G8 protest shows need for community focused resistance

This piece first appeared online at New Internationalist.

change not charity banner on fence

When a riot police officer eating an ice cream in the back of an armoured car pointed me in the direction of the assembling protesters in Enniskillen on Monday 17 June, I knew that while it was certainly no Battle in Seattle, this would be no ordinary G8 demonstration. Around 1,000 activists had gathered in the County Fermanagh town which was hosting the two-day 2013 G8 summit.

Global neoliberalism is moving to kill dissent with kindness, whether it’s the British government’s ‘Big Society’ or the mantra of governance and transparency in the Global South. Potentially transformative concepts are being employed to give the illusion of social change. This is why groups like Bono’s One campaign are not just arrogant, they are dangerously reinforcing the status quo of neoliberal, capitalist models of global development – not to mention their inherently racist notions of charity.

Enniskillen, on the other hand, didn’t have the polish of Bono or Bob Geldof. It was much more inspiring than that. The atmosphere was more akin to Sunday fête than the anti-capitalist pitch battles seen at previous G8 meetings. Bizarrely, a blues band entertained protesters as they assembled and curious locals sipped tea whilst sat in camping chairs along the route.

anti-fracking campaigner

The march itself was made up mostly of people from northwest Ireland and Northern Ireland. These communities have found themselves at the forefront of the fight against neoliberal unsustainability. Many had never been to a protest before their lives and livelihoods were threatened by fracking – a process which has the potential to cause large scale social and environmental injustices. Yet through their campaigning they are developing a critical analysis of power and models of development.

The march made its way through Enniskillen’s streets before travelling three kilometres to confront the £4million ($6.2 million) security cordon which separated the world from the G8 leaders. The sun beat down on the long procession as it left the town.

As speeches took place by the security cordon, about 20 protestors managed to trample the razor wire fence and cross over the barrier. They were soon facing a line of riot police.

‘Do not attempt to come any closer’ called a police officer. ‘Or we will be forced to take action.’

The word ‘action’ presumably being a euphemism for something more violent, the activists stalled and the momentum was lost. One of the stewards from the main march arrived and a discussion began. After a tense few minutes they receded, accepting the need for unity and solidarity with the community participating in the protest.

This dialogue in a mucky field in County Fermanagh was of global importance. This is a time of massive flux for social movements. Regime toppling protests are occurring all over the world, communities are questioning things which were for too long regarded as simple common sense. It’s a messy process which must begin by recognizing that none of us have the answers; we must forge them together through dialogue and solidarity.

It is only through that process that we can deconstruct the nonsense of ‘common sense’ neoliberal exploitation of people and the planet and stand with the powerful process of communities developing their own analysis of society.

In Ireland and Northern Ireland the anti-fracking community activists are posing important questions and challenging the status quo. The same thing is happening across the world, most visibly in Turkey and Brazil. Everywhere communities are reclaiming transformative concepts from neoliberalism and fighting for justice, equality and sustainability.

For anyone interested in social change this is an important point for reflection on our practice. We must ditch our dogma and hold our agendas lightly. The fires of change are beginning to glow in communities across the globe, we must continue to support these rather than trying to light our own.


G8 mobilizations need solidarity, not stage management

This piece first appeared online at New Internationalist.

While the rain barely stopped pouring, spirits remained high as activists marched, danced and sang through a highly militarized Belfast city on Saturday 15 June for the Big March for a Fairer World. Around 1,500 people took to the streets from trade unions, campaigning organizations such as Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth, and various community groups to oppose the policies and practices of the powerful G8 leaders meeting in Fermanagh from 17 to 18 June 2013.

fracking protest river

In advance of the demonstration, Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) armoured cars and specially loaned British Army Land Rovers moved in convoy down every street and clusters of police officers in padded battle-dress, some with machine guns, gathered on the pavements.

