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Climate change

Mary Robinson meets with climate justice activists

150 people blowing Vuvuzelas outside Leinster House, Dublin.

200 people arrive in Durban after a 4,000 mile caravan trip.

From South Africa to south Dublin the UN climate change negotiations are getting people on the streets against climate change.

This week in Durban, South Africa UN climate change negotiations have moved into the critical final week and Trócaire is there because the world’s poor, who are suffering the worst effects of climate change can’t be forgotten as the talks heat up.

So what’s been happening? A few days ago Mary Robinson met with campaigners who travelled over 4,000 miles across 10 African countries from Burundi to South Africa in a ‘Trans-African Caravan of Hope’, arriving in Durban in time for the opening of the UN climate negotiations.

Climate change actvists in Dublin and Durban.

Top and middle: Stop Climate Chaos campaigners outside the Dail in Dublin. Photos: Alan Whelan.
Bottom: ‘Caravan of hope’ climate change campaigners meet Mary Robinson in Durban, where the latest UN climate change negotiations are taking place. Photo: Cliona Sharkey.

The caravan transported over 200 people – students, pastoralists, farmers, and youth campaigners. They stopped off in every country to tell their stories and raise awareness of climate change.

The caravan’s historical journey kicked off in November and crossed Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and into South Africa. Thousands of people joined rallies and marches along the route of the Caravan of Hope, organised by the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), a Trócaire partner.

Mary Robinson knew about the Caravan having first met some of the participants at a meeting with Trócaire earlier this year. The former President of Ireland left the confines of the official conference to meet the ‘Caravanites’, most of whom were not able to access the convention centre where the negotiations are taking place.

Paul O Kong’o, a farmer in his sixties from Lake Victoria in Kenya, told her of the changes he has seen in the weather and explained how farmers are the first to feel the changes in the climate.  

‘When I was young the wind over the lake would bring the rains, the farmer-friendly birds were there to eat the insects, and the sun and the rain together ensured the crops would grow,’ he said. ‘But these systems no longer work. With poverty of the mind the environment has been abused, soils are eroded and when the rains come they wash the seeds away.’

Paul was frustrated that having come all this way the Caravanites were not able to tell their stories to the decision makers, instead having to remain outside the official conference.  He said, ‘if even the walls have ears, Mary, you must be our wall and make sure our voices are heard.’

Mailes Zulu Muke from Zambia told Mary how rural women in particular are suffering as a result of climate change.  Without roads and transport, in many rural areas women are extremely isolated.  She told the story of a lady who had given birth in the village next to hers.  She had planted maize and had planned to sell the crop to buy what she needed for the birth of her baby.  But maize is very vulnerable to drought and the crop failed when the rains did not come as they should.  When she gave birth the baby was wrapped in a banana leaf because she could not afford the blanket she wanted.

Trócaire has been calling on the Irish government to play its part in ensuring the Durban talks result in a binding legal framework to reduce emissions. With the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol set to expire in 2012, there is an urgent need for action.

Alongside other members of the Stop Climate Chaos group, Trócaire held a vuvuzela protest outside the Dáil two weeks ago in advance of the Durban talks. Using the instruments made famous at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, hundreds of protesters called on the Irish government to play a productive role in ensuring the success of the Durban talks, as well as introducing domestic climate change legislation.

That message has been carried on by the Caravanites. Their message was clear. They had come together – different nationalities, ethnicities and ages – united by the impacts that affect them all.  They have come to Durban to call for a united Africa in the climate negotiations.  Their demands are not for sympathy, but for justice.  

They do not seek charity, only what is theirs in justice – the right to development.  

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