People’s Assemblies and Climate Justice Are the UN climate talks the only way?

By Daniel T’seleie

What is a People’s Assembly on Climate Justice? And why should we care about them or participate in them?

A People’s Assembly is when community members gather to discuss climate justice; the impacts of climate change, the historical causes of climate change, and appropriate solutions to climate change. This is not just a meeting, it’s a grassroots effort to get everyone, everywhere involved in solving the climate crisis.

There is a growing movement of people around the world who don’t think governments or the UN are capable of or willing to tackle climate change, and People’s Assemblies are the movement’s response to political stalling and inaction.

Discontent with the pace of progress and level of ambition of the UN process and the participating governments is not the only issue; many people around the world fundamentally disagree with the solutions to climate change that are being proposed and discussed in the UN talks.

The UN negotiations include discussions on things like biofuels, genetically modified organisms (GMO), and REDD (reducing [greenhouse gas] emissions from deforestation and degradation), which are considered false solutions to climate change by many people.

Even if these “solutions” are effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, they can cause other problems that may be just as terrible for people around the world as the impacts of climate change. Biofuels increase global food prices and can actually increase greenhouse gas emissions instead of reducing them. GMOs are not proven safe and hurt farmers for the benefit of large corporations (this has happened in Canada). REDD is not effective at reducing emissions and can also harm indigenous people.

The UN process is viewed by many grassroots activists as a venue where large corporations and wealthy nations can try to increase their wealth through proposals like REDD, GMOs, and carbon trading. These people say that climate change cannot be solved by large corporations or through markets that turn things like forests into commodities. They see money, markets, and the power of large corporations as a root cause of climate change. Money and markets got us into this problem, and money and markets won’t get us out of this problem.

So what will solve climate change according the Climate Justice movement? Many of the strategies discussed focus on local solutions like encouraging the local production and consumption of food, redesigning cities to reduce urban sprawl, investing in local renewable energy sources, and making efforts to reduce over-consumption and pollution. A massive People’s Assembly in Cochabamba, Bolivia earlier this year produced Peoples Agreement that discusses many of these issues and solutions.

The Cochabamba People’s Agreement is being advanced as an alternative to the UN climate talks and any deal they could produce, and there will be thousands of grassroots activists in Cancun over the next couple weeks trying to push this message. They won’t be in the UN conference centre, they’ll be outside mobilizing and holding People’s Assemblies.

Via Campesina is one of the groups that will be in Cancun to speak out against the UN process and call for alternative solutions discussed in People’s Assemblies.

This all may sound strange, but the idea of grassroots, local solutions to climate change (i.e. not waiting for governments and the UN) is catching on. Transition towns embody the principles of grassroots People’s Assemblies by including all community members in discussions about climate change, local solutions, and by taking a holistic perspective (e.g. not just reducing greenhouse gas emissions but also trying to make the future better and more sustainable for everyone). Powell River, B.C. is a good example of a transition town that is reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating a vision of a better future. There are thousands of transition towns springing up around the world, check it out.

Via Campesina and others are calling for people everywhere to engage in People’s Assemblies in their communities during the Cancun climate talks. There are already a bunch scheduled to take place in Canada over the next couple weeks. If you can’t find one near you, why not start organizing one for your community?

Maybe you aren’t sold on all this climate justice talk? Maybe you don’t agree with the solutions presented in the Cochabamba Peoples Agreement? Well that’s just one more reason you should participate in a People’s Assembly in your community. Remember, the idea is to get community members together on an equal level, where everyone’s opinion matters, and discuss local solutions to climate change.

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