- Tom Kucharzjournalist and activist with Ecologistas en Acción, Ecologists in Action, one of the leading environmental groups organizing the alternative climate summit at COP25.
We broadcast from Madrid, Spain, where the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP25, began Monday and will continue through next week, as environmental leaders from around the world gather to negotiate global solutions to the climate crisis. Activists have converged on Madrid for the conference and are hosting an alternative summit of their own: Cumbre Social por el Clima — the Social Summit for the Climate. The alternative summit has been organized by social justice and environmental groups to draw attention to the ongoing political repression in Chile, corporate influence on the climate summit, Spain’s own failure to address the climate crisis and the Eurocentrism of the climate conference. This is the third year in a row that the conference is being held in Europe. We speak with Tom Kucharz, one of the organizers of the alternative climate conference. He is a journalist and activist with the group Ecologists in Action.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Madrid, Spain, where the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP25, began Monday and will continue through next week, as environmental leaders from around the world gather to negotiate global solutions to the climate crisis. The summit was supposed to be held in Santiago, Chile, but the country’s right-wing President Sebastián Piñera canceled the summit just over a month ago amidst massive protests against economic inequality and austerity. Spain’s President Pedro Sánchez then offered to host the summit.
Activists have converged in Madrid for the summit and are hosting an alternative summit of their own: Cumbre Social por el Clima, the Social Summit for the Climate. The alternative summit has been organized by social justice and environmental groups to draw attention to the ongoing political repression in Chile, corporate influence on the climate summit, Spain’s own failure to address the climate crisis and the Eurocentrism of the climate conference, which is being held in Europe for the third year in a row.
The alternative summit begins Saturday morning — that’s tomorrow — at the University of Madrid and will kick off tonight with a climate march through the city center. We’re broadcasting from the convergence space that activists are using as a hub for their organizing. It’s a union hall and former monastery that today is covered in colorful protest art and bustling with organizers that have pulled the alternative summit together with only a few months’ notice.
So, we’re right here in the Cumbre Social, in the Social Summit for the Climate, with one of the organizers, Tom Kucharz. He is a journalist and activist with Ecologists in Action.
It’s great to be with you. Welcome to Democracy Now! Tom, as we sit here, this place is surrounded by posters. Maybe we can do a broad view of the walls. It says “Plaza de los Pueblos” — the Plaza of the People. “Salvemos la Tierra” — Save the Earth, as well. “Let’s Decolonize.”
TOM KUCHARZ: Decolonize, that is a very important issue. We have a huge historic debt with millions of people who were slaved from Africa to America and never have been justice about that. So, the issue of anti-racism and anti-colonialism is very important for the march also today at 6 in the afternoon. So, hopefully, thousands of people will be gathering in this very important march.
AMY GOODMAN: So, tell us about this place that we’re in. It is a former monastery?
TOM KUCHARZ: Yes, it was built more than 400 years ago, but it was a trade unions building since the ’80s. And fortunately, the trade unions, UGT, said we can have it for two weeks to make gatherings, assemblies and prepare the march and actions of the different groups who are involved in the preparation of the activities these two weeks, like Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion and many environmental and human rights groups, trade unionists and many international solidarity groups also fighting all around the world for justice, both environmental and social justice.
AMY GOODMAN: So, tell us about this Social Summit for the Climate, where it will be held, from the university to here to where else? And talk about the 850 groups who organized this space in a very short period of time, since you guys just got the summit a few months ago.
TOM KUCHARZ: Actually, the Social Summit was organized in less than four weeks. And first of all, it’s a solidarity action with the people in Chile, with all the people in the world who are suffering crimes against humanity, who are suffering repression, who are suffering the crimes of transnational corporation and corrupt states, who are only doing business and doing politics in favor of a very small minority, which are the big businesses, who are also gathering here in the official climate summit. So it’s a complete unjust world. We have heard that in your news at the beginning.
And also in Spain we have a huge situation of injustice, unemployment. So, for us, the issues of social injustice, the problem of corruption, the problem of huge economic and social and environmental crisis all over the world brings us together — social movements, trade unions, environmental groups, but also social justice groups from all over the world.
