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'Walking Out' as 'Fighting Back': Civil Society Groups Protest 'Do-Nothing' Climate Talks

"We have this message: volveremos—we will be back."

- Andrea Germanos, staff writer

Photo: Agnieszka Grzybek/ ‏@AgaGrzybek Saying "polluters talk, we walk," hundreds of individuals representing civil society walked out of the UN climate conference in Warsaw (COP19) on Thursday, denouncing the summit as putting corporate profits above people and being "on track to deliver virtually nothing."

"By walking out of COP19, we’re walking into a fight with the real enemies to progress: the coal, oil and gas companies that have a stranglehold over our governments and economy."
–Jamie Henn, 350.org

Among the civil society groups represented in the walkout are Oxfam International, Greenpeace, ActionAid, Friends of the Earth International, the International Trade Union Confederation and 350.org.

“Polluters and corporations dominated this conference with their empty talk, so we walked out in protest. Polluters talk, we walk,” stated Jagoda Munic, Chairperson of Friends of the Earth International.

"By walking out of COP19," added 350's Jamie Henn, "we’re walking into a fight with the real enemies to progress: the coal, oil and gas companies that have a stranglehold over our governments and economy."

“While people around the world are paying with their lives and livelihoods, and the risk of runaway climate change draws closer, we simply could not sit by this egregious inaction. Corporate profits should not come before peoples' lives,” stated Munic.

Various Twitter users captured the walkout in pictures:

The walkout is the second to hit the conference in as many days. On Wednesday, over 130 of the world's developing nations, including the G77 nations and China, walked out, accusing the wealthiest nations, such as the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the EU states of derailing deals on reparations owed from their massive fossil fuel emissions.

In a joint statement issued Thursday, the environmental groups and allies charged that COP19 "is on track to deliver virtually nothing" and "has put the interests of dirty energy industries over that of global citizens." They continue:

We as civil society are ready to engage with ministers and delegations who actually come to negotiate in good faith. But at the Warsaw Conference, rich country governments have come with nothing to offer. Many developing country governments are also struggling and failing to stand up for the needs and rights of their people. It is clear that if countries continue acting in this way, the next two days of negotiations will not deliver the climate action the world so desperately needs.

"We as civil society are ready to engage with ministers and delegations who actually come to negotiate in good faith. But at the Warsaw Conference, rich country governments have come with nothing to offer." – from the joint statement

Therefore, organizations and 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. Instead, we are now focusing on mobilizing people to push our governments to take leadership for serious climate action. We will work to transform our food and energy systems at a national and global level and rebuild a broken economic system to create a sustainable and low-carbon economy with decent jobs and livelihoods for all. And we will put pressure on everyone to do more to realize this vision.

Youth climate activist Anjali Appadurai, who made headlines at the COP17 climate conference in Durban with a moving speech demanding urgent action, spoke to Democracy Now! on the sidelines of the conference.

"The message is about social movements," Appadurai said. "We're going back, we're building our power, we're building up our networks and our movements and we're coming back much stronger in Peru [for the next COP] ready to reengage in the political process."

"We have this message: volveremos—we will be back."

“We’re going to bring back social movements as an essential part of this process so that COP20 next year in Lima can be stronger because of the social movements lighting a fire underneath it,” Appadurai said.

“We are calling on developed countries to go back home and listen to their own people," urged Dipti Bhatnagar, Friends of the Earth International Climate Justice and Energy coordinator. "People all over the world demand urgent steps to agree an ambitious, binding and equitable international agreement on climate change.

The people that took part in the walkout were right to do so to "raise the profile" of the urgency of the climate problem—something that's not happening at sessions within the summit, said Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows-Larkin of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, two scientists calling for "radical and immediate de-growth strategies in the U.S., EU and other wealthy nations."

Speaking to Democracy Now!, Bows-Larkin said, "I think that it’s important that if the scientists and the science is not being adhered to or listened to, and that there is frustration, I think those people who are in those civil society organizations need to make a stand and to raise the profile."

"Civil society are trying to raise the profile, the fact that, you know, this is a huge and an urgent problem," she continued. "And actually, you would not get that sort of message from the negotiations, that it’s urgent at all. You know, you get the sense that really we can, you know, wait a while, and at some point we will sort some targets out. Well, it’s, frankly, going to be too late. And it’s—you know, not setting any targets before 2015 means it will be too late to avoid a two-degree target, because emissions are supposed to have globally reached a peak by then. Well, of course, they can’t reach a peak if we don’t have a target."

At the conference last week, Philippines lead negotiator Yeb Saño wondered if he must put forth the same questions he asked at last year's COP in Doha: "If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?"

For the green groups calling who walked out in protest, the answer couldn't be more clear.

"Now is the time to break free from our fossil fuel addiction and start a transformation towards sustainable and just societies,” said Bhatnagar.

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