the Greedy Corporate Fund,” said Lidy Nacpil, of Jubilee South. “The fund has been hijacked by the rich countries, on their terms, and set up to provide more profits to the private sector”

On the Green Economy

“We need a climate fund that provides finance for peoples of developing countries that is fully independent from undemocratic institutions like the World Bank. The Bank has a long track record of financing projects that exacerbate climate disruption and poverty” said Lidy Nacpil, of Jubilee South. “The fund is being hijacked by the rich countries, setting up the World Bank as interim trustee and providing direct access to money meant for developing countries to the private sector. It should be called the Greedy Corporate Fund!”

Climate policy is making a radical shift towards the so-called “green economy,” dangerously reducing ethical commitments and historical responsibility to an economic calculation on cost-effectiveness, trade and investment opportunities. Mitigation and adaption should not be treated as a business nor have its financing conditioned by private sector and profit-oriented logic. Life is not for sale.

On climate debt

“Industrialized northern countries are morally and legally obligated to repay their climate debt,” said Janet Redman, Co-director of the Sustainable Energy & Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies. “Developed countries grew rich at the expense of the planet and the future all people by exploiting cheap coal and oil. They must pay for the resulting loss and damages, dramatically reduce emissions now, and financially support developing countries to shift to clean energy pathways.”

Developed countries, in assuming their historical responsibility, must honor their climate debt in all its dimensions as the basis for a just, effective, and scientific solution. The focus must not be only on financial compensation, but also on restorative justice, understood as the restitution of integrity to our Mother Earth and all its beings. We call on developed countries to commit themselves to action. Only this could perhaps rebuild the trust that has been broken and enable the process to move forward.

On real solutions

“The only real solution to climate change is to leave the oil in the soil, coal in the hole and tar sands in the land. “ Ivonne Yanez, Acción Ecologica, Ecuador

For more information, contact:

Mike Dorsey –, or call+27 (0)79 863 8756 or +1-734-945-6424

Nick Buxton – nick@tni.orgor call +27(0)81 589 8564 or +1 530 902 3772

Friday, December 9, 2011

Whose process is this?

Captions: Bobby Peek of groundWork addresses the last remaining activists on 9 December; Africa will be hardest hit; some youngsters joined the all-night vigil, under tarpaulin due to the rain.

The Conference of the Parties is winding to a close. We've seen a document which suggests that the result will be the launching of "a process in order to develop a legal framework applicable to all" (this, of course, means developed and developing countries), a framework agreement committing countries to new targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions, "after 2020". Yippee. This puts us on course to (at least) hit a global increase of 4 degrees, which means 8 for us in southern Africa.
As one woman said at the traditional all-night vigil which started at 7:00 pm (she's been to three COPs and attended vigils at each one), "If this isn't working" - as plainly, after 17 years, it isn't - "then what do we do?"
I doffed my journalist's hat and made an activist's plea. Let's take it away from them, I said. Let's mobilise people to put pressure on them - the governments and corporates inside the UN precinct. They live, breathe and make money off us, so we do have power over them. Civil disobedience campaigns, boycotts, persistent picketting, we've used them before with success. "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." (Margaret Mead)
We just have to get the message through to people that this is not a political cause, this is about things that do and will matter to them where they live: food, water, air, health, life. Understand that, and massive mobilisation is possible. It's time to tell those who are delaying and backing and filling that we have withdrawn their permits, their rights to act against our common interests. Panzi! Vamos!

Open letter to the Inside from the Outside

I received this today, the last day of COP17. I will attend tonight's vigil and hope against hope...

An Open Letter to the Delegates at COP17
(to be read on human microphone)
Can you hear me? /
Are you listening? /
These words / are not my own. / They are the voice / of the voiceless. / I speak to you, / not as a nation –/ but as the unheard majority of this planet – / the youth who are inheriting a system / we will not accept. / And I speak to you, / with the authority of every child / yet to be born. / The future belongs to them / not you.
We speak to you now / not as delegates of nations / but as people / as fellow humans – / so that your own hearts may speak truth. / For if you let a single word escape your lips / that does harm to your own conscience/ and to the rights / of all future generations –/ then you have no authority,/ for you know no justice./ And may the weight of the floods, / of the droughts,/ of the storms / and of the deaths –/ be upon your shoulders, / and upon your conscience/ from this day forth / For you held back the tides of change.
For 16 years / you have not heard us -/ so we are no longer asking. / The future of the 99% / will not be written by your documents,/ but by our actions. / You cannot stop an idea whose time has come / you cannot stop an idea whose time has come. / So speak your heart / for there is no choice now / but change.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Green Bombers