And it’s, first of all, a denouncement also of the repression of the right-wing government of Chile against the people in Chile. And that is very important for us. We are very connected with the movement in Santiago de Chile. And today, the march actually will be at the same time as the march in Santiago de Chile. We will be marching together. And we are connecting also with the organizers of the civil society space held at the same time in Santiago de Chile, also criticizing the farce and the theater is done in the official summit, because they are not the solution to the huge climate emergency. We, the people, are the solution.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about how Spain ended up getting the U.N. climate summit. I mean, you have — originally, it was Brazil. And the far-right president, when he was elected, one of his first actions in office, canceled the COP. Then Chile took it. Then because of those protests, the right-wing president there canceled it. And President Sánchez of Spain picked this up very quickly. Talk about the significance for him, and now the right-wing government that runs Madrid, what it means for them, who actually campaigned against climate regulations, its major campaign focus in the last weeks.
TOM KUCHARZ: Exactly. So we should know that Spain is one of the European countries which is most responsible for the increase of greenhouse gas emissions over the past decades. So Spain has a huge ecological and historical debt with the Global South, completely depending on imports of fossil fuels. And the big transnational corporations from Spain are committing crimes and human rights violation all the time and are very responsible for the natural destructions all over the world. So Spain is very responsible for the climate emergency.
And we have had Social Democratic governments and conservative right-wing governments who are very irresponsible. They were not caring sufficiently about the climate emergency. And even if they bring the official climate summit from the U.N. here to Madrid, it was a kind of political shift to help them to get some votes towards the last elections we had very recently, on the 10th of November. Actually, the Spanish Social Democratic governments have shown in the last year that they were not increasing their willingness to fight climate emergency. They are not really willing to change the economic and also energy policy in Spain, and that needs also a completely shift, a paradigm shift of the development model in Europe, which is completely irresponsible and a root cause of the climate emergency all over the world.
That’s why we are feeling that it’s a greenwashing both of the national very gray and dark fossil fuel policies of the Spanish government, it’s a greenwashing of the right-wing government in Madrid, because only some months ago this Madrid major from the right-wing party who was denying climate change, who was saying he will eliminate all the environmental policies which the municipal left-wing government put in place only some months ago, like a low-emission scheme to try to stop entering many cars into the Madrid center.
We should know that Spain is one of the most polluting countries also in the world. I mean, we have nearly 40,000 people who are dying, so we have premature deaths, 40,000 a year. That means, in Madrid, it’s about more than 3,000 people dying prematurely because of the air contamination. And that is mostly because of this huge traffic. So we have unsustainable transport system.
AMY GOODMAN: So you have the previous mayor, Manuela Carmena, a Socialist mayor, who pushed for the Madrid Central, right? This low-emission zone.
TOM KUCHARZ: Exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: So you don’t have this mass traffic jam all day.
TOM KUCHARZ: We still have them, unfortunately.
AMY GOODMAN: As much. And then you have the new mayor, Almeida —
TOM KUCHARZ: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: — who actually made his total campaign about getting rid of these restrictions.
TOM KUCHARZ: Exactly. And just before the climate summit, he says that is the best thing he have ever done. So now he’s trying to greenwash completely his very unresponsible campaign he did. And actually, the Popular Party is very responsible to filling the most polluting companies in Spain with public money. That’s why Spain gives hundreds and thousands of millions of euros to the energy companies, to the oil companies, to the gas companies over the last years. And that’s why we have a real problem that it’s very difficult to get out of this fossil feel industry right now.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you stopped — Ecologists in Action, your group, stopped the mayor from getting rid of the low-emission zone?
TOM KUCHARZ: Not alone. We have a very interesting platform created of many people here in the city center. So there are dozens of organizations involved in the platform to defend Madrid Central. And it was a work, a collective work, and tens of thousands of people poured into the streets in summer, just after the local elections, to ask to not eliminate Madrid Central, this low-emission scheme.
And that is very linked to fight for climate justice not only in Spain but over the whole world. That’s why those people who are fighting to get Madrid rid of car traffic and air contamination is also fighting together with many people in the world against air contamination, but the whole silly system of putting public money into the car industry and the oil industry, which then are also very responsible for the mining and human rights violation all over the world. We have that in Middle East and also Latin America.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about nationally. We’ve just arrived in Madrid from Stockholm. The president won a — the prime minister won a snap election recently, Pedro Sánchez. And he’s in the midst of negotiating with Podemos.
