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Civil Society Voices Skepticism About COP17 Talks

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Melissa Britz

30 November 2011

Durban — The United Nations climate talks are under way in Durban on Monday amid much skepticism from civil society.

While the delegates and officials battle to reach consensus, civil society groups are mobilising to apply pressure in the hopes of achieving a just, fair and legally binding agreement.

Once such movement is Occupy COP17. Members of NGOs and concerned citizens met in a open area between busy city streets close to the Durban International Convention Centre where the talks are taking place. Despite being a relatively small group, the people present tried to create an open and inclusive platform to raise their concerns and debate solutions to what is arguably the most pressing issue of our time.

A handout at the event defines the significance of an occupation as turning a space "into a forum for open discussion and participatory democracy. By occupying a space, the physical structure of the camp reflects the goals of the people gathered -- to discuss and develop new participatory processes for democracy."

Stephen Murphy, a member of the "leaderless collective" that organised the event, emphasised the importance of creating a space to share ideas.

"The main idea is that we don't feel that we are being properly represented inside COP. You've got the UN creating this space for governments and often the influence of corporate lobbies to talk and negotiate solutions to climate change. And what is happening is that they are all negotiating for their own interests, for the interests of their countries, for the interests of their corporations and in the interest of growth in the fossil fuel industries. So what we would like to create here is a space for the voice of the people and to create a space where we can discuss what we feel are the real solutions to climate change."

Participants from other parts of the world like the Jubilee South Asia Pacific Movement on Debt and Development (JS APMDD), and Friends of the Earth International were also present. Ian Ribera from the Philippines says that JS APMDD "has been involved in the campaign for climate justice and the campaign to call for deep and drastic cuts to emissions". Ribera emphasised that immediate action is needed specifically by countries who are historically large polluters.

Vigorous debate and group discussions were a major feature of the gathering and many present felt that more needs to be done to increase awareness of climate issues at all levels of society.

Participants resolved to continue the occupation and continue applying pressure on elected representatives to put the interests to their people first.