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Green Groups Walk Out of UN Climate Talks

Environment and development groups protest at slow speed and lack of ambition at Warsaw negotiations

By John Vidal and Fiona Harvey in Warsaw

Environment and development groups together with young people, trade unions and social movements walked out of the UN climate talks on Thursday in protest at what they say is the slow speed and lack of ambition of the negotiations in Warsaw.

activists walk out of UN conference venue in Warsaw Photo courtesy 350.orgClimate and social justice activits walk out of United Nations Climate Change Conference
in Warsaw.

Wearing T-shirts reading "Volverermos" (We will return), around 800 people from organizations including Greenpeace, WWF, Oxfam, 350.org, Friends of the Earth, the Confederation and ActionAid, handed back their registration badges to the UN and left Poland's national stadium, where the talks are being held.

"Movements representing people from every corner of the Earth have decided that the best use of our time is to voluntarily withdraw from the Warsaw climate talks. This will be the first time ever that there has been a mass withdrawal from a COP," said a WWF spokesman.

"Warsaw, which should have been an important step in the just transition to a sustainable future, is on track to deliver virtually nothing. We feel that governments have given up on the process," he said.

Frustration with the climate talks has grown in the past two years but progress in this year's conference of the parties (COP) has seen negotiations deadlocked in technical areas, and rich and poor countries at loggerheads over compensation and money. Anger has also mounted over the perceived closeness of governments to industrial lobbies, and because several developed countries have reneged on their commitments to cut emissions.

"The Polish government has done its best to turn these talks into a showcase for the coal industry. Along with backsliding by Japan, Australia and Canada, and the lack of meaningful leadership from other countries, governments here have delivered a slap in the face to those suffering as a result of dangerous climate change," said Kumi Naidoo, director of Greenpeace International.

Hoda Baraka, global communications director for 350.org, said they were walking out because lobbying from fossil fuel companies was impeding progress at the talks.

"It has become quite flagrantly obvious that progress to reach any legally binding climate treaty is being obstructed by the lobbying forces of the fossil fuel industry. As we can see from this COP, they've had a very strong presence before and during."

On Thursday, Marcin Korolec, the Polish environment minister presiding over the talks was sacked in a cabinet reshuffle, in an apparent move to accelerate shale gas operations in Poland.

Winnie Byanyima, director of Oxfam International, said: "We are walking out of these talks because governments need to know that enough is enough. People around the globe have a right to know about the desperate state of these negotiations. The stakes are too high to allow governments to make a mockery of these talks".

"Climate change means real and harmful impacts on people right around the globe. Without action there will be worse to come tomorrow," she said.

Indigenous peoples, farmers organizations, and women's groups also left the building. "It's got too much. This [meeting] has got to such a bad point we have to leave," said Anjali Appadurai of youth group Earth in Crisis. "Civil society is being suppressed, governments are backsliding, and the broad climate movement must now take action."

Friends of the Earth International's climate campaigner, Asad Rehman, who walked out, said: "Climate change is probably the greatest threat humanity has ever faced – it's staggering that so many developed nations would rather spend their time playing to vocal minorities at home rather than meet this global threat head-on."

But many non-government groups declined to go. Michael Oko, from the US-based World Resources Institute said he sympathized with people leaving, but would stay. "We'll keep pushing from the inside. There is very deep concern. The issue is so serious and we need to get things moving."

"We support their spirit, but not their tactics," said Kit Vaughan, Care International climate change director.

Frustration has built up in the last 10 days because little progress has been made in key areas.

"They talk and say how committed they are but really they mean nothing. We have not seen any movement in these talks, we are fed up with the rhetoric and speeches. We are only not going because we want to ensure that those [developing countries] who stand up to defend fairness and equity are not blamed," said Meena Rahman of Third World Network, based in Malaysia.

NGOs, which in the Warsaw talks range from charities to activist groups and research organizations, have been governments' fiercest critics since the climate talks began in 1995. More than 4,700 individuals registered their names with the UNFCCC secretariat in Warsaw.

The Guardian
The Guardian UK, one of Britain's top daily newspapers, provides coverage of international environmental issues. Earth Island Journal is a member of the Guardian's Environment News Network.

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