Having navigated through the heavy police presence, I joined activists from Friends of the Earth who organized the anti-fracking themed section of the march. Environmentalists from across the UK and Ireland brought with them blue pieces of cloth ‘river’ with messages of defiance and hope from communities resisting fracking.

‘My daughter woke me up at 3 am, I’ve been awake since then’, said Niall Bakewell of Friends of the Earth, full of energy and while co-ordinating the chaos.

Bakewell bellowed out the words of an old Woody Guthrie song, ‘All You Fascists Bound to Lose’, suitably altered for the occasion:
I’m gonna tell you frackers
You may be surprised
The people in this world
Are getting organized
You’re bound to lose
You frackers bound to lose.

Even those of us who are tone deaf got carried away in the enthusiasm and soon we met with the main march.

As a steward I carried a small black knapsack. It contained some energy bars, a ‘pee-mate’ and some empty milk bottles, ‘in case we get “kettled” and people need to relieve themselves,’ cautioned Bakewell.

Kettling is a tactic used by police officers to control crowds by cordoning off groups of protestors. It is often used to break the spirits of activists, who are sometimes allowed to leave only if they surrender their personal details to the police.

When I explained the contents of my bag to a group of unassuming, middle-aged anti-frackers it got a nervous giggle. The heavy police presence on the streets was disconcerting even to those who grew up in ‘the Troubles’, as Northern Ireland’s 30 year armed conflict is euphemistically called.

The Friends of the Earth ‘river’ meandered through the streets, swaying to the beat of a samba band.

‘The anti-frackers seem to be having the most fun,’ noted one TV camera operator.

‘Well what’s the point in being here if we can’t have fun?’ replied a middle-aged woman from England.

After the camera operator moved on we continued talking. The woman was shocked by the heightened police presence. ‘You wouldn’t even get this with the Met in London.’ London’s Metropolitan Police are notoriously heavy handed when it comes to civil society dissent, having raided a squatted convergence space and arrested 57 activists earlier that week.

Despite the heavy police presence, the march remained peaceful and crowds gathered at Belfast’s City Hall to listen to speakers who had to shout to be heard above the sound of the police helicopters overhead.

After the march we headed back to the Friends of the Earth office. Buoyed by the solidarity and success of the day, activists from across both islands discussed how we can work together to resist fracking over hard earned mugs of soup.

I nabbed a spare ticket for the Big If concert being organized by the churches and development NGOs in the botanic gardens. I was eager to see how this stage managed NGO campaign compared to the spontaneity, energy and enthusiasm of the activism on the streets.

The Enough Food for Everyone If… campaign is run by a collation of organizations and calls for the G8, especially David Cameron, to act on hunger.

The Big If event seemed little more than a polished distraction from the real issues, and although I found myself tapping away to Duke Special and Two Door Cinema Club, and enjoying the speeches from the civil society leaders from the Global South, the whole thing felt a bit hollow.

‘Come on everybody, let’s Tweet Prime Minister David Cameron!’ called TV presenter Zöe Salmon who was presiding over a crowd which seemed smaller than the march.

Freedom to dissent now equates to a Tweet and the anti-fracking community activists who attempted to unfurl a banner were not allowed a peep. Big If organizers cornered them immediately.

‘We need to stay on-message, we can’t have other banners’, explained one of the event co-ordinators.

I declined my Big If wristband and left with the anti-fracking group. As I departed, Salmon was inviting the crowd to Tweet Barak Obama.

What’s changed since the G8 last graced our shores?

The G8 last landed on our Atlantic Archipelago for their 2005 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland. Much has changed as civil society and global citizens meet in Belfast for the Fairer World Festival and in Fermanagh for the G8 not welcome events this weekend.

In the eight years which have passed, we have been battered by the greatest financial crisis ever, while climate change continues to spiral out of control and the solutions to the converging crises fail to break out of the thinking that created it.

Yet we have been buoyed too, by movements for democracy, equality, social justice and environmental sustainability which have sprung up across the globe and show no sign of abating. There is a sense that this is part of a greater process of social change taking place around the world, from the current struggles of the Capulcus in Turkey, to the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement.

