- The People’s Plenary at COP28 showed all the anger and frustration of a world without fairness and justice.
- Perhaps the most political session of COP28, without politicians to listen to the cry of the weakest.
- Climate crisis, yes, but not only: wars and occupations, gender issues, childhood and youth, labour, exploitation. And an endless need for justice and rights.
- A house key, around the neck of a Palestinian woman, to which she and the whole world seems to cling.
It is difficult to emerge from an assembly such as the one that took place on Monday at COP28, in which all the world’s weakest and most vulnerable -people and countries- who are drowning in a sea of iniquity and injustice, gathered together.
Frantic negotiating sessions are still being held all around on practically everything one day before the official closure; in the small and large halls, technicians and politicians are grappling with periods, phrases and punctuation of draft negotiating texts. The politics are elsewhere, in short, while in the Al Ghafat hall, the most political assembly of the entire COP took place: all the major political knots still unresolved, in fact, came to the boil of the UN climate negotiations with force, determination, anger and frustration. The ultimate and concise sense is that the climate crisis adds weight to all the other crises gripping contemporary life: wars and occupations, gender issues, childhood and youth, labour, indigenous peoples and local communities, exploitation, poverty.
The various Constituencies and many associations reminded the world that climate crisis and transition cannot be solved without climate justice. And that there can be no climate justice without human rights.
Two of the most touching and moving moments of the entire plenary assembly (which was touching and moving from start to finish) were that of Ainin, a Palestinian representative, and Joseph, a very young representative from South Sudan.
Ainin, this is the name of the woman from Palestine, gave voice to her territories ravaged by ’75 years and 7 weeks’ of war and occupation, perhaps for the first time in Dubai, and not surprisingly far from the main stages. She wore a key hanging around her neck: the key to a home that is no longer there. And she clung to it tightly, as she tried to speak in a voice broken with emotion. And along with Ainin, the whole world clung to it, to that key to Gaza, listening to what has been happening there since 1948.
All subsequent speeches, from all corners of the world, expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people, calling for a cease-fire and shouting ‘Free Palestine!’ at several points.
At the end of the plenary, a long liberating embrace by President Lindy Nacpil from Asia, testifying how close the world is to the Territories and the Palestinian people.
A second incredibly moving moment came immediately afterwards, with the intervention of the very young Joseph, a climate activist speaking for CAN International and representing children and youth rights. From South Sudan, he told of how his land is affected by floods, which also devastate schools, preventing children and young people from going to school and studying, because even the books are destroyed. And how ‘without teaching, without learning, there is no brighter future for us’. Like a seasoned politician, he then spoke about food shortages, poverty, the climate crisis and solutions: ‘we are the future generation and I am sure that those who caused climate change will no longer exist and will leave the burden on our hands. Why don’t we find solutions? Why don’t we find ways to make the world a better place? Leaders need to come up with solutions that will bring change that will make the future better for us children. We need a climate justice solution, we need justice when it comes to climate‘.
But the whole assembly was devastated, angry, frustrated. Especially knowing that outside that hall, people are still trying to square the climate circle and their options.
There was a succession of speeches by indigenous peoples, who spoke of nature being violated, of their ‘worried and bewildered’ role as ‘guardians’ and protectors of natural systems and biodiversity.
Women, often young, who unlike in the more prestigious halls represented the majority of those who spoke here, talking about rights and climate in many facets.
Like Maria Jose, from Ecuador: ‘we have struggled a lot to come here, it is not easy for us while there are those who continue to violate our rights, but we are here and we want to act. Indigenous peoples have been forced to take action for the climate and not because we are creating climate change. But I would like to ask how indigenous peoples can act against climate change while you accept the industries that create climate change are criminalising, persecuting and killing us?”
Or like the young YOUNGO representative, Rowa, also from South Sudan. She too spoke about wars, social and health problems, then focusing on climate and the future, inevitably: ‘it is our job to take care of this planet, it is our only home. We are not far from nature and we are part of the same nation, which is here to save us. To betray nature is stupid. We are fighting for the right or any kind of equality. Because if we do not work together to save this environment, it will die out’.
Then a succession of speeches from the Trade Unions, from TUNGOs. Who talk about the environment and rights. Workers’ rights and the climate crisis, like the Swedish representative who recalls how workers ‘at Elon Musk’s electric vehicle plants are fighting for fair pay’.
For WGC, the Women and Gender Constituency, Aishka Najib speaks of the ‘collective knowledge of feminists’ clinging to ‘our collective power and our collective dream of a liberated future. However, I am also deeply frightened because this space has been compromised by the fossil fuel industry, which is committing crimes against women, girls, indigenous peoples, people suffering intersectional forms of discrimination and future generations’; and of economic models to be reshaped.
An assembly difficult to forget. Strong in the eyes remain that hand around that key, that embrace and the raised fists of all the women and men who, standing up, demanded climate justice, human rights, and a ceasefire in Palestine.
Edited by Paolo Della Ventura, Italian Climate Network volunteer
Photo: UNFCCC Platform