Youth and Indigenous Activists Escalate Protests

In Copenhagen, diverse coalitions of activists are supporting each other in calling for a binding and equitable treaty.

Posted by Joshua Kahn Russell at Dec 10, 2009 02:55 PM |
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Echoing the words of Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed ("We will not die quietly!") Lumumba Di-Aping, the Sudanese chief negotiator of the G-77 plus China group of nations ("No to climate colonialism!") hundreds of youth created a loud and energetic “climate storm” today inside the Copenhagen climate talks at the UN. It was the largest demonstration at COP15 yet—and was just a taste of the storm to come. Youth from around the world clapped, snapped, and pounded their feet to make the sounds of a rainstorm in a representation of the typhoons and hurricanes that have ravaged communities around the world this year.

“Negotiators are turning their backs on us and telling us to keep quiet. As a young person living in the Pacific, I know what it’s like to fear climate change,” said Subhashni Raj, a youth organizer from Fiji who spoke at the rally. “I’m here to say that we will not die quietly.”

Responding to growing calls from African, island nation, and developing country delegates for real justice, today’s storm was an effort to link the plight of G77 countries to the debt they are owed by the global North. Many of the over 1,000 youth participating in the talks—the largest youth delegation in COP history—have consistently refused to talk of political compromises that amount to “suicide pacts” for low-lying nations around the world that would be destroyed by unchecked climate change. Youth are specifically calling on developed countries to step up their emissions reductions commitments and to cease the secret, back-room dealing that has plagued the talks.

“Yesterday, in a meeting with African civil society groups, Ambassador Lumumba made it clear that African countries will refuse to sign a suicide pact here in Copenhagen,” said Landry Ninteretse, a youth organizer from Burundi. “European and American aid proposals look more like colonialism than an attempt to solve climate change. Our hopes and dreams can’t be bought off with $10 billion dollars.”

Those of us in the North have colonized more than our share of the atmosphere, and it will be impossible to reach a deal without a serious commitment to repaying our climate debt.

Following the rally, indigenous people inside the U.N. formed a human chain to demand much stronger safeguards for indigenous rights within the treaty. Today is international Human Rights Day, and it was a celebration in style. With youth support, indigenous people led this spontaneous demonstration, which became a march throughout the Bella Center. Chants such as “No rights, no REDD!” echoed throughout the building.

This is just a taste of what is to come in the weeks ahead here in Copenhagen.

Joshua Kahn Russell is Rainforest Action Network’s grassroots actions manager, a strategy and non-violent direct action trainer with the Ruckus Society, and a member of the steering committee of the Energy Action Coalition. He blogs at

Interested? YES! Magazine's ongoing coverage of the U.N. climate change negotiations in Copenhagen.

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