Occupy Durban: Addressing global warming for the 99%

Back when I was a full-time academic, I swear we held meetings simply for the purpose of scheduling more meetings. That seems to be what’s happening with international climate change negotiations: each round of talks since Bali in 2007 seems to degenerate into a punting of major issues to the next round. This week, delegates have gathered in Durban, South Africa to discuss a global response to climate change, and some representatives of smaller countries most affected by global warming think it’s time for new tactics. In short, they’re talking about an “occupation” of the meetings.

According to an article in last Thursday’s Guardian, the idea was put forth by Costa Rican representative and former president José María Figueres (above). In his statement, Figueres noted “I have called on all vulnerable countries to ‘occupy’ Durban. We need an expression of solidarity by the delegations of those countries that are most affected by climate change, who go from one meeting to the next without getting responses on the issues that need to be dealt with.” The occupation would involve these representatives refusing to leave the talks until the parties reach a substantive agreement for dealing with the climate crisis.

We’ve still got a week and half until the talks are scheduled to end, so we’ll have to see how negotiations play out and whether Costa Rica and other small nations follow through. In the meantime, though, an Occupy COP17 group (much more like the “traditional” Occupy gathering) has set up camp outside of the official talks. The group held its first General Assembly on Monday and made clear that issues of “climate justice” were at the top of their agenda. Perhaps Figueres will come out to join them, as it sounds like there’s a lot of common ground between these groups. The world’s poorest people are definitely feeling the brunt of global warming.

Two weeks ago, The Atlantic senior editor Alexis Madrigal made the case that the Occupy Wall Street movement is akin to an Application Programming Interface (API): new groups around the globe can draw on the “data” created by existing groups to create their own Occupy “application.” Both Figueres’ call and Occupy COP17 would seem to bear this analogy out, as efforts to deal with climate change have mirrored the international economic situation, and Occupy-style activism might be just the way to highlight these disparities. We’ll keep an eye on both developments.


Image credit: UNclimatechange at Flickr under a Creative Commons license