C17 July Meeting: The Movement’s Progress

The Civil Society Committee for COP17 (the committee is known as C17) is a grassroots organization dedicated to making civil society’s climate concerns heard at the upcoming 17th annual Conference of the Parties (COP17) in Durban, South Africa in November and December of 2011. COP17 will pick up where COP16 (in Cancun) left off, which, according to some expert opinion, is at a point of insufficient progress.

On July 5, 2011, C17 met at Durban’s Botanic Gardens Education Centre. At the meeting, I observed an interesting mix of harmony and disharmony among the various organizations and individuals in attendance. This can be expected, given the range of organizations and individuals present. One of the biggest questions that must be asked is the question of how much progress was made at the meeting (not an easy question to answer in my opinion). I must also concede that this was my first C17 meeting and as such I am in no position to comment on the progress that was made prior to the meeting.

One of the primary purposes of the meeting was to determine a list of principles that C17 should stand for. After small groups discussed the principles, all votes were tallied and universally agreed upon principles were noted. Some attendees felt that the process for deciding which principles for C17 to follow was itself flawed and undemocratic. This stemmed from the fact that if only one single person in attendance didn’t agree with one principle, it would be instantly and permanently scrapped.

All in all, of the 25 principles set out, only 4 were agreed upon:
• Demand a binding agreement for emissions reductions
• Pledge and review system is unacceptable
• Environmentally sustainable, socially just and equitable development
• Safeguard biodivertiy and peoples’ rights

However, several principles were almost agreed upon. That is to say that several principles were agreed upon by all groups except one or two, who made minor alterations to the principle but still ultimately agreed on it (even as little an alteration as changing “drastically reduce fossil fuel emissions” to “reduce fossil fuel emissions”). This left some universally desired principles off the agreed-upon list, with altered principles perhaps to be voted on at a later date.

The presentation delivered from a government official left most attendees disappointed. The government presenter arrived late (thereby forcing a last-minute schedule change), gave a presentation that confused the majority of attendees, and then left without actually attempting to settle the confusion. The presentation was rife with acronyms unknown to almost the entire audience. Even though attendees mentioned to her that members of the audience were confused, she nevertheless failed to explain herself. She agreed to explain the acronyms “sooner or later” yet this never happened.

Another item on the agenda was to decide on a name for the side event venue thus far simply known as ‘the space.’ A relatively unimportant (albeit necessary) decision in my opinion, yet the disagreement that came about from this decision reflected the disagreements occurring throughout the day. The democratically voted-upon name was Amandla oMa, meant to mean “Power to Mother Earth” in Zulu. However, due to discrepancies surrounding the correct translation, the name for ‘the space’ has yet to be decided.

All in all, some progress was achieved to be sure. One notable example was the amount of attendees who signed themselves up to volunteer for C17 as well as events that were registered, mostly to be held during the COP17 conference in ‘the space.’ Of course, progress during meetings of such diverse points of view cannot be expected to come particularly easily or swiftly. Having said this, the movement still seems to be alive and somewhat well, and I am hopeful that any obstacles at this stage can be overcome in the crucial months leading up to COP17.

Alex Todd is a 3-month research intern with this project and is currently in Durban, South Africa working with the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA).

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