There has been a fundamental shift in how we think about democracy. While messy, unpredictable and hardly ‘productive’ in a traditional sense, social movements like Occupy have allowed people to experience participatory democracy in an otherwise non-participatory world. That alone is a worthy outcome.

Important critiques of patriarchy and neoliberialism continue to emerge from feminist networks in both the Global North and Global South. Ever controversial, Femen has succeeded to grab headlines, while others such as African Feminist Network Nyangoma or India’s Gulabi Gang are less well known in Ireland or the UK but equally exciting.

Indeed each of the states that make up the unelected and unaccountable G8 has seen protest, and sometimes violence, sweep their streets since 2005. The UK itself saw riots in 2011, while France has faced similar waves of violence in its ghettoised suburbs.

Even authoritarian Russia has been shaken by Pussy Riot, while in stereotypically unquestioning and ordered states, civil society is awakening: Germany’s refugee protests are challenging institutional racism; Japan is seeing a wave of environmental protest in the wake of Fukusima and Canada’s Tar Sands controversy continues.

The shift in how NGOs have approached the G8 is subtle but important. The grand demands from celebrities to ‘Make Poverty History’ have receded to a mousey ‘What If?’ which seems palatable in the current climate of austerity: There will be no cash on the table, so don’t ask.

Of course,  you can still get the wristband, t-shirt and concert tickets, but in the wake of global movements for social change the sanitised ‘What If?’ campaign feels quite tired; more a case of ‘so what?’ than ‘what if?’

And what if what’s happening organically on the streets and in communities across the globe is much more real and much more refreshing than an orchestrated camapgin by development NGOs ever could be?

Hunger, nutrition and a shocking lack of justice: Thoughts on the Hunger-Nutrition-Climate Justice conference

This blog piece presents some intital thoughts on the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice sponsored confernce on Hunger, Nutrition and Climate Justice taking place in Dublin next week, 15-16 April 2013.

The conference is taking place during the Irish Presidency of the EU, as the EU continues to block progress on actions to halt climate change and Ireland publishes a Climate Action Bill with no sign of climate justice. This piece highlights some of the key climate justice failings of the conference.

Human rights based approaches must move beyond supporting communities to deal with the crisis

  • The human rights based approaches advocated by the conference are a positive step forward in a debate that has been held for too long in privileged policy circles.
  • However, when the conference fails to address the core issues of emissions reductions, market mechanisms or technology transfer, the ‘empowerment of marginalised people’ means supporting people to deal with the effects of climate change rather than challenge the root causes of unsustainability.
  • With this in mind, the inclusion of ‘100 developing country delegates […] bring their community’s experiences to share’ at the conference seems to little more than a PR exercise at consultation (but I am open to being pleasantly surprised).

Climate Justice means binding emissions reductions targets

  • States must make commitments in line with what science requires and that reflect historical responsibility, per-capita contributions, and capabilities to act. We must drop emissions by at least 40% by 2020 & 90% by 2050 (below 1990 levels).
  • States have ‘common but differentiated responsibility’: All states are required to take action to reduce emissions but the developed countries of the Global North, who have benefited most from polluting, have the responsibility to act first and take the deepest emissions cuts.
  • This conference makes no reference to the failing institutional architecture at an intergovernmental level which has seen ongoing inaction at the conference of parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Climate Justice means ending reliance on dangerous market mechanisms to regulate carbon emissions

  • This conference does not seek to address the dangerous policies at international level such as carbon trading (trading in the right to pollute) and trading pollution for forests with schemes like REDD and REDD+. These policies can best be described as seeking to profit from the climate crisis by creating markets for carbon.
  • Rather than critiquing these mechanisms, the conference papers (p. 42) suggest the issue is simply ‘helping communities understand the dynamics and technical aspects of carbon markets as a financing source’.

 Climate Justice means technology transfer

  • Despite this conference’s emphasis on building local resilience to climate change in the Global South it fails to address the key resilience issue of technology transfer. Developed countries of the North are hindering resilience by failing to provide for the transfer of knowledge, skills and technology to those communities facing climate change.

Why is technology transfer so vital?

‘For developing countries, the need for the transfer of climate friendly technologies has, for a long time, been seen as one of the major aspects of the progress of sustainable development. However, most climate friendly technologies are developed in industrialised countries, although potential for these technologies to make significant reductions in carbon emissions is located in developing countries, where fossil fuel consumption is increasing rapidly. In sum, migration of global energy systems to lower carbon pathways depends upon their successful transfer and absorption of low-carbon technologies to and within developing countries’

Source: Shashikant, S. and Khor, M., Intellectual property rights and technology transfer in the context of climate change, p. 9.

 Climate Justice begins at home

  • This conference imagines Ireland as a world leader on climate justice. The reality is very different. Ireland is the 6th largest per capita polluter on the planet. Our government has consistently failed to legislate for action on climate change. The current proposed Climate ‘Action’ Bill fails to set the legally binding and ambitious carbon reduction targets needed, fails to institute an independent commission or any form of accountability for polluters. In short, it lacks any hint of climate justice.
  • Climate justice, human rights and community sector campaigners from Ireland have almost entirely been refused entry to the conference.

Bordering on Madness

If people are people…

‘Please don’t come to Laâyoune,’ said the voice. ‘It’s too dangerous with all the secret police and army here.’ With that the receiver went dead and I was left standing alone in a dark and dusty Marrakech internet cafe. The whole incident was like a cliché from a 60s spy novel; but this was the year 2012 and very real. I had been speaking with a representative of the Polisaro Front in Laâyoune, the capital of Western Sahara.

The Polisaro Front are the government of the Sahrawi people of the Western Sahara who have been occupied, repressed and tortured by Morocco since it invaded that state in 1975. Western Sahara is recognised by the UN as Africa’s last colony. The body has deployed a tiny, under-resourced and overstretched force of peacekeepers to the region to monitor a 1991 ceasefire between the Sahrawi people and Moroccan army.

Since the invasion, 75, 000 Sahrawis remain in torturous stasis. They survive in refugee camps in the desert, physically hidden from sun-seeking tourists by the omissions of the Moroccan tourist board and a little mentioned defensive wall called ‘the Berm.’ At 2,500 kilometres the Berm is the world’s longest continuous minefield, with missiles, tanks and soldiers pointed into the desert ensuring Sahrawi subjection and silence. Reminiscent of Gaza, and the dictatorships of the Southern Cone in the 70s, this is the world’s forgotten struggle.

The Polisaro representative was right, of course. Just last year, Sahrawi community organisers attempted to join the Occupy wave which took its cue from the Arab Spring in Tunisia and spread out across the world from New York’s Zuccotti Park. Their attempts to create a Sahrawi Occupy camp resulted in violent clashes with the police ending in the burning of the camp and the murder of a number of the Sahrawi organisers by Moroccan security forces.

The Polisaro representative explained that our presence in the Western Sahara, off the usual surfers’ trails, would incense security forces and bring their unwanted attention onto Polisaro activities.  The only alternative would be to enter Polisaro controlled lands form Algeria, behind the Berm, but the border between Morocco and Algeria has been closed since Algeria supported the Sahrawi during Morocco’s invasion.

Western Sahara remains a physical and political anomaly, a tragedy evinced in daily struggle for the Sahrawi people. The possibility of visiting and learning from the Sahrawi community workers fighting for their rights in these harsh conditions is what had attracted us to get off our flight home from Liberia in the first place. Now, with the safety of the Polisaro activists uncertain it would be stupid to arrive in Laâyoune and start making political soundings that could jeopardise their safety even further.

