Over five hundred people, representing 150 different groups active around climate change, took part in the climate action summit in Canberra from January 31 to February 3, culminating in a protest of around 2000 people at the opening of parliament.
The summit was a huge step forward for the movement. Local climate action groups have sprung up all around the country over the last few years. Many local groups have focused on individual solutions, such as promoting solar panels, so it was an important step to have them come together to demand political change.
The outcomes of the summit were very good. There was agreement reached on three key aims for the movement over the next year. Importantly the first of these was stopping Rudd’s carbon trading scheme (CPRS) from becoming law.
In spite of Rudd distancing himself from neo-liberalism recently, he hasn’t broken with the ineffective and inequitable neo-liberal market mechanism of carbon trading.
There is still debate within the movement on whether carbon trading, or carbon pricing, has any role to play. But there was agreement that Rudd’s current legislation is so badly flawed, with its free permits and compensation to big polluters and aim of reducing emissions by just five per cent by 2020, as to be worse than useless.
The summit agreed to raise demands for green jobs, a just transition and 100 per cent renewable energy by 2020, and to build support for stabilising global climate emissions at 300ppm, as the basis for a global agreement.
These demands are a step forward from amorphous calls to “take action” which were raised at last year’s Walk Against Warming.
Calling for 100 per cent renewable energy puts real pressure on the government to speed up action. It was understood to include opposition to any new fossil fuel power stations or infrastructure. In the context of the global economic crisis the demands for green jobs and a just transition will be crucial in trying to mobilise the union movement and reach out to workers.
Unfortunately the decision making process meant the ability of participants to come away with a clear understanding of and commitment to decisions was compromised. Decisions were made when a 75 per cent majority voted for approval.
But proposals were drawn up in detail by working groups that involved a small minority of summit participants and then presented as a virtual fait accompli to the whole summit. Furthermore the consensus process meant there was little free-flowing discussion about proposals, with participants only able to raise strenuous objections.
Goodwill among the summit participants meant a common commitment to proposals resulted. But with proper discussion of them by the whole summit, this would have been deepened.
More time was spent on detailed policy than on what the movement was going to do to force government and business to act. Around 80 policy recommendations were voted on individually, without debate, at a plenary on Sunday (the policy was available before the conference, and there had been debate in smaller policy sessions beforehand, but only a minority participated).
It was good to see proposals advocating uranium mining and population targets rejected, but with no discussion it was difficult for participants to come away with further clarity on these issues.
The policy is important in spelling out how we can solve climate change with existing technology. But the movement now needs to shift the balance to how we achieve this.
The obstacles we face from those in power are huge—we need to discuss what pressure we can bring to bear to overcome this. There was general agreement that we need the unions on board, but unions are still seen by many as just another community group to appeal to. Our power lies in numbers, in civil disobedience, and crucially, if we can mobilise it in any form, the ability of workers to strike to force change.
The summit agreed to four key mobilisations for 2009: actions on March 27, when Rudd’s CPRS looks set to be tabled in parliament, national protests around world environment day in June, actions over likely arctic melting in September and national protests in the lead up to the United Nations Copenhagen Climate Change Conference on December 9.
In Melbourne 40 people gathered after the summit for a debrief meeting, forming sub-groups to start planning actions and rallies. What matters now is how we put the outcomes of the summit into practice, how we build the protests and how we build the movement.
Solidarity produced a discussion paper for the conference, which can be found at localhost/solidarity.net.au
By Chris Breen