Ever since Saturday’s Global Day of Action at COP17, it’s been apparent that there are some people wearing the green uniforms of Host City Volunteers who are not quite the innocent volunteers they seem. Activists have taken to calling them the Green Bombers, and I had a taste of them today at Durban’s City Hall.
I’d joined a very small group of angry people who were staging a spur-of-the-moment protest outside City Hall, where President Jacob Zuma was addressing a meeting. There’d been talk that the Kyoto Protocol was dead, and the so-called Durban Mandate would take its place, which activists feel is a very unsatisfactory result. When we arrived, the two people carrying banners reading ‘Africa will burn’ and ‘Blood on your hands’ were immediately accosted by the Green Bombers and told “You can’t be here”. A journalist from Montreal came to their rescue, getting indignant about the infringement on people’s rights.
In addition to the small group I’d linked up with, there were a number of people from the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, and the contingent of aggressive Green Bombers got to work, trying to clear them from the public space as well. (I asked one to tell me what regulations he was operating under. His response was, “Lady, I don’t know, I’m just following orders from security.” Cops in riot gear were spread out across the entrance to City Hall, and the police and Green Bombers communicated with each other frequently.
‘My’ banner holders painted their palms with red paint to symbolise the ‘blood on our hands’, and the fashion soon spread across the square. To our amazement, the Green Bombers refused to let anyone with painted hands into the City Hall to attend the meeting. It would, explained one man to me, “make people excitable” inside.
As I listened in on one woman argue with the Bombers, I heard him say that he was with intelligence. Naturally, I trotted over and asked him to repeat this and explain. He said, “Of what value would it be to you to know?”
“I think it would be of great interest to the citizens of South Africa to know that their intelligence officers were dressing up in UN Host City Volunteer outfits.”
At that, I was subjected to a tirade about “you journalists”; that wonderful pejorative, ‘opportunistic’ was used, as I began to walk away. I turned and charged back, asking the user to explain exactly what ‘opportunistic’ means. Apparently it means people like me, who listen for something they can use that’s sensational, “even a joke like this”, and then write “stories without content”.
“Why don’t you simply tell the media the truth?” I asked. “When I asked about the comment, why did you not just say it was a joke?”
“You, you represent a noble profession which has lost all its morals,” I was told, along with much more about how I write such stories simply to make lots of money and the like. All the time, the aggression was palpable and the sense that one wrong move would provoke some kind of threat, at the least.
Shortly after this, a very angry man burst out of City Hall, waving a small poster. He and the young woman who followed him out were enraged that they had been thrown out of the meeting for silently and peacefully holding up posters. They melded with the protesters outside, and some very loud and angry chants of Panzi followed (Panzi means ‘Down with’ and is always repeated, as in “Panzi Canada, panzi!”). We had Panzi Zuma, Panzi the USA and EU, Panzi COP17 – and, from the angry young woman, “Panzi people who dress up in uniforms and pretend to be volunteers, but are getting paid by who knows who, panzi!” (That’s a loose translation given to me by a fellow journalist.)
After two hours at the protest, I moved on to the exhibition next to the UN precinct for an interview with singer-songwriter Robby Romero, United Nations Ambassador of Youth for the Environment (more on that later – but to hear some of his music, go to , it’s good stuff). It was quite a bizarre contrast to move from a group of people so impassioned, so engaged and angry to the smooth, slick environs of what is, really, a sophisticated trade show showcasing mining houses, petrochemical companies and a certain famous soft drink… “Civil society has bought into the life of convenience,” said Romero. “While we don’t hgave to give up everything, the Age of Convenience has to be checked. We need to follow ‘No Harm’ policies.” Once, he said, humans were caretakers of the earth, and they have to become caretakers again, caretakers who are connected to each other and the planet.
Looking around at the ‘business-as-usual’ expo, he said, “As the climate changes, we need to change, too.”
9 December: Update
Since writing this, I've discovered that my sense of physical threat from the Green Bombers was accurate. Inside the hall, activists were slapped, punched, kocked down and kicked by them.
Timeslive, 8 Dcember:
''Volunteers'' employed by the city of Durban at COP17 yesterday slapped and kicked environmental activists who confronted President Jacob Zuma for not standing up for Africa at the climate change talks.

