COP27 climate marchers demand justice despite protest restrictions

November 13, 2022 - 1:57 PM
A demonstrator holds a placard as people protest during the COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 12, 2022. (Reuters/Mohammed Salem)
  • Demonstration held at conference centre, not outside as usual
  • Strong calls at rally for loss and damage “reparations”
  • Marchers express solidarity with jailed hunger striker

 — Climate campaign groups marched at the U.N. climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday, calling for reparations for rising “loss and damage” caused by global warming, under the watchful eye of security staff who controlled the protest tightly.

The activists, including many Africans, insisted there could be “no climate justice without human rights” – and lamented that they had not been permitted to demonstrate outside the sprawling convention centre where the two-week talks are being held.

After marching down a road between two buildings packed with “pavilions” where countries and organisations are showcasing the measures they are taking to tackle climate change, about 600 protesters gathered in the desert sun for a rally.

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, an environmental and indigenous rights activist from Chad who is also a U.N. climate “champion”, said her people were dying because of floods and droughts, while indigenous people in the Pacific were losing their homelands.

“We cannot accept any decision here without loss and damage reparations,” she told the crowd, adding that keeping to the 1.5 degrees-Celsius global warming limit in the Paris Agreement “is not negotiable”.

The issue of “loss and damage” has climbed to the top of the political agenda at U.N. climate talks as the harm being done to frontline communities by extreme weather and rising seas has accelerated and spread in all parts of the world in recent years.

Developing nations are pushing hard at the COP27 summit in Egypt for a new fund to repair “loss and damage” from climate disasters – and for separate finance to try to prevent them happening.

But while wealthy nations have now recognised the problem, they remain reluctant to dig into their own pockets.

Tasneem Essop, executive director of Climate Action Network, which unites more than 1,900 non-governmental groups, told the rally people are suffering worldwide because of climate impacts, but also because of an “unjust and oppressive” economic system.

“The governments who have caused the climate crisis and made those who are least responsible for this crisis pay for it through their lives, their livelihoods, their homes and cultures – they owe us these reparations and they need to pay up now,” she said.

Nnimmo Bassey, director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, an ecological think-tank, repeated demands made by others earlier in the week that fossil fuel lobbyists – who researchers said number 636 at COP27, up more than 25% from last year – should be “kicked out of the COP”.

On Friday, representatives of the oil and gas industry shared platforms with government officials to outline the measures they are taking to cut planet-heating emissions from their operations, on “Decarbonisation Day”.

Climate activists at COP27, meanwhile, are pushing back against African governments like Uganda and Senegal that want to exploit their oil and gas reserves, mainly for export to Europe and beyond.

“We say no to fossil colonialism,” Bassey said, adding that Africans did not want their forests and rivers used for carbon offsetting either.

“Historically we have been robbed; historically we have been plundered; historically we have been polluted – and now it is time to pay the climate debt,” added the Nigerian environmentalist, as protesters chanted “Pay the debt!”

‘Voices of resistance’

Activists at the climate rally also expressed solidarity with Alaa Abd el-Fattah, a 40-year-old pro-democracy activist, who is in prison after being sentenced last December to five years on charges of publishing false news.

The U.N. Human Rights High Commissioner Volker Türk on Tuesday appealed for Egypt to free the prominent blogger, a dual British and Egyptian citizen, whose life is “at acute risk” following a hunger strike that escalated with the start of the COP27 climate summit.

A message from Abd el-Fattah’s sister, Sanaa Seif, was read out at the rally as she stood by, visibly moved. In it, she said she drew strength from the support she had found among climate activists in Egypt for the COP.

Mitzi Jonelle Tan, a Filipino climate justice activist with Fridays for Future MAPA (Most Affected People and Areas), said her country has been one of the most dangerous for environmental defenders, who have been imprisoned, harassed and killed.

“Where there is oppression and repression, there you will find the strongest voices of resistance,” she said.

“We will not be silenced,” she added, calling for the release “of all freedom-fighting activists and prisoners of conscience around the world”.

The Philippines, she noted, is among the countries most heavily impacted by climate change, with a tropical storm killing about 150 people and affecting 3 million in the Southeast Asian nation a week before the climate talks began.

“We will continue to demand drastic emissions cuts and climate reparations from the countries that are historically responsible for our destruction,” Tan emphasised.

In Britain, meanwhile, a few hundred activists met outside the headquarters of oil giant Shell on Saturday to protest against fossil fuel exploration and on other social issues.

The campaigners marched through central London with giant mural reading “Climate reparations now” and “Justice for Chris Kaba”, a 24-year-old Black man shot dead by police in September.

“We cannot have climate justice without racial justice,” said Marvina Newton, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Leeds, in a speech outside Shell headquarters.

She praised activists in the Global South who “started the conversation around climate justice way before we even knew it existed” and pointed to the dangers they face daily.

Back in Sharm el-Sheikh, Lorraine Chiponda, co-lead of the “Don’t Gas Africa” campaign, ended the rally – which had a time limit imposed on it by the authorities – by asking demonstrators to fold up their banners and leave quietly, as they were not permitted to carry them around the venue or chant further.

“United we stand, and united we will overcome,” she said, appealing to the gathered crowd to keep fighting for climate justice back home in their communities.

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—Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; additional reporting by Jack Graham in London; editing by Laurie Goering. The Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters.