climate action cafe

A space for discussion and analysis within the global climate movement

Mass action concept during COP15 in Copenhagen

Posted by KM on January 31, 2009

by Klimax/Copenhagen

Read this article at Shift Magazine

The answer to the question of whether we should attempt to shut down the COP15 summit and the entire process or block in the delegates until they have signed a protocol we can agree to is YES!

Starting from the beginning we do not believe for a second that large populist-orientated demonstrations will be enough to counter the dominant agenda of green capitalism, support progressive voices on the inside or to neither help solve climate change nor delegitimize global authority all together.

Parades, even endless, numerically vast ones, with more vague and defeatist demands are too easily absorbed by global authority and boomeranged back in the same direction they came from, carrying the momentum of the legitimate concerns throughout the public and smashing dissent by adopting a few points and camouflaging it as a good and reasonable compromise. Gleneagles became the Bermuda Triangle of antagonisms for the alterglobalisation movement. Global authority was revitalised due to the lack of an oppositional force. The lessons learned were expressed in the planning of resistance to the G8 in Rostock and still apply to this day. We need to portray our antagonism to the dominant agenda and kill the idea that climate change is a problem that puts us all in the same boat. This must be done through mass action to open up the political space to express another point of view and show that we are many and diverse.

Legitimacy versus concerns

At the first meeting in The International Climate Network held in Copenhagen in September 2008 the facilitators, having foreseen tension in the discussion about the legitimacy of the COP15 as an institution, an inevitable parameter when discussing civil disobedience and mass action to disrupt or affect the processes and power exchanging within, a game of sorts was played out to soothe ideological and political differences. The deal was that all the participants should walk around the room and debate the legitimacy of the COP15, whenever one met a person who thought it had less legitimacy than you did, one should move towards one end of the room and vice versa. At the end everyone had settled at a specific point in the room and collective discussions began from there. After a while though it was obvious that nobody was really talking that much about the legitimacy of the COP15, actually it seemed like no one really believed that in their perfect world such an institution would exist in its current form, but they seemed not to really care either. Instead, what roughly came to surface were two sets of concerns. In the more-legitimacy end concerns such as; the summit being the only chance for indigenous people and other progressive voices to be heard and it’s the only chance for an international and binding agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While in the less-legitimacy end concerns about the rise of green capitalism, green austerity and the fear of trying to heal the symptoms without attributing any blame to the disease – the fear of lack of antagonism and co-option. Unsurprisingly the activists in the more-legitimacy end, roughly speaking, correlated with the ones entering the climate struggle from an environmental perspective and in the less-legitimacy end activists who had entered from a social perspective.

This action concept is an attempt to tie a knot between these concerns and make sure that we, at all times, action in a way where our concerns are meet as much as possible in the given situation.

Objectives and aims

The only thing more gruesome than yet another round of capitalist accumulation and the further expansion of government and corporate control into our lives, are the disastrous case scenarios of climate change unfolding. Thus our primary objective must be to combat the dominant market based agenda on the inside and function as leverage for progressive voices pushing for a protocol which could actually save this planet.

The logical syntax: A good deal is better than no deal – but no deal is way better than a bad one.

A truly social and serious agreement to a cut in greenhouse gas emissions which is fair globally as well as locally, not destroying the local ecosystems, not stealing away indigenous farmers lands and using up starving peoples’ food supplies to keep the motors running in the SUVs of the western middle-class, is not only a restraint to global capital, but the happiest possible ending (within reason). On the other hand if the deal is just a new chapter in the Kyoto protocol with an insignificant cap in emissions as a global figure in the distant future, combined with poor local solution only benefitting the TNC’s and the rich, it must be fought on all levels. Even though there will be no global convention after the year 2012. Global authority would have shown itself incapable of producing any results on the number one issue and the whole process would have been delegitimized; opening up for other possible solutions.

