Copenhagen: The sound of silence
By Nick Dearden, Jubilee Debt Campaign and Tim Jones, World Development Movement
The problem the Danish government faces gets bigger by the hour. Clearly the government is desperate for the UN climate summit in Copenhagen to be seen as a success, regardless of whether the deal done is capable of slowing down climate change in a just way. But it is faced with an ever-swelling army of critics who believe this issue is too important for a stitched-up compromise, negotiated late at night between corporate lobbyists and rich-country governments in conference hotel rooms.
Faced with seemingly irreconcilable positions – between developed countries who won't change their economic model and poor countries who realise that accepting the crumbs from the table is little use when faced with environmental devastation – any facade of consensus has broken down. Looking increasingly desperate, the authorities are trying to clamp down on all criticism in the hope that that will make it go away. In fact it is making it even more vocal.
For months the Danish government has been preparing to silence the critics – even approving new police powers to clamp down on protest. Last month we wrote to express our concern that these powers could easily be used to prevent those without a voice at the summit expressing themselves. The Danish government responded that "the new [police powers] will in no way affect peaceful demonstrators".
The sight of 1,000 activists being held in freezing temperatures without basic rights for many hours clearly exposes the Danish authorities' argument. So do reports of pepper spray being used on protesters held in cages, the constant raids on meetings and sleeping quarters, the arrest of a civil society spokesperson on the eve of yesterday's demonstration and the many more stories of serious infringements of civil liberties.
Time and again, we have seen that those incarcerated in unacceptable conditions were actually peaceful protesters – or even bystanders, in some cases. A member of our own staff taking pictures of a demonstration inquired what law he was being challenged under and was told: "It doesn't matter, you have no rights, you must do what I say or you will be arrested." The purpose, it seems is not directed at the threat of vandalism or violence but at protest per se.
This reflects exactly what is happening inside the conference centre, where criticism or alternative voices have been ignored and are now being silenced. Developing countries have felt so marginalised by a process clearly under the control of rich countries that they staged a walk-out on Tuesday. The same day the Danish prime minister Rasmussen sought to impose an agreement from above, killing off the legitimate negotiations and the binding Kyoto agreements. Rich countries have been trying to wriggle out of their emission reduction commitments throughout Copenhagen, and developing countries are right to resist.
Today, many developing countries are leaving the centre again to join protesters outside. Also today, civil society organisations including Friends of the Earth, Avaaz and Tck Tck Tck have been thrown out of the conference. Incredibly, delegates and media have been told they will lose their accreditation if they talk to these banned NGOs. No credible justification has been given for this behaviour.
But the real reason is simple – civil society groups ensure that the interests of ordinary people and the planet are not trampled on; at least not in silence. They have few resources to offer in comparison with the power of the corporate lobbyists inside the summit, many of whom will make a fortune if the free market "solutions" to climate change that they are advocating are to go ahead. Together with developing governments and protesters on the streets, civil society organisations are standing up against such deals, and making clear that only a radical, just solution will get us out of this mess.
Attempts to stop the voices of the protesters do not only ride roughshod over Denmark's reputation for upholding civil liberties, they also threaten to foist an unjust and ineffective climate deal on the world. The lives and livelihoods of millions of people across the world are at stake. They have a right to be heard. Silencing them is a crime of unimaginable proportions.
This article first appeared on Comment is Free.