As we left the internet cafe and faced the blinding sunlight of Marrakech we realised that we now found ourselves in Morocco with hardly any money, our plans scuppered. We decided to hitchhike to Fes, across the foothills of the great Atlas Mountains, and from there to make it to the coast and the boat to mainland Spain. This fall-back plan evolved into a wonderful experience which exposed us at every turn to the warmth and generosity of the Moroccan people; loving families, retired couples, young people and children. Everyone we met was curious about where we were coming from, how we enjoyed Morocco and if we wanted to share some delicious mint tea and food with them. Being tired and hungry hitchhikers these reminders of the generosity of the human spirit kept us going. Each experience left us smiling in amazement that these strangers could be so kind.

The humbling kindness made the realities of the situation in the Western Sahara all the more strange. How could we experience such wonderful hospitality from beautiful people while the same people were supposedly happy to force the Sahrawi to live a sub-human existence confined behind a minefield, tortured and disappeared for speaking out? Being Irish I thought of our island’s perennial contestations between multiple traditions of culture and religion, all of whom call Ireland home but have different visions of what ‘Ireland’ should be.

Hence, centuries old struggles continued into modern times so that by the 1960s there was effectively a civil war between the IRA and unionist paramilitaries, often supported by the British Army and Northern Irish police. My mother tells a story about my granddad, who at the height of what became euphemistically known as ‘the Troubles’, went missing in a Protestant area of Belfast. As a Southern Catholic, he would have been expected to be in serious danger. Yet, when found, he was in a pub laughing and joking with other men from this Northern Protestant area as if they were old friends.

People are people everywhere, really quite generous and wonderful when we meet face to face. Why then do they do such terrible things to each other?

‘The other’

‘Well it was ours all along’ said one of our Couchsurfing hosts when we questioned him about the Western Sahara. Moroccan history is possibly even more complex than Irish history! Various layers of Arab empires, Berber tribes and European domination by France and Spain all lead to a history from which it’s hard to decipher in a black and white way what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’. So yes, at one stage the Sahrawi peoples were under the control of Moroccan sultans. But when it comes to human rights and freedom from oppression such historical empires hardly matter. If that were the case then Sweden could lay claim to Dublin because it was founded by Scandinavian Vikings and the Irish in turn could lay claim to the west coast of English which they once occupied back when St. Patrick was a young boy.

In reality, people simply move about. For thousands of years this was done without regulation. Then borders were created as artificial and arbitrary boundaries of power which were then legitimised by cultural otherness (‘we are different from you because of x, y, z’) and inculcated with fear of ‘the other’; the enemy who supposedly sought to destroy the culture and this new imagined community now called the nation.

Today, the United States is the classic example of this. It is a nation almost entirely held together by the myth of what it means to be American- a myth which is so often defined not by what it is but by who is ‘out there’ trying to destroy it. This myth has gone into overdrive in the post 9/11 world. It holds the nation together despite huge disparities of wealth, the continued ghettoisation of people of colour and a huge oppressed working class who survive on measly wages and minimal social protection. Rather than questioning or challenging this, young guys from the impoverished and marginalised doldrums of America are encouraged to consider a career in the Army. Many of them take it up given that there are few other chances to escape. Rather than asking why they have been dealt a shitty hand in ‘the land of opportunity’ they are diverted to thinking about those terrorists who will put an end to their way of life.

But what is this ‘way of life’ only the internalised oppression of ‘common sense’ capitalist exploitation? These myths of culture and history are very powerful. They control the way in which we approach all situations because ‘history is the space in which every man [sic] approaches his [sic] consciousness’, and elite interests are the ones who decide what story the history books will tell. So we have nations-and nationalism- which protect elite interests.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth century millions of the poorest British and Irish working class men fought in the British Army across the globe. They were sold a story of empire which was spun from the twin webs of ‘race’ and nationalism. This was a hideous obfuscation of the reality that British Government was a collection of extraordinarily rich men who used their army of the desperate poor to secure access to natural resources and cheap (slave) labour across the globe. They did this by exploiting the myth of the other.

