UPDATE: You can help by signing this petition protesting Danish police violence against climate protestors.
Over the past week, the Danish capital has welcomed delegates, corporate lobbyists, and representatives of mainstream, moderate NGOs with open arms; however, they’ve shown a somewhat uglier face towards activists advocating climate justice.
Yesterday, a massive, peaceful protest of 100,000 people – the largest demonstration for climate justice in world history – was met with a heavy-handed response by the Danish police. Thousands of riot police swarmed the march route, blocked off streets surrounding large groups of protestors, and arrested almost 1,000 people. Arrestees were cuffed and forced to sit in rows for hours, as the temperatures dipped below freezing; numerous people urinated on themselves after being denied use of toilets. Despite the mood of severe frustration with the state of climate talks that pervaded the march, there were only a few reports of property destruction and minor skirmishes with police (which the media have hugely played up) – however, the police swept up masses of people, including NGO delegates and independent journalists, with little focus on determining who had actually broken the law. As one British protestor, Georgy Forshall, put it: “Two of my friends are in there. The police said demonstrators had been throwing stones, but my friends were in a cow costume, they wouldn’t have been able to throw stones.”
This massive show of police force follows days of harassment of activists by the massive Danish security operation. On Tuesday night at 3am, police raided Ragshildgade, a mobilization space organized by Climate Justice Action where hundreds of activists (including myself) are sleeping; they confiscated tools that were being used by Danish organizers to make building repairs and renovations, claiming that they were “tools of direct action.” (This followed a raid on the Teglholmen activist space on Dec. 4, at which police detained and handcuffed 15-20 people.) Since then, on at least three occasions, the police have harassed people staying at Ragshildgade by blocking off the street with 5-10 police vans in the middle of the night, causing hundreds of people sleeping inside to get out of bed and pack their bags in preparation for a raid – and subsequently, each time, the police have left without entering the facility.
On Friday, police made “preventative arrests” at a CJA-organized anti-corporate lobbying protest, arresting 68 people without any significant disturbances having taken place. And, throughout the past two weeks, security officials have stopped, searched, and interrogated activists at the Denmark-Germany border, have stopped and searched buses in Copenhagen, and have done the same to isolated groups of people in areas around activist spaces throughout the city. (I got a taste of this myself this morning, when a vanload of six police stopped and interrogated me – and searched my person and my backpack thoroughly, including reading several documents – while I was waiting at a bus stop near Ragshildgade. When I asked why I was being searched, I was simply told that all of Copenhagen was a “search zone” and that they had the right to search me without providing any justification.)
All this has been under the guise of the biggest law enforcement mobilization in Danish history – which, in a particularly ominous turn of events, has increasingly also included the Danish military, who have been spotted patrolling the streets of Copenhagen together with police officers.
And on Tuesday, the UNFCCC is planning move the crackdown on dissent to the halls of the COP-15 conference, by revoking the registration of all but a few NGO delegates. NGO delegates are being told that they will have to return and re-register on Tuesday – at which point, each group’s delegation would be cut in number by 70%. While this is indeed partly due to the UNFCCC’s poor advance planning – after having allowed far more people to register for the conference than the Bella Center had capacity for – the UNFCCC is clearly also using this justification by forcing NGOs to cut their delegations of all but essential staff, thus severely limiting their ability to organize protests inside the conference.
Of course, these protests are being motivated by frustration at the incredibly weak results of the COP-15 negotiations. Last week, a closed-room group of delegates from Global North countries shocked Global South delegates and climate justice activists by pushing for a secretly-negotiated “deal” that would allow global temperatures to be allowed to rise by another 2 degrees Celsius – over the vehement protests of delegates from Africa and small island countries, argue that any increase larger than 1 degree will devastate and – in some instances – literally flood them. Then, in the past two days, the negotiations on a deal on REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation) – which are being touted as the “success” of Copenhagen – have degenerated into an incredibly weak potential deal, in which immediate targets for deforestation limits would be dropped and no financial commitments from Global North countries would be made. These failings on the part of negotiators from the Global North have been met with protests – both planned and spontaneous – by youth activists as well as delegates from the Global South.
The immense frustration on the part of climate justice activists and representatives of the Global South will culminate in Wednesday’s Reclaim Power protest – and it’s likely that the heavy-handed police actions of the past few days are at least in part an attempt to squash that protest preemptively. On Wednesday, thousands of climate justice protestors from across Europe plan to march on the Bella Center, where they plan to establish a People’s Assembly in a parking lot outside – at which, in contrast to the COP-15, the needs and demands of impacted communities will be given preference. At the same time, the Reclaim Power protestors will call on delegates and activists from the Global South to stage a walkout from the heavily-compromised COP-15 negotiations, and join the People’s Assembly outside.
Such a protest would heavily delegitimize the business-as-usual negotiation process that has prevailed thus far at the COP-15; organizers hope that it would force the Global North cabale that has dominated the talks thus far to grant the Global South countries a greater voice. And this plan perhaps explains why the Danish police – acting together with the UNFCCC – are trying so hard to crack down on anyone trying to challenge the carefully-managed perception that any deal at “Hopenhagen” (even one that flies in the face of democratic process) will be a good deal for all the people of the world.