Civil Society and Climate Activists: The Most Vital Delegates Arrive in Copenhagen

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CNN

Civil Society and Climate Activists: The Most Vital Delegates Arrive in Copenhagen

Climate Protesters Descend on Copenhagen

by
George Webster

People participating in a 'flashmob' ahead of the U.N.climate change conference in Copenhagen.

COPENHAGEN -- The largest-ever gathering of climate protesters will
assemble in Copenhagen this week for the long-awaited COP15 summit,
raising the prospect of clashes with authorities as they attempt to
highlight their concerns to world leaders.

With up to 50,000
protesters expected to arrive over the 11-day conference, their
activities are likely to be as much of a focus as the discussions on
climate change taking place within the heavily-guarded venue.

Despite
having no access to the venue, activists have pledged to "overcome
physical barriers" to deliver their message to delegates who include
United States President Barack Obama and China's Prime Minister Wen
Jiabao.

While representing a colorful array of perspectives,
most of the protesters share a belief that the talks will fail to
create adequate proposals for reducing global carbon emissions in time
to prevent irreversible climate change.

Campaigners are to
appear in all shapes and sizes. From the UK anti-aviation industry
group Plane Stupid, to the Indian Social Action Forum collective
opposed to genetically modified crops to Brazilian land reform
campaigners, the Landless Workers' Movement.

Particular concerns
range from the influence of corporate lobbyists in framing climate
policy, the reliability of market-based solutions such as carbon
trading, and the fairness of new measures on those worst affected by
climate change in the developing world.

Lizzie Jacobs, of
UK-based activist network Climate Camp, told CNN her group would be in
Copenhagen to highlight the failure of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol
agreement on emissions reduction.

"This is an undemocratic,
Western-centric process that has consistently failed to meet its
already insufficient targets, and has actually led to increased
emissions. We're traveling to Denmark because we don't have faith in
this process and we want to highlight the alternatives."

What is at stake at Copenhagen?

Beginning Friday there will be a week-long series of coordinated actions sprouting up across Copenhagen.

These will range from eye-catching
spectacles like the "Bike Bloc," where activists will build a mammoth
"resistance machine" made from recycled bicycles; to the "Flood for
Climate Justice" mass rally on December 12 devised by environmental
group Friends of the Earth to emphasize the so-called "climate debt"
owed to the southern hemisphere by the polluting north.

A vast
and influential network known as Climate Justice Action (CJA) are also
coordinating what is probably the most hotly-anticipated action of the
week.

Set to coincide with the arrival of world leaders on
December 16, the action -- provocatively titled 'Reclaim Power' -- will
be an attempt by activists to hijack the conference for one day and
transform it into a "People's Assembly."

"The intention of the
Reclaim Power day," says British-based climate activist Robert Tyler,
"is to enter the conference and put our agenda on the table. This is an
agenda that recognizes indigenous land rights, that recognizes the
damage done by our economic system to countries around the world."

It is not clear how CJA members could succeed in breaking through the highest levels of security.

While
the U.N. has specifically requested that protesters be allowed near the
heavily-guarded 15,000-capacity venue, demonstrations will, say Danish
police, be halted at least 300 meters away.

"History
has shown us that when there is a need for radical social change,
asking those in power nicely to relinquish some control doesn't get us
very far. --British activist Dan Glass

Although this raises the prospect of
violent confrontations, the CJA maintains it is committed to
"non-violent civil disobedience."

A statement on the network's
Web site reads: "We will overcome any physical barriers that stand in
our way -- but we will not respond with violence if the police try to
escalate the situation, nor create unsafe situations."

Dan
Glass, an activist who made headlines in 2008 after gluing himself to
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told CNN the risks of injury and of
breaking the law -- such as those witnessed during the WTO Seattle
protests 10 years ago -- are justified under certain conditions.

"History
has shown us that when there is a need for radical social change,
asking those in power nicely to relinquish some control doesn't get us
very far. Women wouldn't be voting in Britain without the suffragettes
and Mandela would still be in jail if it wasn't for direct action
against apartheid."

However, for those seeking a less combative
Copenhagen experience, there is an alternative summit that runs
parallel to the executive one. Situated in the city center and financed
by the Danish government at an estimated cost of 1 million krona
($200,000) Klimaforum09 is billed as "the global civil society
counterpart to the U.N. conference."

Forum spokesman Richard Steed informs CNN that he expects around 10,000 visitors a day.

As
well as an elaborate cast of international speakers, including
anti-globalization activist Naomi Klein and the radical Indian
environmentalist Vandana Shiva, Steed says that the Klimaforum will
provide an opportunity for open debate and discussion among all
participants.

"The grassroots activism in
Copenhagen will not just be about opposition, it will be about forming
new connections and finding solutions. From ways to keep fossil fuels
in the ground, to ways of repaying our ecological debt to the peoples
of the South -- if the Copenhagen summit achieves nothing else it will
be a resurgence of new ideas."

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