The heavy-handed actions of the "green bombers" - so called by activists because of their green uniforms and aggression - and of unionists, who kicked an activist, were in full view of the world's media.
After Zuma had told the activists at a report-back session in the Durban City Hall that he felt that it was necessary for him to interact with civil society, pandemonium broke out when placards calling on him to "ditch Europe and the US" and not "let Africa fry" were held up.
The volunteers and Zuma's bodyguards pulled the placards from the activists and tore them up.
When the activists demanded that they be allowed to hold up their placards as part of their interaction with Zuma, the volunteers pushed and slapped them while trying to throw them out of the hall. A group of people, wearing SA Municipal Workers' Union T-shirts, then started singing in support of Zuma.
Zuma did not intervene in the scuffle but had a clear view of the assault on local climate activist Rehad Desai, who was slapped by a volunteer and then pushed to the ground when he called for the president to stand up for Africa.
After Desai fell, the unionists formed a ring around him and kicked him as they sang.
Moe Shaik, the head of the Secret Service, and Cosatu's KwaZulu-Natal secretary, Zet Luzipho, tried to stop the chaos by pushing the volunteers away but the group continued to kick Desai.
After KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize, the programme director, repeatedly called for calm police broke up the scuffles.
Desai and several other activists were thrown out but the volunteers, who started the trouble, remained. No arrests were made.
The meeting continued with Zuma denouncing the chaos as "uncalled for".
"I don't agree with people who disrupt and loot in the name of democracy," he said. "We must tolerate other people's views."
But the activists slammed Zuma, saying he did nothing to protect their rights.
"He just sat there and did nothing. It happened right in front of him," Siziwe Khanyile, of South African environmental group Groundwork, said.
Desai said he was kicked for raising his concerns about speculation that Zuma was planning to side with the EU during the climate negotiations.
He said he had it on good authority that the ''green bombers'' were members of the ANC Youth League, employed by outgoing Durban city manager Mike Sutcliffe to intimidate activists at COP17.
eThekwini municipal spokesman Thabo Mofokeng confirmed that COP17 volunteers were hired and paid by the city, but he rubbished claims that they were told to intimidate activists.
Sutcliffe said the volunteers did not initiate the scuffle.
"The meeting, which was progressing positively, was interrupted by a small group of protestors who chose the opportunity to attempt to disrupt proceedings by raising posters while their own representatives were engaging with the president.
"After a few minutes of disruption, members of the audience tried to get the protestors to take down their posters and allow the proceedings to continue. The situation escalated and a scuffle broke out between protestors and the audience. Security, both SAPS and municipal, became involved and then a few COP17 volunteers, who were standing close by, were drawn into the fray," he said.
The secretary of the ANC Youth League's eThekwini region, Vukani Ndlovu, dismissed the suggestion that the volunteers were recruited from the league, saying they were "just youth".

CIty Press
Activists claim Zuma supporters attacked them
2011-12-08 16:

Yolandi Groenewald
Tensions between local left activists at COP17 in Durban and the government exploded again today with activists claiming they were assaulted by “a group of pro-Zuma supporters” at a meeting with President Jacob Zuma.

“In a meeting designed for engagement between President Zuma and communities and civil society, violence broke out when peaceful civil society demonstrators silently held up signs asking ‘Zuma to stand with Africa,’” said Tristen Taylor from Earthlife Africa.

He said the “pro-Zuma supporters”, many wearing the uniforms of COP17 volunteers then attacked the demonstrators “in an act of mob violence”.

“Demonstrators were roughed up and some had to flee the hall,” he said. “While all of this went on, President Zuma sat up on the podium and remained quiet. Furthermore, it took nearly ten minutes before police entered the hall to restore order.”

Greenpeace activists were also caught in the fistfight. Greenpeace activist Melita Steele was injured. She tweeted: People attacked in the meeting for protesting. I ended up getting punched and other people were kicked.

Her colleague, Ferial Adams, told Eyewitness News that youths started singing and toyi-toying before they were joined by a group of ANC supporters, dressed as COP17 marshals, who then attacked the activists.

Adams was also punched and kicked by the crowd.

Siziwe Khanyile of groundWork said: “This was our event, organised to communicate with President Zuma. We were then abused, kicked out, robbed, and manhandled by Zuma supporters disguised as COP17 volunteers.”

The latest incident follows violence over the weekend where activists were attacked by a group of COP17 volunteers, also dressed in their bright green uniform.

The “green bombers” as they were dubbed by the activists roughed up the green activists and pelted them with stones over the weekend at the Day of Global Action march.

Before COP17 the leftist activists also complained that they were closely being watched by both National Intelligence and the police’s crime intelligence.

Zuma’s office would not say how the president reacted during the scuffle, reports Sabelo Ndlangisa.

In a statement, Zuma’s spokesperson, Mac Maharaj, said there had been “an unfortunate scuffle at the beginning of the meeting” with groups jostling to be heard.

