Last Friday afternoon at the UN Climate Talks, a member of our 350.org team here in Durban walked into the main conference center hallway, and in the tradition of Occupy movements around the world, yelled "Mic check!"
Much to the surprise of UN security and official negotiators, hundreds of people yelled back: "Mic check!" Together, we unfurled banners with messages reading "Don't Kill Africa" and "Stand with Island Nations," and began marching towards the main negotiating room.
For the next two hours, the 350.org team and our allies occupied the hallways of the climate talks, using the "human microphone" (the crowd repeating each line a speaker says) to amplify the voices of people from around the world, including an official Egyptian negotiator and the Environment Minister of the Maldives.
Many of you were there, too, in global solidarity. One of the signs we carried read, "703,000 People Stand With You." That's the (astonishing) number of people who signed petitions, including at 350.org, that called on the United States to stop blocking progress.
Our collective efforts forced the US to back down from locking in the "worst idea ever": delaying agreement on a new climate treaty until 2020. The roadmap agreed to in Durban calls for a climate agreement to be reached by 2015, with full implementation five years later. It's better than "the worst" possible outcome, but it's still a cowardly, unacceptable delay on global climate action -- and a recipe for climate disasters.
There was some tentative progress on other issues: plans solidified for a “green climate fund” to help developing countries, and a tentative blueprint emerged for a legal climate agreement that would apply to all major emitters of greenhouse gases. And in a surprise to some, the talks didn't collapse completely.
But on the whole, the results from Durban are a grave disappointment. The United States and its allies were able to throw up enough roadblocks to stop the type of transformative progress we need to really take on the climate crisis. Targets for emissions reductions are still too vague, too weak, or too distant to get carbon dioxide levels down below the safe upper limit of 350.
Here's the tough reality we now need to face together: the international climate negotiations -- or the US Congress, for that matter -- are never going to produce transformative progress until we can break the stranglehold that fossil fuel companies have on our governments around the world.
Here’s what Bill McKibben had to say about the situation:“We're not going to be overly distracted by the ongoing shell game of endless UN negotiations. We know that the real debate is between the bottom line of the scientists, and the bottom line of the fossil fuel companies -- and we're working hard to tip that debate towards science. Just as we took on the Keystone XL oil pipeline, we're going to take on the subsidies that make the oil companies so rich, and the systemic corruption that makes them so politically powerful.”
If there is one definitive lesson from Durban, it's this: we have a lot of work to do as a movement. In 2012, 350.org will launch hard-hitting campaigns to confront the root causes of the climate crisis, and together we'll build bottom-up climate solutions -- solutions that don't require a global treaty to get the world on the path to climate safety.
We'll be in touch to discuss the details, but you can be sure we're going to need all the help we can get.
Jamie Henn for the whole 350.org team
P.S. While we didn't see great ambition from negotiators in Durban, this UN conference saw the most courage we’ve ever seen from youth delegates and civil society. We hope you’ll share the “Courage in South Africa” wrap-up far and wide with a couple of clicks on Twitter and Facebook. Or, just pass along this link: www.350.org/this/is/courage