climate activist with the group SustainUS.
co-founder and communications director of the climate group 350.org. His new piece for The Huffington Post is called "The Climate Talks Find an Enemy at COP20: The Fossil Fuel Industry."
We speak with youth activist Alyssa Johnson-Kurts of the group SustainUS about rules at the United Nations Climate Change Conference that require protesters to submit banners and slogans for approval. She says the regulations bar mention of specific names, officials and projects. "We tried to submit a banner that would have an arrow with Keystone XL in one direction and a liveable future in the other direction, and they rejected that proposal," Johnson-Kurts says. Civil society faces increasing separation from what takes place inside the conference. "The irony of course is that very few restrictions are placed on the fossil fuel companies that come here," notes our guest Jamie Henn, co-founder and communications director of the climate group 350.org.
AMY GOODMAN: But I did find someone who would answer my questions, one of the organizers of a small protest after Kerry’s speech, a protest against the Keystone XL pipeline. She explains how difficult organizing that protest was.
ALYSSA JOHNSON-KURTS: My name is Alyssa Johnson-Kurts. I’m with SustainUS, the U.S. youth delegation. And I’m from the state of Vermont.
AMY GOODMAN: So, right after Secretary Kerry gave his speech, you had a small protest. Can you talk about what your protest was about?
ALYSSA JOHNSON-KURTS: Sure. It was about tar sands, specifically, and calling out the different infrastructure projects that are transporting tar sands around Canada and around the United States. It was a co-project with the Canadian Youth Delegation.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what it takes to get a protest approved here at the COP?
ALYSSA JOHNSON-KURTS: Sure. So, for this protest, we had to send in a request to the Secretariat, and for any of the actions here, have to send in a request. And on that request—
AMY GOODMAN: Request to who?
ALYSSA JOHNSON-KURTS: Request to the Secretariat. So it’s—
AMY GOODMAN: The U.N.?
ALYSSA JOHNSON-KURTS: To the U.N., yes. And so, you have to send in the information that will be on your banners. You have to send in any slogans that you’ll be using. You’re not allowed to call out any specific people. So, Kerry, while he was here, we’re not allowed to specifically name him in our action or on our banners. We’re not allowed to use the names of countries, so we couldn’t call out the United States or Canada around Keystone XL. We weren’t allowed to name specific projects, for example, so we’re not allowed to talk about Keystone XL pipeline.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you give in a picture of a banner that they said no to?
ALYSSA JOHNSON-KURTS: So, we had some issues around getting our banners approved, and we eventually used a banner that said "climate action" with an arrow in one direction and "tar sands" with an arrow in the other direction. It was a little bit questionable about whether or not that was going to be approved, but we did end up using it.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you submit any others that were denied?
ALYSSA JOHNSON-KURTS: So we tried to submit a banner that would have an arrow with "Keystone XL" in one direction and "a livable future" in the other direction, and they rejected that proposal.
AMY GOODMAN: Because you weren’t allowed to name Keystone XL?
ALYSSA JOHNSON-KURTS: We weren’t allowed to name Keystone XL.
AMY GOODMAN: You weren’t allowed to name Secretary Kerry?
ALYSSA JOHNSON-KURTS: Not allowed to name Secretary Kerry.
AMY GOODMAN: You weren’t allowed to name the United States?
ALYSSA JOHNSON-KURTS: Not allowed to name any specific countries.
AMY GOODMAN: And what if you did?
ALYSSA JOHNSON-KURTS: We would risk losing our badges and hurting our organization’s potential for accreditation in the future at the U.N. spaces.
AMY GOODMAN: Do feel the protest was able to convey your concerns about Secretary Kerry and his involvement in deciding whether the Keystone XL gets approved across the United States?
ALYSSA JOHNSON-KURTS: I think it’s not nearly as powerful as if we had been able to—
AMY GOODMAN: That was youth activist Alyssa Johnson-Kurts of the group SustainUS.
Joining us now here in Lima, Peru, at the U.N. Climate Change Conference is Jamie Henn, co-founder and communications director of 350.org, which helped launch the movement against the Keystone XL pipeline. So, that’s quite amazing, what Alyssa has laid out. She said they actually have to send pictures of the banners that they’re going to use, and they get rejected or not.
JAMIE HENN: Yes, it’s amazing, Amy, the restrictions that are placed on activists here at the talks. And the irony, of course, is that very few restrictions are placed on the fossil fuel companies that come here. Unlike the World Health Organization, which bans tobacco lobbyists from tobacco-control talks, there are no such protections here at the U.N. So we find it a bit amusing—and disturbing, really—that the U.N. is putting such restrictions on mentioning a project like Keystone, and yet they let companies like Chevron come in and talk about dreams they have about carbon capture and sequestration.
AMY GOODMAN: So, how does that work? And has this been raised with the U.N. Secretariat?
JAMIE HENN: It’s been raised repeatedly. And actually, there’s been a lot of back-and-forth about the restrictions placed on civil society, everything from the number of badges that people get to come into the talks to things like Alyssa was bringing up about restrictions about banners. People are doing a great job making their voices heard outside of this process in the streets of Lima this week, which you were covering, and then back in New York this September, but we need more access, and we need better ways to make sure that people’s voices are coming into this process.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think there’s been an increasing separation between civil society and what goes on within the COP, as perhaps less work gets done here? I mean, being on the grounds of El Pentagonito, as it’s called, the military headquarters that is known as a place where people were disappeared and killed here in Peru, you know, there is military and police cordoning off the area, very hard for people from the outside to get in, much more so than any other time.
JAMIE HENN: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, and think it’s a real detriment to the process that’s happening here. We’ve seen civil society be able to really help push forward progress at the talks. I think it would be to the advantage of the U.N. to really let in more voices and let people continue to get engaged in this process, because decisions are being made that affect people’s lives, that affect the politics, but we’re not here to be able to push them.