“The Presidency acknowledges the intervention of the police who did their jobs to restore order in the Durban City Hall. The meeting continued successfully and constructively with civil society afterwards,” Maharaj said.

Spokesperson for the police, General Vish Naidoo, confirmed the altercation, but denied that it took place directly in front of Zuma.

"There was a difference of opinion and police intervened," he said. "The situation was resolved and normalised immediately."

He said he was informed the fight was between COP17 volunteers and NGOs. No one was arrested.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

No to backtracking and delaying!

The letter below expresses the anger and unhappiness of many Africans at talk of a 'new mandate' at COP17. It is currently being circulated for signature by organisations, and will be handed over tomorrow. (Signatures - of organisations but not of individuals - can be added by emailing

No Durban mandate for the great escape

As African civil society, social movements and international allies, we reject the call of many developed countries for a so-called “Durban mandate” to launch new negotiations for a future climate framework.

A new mandate for a new treaty in place of the Kyoto Protocol should be understood for what it really is – rich countries backtracking and reneging on “inconvenient” obligations, at the expense of the poor and the planet. While developed countries may appear progressive by asking for a mandate to negotiate a new legally binding treaty, the truth is that this is nothing but a veiled attempt to kill the Kyoto Protocol and escape from their further mitigation obligations under the already existing mandate in the Protocol itself, and the agreement in 2005 for negotiating further emission cuts. A political declaration to continue the KP is, in practice, another nail in its coffin. Anything less than a formal legal amendment and ratification process, will deliver an empty shell of the Kyoto Protocol.

Agreeing to a new mandate would mean action is effectively delayed for five to ten years. A new treaty will take several years to negotiate with several more years needed for ratification. Further, there is no assurance that countries that have repudiated the existing legal architecture, like the United States, will agree to or ratify a new agreement, nor that such agreement will not be a weak and ineffective “pledge and review” system.

Developed countries must urgently scale up the ambition of their emission reduction targets. As the latest reports by the International Energy Agency make clear, deep emission cuts are needed now to have a realistic chance of limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C. Current emission reduction pledges will lead us to a world that is 5°C warmer. For Africa, this means 7 or 8°C of warming and unimaginable human suffering. This is why a pledge-based approach with weak review rules, instead of the Kyoto Protocol’s approach of legally binding commitments and international rules that give meaning to these commitments, is completely insufficient to ensure the necessary emission cuts.

While many developed countries condition any further action, including fulfilling their legally binding obligations to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, on greater action by emerging economies, developing country pledges already far outweigh pledges by developed countries. In fact, with accounting loopholes and the use of carbon markets, developed countries could make no net contribution to reducing emissions by 2020.

While many developed countries seek to end the Kyoto Protocol, they simultaneously attempt to retain and expand their favored elements of the Kyoto Protocol, like the CDM, in a new agreement and shift their responsibilities onto developing countries. Without legally binding emission reductions under the Kyoto Protocol, developed countries must not be allowed to have access to the carbon markets. Further, with the price of carbon crashing, paltry emissions reductions pledges from developed countries, there is no rationale for the continuation of the CDM or the creation of new market mechanisms.

Developed countries must scale up their ambition and stop blaming other countries who have contributed far less to the climate crisis, yet are taking on more aggressive action. Developing countries are living up to their promises made in Bali, while developed countries are attempting to re-write the rules of the game to avoid meeting their obligations.

Developed countries are also denying developing countries the necessary finances and technology to address the climate crisis. The provision of finance from developed to developing countries is an obligation in and of itself. It must not be used as a bargaining chip in the Durban negotiations, nor should it be dangled in front of poor countries as a bribe to get agreement for a very bad mitigation deal. The same applies to the operationalization of the Green Climate Fund. Success in Durban depends on the Green Climate Fund not being an empty, ineffective shell.

We will not accept a “Durban mandate” or any outcome that locks in the current low ambition and inaction for many years, and condemns billions of people in Africa and across the world to suffer the worst impacts of a warming world.

Signed by:

Africa Trade Network

Alternative Information Development Centre

Democratic Left Front

Friends of the Earth International

groundWork, Friends of the Earth, South Africa

Jubilee South (Asia Pacific)

Pan African Climate Justice Alliance

Rural Women’s Alliance

South Durban Community Environmental Alliance

Southern African Faith Communities' Environment Institute

Third World Network

Trust for Community Outreach and Education

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Give the earth her due

Captions: Energy is the key to South African protests; the thick blue line;
Natlie greene's impassioned plea; the Engen oil refinery with houses in the background.