The strategy

It is not possible for us to shut the summit down before it gets started! It’s not possible to shut down the process from the get-go without completely alienating ourselves from the general public and their concerns. In spite of their dissatisfaction with the way politicians are handling global warming the general public’s reaction is to appeal for their given authorities to ‘do something’ – the fact that they now actually meet has all the legitimacy in the world.

To meet our concerns in the best way possible in the current situation we block the delegates in. We encircle the entire meeting and declare that not a single soul gets to leave until a socially just and binding contract has been signed. In all likelihood the contract won’t be near good enough, both in terms of scientific numbers and measures but also in terms of how these new benchmarks are going to be reached. In the logic of keeping them inside until they sign a proper convention we are not going to let them out. ‘We do not believe that this convention is good enough. Go back in there until you have changed it’. This will show that we strongly disagree to the convention which has been signed and portray antagonism in the unavoidable, but not necessarily violent, clashes between police and our blockades. True to the mantras: ‘a good (which we hate to call it; but would be categorised by a protocol with a probable chance of saving the planet…) deal is better then a no deal’ and ‘the only thing worse than another round of capitalist accumulation (a hard one to swallow for the bloodthirsty anticapitalists of KlimaX Copenhagen indeed) is the worst case scenarios of climate change’. We are not going to attempt to shut the process down, but portray our strong disagreement to how it’s done and show our dissent and concerns with the new convention. However the encirclement is not a fixed position at all. It depends on what we stand to gain from an eventual outcome. During the summit the eyes of the world will be resting upon the Bella Center in Copenhagen, just like – and presumably even more – all the other summit/counter summit events. But this time we got reality working for us a lot more than usual (‘If climate change didn’t exist we would have to invent it’, someone said) and this meeting could easily delegitimize itself. The pressure we exert on the outside will also donate power to the voices on the inside actually concerned about saving the planet.

If the new protocol is not a planet-saving one, we will be far from alone in our dissent. Powerful voices across parts of the political spectrum along with scientists, indigenous communities, all kinds of organisations and movements from across the world and even the more moderate NGOs would have to speak up against it. If the COP15 summit loses not only its legitimacy – understood not as some prefixed legitimacy defined in accordance with leftwing radical ideology, but as a much more frank and uncomplicated one in the eyes of the general public, but also its ability to carry out solutions to every single concern highlighted by the more-legitimacy group. If the indigenous people are not heard, if no progressive input gets to affect the work process and if there is no real, serious and binding contract aiming at cutting Co2 emissions, the process’ value to us begins to wane. In fact, it can only be seen as an instrument for fathering corporatism and opening up new markets for exploitation. As the legitimacy begins to crumble we are in fact the ones affirming the summit as a possible and legit mechanism for solutions by just standing idle by and demanding – we think its time to go Seattle on their asses. We should attempt to shut down this illegitimate process for good! This not being a detail orientated writing, but a theoretical basis for mass actions, elaborations about methodology and exactly how are intentionally left out.

Even though, as you may have already realised, this concept suggestion is an attempt to work around the legitimacy issue, but here is our two cents on those regards anyway. The core of activists in KlimaX Copenhagen surely would like to see a much more participatory society. There is no doubt that an institution like the COP or even the elected representatives is not within our ideal for decision making. But to us legitimacy is about more than ideals, otherwise we would have to postpone all problem solving to a post-revolutionary calendar. Legitimacy also has to be about solving the problems of this planet and meeting the concerns of the people that live on it. As long as the COP15 holds a possible solution to the biggest problem we have, it also has legitimacy. Maybe our understanding of the word is rudimentary, but if aforementioned has nothing to do with legitimacy, maybe it isn’t that interesting at all and we should find another word and get on with it. Certainly we believe that neither ideals such as anarchism or democracy and the ‘the end of history’ paradigm of the elite, neither of which a farmer in Brazil or a fisherman in Bangladesh, as they are the most, give a damn about, should stand in the way of plausible action aimed at saving the planet.

