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Hundreds of Activists Stage Sit-in Against Big Polluters on Final Day of COP24 U.N. Climate Talks

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Hundreds of demonstrators gathered at the U.N. climate summit in Katowice, Poland, on Friday, demanding bolder action from world leaders on climate change. The action was organized by the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice. Demonstrators filled the staircase inside the conference center holding banners reading “Which side are you on?” and “People Not Polluters” and “System change not climate change.” As protesters marched out of U.N. climate talks, Democracy Now! spoke with Maya Menezes, Canadian climate activist and member of the Canadian Youth Delegation with the climate justice organization The Leap. She is a migrant rights organizer with No One Is Illegal.

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AMY GOODMAN: Yes, we are broadcasting from the U.N. climate talks in Katowice, Poland, where hundreds of demonstrators are gathered just beyond our set demanding bolder action from world leaders on climate change, the actions organized by the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice. Protesters have filled the staircase inside the convention center. They’re holding banners saying “Which side are you on?” “People not polluters,” “System change not climate change.” This is Rita Uwaka of Friends of the Earth Nigeria.

RITA UWAKA: We are here to denounce false solutions by big polluters, who are acting as saints at this COP. We are here to promote solutions that are sustainable, that are people-powered. We are here to expose the inequities of corporations at COP, that are causing devastating environmental, social consequences in communities around the world.

In the Niger Delta, where I live and come from, I know that there are a lot of oil pollutions, that is devastating community lives and livelihoods. Water polluted. Our soils are polluted. Our farmlands are polluted. Women are suffering. Communities at the front line have been victimized by these corporations, who have brought human rights abuses, who is causing a lot of scarcity of food in our communities, who is destroying our local food system, destroying our forest and causing a lot of climate change in communities, affecting people and our climate.

We say no. We are here to denounce the activities. We are here to promote solutions that are sustainable. We’re here to kick them out and let the people in.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Rita Uwaka of Friends of the Earth Nigeria. And as we broadcast today from the U.N. climate talks, right next to us, hundreds of people are walking out with their hands up in a fist sign.

We are now joined by one of the demonstrators. Maya Menezes is a Canadian climate activist, member of the Canadian Youth Delegation here at the U.N. climate talks, senior manager of development at climate justice organization The Leap, a migrant rights organizer with No One Is Illegal.

It’s great to have you with us. Describe for us what you’re seeing right now right behind you, Maya.

MAYA MENEZES: Well, we’ve got in a really incredible coalition of climate activists from across the Global South, but also their allies in the Global North, who are calling for the decorporatization of the COP and for a climate justice movement that centers people, not polluters.

AMY GOODMAN: And what does that mean? And are you concerned about what’s come out of these talks? Though they’re continuing until tomorrow. What are you demanding has to happen?

MAYA MENEZES: I think we’re demanding that we want to see people’s rights and protection for marginalized peoples at the core of how we have these climate discussions, which we know just never happens. It’s not in the interests of wealthy corporate elites to make sure that marginalized people’s voices are heard. And that’s why community organizers have to mobilize in the way that we do, to ensure that that message reaches the public. And that’s what we were calling for today.

AMY GOODMAN: According to some projections, one-fifth of the world’s population in 2100—that’s 2 billion people—could become climate refugees. That’s by the end of the century. Have U.N. climate talks here addressed this staggering number that we’re talking about? You are particularly focused on migrants. And what does climate migrants mean?

MAYA MENEZES: These talks never have that discussion at the core of them. In fact, a lot of the ways that we talk about migrant and refugee issues actually uses language that makes it very easy for right-wing extremism to navigate the space in a way where we start to call people and we refer to them as “illegals.” A lot of the conversations around migrants and refugees center things like “regular” migration, “safe” migration. And it allows a lot of space for that language suddenly to be used to call people “illegal,” “irregular” crossings. And that’s what I organize against in Toronto.

Right now we’re seeing, of course, a lot of people on the move with the migrant caravan waiting, many people who have applied for asylum in the United States, many people whose claims will be denied. A lot of the organizing that we do when we leave the COP spaces and when we go home is fight for things like the Safe Third Country Agreement to be rescinded in Canada. The Safe Third Country Agreement is basically a piece of law that bars people who have applied for asylum in the U.S. and been denied access to apply for asylum in Canada. Migrant rights activists having been calling in Canada for this to be rescinded for a very long time. It basically says that the U.S. is a safe country. We know that the U.S. has rampant xenophobia and that this will actually serve to bar people who are in the migrant caravan from being able to get access to Canada. And that’s something we want to see removed immediately.

