Climate Movement Gives UN Climate Talks a "Reality Check"

Hundreds of people marched through the halls of the UN Climate Talks this afternoon to demand that negotiators not sign a "death sentence" in Durban.

The protest began in the tradition of occupy movements around the world, with a lone person yelling "Mic Check!" in the middle of the hall outside the main negotiating room. Much to security's surprise, over 100 people responded "mic check!" in unison and unfurled banners and signs saying "Don't Kill Africa" and "Stand with Small Islands."

Photo credit: Robert van Waarden, Project Survival Media

As TV cameras swarmed the demonstration, protesters began to sing "Shosholoza," a song that many consider to be the second national anthem of South Africa. The song was an anthem for the anti-apartheid movement in the country and a favorite of Nelson Mandela's.

Led by representatives from African countries and small island nations, the protest moved it's way down the hallway towards the main plenary until it was stopped by a tangle of media and UN security.

In the center of the throng stood Kumi Naidoo, the Durban born director of Greenpeace International who has been a compelling voice for the climate justice movement throughout the two weeks of negotiations.

"Today, we are all people of small islands. We are all people of Africa," Kumi shouted, the crowd repeating his words as a human microphone. "Listen to the people, not the polluters."

Photo credit: Robert van Waarden, Project Survival Media

Also joining the crowd was the Environment Minister of the Maldives, Mohamed Alsam who urged the crowd not to abandon small island nations and pledged to keep up the fight for climate action within the UN negotiations.

Young people from Kenya, South Africa, the United States, and Egypt spoke soon after, telling their personal stories of how the climate crisis is affecting their lives and calling on world leaders not to sign a "death sentence" here in Durban. If observers of the rally had any remaining doubts that the climate movement was just a luxury for rich white people or Europeans, they were quickly put to rest by the diversity of the speakers who rallied a crowd from across the planet.

After nearly an hour of storytelling, chanting, and singing, it became clear to the UN security that protesters were intent on occupying the hallway of the negotiations until they were sure that their message had been heard. Security officers moved in and began to remove protesters one by one. The majority of the crowd filed to the side to cheer on a few dozen individuals who chose to sit on the floor until they were physically removed by security officers.

Dozens more people followed the protesters removed by security out to the #COP17 General Assembly gathering at a small park across the road from the UN conference center to continue a rally that may last throughout the night here in Durban.

Meanwhile, in the negotiating halls, it appeared as if the protest made a serious impact. Just hours after the demonstration, nation after nation rejected the latest version of the negotiating text as too weak to form the basis of any deal out of Durban.

In the last 48 hours, over 700,000 people have signed online petitions organized by Avaaz and pressuring the United States to stop blocking progress and urging the European Union, Brazil and India to stand with African nations and scuttle a US proposal to delay a new international climate treaty until 2020.

It's still too early to know what the final conclusion of the negotiations here in Durban will be, but one thing is sure: the climate justice movement, in all its diversity, will be keeping up the fight.