Climate Change: “The Struggle Does Not Stop Here,” Say Witnesses

Copenhagen – ‘’Those who run the decision-making on climate change are the same who have caused it,’’ said Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the world’s first international climate hearing on Tuesday, pithily identifying the reason why justice has been elusive at the ongoing climate change summit in the Danish capital.

Climate victims from all over the world were practically trying to scream into the ears of the negotiators at the COP15 that everybody’s lives were at stake unless a fair deal was reached.

Over the past year, more than one and a half million people from 36 countries around the world have participated in national climate hearings, testifying on how climate change has wreaked havoc in their lives and asking for justice.

‘’This is a case of deep injustice,’’ said the Archbishop who led the hearings on Tuesday along with former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson.

The timing of the international hearings could not have been better. Across the corridors in the Bella Centre, negotiators were trying to regroup after Monday’s suspension of negotiations as African countries, backed up by the entire G77 group of 130 developing states, protested against the conduct of the negotiations.

Rather than going along a two-track approach preferred by the poorest countries, the negotiations seemed to be following the interests of the developed states.

“We are holding this international climate hearing at a critical moment in the negotiations,” said Jeremy Hobbs, the executive director of Oxfam International, which hosted the hearings.

“The stories of the climate witnesses should provide the moral imperative for a fair deal in Copenhagen,’’ said Hobbs, with just four days left for governments to reach an agreement.

The reality of the crisis in negotiations loomed large over the hearings as the conflict between the industrialised and the developing world surfaced. And the messages from the climate change witnesses stood out the louder for it.

Speaking in the name of his indigenous brothers from Latin America, Caetano Juanca, a farmer from Cuzco, Peru, told the international audience in Copenhagen that his people were suffering without being guilty, and called for an agreement that “respects Pachamama (Mother Earth).”

Pelonesi Alofa from Trinidad and Tobago said that the CoP15 negotiators are “buying and selling’’ the lives of people. “Don’t we understand that climate change is not negotiable?” she asked. “I have now understood that CoP15 is beyond climate change, beyond Tobago.”

Constance Okolet from Uganda explained that her people do not know any more when to plant and when to harvest, that they are eating only once a day, and that seasons have disappeared. “I am here to tell the world leaders that we want our seasons back!” she told the audience.

Shorbanu Khatun from Bangladesh, the last to testify, recounted how, as traditional crops failed in her village, her husband was reduced to foraging for food, only to be killed by a wild animal. Later on, her home was destroyed by a cyclone. “At first I thought god was punishing us,” she said, “but I have come to understand that it is man-made.”

Robinson concluded the hearings by stating that not only were the effects of climate change brought about by the actions of industrialised countries but they were being felt disproportionately by people who cannot be blamed for climate change.

“The failure of industrialised countries to act with urgency is leading us all to social and international disorder,” she warned.

The people’s fundamental right to “international and social order” (a basic principle in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) is denied through the manner in which decisions about how to tackle climate change are being made, she said.

Robinson asked for industrialised countries to commit immediately to 40 percent emissions reductions by 2020 based on 1990 levels and to offer long-term – and additional – funding worth 200 billion US dollars annually until 2020 – half for adaptation and half for mitigation.

“I do not trust the governments of industrialised countries because they are only interested in money and they do not care about Pachamama,” Caetano Juanca told TerraViva. “But I trust the people, the work done through churches and communities – there are people who care.’’

Asked what will happen if a fair deal is not signed in Copenhagen, Juanca responded: ‘’We will continue to fight until they listen to us. Our struggle does not stop here.”