Thousands march for tough action on climate change

Tens of thousands of activists demanding a planet-saving climate deal blazed a path to the door of the United Nations talks on Saturday in a raucous, festive rally that was also marked by sporadic violence and more than 960 arrests.

In a four-hour march to the Bella Centre, where the conference was under way, a crowd estimated by police to number more than 30 000 pounded out calls for carbon cuts, social justice and a taming of global capitalism.

One protestor dressed as Santa Claus held up a banner saying global warming was occurring twice as fast in the Arctic as the rest of the world.

”My Rudolf cannot take it any more,” he said, referring to the red-nosed reindeer of the famous Christmas song.

Other demonstrators sported banners that read: ”There is no planet B”, ”Change the politics not the climate” and ”Nature does not compromise”.

”Each year 300 000 people are dying because of climate change,” Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, told the marchers. ”This is not about adaptation, it is about survival.”

”We cannot allow carbon traders to damage the world,” added Nigeria’s Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International.

”There is no such thing as clean coal or clean crude. Leave the oil in the soil, leave the coal in the hole,” he said, leading a chant.

Police estimated the turnout at more than 30 000, while Danish television put the estimate at up to 100 000.

Climate Justice Action, a group involved in organising Saturday’s demonstration, accused police of ”violating human rights by detaining people in bitter cold, cuffed and forced into seated positions on the ground”.

Rally organisers had repeatedly urged the crowd to remain non-violent.

But within minutes of the start, a disciplined band of hundreds of masked youths dressed head-to-toe in black threw bricks and firecrackers, smashing windows in the city centre.

Police moved in quickly, arrested a handful of the agitators, later identified as members of militant groups from northern Europe known as Black Blocs.

”Black Blocs members were seen at 1.41pm picking up cobblestones that they later hurled near the former stock exchange, at several Foreign Ministry windows” and a bank, a police statement said.

Over the course of the day a total of 968 protesters were taken into custody, police said.

Four hundred were Black Blocs militants and most of these were foreigners, ”showing that there was a hard core of activists who came to Copenhagen to sow disorder”, a police spokesperson said.

About 150 people were released from custody late on Saturday after questioning, the police statement said.

Later on Saturday, a police officer was injured and four cars were burned out during clashes at a squat in Christiania, in central Copenhagen.

Within the congress hall, Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu led children in creating ”a sea of candles” representing a call from generations imperilled by climate change.

The march capped demonstrations scheduled in 130 cities around the world aimed at stoking pressure on leaders called to seal a landmark deal on climate change in the Danish capital next Friday.

Australia, the developed world’s highest per-capita polluter, kicked off the chain with up to 50 000 people taking to the streets nationwide, organisers said.

In Indonesia, activists rallied outside the US embassy in Jakarta to urge the superpower to support developing nations.

In the Philippines, hundreds of protesters wearing red shirts banged on drums and sang songs outside Manila’s City Hall demanding global action on climate change.

Connie Hedegaard, a former Danish climate minister who is chairing the 12-day Copenhagen marathon, said the demonstrations reflected a public mood that politicians could not ignore.

”It has taken years to build up pressure that we see around the world, and that we have also seen unfolding today [Saturday] in many capitals around the world,” she said.

”That has contributed to making the political price for not delivering in Copenhagen so high that I am absolutely convinced that leaders consider very carefully whether they want to pay that price.” — AFP



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Marlowe Hood
Marlowe Hood
AFP environment & science reporter, herald of the Anthropocene.

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