In order to sustain the myth, protecting the fragile imagined community, some people must necessarily be denied membership. Those who have membership must be encouraged to feel different from those who do not. This is done by asserting that particular cultural traditions, languages, religious beliefs and in the extreme skin colour are allowed or disallowed in the imagined community. This, of course leads to racism, oppression and dehumanisation of ‘the other’. The creation of the myth of ‘the other’ perfectly suits the elites of our world, whether British aristocrats, American political classes or Moroccan kings.

By socialising the poor and marginalised who suffer under their rule to fear ‘the other’, elites can ensure that the working classes can become amongst the most violent oppressors. This can be seen time and time again. Today in Belfast Loyalists are rioting over when the Union Jack is flown on city hall. The piece of cloth is just that, nothing more, but what the fight fudges is the fact that those communities are facing increasing social residualisation in depressing council estate conditions; they are working class communities with no opportunities turning once again on ‘the other’ to protect what little they have.

And of course, our wonderful Moroccan hosts. The power of the myth of ‘the other’ is clearly at work with them. ‘Ours all along’ says the Couchsurfer, almost conscious that the history and culture are so often evoked to wrap a legitimising veil around terrible injustice. It is that creation of borders, at first imagined and then constructed with barbed wire and minefields, which allows us to justify the pain we cause to those outside our imagined community, our nation, our border.

Thus the people who showed us such warmth unquestioningly condemned the Sahrawi to such brutal torture, repression and oppression. People just like them are stationed on the Berm, are working in gulag-like prisons and are the ones who murdered the Sahrawi Occupy activists. Their actions fuelled by racism, their racism fuelled by the myth of ‘the other’.

Europe’s only land border with Africa

The air was thick with smog, billowing from the exhausts of hundreds of waiting cars which sat, engines purring, waiting for their passengers to clear the border crossing between Morocco and Spain at Melilla. The artificial glow from the floodlights high above gave the whole scene an eerie feeling as fluorescent yellow mixed with the grey haze of the cars. It was a very tense situation. Despite there being a seemingly omnipresent armed police presence, disorder reigned supreme. The border crossing seemed to bring out the worst in everyone.

Crowds gathered around check-point booths clutching passports, pushing, shoving and shouting. Some men were controlling things at the top of the mass of squabbling people, and for a fee you could get your passport to the top of the queue. Every so often someone would be angered by a supposed queue skipper and a fight would break out. The tightly packed crowd would be pushed apart with bodies and barriers crashing loudly to the ground. This violent cacophony was met with little more than a few disinterested whistle blasts from the police and a lecture on how to form a queue, which was, of course, ignored.

In the midst of this suffocating chaos, the police caught a woman who had been hiding in a car and trying to cross the border. She was dragged, screaming from the boot. At the same time, taking advantage of this distraction, a group of people started to hop the fence, perhaps hoping that at least one of them would make it. Police sprang from everywhere, whistles piercing through the shouting. At it’s not bullets, I thought.

The Mediterranean crossing is the most dangerous in the world. Every year hundreds of refugees die or disappear, presumed drowned, as they attempt to get from Africa to Europe and the chance of a better life. Yet because of the colour of my skin, an accident of birth, I survived this crossing. The absolute injustice of borders is unbelievable, and when seen first-hand at one of only two land borders between Africa and Europe it cannot be ignored. It must not be ignored! The close like between neo-colonial development models, neoliberal exploitation of the Global South and the converging environmental crisis require transformative changes.

The issue of borders is at the core of this. There is no border seperating nationalism, racism, colonialism, neoliberalism and the destruction of our environment.

Metro Eireann on the Western Sahara situation, ‘Africa’s last colony’: http://metroeireann.com/article/western-sahara-africas-last,3695

Western Sahara Resource Watch:


‘Our future is now’: Communities in Liberia meet this week to discuss options after large-scale land grab

This blog piece first appeared on the Friends of the Earth International website.

