Countdown to Copenhagen: The 'people's summit'

Seven days to go: It's not just world leaders who will be gathering in Denmark next week. Environmental activists will be there too


Only seven days to go now, in the Countdown to Copenhagen – one week until 192 nations come together to try to negotiate a new international climate treaty that will allow the world to deal with the potentially catastrophic threat of global warming.

Most world leaders, from US President Barack Obama down, will attend the meeting in the Danish capital which begins on 7 December and lasts until 19 December; it will be one of the largest international gatherings ever seen, with about 15,000 delegates and diplomats working behind the prime ministers and presidents who will make the final decisions.

But there is another gathering taking place in Copenhagen, running in parallel with the main conference, and that is the coming together of environmental activists from all over the world, who are flocking to Denmark to cheer the conference on, as it were, and also to give it a few sharp prods – to remind the presidents and the prime ministers doing the deciding that the situation is serious and needs an adequate response.

There may be 10,000 of them. There may be 20,000. There may be even 30,000. Their official focus will be Klimaforum09, the alternative "people's summit" which will host speakers such as the anti-globalisation activist Naomi Klein, the author and climate campaigner George Monbiot and the radical Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva. "Klimaforum's aim is to provide an opportunity for the public to enter into discussion," said its spokesman Richard Steed. "We're going to be looking at radical solutions."

Plenty of people will be offering them. Naomi Klein, the Canadian author whose book No Logo became a key text for anti-globalisation campaigners, contrasted Copenhagen with the "Battle of Seattle", the angry confrontation with the authorities at the World Trade Organisation conference in 1999, which she took part in.

This time around, she believes, "it's really tricky for activists in terms of figuring out how you interact with a summit like this. There's a different dynamic [from Seattle], because the fact is that the people in the streets overwhelmingly support the mission of the meeting in Copenhagen. And, so, they're not saying 'no' to the idea of a climate summit. In fact, they're saying 'yes'."

Friends of the Earth International (FOE) have organised one of the major actions during the conference, known as The Flood. Part of the Global Day of Action on 12 December – the middle Saturday of the conference when the city centre will become a carnival of parades – this will consist of about 3,000 members of the public taking to the streets dressed in blue. They will march towards the Bella Centre, where the main climate conference is being held, after joining up with other groups. "System Change, Not Climate Change" is the slogan for the less formal actions being organised by Climate Justice Action (CJA), the umbrella group for an international network that includes Climate Camp, Focus on the Global South, and the Indian Social Action Forum.

The organisations marching that day plan to convene outside the Bella Centre to show the level of solidarity needed to cut carbon emissions at an appropriate rate. As well as attempting to persuade governments to commit to these targets, the demonstrators will also argue that market-based ideas such as the trading of carbon emissions are merely opportunities for companies to profit from pollution. Most of the protesters reject the involvement of the World Bank in international climate finance.

Exhibitions by members of indigenous populations from Peru, the Philippines and the Arctic will discuss the policies of developed governments, such as the idea of carbon offsetting as a method to reduce carbon emissions. NGOs including The Third World Network, Focus on the Global South and Jubilee South will participate in the official conference and lobby against the dangers of these proposals to local communities.

Crowds are expected to gather in Copenhagen for the arrival of the high delegates on 16 December. At 7pm, during "Earth Hour" the lights of the city will be turned off, sending a message about the need for a commitment to a global climate deal. On the same day, demonstrators will attempt to enter the Bella Centre en masse, turning the debate into the People's Assembly for Climate Justice.

"We'll definitely be met with violence from the police," said UK-based protester Isabel Jama. "CJA has a guideline that we'll only use our bodies in the protest, and we're anticipating police tactics to be an obstacle to get around, not to confront. However, this will be different to UK protests where police don't use teargas, and we'll be working with legal and medical teams on the day. Danish kids are rowdy and the police use dispersal tactics there."

Danish officials have taken a firm stance against activism in recent years, and UK protestors are expecting to witness the type of resistance seen in the dismantling of the "Ungdomshuset", a youth community centre run by activists and musicians in the centre of Copenhagen. When police emptied the building in March 2007, more than 400 people were arrested and teargas was used against the crowds.

The Danish government announced recently that they have turned warehouses and gyms outside the city into temporary prisons, and a new law has been hurried through parliament ahead of the summit to allow police to arrest anyone who they suspect might breach the peace.

"Protests have begun to combat these infringements of civil liberties, and whilst there's an ideological perspective to their action their point is informed by the environmental agenda that requires a constructive outcome," said Danish student Seb Ross.

Who's who: The activists

Never Trust a Cop: anti-capitalist network which formed in April 2009 to mobilise against COP15 and link social struggles and climate activism.

Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination: art-activist group from Bristol which is teaming up with Climate Camp, pictured, unleash civil disobedience on Reclaim Power day.

n La Via Campesina: movement which coordinates peasant organisations of small and middle-scale producers to search for sustainable agriculture.

Food Not Bombs: grassroots movement which shares free vegan and vegetarian meals at demonstrations.

Climate Justice Action: global network committed to taking the urgent actions needed to combat climate change

Indian Social Action Forum: national forum of more than 500 social action groups, people's movements and progressive intellectuals that resists globalisation and defends democracy in India.

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