The role of democracy and security in climate justice has not been spoken of as much in many side events or panels, but is strongly felt at COP even by civil society on a daily basis.
Having this event moved from Santiago to Madrid was unprecedented, restricting access from negotiations for participants from Latin America who did not have the means to cross the ocean, a goal of rotating COP host countries each year. Communities in Chile and across Latin America, as well as around the world, have risen against false solutions and growing inequality, including increased demand-side prices of fuels that heavily their impact daily lives while at the same time continuing to subsidize extraction and polluting those same communities.
Chile’s response of deploying military to the streets reminded many earlier-generation residents of living under dictatorship, with strict curfews and limited rights. Many partners who had planned to attend COP25 decided to travel to Chile in solidarity with communities still calling for reforms and a restoration of security.
For many communities, the presence of police is the opposite of security. In our own country, police systematically target and use force against communities of color, with Indigenous and Black communities disproportionately overpopulating our privatized prisons and separating communities. Along our borders, displaced families are separated by militarized border control — what for European American ancestors was a rubber stamp is now a bullet and exponentially the largest number of incarcerated children in any country. Environmental activists are the highest target of disappeared people across the Americas, alongside Missing and Murdered Indigenous women, both of which are closely linked with extractive industries.
When changing climates cause resource scarcity and when extreme weather hits communities, we should be able to depend on emergency service professionals to provide safe refuge and maintain peace.
Yet, frontline communities most impacted by climate change often have deep and traumatic histories with police and military. This is not discussed in negotiations as diplomats argue over rules of counting emissions and offsets, like a game we are all at risk of losing.
Frontline communities present at COP25 have been raising their voices to call out these intersections, including a powerful panel of women on the frontline hosted by WECAN. Nina Gualinga described how women in her community in Ecuador discovered a military camp within their sovereign territory, which had been regularly deployed by their national government to protect the oil industry. Daiara Sampaio shared how Indigenous languages give us an understanding of a much more rich and complex universe and the role of an individual life, that we are all connected; it’s why her community defends the air, earth, water, and territory with their bodies.
Civil society have increasingly felt this pressure not only at home but at COP25 itself.
As negotiations drag on with little agreement or progress, and few countries increasing ambition on their emissions goals, activists raise their voices to pressure decision makers to reach consensus, led by youth from frontline communities. Half a million people marched through Madrid on Friday. Outside of the event hall throughout the week groups have protested and blocked the street. Within the Blue Zone, youth from around the world have united, taking over the stage after panels and press conferences.
On Wednesday, hundreds of observers held an unsanctioned action outside the high-level statements and were forcibly removed from the venue. The tension between public will and political outcomes at COP, and in communities calling for change across these intersectional issues, mirrors the rise against inequality and government crackdown around the world. Yet, we must believe we will achieve the change we need, we have no option, and when we come together as communities we can feel that this change is coming. As our partner Jacqui Patterson reminded us of Assata Shakur’s words on the panel, it is our duty to fight, and it is our duty to win, we have nothing to lose but our chains.