Durban, South Africa: December 7 2011

by Andrea Palframan, Watershed Sentinel

A mid-day disruption of the high-level negotiations at the COP-17 summit have set a precedent for further direct action here at the Durban climate talks. Following on more than a week of activism, the Canadian Youth Delegation disrupted the high level plenary session today. During Canadian environment minister Peter Kent’s opening address to the parties of COP, six members of the CYD stood, removed their jackets, and turned their backs to the minister, revealing a message reading “Turn your back on Canada.”

The message points to the call by civil society to proceed towards a deal despite Canada’s regressive position on the Kyoto Protocol.
Despite the indecorous nature of their protest in these hushed hallways, the youth delegates received a round of applause from the negotiators and other members of civil society. The young activists were then surrounded by UN security personnel, who escorted them out of the building and revoked their badges. The 6 will not be able to continue to attend the final days of the summit.
Says Cameron Fenton, spokesperson for the CYD, “We hope it inspired other people, especially other youth to stand up and go beyond making statements and take action on countries like Canada who are negotiating in bad faith.”
Meanwhile, today Chinese and American youth held a press conference announcing their efforts to bridge the positions of their nations. Citing the historic use of one another as scapegoats in refusals to sign on to binding agreements, the youth aim to urge their nations to commit to an ambitious new round of Kyoto by 2020.
This may be too little, too late. People already affected by climate change, notably in Africa, feel the urgency to act now to secure a global agreement. Prior to the start of this conference,  African negotiators were bandying about the idea of occupying the negotiations, by simply refusing to leave the negotiations  in the final hours until binding agreements are reached.  The action of the Canadian Youth Delegation today set a precedent for that kind of breaking with UN protocol; perhaps their lead will give other negotiators and observers the courage to take similar stands.
“This last couple of days is the chance for the most impacted countries to stand and do something really powerful.” says Fenton. “There is a chance that a statement will be made by countries from the global south, in support of the most impacted countries.”
While they are exhilarated with the media coverage and attention from the negotiators themselves that their action today drew, the youth delegates see involving others in the climate justice movement is where long-term change will be effected. Says Fenton, “It’s not where we are by December 15th, it’s where we are January 1st.”
When asked if an underlying message of ‘Turn your back on Canada’ could be read as a call for citizens, institutions and governments to divest themselves of assets that derive the tar sands development, Fenton was unequivocal. “A lot of folks I know who do tar sands work have broached the subjects of boycott and divestment of assets. We’re learning that the European fuel quality director may ban the import of tar sands oil to Europe, then there was the Climate Camp in the UK who took on banks who were investing in tar sands.”
“The pressure is building elsewhere, and we need to bring that spirit to Canada.”