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A Human Face to a Human Problem: Climate Justice Summit

By Nadia Khastagir
India Resource Center
November 1, 2002

For more information on the Climate Justice Summit, see the Program to the Climate Justice Summit, New Delhi, October 26-28, 2002. Read the Delhi Climate Justice Declaration.

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CJ Summit
Transportation and Urban Poor workshop
at Climate Justice Summit.  Photo: Nadia Khastagir
New Delhi -- The effects of climate change are felt hardest in a country like India -- especially India. The fact that India has a large rural population who are dependent on the cycles of the seasons, fishworkers who work the rivers and seas, farmers who need the seasonal monsoons, and a large and varied indigenous population who live in harsh climatic regions of mountains, desert and river delta, make India especially susceptible to a changing climate. This year alone, India simultaneously experienced massive floods killing thousands in the east, and heat and drought in the west. Just last week, 10 children died from starvation in Rajasthan due to drought.

Delhi is host to this year's Conference of the Parties-8 (CoP8) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. While international bureaucrats and corporate representatives gathered at the Vigyan Bhavan -- the conference venue -- in a sterile air conditioned building, an altogether different group of people were meeting at the Climate Justice Summit, organized by the Indian Climate Justice Forum -- a coalition of Indian and international groups -- to provide a platform for people and communities most affected by climate change who have been left out of the UN negotiations. Under a pandal tent on the lawn of the Constitution Club, a global mix of people engaged in workshops and discussions to articulate the issues and define just solutions around climate change from a human rights, social justice and labour perspective.

Participants traveled from around India to engage in the Summit: Fisherpeople from the National Fishworkers' Forum came from Kerala and West Bengal. Farmers came from the Andhra Pradesh Vyavasay Vruthidarula Union (Agricultural Workers and Marginal Farmers Union). A delegation of adivasis (indigenous peoples) from Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada Movement) came from the Narmada Valley. Indigenous peoples of the North-East Territories of India and from mining-impacted areas of Orissa brought their music and dance and folk art with them. NGO delegates from over 20 countries came to participate. This is the human face of the rising movement for Climate Justice.

In rooms named after rivers like Narmada, Ganga, Amazon and Volga, participants met in workshops to share knowledge about issues such as urban poor, transportation, labour, fishworkers, clean development mechanisms, corporate accountability, deforestation, dams and water. Plenary sessions dealt with building a global movement for Climate Justice, among other issues.

There was a strong presence from the National Fishworkers Forum (NFF). Fishworkers are among those hardest hit by climate change. The potential of a rise in sea levels due to global warming would wipe out existing shoreline, contaminate fresh water sources with salt water. Climate change also causes ocean temperature changes, which affect the fish populations from which they make their living. Participants to the Summit heard about how fishworkers in Kerala in southern India who fish the rivers and lakes are affected as flooding has changed the patterns of the fishing.

The largest contingent, made up of rickshaw pullers, street children, and slum dwellers, among others, participated in Urban Poor and Sustainable Transportation workshops. Issues of equity were at the forefront of the discussion, as speakers reeled off examples of how the poor are exposed to adverse conditions caused by pollution and climate change brought about by cars and other luxuries of the affluent.

At the UN, much of the talk is about equity between North and South. At the Climate Justice summit participants engaged in conversation about inequities within India between rich and poor. Many migrant workers in Delhi have been displaced by coal mining, flood and drought and have come to the city to find work as rickshaw pullers and construction workers. Delhi is undergoing a "beautification project" which means they are moving slums to farther reaches of the city, and reducing public transportation systems making the car an item that is becoming more relied upon. The Summit began to tie in these issues -- migration, mining, infrastructure development, urban planning -- into the climate justice analysis.

Street Boys at CJ Summit
Street boys union at Climate Justice march.

In the main hall, the Butterflies, a union for street children, flitted around, parading their paper mache puppets of the US eating the world. The boys were given a platform to speak about how climate change affects them. The children who are homeless are the first to feel the effects of extreme heat, or extreme rain. "We live on the railway platform...the police beat us and say we have stolen people's things that are missing on the train," says Sandeep, 12. The Butterflies programme is a self-determining organisation which empowers the children by providing education and resources, even including its own credit union where the children, under certain restrictions, can take out a loan to start their own small business.

Plays, folk music and dance livened up mealtimes so that Summit delegates could appreciate the cultural diversity of India. A bicycle-generated water pump shooting water to a potential height of 30 meters, and a hand cranked food processor were on demonstration outside. Organizations decorated the pandal with banners, pictures, photos, books and handicrafts from their region. Participants were encouraged to make their own signs in support of Climate Justice.

Out of the 2 day event has come the Delhi Climate Justice Declaration calling for a redefinition of climate change from a human rights perspective and rejecting market based solutions to solve the climate crisis.

While negotiators at the official climate meetings in Vigyan Bhavan made trade deals, climate justice activists traded stories and strategies. While corporate representatives are preserving their bottom line, fisherworkers are trying to preserve their livelihood. While official delegates at COP8 say they represent their people, nowhere was the word "justice" mentioned inside the UN. Whereas the word Justice was on everyone's lips at the Climate Justice Summit.

