Brazilian indigenous people attend a demonstration during the 20th UN Conference on Climate Change (COP20), in Lima. Photograph: Andina/Xinhua Press/Corbis
(2014-12-10)From the Amazon to the Andes, thousands of activists marched through the streets of Lima on Wednesday to demand a just solution to climate change.
The march through the traffic-choked streets put a human face on the United Nations climate negotiations, a process largely confined to suited bureaucrats working behind the high walls of a military compound in a leafy neighbourhood of Lima.
Campaigners said the message behind the march was not just to press for action to fight climate change – but for fairness, as well as protection for environmental activists who face daily harassment from powerful corporate interests.
“This is no longer an issue for governments and corporations to talk about behind locked doors,” said Oxfam International’s executive director, Winnie Byanyima. “People want solutions, and they also want those solutions to include their basic rights.”
Organisers said they hoped to get 10,000 or more out into the streets – which would make this the biggest climate march Latin America has ever seen.
By mid-morning, with dozens of riot police in helmets and plastic shields looking on, the crowds descending on Campo de Marte grew several thousand strong.
The marchers included peasant women from the Andes in bowler hats decked with flowers and full skirts, indigenous peoples from the Amazon carrying photos of murdered environmental activists, drummers, stilt walkers, trade unionists, students, and women’s groups.
Protesters carried banners declaring: “Keep the oil in the soil,” “Protect your food” and “Change the system, not the climate.”
The marchers – who came from Ecuador, Bolivia and other neighbouring countries – held up oil derricks studded with skulls, giant paper sheaves of yellow and purple corn, and oversized puppets dressed as peasants. One man came wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt, sticking a forest campaign sticker on the guerrilla’s beret.
There was even a “Green Inca” in green robes adorned with a brass breastplate and crown, who jumped up on a concrete block with a Peruvian flag, striking a pose.
Wednesday’s event was closely modelled on last September’s People’s Climate March when 400,000 people poured through the streets of Manhattan ahead of the UN climate summit.
Campaigners believe the strong showing in Manhattan – far beyond their expectations – and the support from celebrities, Democratic members of Congress, and the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, was a turning point for climate action.
Since September, there has been growing momentum behind the talks which are intended to produce a global agreement on cutting carbon pollution by the end of next year.
But the message of the Lima march was even more sober. Peru is under growing risk from climate change, which is melting the glaciers that are its source of fresh water, and changing the chemistry of the Pacific, which is an important source of food supply.
Despite those gathering dangers, environmental activists in Latin America regularly come under attack from powerful corporate interests on the hunt for oil, minerals and forest products in territories that are home to indigenous peoples.
Earlier this week, the body of an indigenous leader who had opposed a copper and gold mining project was discovered in Ecuador. The activist had apparently been tortured before he was killed.
Last week, the authorities in Ecuador confiscated a bus carrying protesters on their way to Lima to protest against their president, Rafael Correa, at the climate talks.
“?For me it was important just to be here
?Y?ivonne Yánez??, Acción Ecológica/Oil Watch in Ecuador.
Many indigenous people feel shut out of the negotiations. Yánez said it was also critical to send a message to negotiators that many of the local people simply do not want the pro-business solutions that are a key part of the UN process.
“It is very important to say there is no homogeneous position regarding development,” she said. “A lot of the people here reject oil, reject mining. They even reject business projects that are supposed to be for forests.”