Alternative Global Forum for Life, Environmental and Social Justice gets under way in Cancun
Very different from the Arctic temperatures at Moon Palace, where the United Nations climate change conference is under way, a large open-air gymnasium and basketball court is the venue for the alternative Global Forum for Life, Environmental and Social Justice, which began here on Saturday.
Led by Via Campesina, or the International Peasant Movement, farmers have been travelling around Mexico before their caravans arrived here. Among the major actions planned is a day of protests on December 7 to reject the “false and market-based solutions” to climate change.
Positioned as a direct challenge to the United Nations meetings, Via Campesina, which has a presence in more than 70 countries, has been uniting farmers, workers and indigenous people to stake a claim for their rights and make their voices heard.
At the open-air meeting at the Via Campesina Forum, the fragrance of flowers and incense waft through the air, as speakers make their points forcefully.
There are stalls selling T shirts and crafts and music. The atmosphere may seem relaxed, but the people are determined.
Alberto Gomez, a leader of the peasant movement in Mexico and of Via Campesina, reckons that the U.N. conference will end in failure, and that will be a failure for all human beings who are worried about climate change.
As opposed to the U.N. meeting, which is meant to make a business out of climate change, the Via Campesina Forum is a collective space for people and non-governmental organisations to debate on the crucial issues affecting their communities. No one here has faith in the U.N. meeting yielding any result.
Since November 28, people having been travelling around Mexico, and this Forum is a means of bringing pressure on the government.
“This is not an exclusive matter of the government; the people have to be involved too. The Mexican government is promoting programmes that will help U.S. interests and transnational companies,” Mr. Gomez says. Seventy per cent of the Mexican territory is given over to mining, and some 25 per cent in concessions to Canadian companies. All its rivers are polluted, but everything is a business — garbage, water, he says.
Grass root movements
The Global Forum is a platform for grass root movements that need a space for expressing their dissent and discussing solutions. “It is impossible for people to go near the conference or have any say,” says Paul Nicholson, member of the Basque Farmers Union.
“I think it is better to have no agreement than have a bad one.” The solutions to the problem of climate change, as suggested by the governments, have more to do with making money than with resolving the issue at hand, he says.
Opposing carbon trading and making money out it, he says it is senseless that the U.N. conference is going to strengthen privatisation and selling air and forests as a solution.
Nandini Kardahalli Singaragowda of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, a farmers group, says people who are polluting the atmosphere are not paying for it. Agriculture and climate go together, and the farmers suffer in many ways. At forums like this, it is the people-to-people exchange, and these views must be heard.
For indigenous people and farmers in Guatemala, the struggle for land rights and the need to have good climate policies go hand in hand. Maria Canil Grave says the impact of climate change in Guatemala is huge because of extensive deforestation. Mining and hydroelectric projects are putting more pressure on land, she says, and the U.N. climate change conferences only help to increase privatisation.
For the past 500 years, the land of the indigenous people was traded or sold, and no government is interested in giving them any rights, says Dolores Sales.
“Our people are not going after riches; we want our cultural rights and values to be respected. Ours is a better way of looking at the world. Indigenous people are affected the most by climate change.” Is anyone listening?