Science in Society Archive

Can The People Save The Climate?

A colourful and radical People’s Summit stole the show at Copenhagen for the real solutions to climate change. Sam Burcher

The UN COP 15 Climate Summit talks, widely considered a disaster [1] was obviously not the place to be in Copenhagen. Instead the place to be was the Klimaforum09, organized by a handful of Denmark’s veteran environmental groups to provide an open forum for the voices of many grassroots movements left out of the official talks, in particular those from the global South.  More than 15 000 flocked to the People’s Summit in the vast DGI-Byen sports hall at the centre of Copenhagen to share positive solutions for climate change (see Box).

The People’s Declaration

The People’s Declaration was prepared in the run-up to COP15 and has been signed by 500 organizations and numerous individuals, and is open for signing until March 2010 [2]. It acknowledges the need for the following:

A complete abandonment of fossil fuels within the next 30 years, which must include specific milestones for every 5-year period. It demands an immediate cut in greenhouse gas for industrialized countries of at least 40 percent compared to 1990 levels by 2020.

Recognition, payment and compensation of climate debt for the overconsumption of atmospheric space and adverse effects of climate change on all affected groups and people.

A rejection of purely market-oriented and technology-centred false and dangerous solutions such as nuclear energy, agro-fuels, carbon capture and storage, Clean Development Mechanisms, biochar, genetically “climate-readied” crops, geo-engineering, and reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), which deepen social and environmental conflicts.

Real solutions to climate crisis based on safe, clean, renewable, and sustainable use of natural resources, as well as transitions to food, energy, land, and water sovereignty.

Change the world by changing the corporations

José Bové, the legendary anti-GMO activist turned Green MEP, delivered a passionate speech in French.  Diversity is important, he said [3].  This is a new era, a historical moment is being created, the end of the 20th Century.  This means that the world is no longer a commodity.  We said it in Seattle and we say it here in Copenhagen that the earth is not owned by humanity.  But it is in peril.  We can’t construct anything new or continue like this.  We don’t have a planet B and we have to sleep and work on this earth.  We have to protect ecological systems to ensure that warming does not exceed 2 degrees Celsius.  The wealthy countries resist it because of the dominance of transnational corporations – they are responsible for the carbon mines in Australia.  Monsanto is responsible for destroying forests and planting soya and bringing GM fodder into Europe.  We won’t change the risks the world is facing unless we change the corporations.  We can’t continue with the WTO that serves them.

From this UN Summit on climate change, we have to see the organization of a new vision for the UN, Bové said.  It is the organization that has to fight at the international level to protect the basic rights of people against the corporations.  We need the UN to bring this debate into the UN and give it a new form, a national policy.  We need to help the people in the South to fight for the ecological comeback of harmony, solidarity, and goodness so that we can live together on Mother Earth.

Commitment to future generations

Marina Silva, a former Brazilian Federal Senate Environment Minister, turned Green Party politician said, We are here all of us united. We do not accept what the leaders of our countries have tried to convince us of.  They say that we shouldn’t have high expectations.  We are here because we are committed to life, to the planet and to future generations.  I have come from the Rainforest.  We now see the fruits of a reduction of 2 billion tonnes of carbon because of reforestation.  It is important that our countries commit to goals.  We do not want to raise the temperature above 1.5 degrees.  We are committed to an alliance between people to save all of the forest.  In Brazil we have most of the technological solutions to the problems of global warming.  We know what to do.  We have ethical commitments to change the predatory model that is destroying the planet.

Rich countries should no longer hide behind differentiated responsibility, Marina Silva said. They must take us to a strict reduction of at least an 80 percent reduction by 2050. We are working hard to commit to our goals in Brazil.  But it is like a moving target.  We don’t have the financial needs to help developing countries change their method of development.  Developed countries are just thinking about business, they must know that they are completely behind the 21st Century ethical commitment for rights and benefits for the next generation.

