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Now more than ever, it is important to connect climate concerns with the impacts of austerity international climate negotiations with little more than the hope of damage limitation, yet have proven adept at advising understaffed developing country governments.

Alongside this inside pressure, climate justice groups protesting outside the ‘conference of polluters’

have sought to expose how it has not only failed the climate but has been used to promote damaging market-based ‘fixes’. Yet protest pressure at climate talks is invariably trumped by those with other agendas – not only from fossil-fuel lobbyists, who are also downsizing their presence at climate summits, but also from governments with a tendency to treat climate talks as an adjunct to trade negotiations.

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Changing course Various options have been canvassed in the face of ever-diminishing returns. At an international level, Nnimmo Bassey has suggested ‘a People’s COP’ along the lines of a massive people’s summit in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 2010. This has been seized upon by a growing chorus of climate activists, although there is a sense of deja vu in calls for an alternative conference in response to failed climate negotiations.

The lessons from Cochabamba are instructive. Besides contacts made and information shared, that summit’s lasting legacy is questionable. The Bolivian government that called it has more recently been struggling with its own environmental contradictions, while the impetus for global co-ordination has shifted away from counter-summits to more decentralised encampments – from Cairo’s Tahrir Square to Madrid’s Puerta del Sol and the Occupy movement.

These emerging movements have connected and learnt from each other without the need to be formalised in a single mega-event. Manifestos and declarations (a central part of the Cochabamba process) have been sidelined, although common actions have emerged in other ways. The 15 October call to protest was the most widespread international mobilisation since the anti-war protests, while several ‘memes’ (copycat slogans and symbols circulated online) have helped to forge a common movement identity. This was also present in Durban, where Occupy protesters mic-checked as they sought to adapt the language of the ‘99 per cent’ to the climate debate.

Deepening the links between climate-related struggles and the Occupy movements remains a work in progress. Now more than ever, climate activism needs to reach beyond the desire to create a ‘climate movement’ and to be armed with more than just peer-reviewed science. At its best, the Climate Camp showed that connecting with local concerns rather than dismissing them as nimbyish could yield rewards, contributing to the failure of the third runway at Heathrow.

Connecting climate concerns with the impacts of austerity is similarly important. To this end, the emergence of Fuel Poverty

Action (a spin-off from the now-defunct Climate Camp)

is encouraging. It is gearing up to take on the big six energy companies in charge of how 99 per cent of

UK energy is sourced, produced and priced. In the process, it could help to flip the government script on climate change measures as the enemy of poor consumers, and show how the cartel of privatised energy companies is contributing to the problem.

Such measures will not change the world overnight, but by setting out clear stories about how the current energy system disadvantages ordinary people and the planet, they are taking small steps to popular pressure that could prove far more difficult for governments to ignore than the corridor chatter at international climate conferences. n

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