The parallel summit

Following the storyboard of the countersummits’r’us movement is having an alternative summit and to try and shut the actual summit down before it starts. This time around many things are different and we see a lot of advantages in that. This counter summit will more have a character of a parallel summit. In stead of ‘just’ discussing the newest theories about what the capitalists are now up to, we will mirror the discussions going on inside the Bella Center and bring our conclusions into the streets, whilst fighting the dominant agenda heavily in the media and ‘on the inside’. We imagine a much more homogeneous protest than BlockG8 with a mass action clause signed beforehand. This is not speaking against a clause in itself, which might still be a good idea, but without having any prefixed interpretation of exactly how things are going to be and how we will act. Since whatever goes on inside the meeting will also have a reaction on the streets, it will deliver an immense amount of pressure. Maybe we could even set up perimeters and move in closer and closer to the Bella Center whenever the process takes unsatisfying and greedy turns.

We should not work against the legitimacy of the COP15. We should have its legitimacy working for us. The besieging strategy is a multiple option position from which we will be able to act, in order to meet our concerns best possible in any given situation. If the summit ‘turns ugly’ to an extent beyond repair and beyond any viable solutions for saving the planet, it will have lost its legitimacy in accordance with any reasonable definition of the word and we can attempt to shut the process down. If we manage to accumulate and assert pressure enough to seal a convention with planet saving potential, but still far from an incompatible with that ‘other world’ we think is possible, we will have a chance to say no by keeping them in there. If the deal is a perfect display of solidarity and unselfishness we can all go home and wonder what the hell happened and still be happy, but we are not going to elaborate too much on that possibility… One could argue that this will create a tense atmosphere between trigger-happy activists wanting to shut the summit down and the ones who want to keep the summit going and by what principles and measures we are going to figure out when it goes from one scenario to another. But aren’t we evidently going to have those discussions anyway, no matter what we do?

The block in strategy is the concept, if any, we can agree on. It’s a strategically, tactically and logistically plausible concept.

We hope to facilitate a dialectical process around this concept to make it as strong as possible.

Klimax//Copenhagen

2 Responses to “Mass action concept during COP15 in Copenhagen”

  1. Holly said

    I don’t really understand these sentences (how does the COP hold a possible solution and how does it have legitimacy?): “As long as the COP15 holds a possible solution to the biggest problem we have, it also has legitimacy….. We should not work against the legitimacy of the COP15. We should have its legitimacy working for us.”

    I’m not sure about a lock-in action strategy – I feel like it won’t have much coherency politically or even in mass media coverage: reformist/COP supporters join anarchists for a better deal? It looks like people are intend to make decisions as they go along, depending on how the COP progresses – which would be confusing for those there and confusing in what messages filter out.

    My concerns around a lock in strategy & giving the illusion a good decision could be made are:

    * Governments, like the Australian Government, no matter what happens at Copenhagen, including complete failure – will say during and after Copenhagen that they provided ‘leadership on key issues’ and are leading the world on climate change, the biggest challenge we face, etc.
    * Big International Environment NGOs with vested interests in the COPs will say governments were weak, but that the eNGOs had massive wins and were really effective at COP15
    * The media will parrot them and be crap
    * The voices criticising COP15: radicals, Indigenous peoples,even Greenpeace – won’t be heard.

    I don’t think the ‘failure’ of Copenhagen will be as obvious as the breakdown of WTO talks (and even those failures are glossed over, avoided, and most people are completely oblivious). I don’t think the meeting could ‘deligitimise itself’, as this article suggests.

    The COPs are presented by states and NGOs as “world leaders aiming to reach consensus on the biggest problem humanity has ever faced” but are more like “nation states prolonging action on climate change, forcing oppressive authoritarian market mechanisms on peoples, and preventing emissions reduction and climate justice”. ;-) How to begin to avoid this?

  2. hermes recrutement That Guy

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