Between 2009 and 2010 the Government of Liberia allocated more than a million acres of land to transnational palm oil producers Sime Darby and Golden Veroleum Liberia without consulting or securing the consent of those living on and using the land. Following the launch of a groundbreaking report from the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI)/ Friends of the Earth Liberia, Uncertain Futures, the affected communities are holding a major conference this week to demand that their voices be heard in decision making.

The ‘Our future is now’ conference will take place in Bopolu City, Gbarpolu County, Liberia, from 27-29 November, bringing together communities affected by Sime Darby and Golden Veroleum Liberia.

The SDI report highlights how, as over a quarter of Liberia’s land area is now given over by the Government to rubber, oil palm and logging companies, Liberia risks becoming a land ‘lost in concessions’ with an uncertain future for the communities who are the original custodians and owners of the land.

These concessions are part of Liberia’s attempt to attract Foreign Direct Investment in the natural resource sector. Large plantations are promoted as a means to create jobs, bring development, and increase the government’s budget. However, they also risk the entrenchment of systemic economic and social injustices against poor and marginalised communities.

Large-scale land allocation to foreign corporations can give transnational companies enormous political power which can subvert local democratic decision making. At the same time as corporate power silences communities, the associated dispossession of rural people from their land contributes to increased poverty in rural areas, widens the gap between the urban elites that benefit from these business transactions and the rural poor who suffer the impacts, and entrenches inequality across Liberian society.

Both the Sime Darby and Golden Veroleum Liberia plantations are clear examples of this. According to the SDI report, ‘the situation facing communities impacted by the expansion of Sime Darby’s plantation in Garwula District, western Liberia is dire: the plantation is on their doorsteps, and their farms and farmlands are being swallowed up by it. There are very few alternative livelihood options.’ According to locals interviewed for the report, Sime Darby did not pay compensation for farm lands taken by the company. They also claim that compensation paid for crops that had been destroyed was inadequate and that forest areas used for cultural practices had also been destroyed and planted with oil palm.

SDI campaigner Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor points out that ‘the situation on the Sime Darby or Golden Veroleum Liberia plantation is about much more than the impacts of a single company.’ He warns that ‘allocating large swathes of fertile agricultural land to foreign companies for several decades is dangerous because as these companies expand their plantations, communities’ ability to cope will be stretched to the limit. It will push people further into poverty, as their income generating activities are curtailed and earning capacities become limited.’

During the course of the three day conference community representatives will have the opportunity to discuss this issue. More than 150 delegates from the counties affected by Sime Darby and Golden Veroleum Liberia Sinoe, Grand Cape Mount, Bomi, and Gbarpolu counties will be in attendance, along with a number of Monrovia-based civil society groups and international experts on agriculture, land, and community rights.

Led by local leaders, participants will be offered the opportunity to break into small groups to discuss their perspectives on the issue. At the end of the conference, community representatives will draft and adopt a document that details what they expect from palm oil concessionaires and the government.

For more information
Uncertain Futures (PDF)

Why I’m Already Looking Forward to Rio+40

This blog piece first appeard on the Young Friends of the Earth Europe website.

In 1992, when the nations of the world came together at the Rio Earth Summit, the closest thing to pollution I was thinking about was my dirty nappy. Now, as Rio+20 gets underway, I am a graduate about to head out into the world as a community worker. During my journey from cot to climate activism a lot has changed in the world. Yet the principles of the 1992 Rio Declaration stand as a radical and inspirational avowal from 172 nations-representing 98% of the world’s population- that they no longer wanted to build a world on unsustainability, injustice and inequity.

Those visionary leaders acknowledged for the first time that social and environmental justice are inextricably linked (Principle 5). They asserted the rights of affected communities, indigenous peoples and subaltern populations to be included- and listened to-in the dialogue (Principle 10, 20, 21, 22). They enshrined the idea of intergenerational equity at the core of sustainable development (Principle 3).