COP8 - A Global Gambling Hall

It's clear that the UNFCCC has become a casino for trade deals. Side events sponsored by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development feature corporations such as Shell and BP. Many negotiations are around false solutions such as Clean Development Mechanisms and emissions trading -- yet more ways for corporations who are the biggest contributors to climate change to make money off of climate change.

There is frustration amongst the delegates at the UN. As of October 28, the draft of the Delhi Declaration put out by the Indian ministerial made no mention of the Kyoto Protocol. This, after India officials had high hopes that the protocol might be ratified at this round of negotiations . Various news accounts suggest that Indian negotiators have succumbed to pressure from the US. EU delegates are horrified. The draft also underscores how the negotiations have turned to issues around adapting to climate change as opposed to genuinely reducing and halting climate change. The conference closes in 2 days and they appear to be at a stalemate, although The Statesman reports that Mr. T.R. Baalu, the Indian minister for environment and COP8 president, has said he "is confident that 'ultimately everyone will be convinced.'"

"People directly affected by climate change are basically being told they have to wait another year. That may be one year too late," says Yin Shao Loong of Third World Network.

Massive Rally for Climate Justice

On Monday October 28, the largest rally for Climate Justice in history marched through the streets of Delhi. Over 5,000 people met at Gandhi Samadhi (Mahatma Gandhi's memorial site) to protest climate injustice.

Police barricaded the demonstrators saying that they couldn't march without a permit. Tensions ran high as Nirmala Sharma, the leader of Jagriti Mahila Samiti (Women's Awareness Organization), and her constituency of Delhi slum dwellers started rocking and slamming the barricades on the pavement, all the time shouting, "Delhi Police! Shame Shame Shame!" After back and forths between police and organizers, and some intimidation by the crowd rattling the barricades, the police eventually acquiesced and allowed the march.

Under the police escort, the demonstrators proceeded in "orderly fashion" towards Jantar Mantar -- a site of many civil protests, at the heart of the city. Starting at Gandhi's memorial invoked a nonviolent demonstration -- although not a quiet one! Drummers and dancers from Orissa and Kerala created a lively atmosphere for the march. Nirmala Sharma of Jagriti Mahila Samiti, Rajendra Ravi of Lokayan, Geetanjali of Narmada Bachao Andolan and Medha Patkar led the march, under the banner of India Climate Justice Forum, shouting slogans such as: "Multinationals go home!" and "Jal, jameen, jungle, Hamara Hai ..." (Water, Land, Forests, Are Ours).

The Rickshaw Unions came out in force bringing about 100 pullers and their rickshaws -- the bicycle-pulled age-old method of transportation. Foreign activists who marched in solidarity amused the crowd as they hopped on the drivers seats to give rides to others. The Delhi Metropolitan District has banned cycle rickshaws from the city center, a district of big hotels, shopping areas, and the buildings of Parliament and the Presidential Palace. As the march approached this area, the police stopped the march from proceeding with the rickshaws. Immediately everyone sat down on the road in support of the rickshaw pullers. What else could the police do but let the march continue, with the league of rickshaws at the end.

Many rickshaw pullers (as they are called in India) are members of the displaced urban poor who migrated to the city because their homes had been adversely affected by climatic changes such as floods and drought. They live in shanty towns by the polluted river's edge. They pedal through intensely crowded and polluted streets carrying weights of up to 6 school children, or of boxes piled high, or even of furniture.

Said one rickshaw wallah: "The rich people drive around this district of Delhi one person to a car -- they are contributing to the pollution. We do not make any pollution yet we are banned from being allowed to work in this district."

As the march approached the center of Delhi, the police greeted us again -- this time in riot gear behind barricades that were three deep. The crowd promptly sat down in the street where leaders such as Medha Patkar and Sanjay MG of National Alliance of People's Movements, leaders of the Rickshaw Union, and Swami Agnivesh -- a well known religious leader staunchly opposed to the communal violence which has unfolded in Gujarat -- addressed the crowd.

Rally at the United Nations

Prominent and respected leaders of the peoples' movements such as P.P. John of National Fishworkers Forum, Rajendra Ravi of Lokayan, Nirmala Sharma of Jagriti Mahila Samiti, Sanjay Mangala Gopal of National Alliance of People's Movements and Swami Agnivesh, then delivered the message of the people directly to the United Nations. International NGO allies such as Third World Network and Friends of the Earth International supported the India Climate Justice Forum by standing behind the banner. Leaders proclaimed that this process has been hijacked by multinational corporations and industrialized nations, and the people who contribute the least to climate change are the ones who are the most affected.

The rally released the Delhi Climate Justice Declaration which states, "We affirm that climate change is a human rights issue -- it affects our livelihoods, our health, our children and out natural resources. We will build alliances across states and borders to oppose climate change inducing patterns and advocate for and practice sustainable development. We reject the market based principles that guide the current negotiations to solve the climate crisis: Our World is Not for Sale!"

Nadia Khastagir is on the CorpWatch India team for CorpWatch.

Updated: 11/28/2003

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