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Groups Take to the Streets to Protest Exclusion from COP 15

Tensions were rising inside and outside the Bella Center in Copenhagen today, with a demonstration and sit-in to protest the exclusion of developing countries and civil society from COP15 climate negotiations. Demonstrators marched on the conference center, where high-level talks are now beginning, demanding “no decisions about us without us.” They were planning to meet with hundreds of delegates from inside the talks to hold a “People’s Assembly” together outside. Organizers said they were aiming to come up with alternative agreements to those being discussed by negotiators, which many feel are neither ambitious nor inclusive enough. Instead, two NGOs arrived this morning and found their accreditation revoked, leading them to stage a pretty dramatic sit-in.

Protesters were accompanied by police along the march to the Bella Center, but we were warned we’d be arrested if we tried to enter. And they weren’t joking. When the crowd pushed forward, police started spraying pepper spray at everyone. I admit, I backed off before the push. It was pretty incredible to see everyone agree to non-violence and non-confrontation beforehand, but I wasn’t willing to spend a night in jail. When people within the crowd tried to back up, they were beaten with batons from both directions, and several people were arrested and hoisted into vans. At least one person was beaten down after climbing a van. The last I saw, things were at a standoff, with police waiting on either side of the hundreds of protesters that still remained after a foiled attempt to cross the stream in front of the center with an inflatable raft.

Treehugger has reported that as we were seeing this outside, Friends of the Earth leader Nnimmo Bassey was leading a sit-in in the entrance lobby of the center to protest the revoking of accreditation for his group and Avaaz. No clear explanation has been offered for the revocation, though UN officials reportedly alternately said they presented a security risk and that there was no room.

But it’s important that the meaning of today’s events don’t get lost. As the negotiations move into their final days, many have been frustrated by the huge reductions in the number of badges the UN is giving out to participate inside. As a member of one of the civil society groups frustrated by the move, I joined the march of between 2 and 3000 people one journalist estimated the crowd at. Through thick wet flakes of snow, organizers from the Climate Justice Network and Climate Justice Action groups joined representatives of the Via Campesina landless workers movement to demand their voices be heard, under the banner “Reclaim Power.”

There are definite parallels between the groups’ grievances. Sharon Tan, a youth observer attending with a group named Syinc from Singapore, camped out all through Monday and into Tuesday night without being let in. She says the presence of young civil society members is important for both them and negotiators. “When we attended the plenary last week,” she says, “at least we were aware of developments. My purpose here is mainly for public education back home. But being able to take part in actions on the side in the center helps remind everyone who they’re there for.”

Many countries’ representatives are also feeling like their voices are being ignored. Industrialized countries have not shown a willingness to commit to the deep emissions cuts being demanded by developing nations. Developing countries have shown support for the $10 billion fast-track financing for climate change mitigation and adaption in the, but say it falls far short of the climate debt owed to them by the industrialized countries who have been responsible for most of the carbon emissions contributing to climate change. Small island nations like the Maldives, threatened with being submerged by sea level rise, have been especially vocal in stating that these issues are a matter of survival.

As heads of state and ministers begin to arrive from over 120 countries, it remains to be seen how the gulf between the many different positions being discussed will be resolved.

By Chris Chang-Yen Phillips

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