Grassroots organizations and think tanks from across Southeast Asia gathered in Bangkok earlier this week to refine a people’s agenda for the United Nations climate negotiations that will culminate in Copenhagen this December. The conference, titled, “The People’s Movement on Climate Change,” reaffirmed a fact that’s often forgotten in the mainstream media’s coverage of the climate crisis: the solutions to global warming won’t only come from scientists and engineers, but from farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, and the myriad of other people who have lived closely with the changing environment for generations.
The technicalities and acronyms of international climate negotiations often obscures the moral imperative of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helping the world’s poor adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change. That imperative was laid out at the Bangkok conference in both impassioned language and startling statistics. Asia contains 60% of the global population. In the last ten years, 43% of natural disasters and a stunning 70% of the lives lost in disasters have occurred in the region. Over 50% of Asia’s massive population is in low-lying areas susceptible to sea-level rise; 60 to 80% are involved in agriculture and are impacted by changing weather cycles. As a conference attendee said of Vietnam, “It’s preparing for the worst.”
At the same time, the two day conference in Bangkok conveyed a sense of excitement and possibility in the new collaborations and campaigns being strategized. 350.org is looking forward to playing an active role in the region, working with a diversity of group including indigenous women’s organizations, web-savvy youth networks, sustainable development foundations, and think-tanks dedicated to promoting climate justice. As an international climate campaign, we’ll be helping develop education materials and projects on global warming and plan for a mobilization around the final United Nations “inter-sessional” climate meeting, a lead up conference in early October to the Copenhagen summit. And of course, 350.org and our new partners will be strategizing about the October 24 International Day of Climate Action. Ideas for creative actions were already bubbling up at the conference.
Perhaps most importantly, we hope that 350.org can play a small role in promoting a new development paradigm centered on thesimple yet powerful idea of “sharing.” As many participants at the Bangkok conference discussed, the solutions to get us back to 350 ppm aren’t just high-tech solar panels and wind turbines, but long traditions of indigenous knowledge, sustainable agricultural practices, and forest stewardship. I had a good laugh with an indigenous leader from the Philippines about how “organic vegetables” and “community gardens” were a current fad San Francisco, where I’m normally based. “We’ve been doing that forever!” she said. At the same time, participants quickly acknowledged the need for rural electrification programs, new technologies, and financial assistance for adaptation to the impacts of climate change. Clearly there are plenty of opportunities for sharing in the future. It’s my hope that October 24 can be one of the most powerful and beautiful displays of sharing to date.