“Go back to work!”. This was the order delivered by the Danish hosts of the Climate Change Summit to the official delegates from the Third World countries – or developing countries, as they often call themselves — and it could not have been clearer. Trouble is that the developing countries delegations, mainly Africans, threatened to abandon the conference if the Kyoto Protocol was not discussed. Delegates are not here to protest or do walk-outs, said the Danes. That is the role of the so-called trouble makers who disrupted the peaceful city during the weekend with their chants, slogans and, in some cases, bricks-on-windows tactics. Protests are for those who did not get accreditation.
And yet, in response to the ambiguous attitude of the hosts and the reluctance of the rich to take responsibility for the climatic mess we are in, that is precisely what some developing countries are threatening to do: leave the conference because the Kyoto Protocol is not being discussed, despite the fact that the Treaty is only two years away from its sell-by-date. The frustration is obvious. There is simply no progress. And everything is made worse by the disorganisation. Even those who are entitled to get into the conference hall are not managing to do it. A Paraguayan delegate phoned me to apologise for not turning up for an interview because she had spent four hours queuing in Bella Centre, despite the fact that she is a top adviser to Paraguay’s environment minister. She never got in.
In the meantime, there is amazing life and vigour outside the main conference hall. The alternative conference is so dynamic that many official delegates have chosen to spend time there because here there are real people, representatives of grassroots communities, farmers, peasants, activists who did not discover the issue of climate change because they ran out of political ideas, but because they live in regions of the world where drought and floods (take your pick) are devastating lives.
They are not here to mope around feeling sorry for themselves or simply to protest. They are here to promote solutions, like a system to generate electricity with cow dung, or a vertical garden, a novel idea that uses rain water and old walls as an imaginative way of growing vegetables in the middle of the city. This is, indeed, a Danish invention but India is benefiting.
Andrea Guzman, a Bolivian young activist who works with Cenprotac, an NGO working in popular education, is in some ways typical. I spotted her not in a conference hall but jumping up and down, covered with dried branches, wearing a feathered hat and with yellow and black paint on her face. Together with other dancers, she turned up singing (rather than shouting a slogan), with a plea: just save the planet. Silly girl, one may say, what difference will it make to go around in funny clothes while the real law makers are in Bella Centre (or queuing outside…) trying to reach a real solution.
But once you talk to her, you realise that, behind the disguise, this young woman is doing more than others to change things. She works mainly with women, the first sufferers of climate change. “Just Google climate change” she tells me, “and you will find that women appear first as victims”. And she is emphatic: “most of the victims in the Asian tsunami were women”.
She tells me that for millions of people climate change has become a question of survival: “if you have very little water, you give it enormous priority and treat it with great care. Women have to walk long distances to collect water and, once again, they are the first to suffer if the water runs out, as a result of climate change”.
For Andrea, the issue of climate change has been dehumanised. There is no consideration for those people who are suffering the consequences of global warming and politicians are not taking the right decisions.
I ask her a predictable question: “what role do you think women should play in the issue of climate change?”. She looks a bit irritated: “it is not a question of playing a role; it’s a question of been part of the process”.
She tells me that they are not asking for billions of dollars to adapt to climate change in Bolivia, for they are already doing it because they simply can’t afford to wait until the men and women in grey suits make decisions. “We dig wells, use fewer plastic bags and do much else”, she tells me.
She is even critical of her own government because macho attitudes still prevail. “They talk about women as if we were the Pachamama (Mother Earth, in Quechua) because of our fertility, but these are only words”, she tells me.
We ended our talk because even busy Bolivian activists dressed to dance have to have lunch. She gives me a smile behind the paint and says goodbye. She does not need to queue for hours to make her point; she is already where she wants to be.
Listen the testimony of Andrea Guzman (in Spanish):