AMY GOODMAN: We just reported in our headlines about the 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who came over the border with her dad. She has just died of dehydration and shock—we just learned this—while in the custody of U.S. Border Patrol. They didn’t take her to the hospital until her temperature peaked over 105 degrees. This treatment of migrants and what this bodes for the future, and where you think the kind of activism you’re involved in can play a role?

MAYA MENEZES: I think we actually need to invest in organizers who are fighting this idea that migrants and refugees are seen as dangerous in our society. It’s a very, very frightening common theme that we’re seeing across the COP and that we’re seeing at home, this language that has allowed people—I guess, actually, a story is, when we found out about the caging of migrant children and the removal from their families in the U.S., there was of course international days of action, where people occupied outside of U.S. consulates calling for this to end. When I was going through the crowd afterwards—I spoke at that rally, and I was going through the crowd later talking to parents who were there with their children, who were saying—you know, I said, “Why are you here? What draws you here? We know these children are being traumatized. They’re being treated so inhumanely. And we need an end to detentions, and we need an end to deportations.” And many family members who were there said, “Well, I don’t actually believe that people shouldn’t be imprisoned. I just think families should be in jail together.” And that’s a very scary thing. It’s a very scary thing to be faced with.

So, what we’re trying to organize on the ground against is actually a rejection that some people are deserving of basic dignity and rights, and some are not. In the global climate crisis, we understand that most of the world either will be turned into a desert or will be uninhabitable, due to temperature, storm changes. We need to make sure that a climate plan that talks about decreasing emissions also has an open conversation that the borders must be open and people must have clear avenues to status and citizenship and safety in wherever they want to move to.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you quickly talk about the Canadian role right here at the U.N. talks? One of your representatives, her event was just disrupted.

MAYA MENEZES: Yes, definitely. Well, Canada has an interesting role. We are touted as a very progressive government, and at the same time we push some of the harshest refugee and migrant laws out there. Right now we’re talking about—there was an event, of course, that we heard about between, I think it was, Claire Perry, and Catherine McKenna was on that panel, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain who they are.

MAYA MENEZES: Claire Perry, I believe, is the U.K. environment minister. Catherine McKenna is the Canadian minister of environment and climate change. And it was a conversation about getting off coal, which is all fine and great, but the Canadian government right now—80 percent of oil and gas emissions, largely coming out of the tar sands, are going to be exempt from the federal carbon pricing plan, which is outrageous. That’s a complete oxymoron to say that we care about the climate and reducing emissions, but then exempting 80 percent of oil and gas from that carbon pricing plan. And so the role of Canada is interesting in that regard. But we’re here to basically call out domestic policies that are completely out of sync with what Canada says on the international stage, from migration and refugee issues to carbon emissions plans that don’t hold polluters accountable at all.

AMY GOODMAN: The United Nations formally recognized climate migration for the first time this week, with more than 160 nations agreeing to the United Nations Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration at a meeting in Marrakech, Morocco. The compact asks nations to, quote, “provide basic services for migrants, whether they enter a country legally or illegally,” and “facilitate access to procedures for family reunification for migrants at all skill levels” and “establish mechanisms for the portability of social security entitlements,” unquote. The United States did not sign on to the agreement. In a statement, the U.S. State Department said, “The United States proclaims and reaffirms its belief that decisions about how to secure its borders, and whom to admit for legal residency or to grant citizenship, are among the most important sovereign decisions a State can make, and are not subject to negotiation.” Maya, your thoughts?

MAYA MENEZES: I think something that really bothers me about all of this language is, when countries—and, of course, the context for me being Canada—when countries like us sign on to these agreements, I think that’s fantastic in a lot of different ways, but also we have domestic policies that completely fly in the face of it. In Canada, for example, with the Safe Third Country Agreement, we know that people who are applying for asylum in the migrant caravan, many of whom have come from Central and South America, are on the move not because of tsunamis, but because of war and destabilization. We know that Canada supported the coup in Honduras in 2009 in order to continue Canadian mining practices and to expand their reach. We know that the many Hondurans that are in the migrant caravan, who have applied for asylum in the United States, are not going to be able to apply for asylum in Canada because of the Safe Third Country Agreement. This is war and mining profiteering that Canada is championing in Central and South America. And then, of course, when these people are on the move because of political destabilization, we deny them at the border. And this is a climate issue. And it’s not taken up in these documents the way that it should be, and it’s not taken up by the Canadian government the way they need to be accountable for it.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much for being with us, Maya Menezes, Canadian climate activist, member of the Canadian Youth Delegation here at the U.N. climate talks, senior manager of development at climate justice organization The Leap, also a migrant rights organizer with No One Is Illegal.

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