However their most important affirmations were, without a doubt, Principle 7 on ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ and Principle 9 on scientific exchange and technology transfer. Both of these principles, which are so crucial to creating the better world we called for in 1992, are now under serious threat.

Principle 7 emphasises that ‘states shall co-operate in a spirit of global partnership to conserve, protect and restore the health and integrity of the Earth’s ecosystem. In view of the different contributions to global environmental degradation, States have common but differentiated responsibilities. The developed countries acknowledge the responsibility that they bear in the international pursuit of sustainable development in view of the pressures their societies place on the global environment and of the technologies and financial resources they command.’

It acknowledges that the countries of the Global North are primarily responsible for the multiple crises affecting climate and biodiversity, accepting that they have a moral and historical obligation to do the most to prevent the crises and alleviate their effects. By incorporating the triple bottom line of sustainable development (social, environmental and economic), principle 7 highlights the fact that we cannot have sustainable development unless the Global North accepts its role in perpetuating unsustainability. Without North-South equity the systems of exploitation that have led to poverty and environmental degradation will never cease to sustain unsustainability.

In preliminary negotiations before the conference opens officially, many Northern actors, with the US leading the charge, are now actively trying to undermine common but differentiated responsibility- destroying any notion of North-South  equity- according to a draft of The Future We Want (the conference outcomes document) leaked to the Guardian in the UK.

The leaked draft is a telling snapshot of how the EU is taking sides with the US and other leading polluters in backroom negotiations to act against the interests of the Group of 77, the negotiating block which includes the Least Developed Countries and members of the Alliance of Small Island States.

Meanwhile, Principle 9 underlines that ‘states should co-operate to strengthen endogenous capacity-building for sustainable development by improving scientific understanding through exchanges of scientific and technological knowledge, and by enhancing the development, adaptation, diffusion and transfer of technologies, including new and innovative technologies’

This principle acknowledges the reality that key information and technology which is essential for the mitigation of and adaption to climate change is held in the Global North. It is as close as Northern governments are ever likely to go in acknowledging they have cut the Global South out of scientific and political discourses on climate change and development.

Once again, the leaked draft of The Future We Want shows how the US, backed by the EU and others is seeking to delete or dilute all references to technology transferral. Where Northern actors have not demanded outright deletion of the phrase ‘technology transfer’, the US has insisted it be replaced with the words ‘voluntary transfer on mutually agreed terms and conditions’, as in paragraph 18 of the draft text which again seeks to underscore the role of North-South equity in the achievement of the triple bottom line of sustainability.

The abandonment of common but differentiated responsibility and the denial of the North’s moral obligation for technology transfer are extremely worrying on the eve of negotiations that will set out, supposedly, The Future We Want. Now more than ever people all over the world need to stand up and remind our leaders that a future without sustainability, justice and equity is absolutely not the future we want. Our leaders knew that in 1992, we cannot let them forget it.

At the original Earth Summit, Canada, perhaps stirred by the moving speech of 12 year old Canadian citizen Severn Suzuki stated their hope that the Rio Declaration would be something that all children could understand and hang by their beds. The Pakistani delegation reminded Canada that for many children living in poverty there was no bed to hang a piece of paper over. The sad reality is that for many young people who have grown up in the two decades since the Earth Summit the rhetoric of Rio remains hallow.

There is so much still to be done to achieve the world envisioned by the declaration. However it stands as a shining example of what our leaders can resolve to do when they are not guided by narrow self-interest but rather imagine a world build for people rather than profit.

I am graduating now in a world that recognises the North’s responsibility to the South, the importance of the voices of the marginalised and the needs of future generations. In twenty years time, will these fundamental principles still be acknowledged? By Rio+40, I may even have my own polluting toddlers. I wonder what sort of future they will want, and I hazard a guess that it is not one where the Northern leaders of today have abandoned the citizens of the world for a future favoured by an elite few.

That, surely, would be more disgusting than a dirty nappy could ever be.