Via Campesina spreads the message of agroecology

The Climate Caravan representing grassroots activists, farmers and scientists from the Andes, Africa, Brasilia, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Indonesia, India, Panama, Paraquay, Peru, Phillipines, Mexico, and from Maori and Pacific rights groups arrived by buses at the People’s Summit. They came to spread the message of the science of sustainable agriculture known as agroecology. Agroecology has developed through social and agricultural movements such as the Via Campesina, who put a modern twist on their grandparent’s farms by integrating the principles of biodiversity and applying those practices scientifically to contemporary sustainable agricultural systems [4].

It is estimated that some 600 thousand farmers in southern countries have taught each other agroecological methods to remediate climate change. A joint study between Via Campesina and Food First, a US agricultural think tank, comprised 45 farmer/ researcher technician teams that surveyed almost a thousand pairs of farms that had either been practicing agroecological techniques learned through the movement, or were using conventional fertilizers and pesticides [5]. The results showed that the farmers using agroecological methods had 20-40 percent more topsoil, had half as many land-slides, much less soil erosion and most importantly had fewer economic losses after Hurricane Mitch struck Central America a decade ago killing eleven thousand people.

Leave the oil in the soil

As the world leaders continue to debate the official solutions, the grassroots movement for climate justice worldwide is forging their own solutions on the ground.  The Climate Caravan is against the solutions proposed by the WTO in Geneva and at Copenhagen that aim to make money out of climate crises via the carbon and agrofuel markets.  Instead, their agenda promotes food sovereignty (the principle of securing food for all), local and traditional farming/fisheries, and guaranteeing the rights of forest people against deforestation.

The Climate Caravan members include Focus on the Global South, the Confédération Paysanne from France and Spain, and OilWatch from Ecuador.  OilWatch propose a simple, but logical solution to climate change, and that is to leave the oil in the soil.  They believe that this is the best solution to fight CO2 emissions and to turn around forty years of oil exploitation that has had a negative effect on both the people and the ecology of Ecuador.  The Ecuadorian Government is asking the international community to finance the fact that this oil is not going to be used under common and differentiated responsibilities in recognition of the climate debt that the north owes to the South. So far, the German government has offered to contribute $1 billion to Ecuador at the rate of $50 million per year over the next 20 years towards leaving the oil in the ground in Yasuni National Park, a zone of the greatest biodiversity in the world and home to an un-contacted indigenous tribe [6]. However, OilWatch warns that this proposal must not be part of REDD on forests, or the carbon markets and that solutions to climate change can only come from outside the systems that have created it. Another protestor on the Climate Caravan has survived two attacks on his life by the Columbian military because he dared to speak out against the activities of the corporations in Columbia.

The views of OilWatch are echoed by my fellow UK road protester and journalist George Monbiot, who said at the Klimaforum,  “If Governments are serious about climate change  they would be putting together plans at Copenhagen to determine which part of the reserves are to be left in the ground [7].”  This means switching to renewables and setting safe limits on how much of the oil, gas and coal reserve can be used to ensure that we do not breach the all important 2 degrees warming target.  George Monbiot also cautioned that the world is at risk of becoming a grotesque Mordor-like environment as a consequence of destructive activities such as the extraction of tar sands in Canada.  He said that the best thing that anyone on earth can do at the moment is go to the tar sands patch in Alberta and occupy that machinery.

Peaceful protests for Climate Justice

The Klimaforum also served as a focus for co-ordinating the peaceful protests of Climate Justice Action [8].  This international organization believes that the global north owes the south economic and ecological reparations for the climate inequities caused by intensive industrial development over many years.  The Saturday march for Climate Justice, which attracted as many as 150 000 people, was by and large a peaceful and joyful procession led by grassroots campaigners, unions, NGOs, wildlife groups and members of the public to a candlelit vigil outside the official site of the UN talks – the Bella Centre.  Throughout the day there was indiscriminate targeting of young people dressed in black by the heavy handed Danish police who had introduced new detention laws in time for the demonstrations. I asked two youths dressed in black why they were participating in the actions outside the Bella Centre.  “Because we care about the climate and we are vegetarians”, they replied.