The sharp end of fossil fuel use is felt in the South Durban Basin, nicknamed ‘cancer valley’. This is not just one of the most polluted places in South Africa, it’s one of the worst in the world – and it’s just a twenty minute drive from where the so-called Conference of Polluters (COP17, the 17th Conference of the Parties) is taking place.

South Durban is where 80% of the imported crude oil in South Africa is refined, at Sapref (jointly owned by Shell and BP) and the Engen refinery which has had a number of fires, the latest in October 2011.

More than a quarter of a million people (mostly blue-collar) live all around these refineries and other polluting industries, including a paper mill – 150 smoke stack industries in all. About 15 years ago, locals started to campaign around the issue of the health impacts they were experiencing – more than half the children in local schools suffer from asthma, for example, while cancer is far too common. (Bobby Peek, one of the founding fathers of activism in this region, grew up playing rugby on a field close to the Engen refinery. Four of his team-mates have since died of cancer. If you live here, research has shown, you are 250 times more likely than residents elsewhere to get cancer.)

The South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) won some notable victories, pressurising the authorities to create a local system monitoring and regulating air quality – sadly, this year the staff complement was cut by half, so the activist now use the ‘Bucket Brigade’, a cost-effective system which enables them to sample the air themselves (it gets sent to California for independent testing – the results show massive readings of nasties like benzene, methanol, sulphides and jujst about every chemical you can think of, some of which can readily be smelt in the air). Today, under the guidance of another long-term local activist, Desmond D’Sa, a group of COP17 visitors took what the SDCEA calls ‘the Toxic Tour’ to see houses cheek-by-jowl with massive refineries and stacks belching smoke. We can smell rich whiffs of pungent stuff, and Desmond tells us it’s worse at night.

The tour was followed the whole way by police who, tellingly, conferred with members of the refineries’ security staff. We ended up at the front gate of the Engen refinery, where, it turned out, we had a welcoming committee. Dozens of police, many in full riot gear, were lined up at the gates.

A protest had been planned, and activists whipped out a slew of banners to line the road.

I stepped across the road to get a picture, but was ordered back:

“Get back!”

“But I’m a journalist, I just want to get a picture…”

“Get back, that was NOT in your permit!”

Turns out he took the blue cap I and many others were wearing, with the simple slogan, ‘Unite against climate change’, to mean I was a protestor too. Which made me one of those alien creatures the police have been warmed against. At Saturday’s march, a policeman told me, “These people can be dangerous, you know,” which did seem odd at a moment when a trio of dancing, half-naked women happened to be passing… Yesterday, the waste pickers were protesting – in accordance with their permit – outside the ICC, but when they held up banners and posters, they were apparently ordered to desist – the banners and posters were ‘not in your permit’. (Surely banners and protesters are as natural a combination as love and marriage, beans and samp or cops and guns?) Control of the aliens from NGOs and civil society – fatherly but firm – has been the name of the game.

The protest was used as an occasion to publicise, on a world stage, the campaign to recognise the Rights of Mother Earth. Last year, on Earth Day, a group of 35,000 people adopted a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia. This records that Mother Earth has:

The right to live and to exist;

The right to be respected;

The right to regenerate its bio-capacity and to continue it’s vital cycles and processes free of human alteration;

The right to maintain their identity and integrity as differentiated beings, self-regulated and interrelated;

The right to water as the source of life;

The right to clean air;

The right to comprehensive health;

The right to be free of contamination and pollution, free of toxic and radioactive waste;

The right to be free of alterations or modifications of it’s genetic structure in a manner that threatens it’s integrity or vital and healthy functioning;

The right to prompt and full restoration for violations to the rights acknowledged in this Declaration caused by human activities.

This legal route, says Cormac Cullinan, a South African lawyer who helped draft the Declaration, may be the best to take to protect the environment – give Earth legal rights which can contested and enforced through the courts.

This has already happened in Ecuador, the first country in the world to enshrine these natural rights in law, says Natalie Greene, another speaker at the protest. Greene is an environmental activist with Fundación Pachamama, a group which helped rewrite that country’s constitution in 2008. A recent case in Ecuador offers an example of how such ‘Wild Law’, as Cullinan calls it, could work: “the Provincial court of Loja granted an injunction against the Provincial Government of Loja to stop dumping excavation material into the Vilcabamba river, because it violated the constitutional rights of the river to exist and maintain its vital cycles, structure, functions, and evolutionary processes” (

By EarthSummit 2012/Rio+20 in June 2012, the aim is to present a petition containing one million signatures calling for the universal acceptance of the rights of nature. Go to to find out how to add your name.