People from the Global South and Indigenous People are the forgotten people of the climate negotiations

The disillusion at COP25 2019 in Madrid


Anne-Sophie Garrigou

The Beam’s editor-in-chief, Anne-Sophie Garrigou, reports from COP25 in Madrid


Activists from civil society, especially women from indigenous communities and women from the Global South, have reported cases of direct violence from security after their protest yesterday inside the COP25 venue in Madrid. “Yesterday was violent. But our actions of disruption here at COP25 are nothing in comparison to the reality and violence that people, especially indigenous communities, are experiencing at home” explains one of the women who took part in the action. “The only thing we want is for people to live in a planet that is healthy” adds another participant.

The dissonance between scientific fact and political inaction drove millions to the street this year to demand climate justice. Activists from all over the world took this energy from the street and brought it to COP25 in Madrid. Yesterday, hundreds of constituents across civil society came together in unity inside the climate conference venue to demand precise actions from global leaders.

The vibrant demonstration, taking inspiration from a popular South American form of protest known as a ​cacerolazo​, which originated in Chile and involves making noise by banging on pots and pans, took place as ministers headed into the late stages of talks. The peaceful action meant to highlight the wide gulf between the type of plans and actions compatible with the science and the actual state of the negotiations, which have been dragging on with little or no progress and in glaring denial of the reality of the climate emergency.

“Indigenous women were handled, kicked and separated from their children while the colonial structure of the COP was protected. Indigenous youth are being criminalised to give your children a future” said Ta’kaiya Blaney, a Canadian aboriginal singer and environmental activist from the Tla A’min Nation in British Columbia, Canada.

Angry, sad, and frustrated. This is how the participants still feel today. “I thought this space was safe. I have crossed the ocean to raise the voice of the voiceless” explains a woman from New Caledonia.

Youth from Fridays for Future, who protested yesterday morning inside Baker room were applauded all over social media, while Greta Thunberg was being awarded Time magazine’s person of the year. A few hours later, it was black women and indigenous people who were at the frontline of the action, calling for human rights and gender equality in climate negotiations. The security and police then decided to use excessive force to assault gender rights activists, forcing them outside the COP 25 premises.

“Watching the steel doors being shut in front of our eyes was a powerful metaphor of exactly what is happening here. Our voices are not represented, not protected in the negotiations,” said Angela Valenzuela, from Fridays for Future Santiago, in Chile.

Indigenous people, people from the Global South and people from small island nations are at the frontline of the climate emergency, suffering the direct consequences of human-made climate change. For them, the struggle to earn a living, feed their families and create safe and stable homes is made more difficult every day by the climate crisis and solutions that help vulnerable communities are often overlooked.

“Watching the steel doors being shut in front of our eyes was a powerful metaphor of exactly what is happening here. Our voices are not represented, not protected in the negotiations”

Over a week of climate talks in Madrid have produced little to no progress on several key issues, including on what we call “loss and damage”: the need for the rich countries and polluting industries that have historically driven the climate crisis to provide finance to support communities recovering from increasingly severe disasters. The groups demonstrating yesterday expressed outrage that while big polluters and their lobbyists have been given free rein to influence negotiators, civil society’s response is being repressed, as eight people have been arrested at this year’s climate talks for protesting against conflicts of interest.

“How long will we continue to sit here and negotiate,” asked IIi Masivesi, from Oxfam. She continues: “Where is the action? Loss and damage are about our survival. We are in a situation that we never contributed to.”

For the civil society, developed nations have been watering down and stripping away measures to protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples, women and communities in the Global South, and agreements on a robust Gender Action Plan, which seeks to advance women’s full, equal and meaningful participation and promote gender-responsive climate policy and the mainstreaming of a gender perspective in the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

“Today is the four years anniversary of the Paris Agreement. We should be celebrating” said Sven Harmeling from CAN International. He continues: “Instead, the negotiations are failing to deliver on real actions, and the protests are only meant to give attention to that fact.” Many observers from the civil society are raising concerns that the outcomes of this COP25 will be weak and disconnected from the climate emergency. The response from governments has been greenwashing, false solutions, and dangerous loopholes in proposed carbon markets, as Greta Thunberg, among many other activists, have denounced here in Madrid.

Kwami Kpondzo of Friends of the Earth Togo said: “Some countries in these halls behind us are trying to buy and sell pollution, double count carbon credits and include loopholes which would only give a license to big polluters to keep emitting. A dirty deal on carbon markets will lock us in to even more emissions, further temperature rise, continued fossil fuel use and decades of inaction, distraction, and corporate power-grabbing. At the very moment we should be cutting emissions they are trying to game the system.”

“Our fight is not against climate change, it is against the system responsible for climate change,” concludes Ta’kaiya Blaney. A system that comes from a culture of extraction, colonisation and consumption that prioritises profit over life, that prioritise the wealthy economies and the market, over people in developing countries.

Photo credit: Annabelle Avril