Prince Charles shines a light on agroecology

Meanwhile, inside the Bella Centre, which had shut its doors to civil society during the second week of the UN talks, the spirits of the remaining delegates were lifted by HRH Prince Charles. He warmed to the theme of mitigation of climate change through agriculture that is genuinely sustainable and protects biodiversity.  The science tells us that it is through the relationship between agriculture and forestry that the opportunities to avoid the worst consequences of climate change still exist, he said. “The future of mankind can be assured if we live as part of nature not apart from her” [9].

At both the official and parallel climate venues people gathered in groups to bond and break down the barriers between classes, nations, colour and political orientations. However, it was much harder to keep track of goings on at the Bella Centre, especially when important talks and press conferences were cancelled. Despite this, the city of Copenhagen, the UN and the Klimaforum were gracious hosts.  

The feel good factor associated with the peaceful demonstrations for climate justice and the quality of the well-organized talks at the Klimaforum, all added up to a superb show of strength and persistence of the counterculture movement where the real solutions to climate change will emerge; and where ISIS/TWN report Green Energies - 100% Renewable by 2050 [10] will have much to offer. 

Article first published 22/02/10


  1. Khor M.  The real tragedy of Copenhagen  January 2 2010 Economic and Political Weekly
  2. System Change not Climate Change – The People’s Declaration from Klimaforum09
  3. A Conference of Global Greens.  Copenhagen and Beyond at The Klimaforum09 14th December 2009.
  4. Shattuck A.  Growing Climate Justice.   Food First Backgrounder 2009 15:4 Food First – Institute for Food  and Development Policy
  5. Lee, P.  Keep the oil in the soil. July 3 2009,
  6. Holt-Giménez, Eric. Measuring farmers’ agroecological resistance after Hurricane Mitch in Nicaragua: a case study in participatory, sustainable land management impact monitoring. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 2002 93:87-105.
  7. George Monbiot on Fossil Fuels
  9. HRH Prince Charles gives speech at COP15
  10. Ho MW. Cherry B.  Burcher S. and Saunders P. 2009  Green Energies, 100% Renewables by 2050  Green Energies 100% Renewables by 2050

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There are 4 comments on this article so far. Add your comment above.

Sam Burcher Comment left 24th February 2010 01:01:22
Hi, Thank you for your great comments. Check out the TWN Info Service on Climate Change

Celia Wilson Comment left 23rd February 2010 19:07:40
I think the size of businesses should be limited. Corporations are too large. Why should the manufacture of confectionary (chocolate, sweets, candy etc) be limited to just four large companies world wide (as has recently happened)? How I am not sure, but the cause of our global problems is produced by the resulting corporate monopolies. We need to lose the incessant drive for excessive competition and control. The 'economies' resulting from mass production are an illusion when you consider what damage such production does to the environment. Let the little companies grow up through the feet of these giants. As ever, it is people who will make the changes - if only they would... We are doomed really, when you consider human nature - it will always seek for the quick and easy, cost effective way.

Donnie Macleod Comment left 23rd February 2010 19:07:20
Good report on Bella. Is there any people's action specifically against the governments of the 'accord nations' that wrecked the other (second rate) conference. E.G. USA, South Africa, India, Brazil, China, Ethiopia.

James Perry Kelly Comment left 13th March 2010 00:12:48
Thank you for reconfirming my faith in Science and scientists (at least in part). Several years ago I quoted ISIS frequently in U.S. hearings over stem cells and cloning. I discontinued my stem cells activism when my former political and social allies became my opponents over global warming. Today, due to conflicting reports concerning a purported scientific "consensus" regarding the existence (or non-existence) of man-made global warming, I remembered ISIS and came here seeking truth. I'm glad to see that the same people I agreed with regarding stem cells (you) also confirm my personal observations and common sense concerning global warming. Thank you again for prioritizing mankind and Earth in your rational positions. Sincere regards, James P. Kelly