Discontent over the direction of this year’s UN Climate Conference (COP25) in Madrid came to a head on December 11 when hundreds of protesters interrupted the negotiations. The protesters, frustrated with the slow pace of the negotiations, demanded rich, industrialized nations provide finance for communities vulnerable to the worst effects of climate change, as key decisions around loss and damage and global carbon markets are expected in the coming days.  

The protesters, who were heard chanting “step up, pay up,” were quickly stopped by security forces, who detained and debadged them, claiming that they had violated the UNFCCC Code of Conduct. This unprecedented move is one of the most brazen efforts to silence civil society to date at a climate conference.

However, after meeting with representatives from observer organizations, the UNFCCC decided to allow re-entry to those who were debadged for the duration of COP25.

La Ruta signed onto a joint civil society statement by numerous constituencies and organizations:

“Instead of kicking out these polluters, the UNFCCC 25th Conferences of the Parties (COP25) kicked out the people. Instead of listening to our voices, they attempted to silence us. We were pushed, bullied, and touched without our consent. We were driven out of the negotiating halls, told that we can take our action outside as they raised an enormous metal door and herded us out.”

The protesters were stunned by the disproportionate response taken by the conference security. With nations like the United States, Australia and Brazil once again threatening to upend negotiations, it seems unfair that civil society once again are the ones being punished.

“We, along with young people, women’s rights activists & indigenous peoples, were pushed out of the #UNFCCC #COP25Madrid for protesting against low ambition, exploitative carbon markets & no support for #climate survivors,” said Harjeet Singh, Global Climate lead at ActionAid on Twitter.  

Climate Action Network International Policy Advisor Lucile Dufour was also taken aback by the UNFCCC’s response to the protest, writing on Twitter:

“Today, I participated in a non-violent protest at #COP25. I wanted to denounce the lack of progress in the negotiations, where big emitting countries have for too long shied away from their responsibilities. The only response I got from @UNFCCC is to get my badge taken away.”

Dufour stressed:

“We’re in a state of climate emergency. Millions of people have taken to the streets demanding social and climate justice. And yet, civil society’s voice is silenced at #COP25.”

A joint statement by the UNFCCC and some observer organizations described an “unfortunate security incident”, which “made it necessary to take actions intended to ensure the safety of COP participants and to allow for the continuation of the conference proceedings.  The statement made it clear that protesters must adhere to the Code of Conduct for future demonstrations.

The latest pushback against civil society shows that the UNFCCC may have more hostility to those demanding climate justice and real ambition than those who have caused the problem.  Executives from Shell Oil, Chevron and BP have all been present at this year’s conference.  Some of Spain’s most notorious polluters such as Endesa, Iberdrola, Banco Santander and Suez are helping bankroll the conference.

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