TOM KUCHARZ: Unidas Podemos, yeah, which is Izquierda Unida and Podemos together.
AMY GOODMAN: But talk about the role and the increasing power of the extreme-right group Vox and how that plays in here, whether we’re talking about the environment or gender violence.
TOM KUCHARZ: Well, the extreme-right party is coming out, actually, on the split of the right-wing scheme, which was the Popular Party, because there’s a huge problem of impunity in Spain, so the crimes against humanity committed by Spanish fascism of the Franco dictatorship was never been judged, and we have still hundreds of thousands of people in graves all over Spain, and people are looking for the bodies of their families. So that is a very anxious system. And still from this, we have a very fascist legacy in the juridical system, in the political system.
But because of the corruption scandals, because the right-wing Popular Party of Spain is one of the most corrupted party in the world, the right-wing political parties split it up to neoliberal Ciudadanos, to Vox, the extreme right, and still the PP is the Popular Party. So, there is also a growing voting towards this extreme-right party, which is very dangerous and very similar to things happening with Trump in the U.S., with Salvini in Italy or Le Pen in France or Alternative für Deutschland in Germany.
So this is a very dangerous thing, because it’s giving oxygen to the right-wing groups trying to make attacks on migrants, on refugees, and maybe there is a new fear towards these very extreme fascist groups to make attacks against migrants like we had this attack with a bomb this week.
AMY GOODMAN: A grenade was just thrown into a residential center —
TOM KUCHARZ: Exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: — of mainly unaccompanied minors, refugees from other countries, and also orphans here in Spain.
TOM KUCHARZ: In Madrid, yeah. That is an attack which we can explain that there is a growing institutional racism, which is legitimized both by the right-wing Popular Party and the Social Democrats, because, unfortunately, the Social Democratic government is talking about human rights in the official climate summit, but, at the end, they are responsible for migration policies which brings the deaths of thousand of people in the Mediterranean Sea. You just mentioned the example in Mauritania, migrants and refugees trying to get to the Canary Islands.
AMY GOODMAN: Sixty-two people dying yesterday.
TOM KUCHARZ: Exactly. And that is happening all the time.
AMY GOODMAN: As they tried to make it to what is Spain’s Canary Islands.
TOM KUCHARZ: To Spain, exactly. But that is happening all the time, because the Spanish government, together with the European Union, are pulling hundreds of millions of public money to finance the militaries and the police in Morocco, in Libya and also Turkey to stop refugees and migrants getting to Europe. And then they are responsible for these very criminal policies which makes people dying all the time in the Mediterranean Sea. That’s why we are talking about one of the biggest mass graves in the world, so very similar to the very criminal migration policies of Trump in the Mexican border.
AMY GOODMAN: Tom, very quickly, we only have about 30 seconds, but we started by you talking about decolonization and how that relates to climate. I’m sitting in front of a big sign that you have here at the Cumbre, at this Social Summit for the Climate, that says, “Let’s decolonize.” Explain that more fully.
TOM KUCHARZ: “Let’s decolonize” means there is a deep, historic impunity of the crimes committed by Europe in colonial time, both with the slave trade, but also with the assassination of millions of indigenous people in America. And these historical crimes against humanity was never been judged. And this is still impugn, and we will not accept it. That’s why for us it’s so important that indigenous people, migrant and refugees are on the forefront of the demonstration today at 6. But those indigenous communities and the frontline communities all over the world are also fighting against fossil fuels, megaprojects, of these same Spanish and European transnational corporations who are financing the official climate summit. So this is completely injust policies. And unfortunately, the European Union and the Spanish Social Democratic government are very responsible for those very unjust situations.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Tom Kucharz, journalist, activist with Ecologists in Action, one of the leading environmental groups organizing the alternative climate summit, thanks so much for welcoming us into your space, rapidly put together in the last few weeks since Spain took on the U.N. climate summit.
When we come back, we’ll be joined by two Fridays for Future youth activists, from Chile and Uganda, who are here in Madrid for the U.N. summit. They’ll join activists from around the world today in the climate march. Stay with us.