CANCUN, Mexico — The demonstrators at the United Nations climate change conference are a colorful group: They include a bullet-ridden Jesus Christ, a traditionally dressed Mayan and a masked youth, who referred to himself as “El Independiente.”
Along with about 3,000 others, these protesters marched outside the conference on Tuesday, representing indigenous groups from around Mexico.
“We will denounce that [the U.N. conference] is a feigned plan of the rich countries and the multinational corporations to privatize the forests and the natural environment,” said Jorge Aurelias, a member of the Via Campesina, which organized the protests.
“The best thing would be that we see no agreements,” he added.
A chorus of chants echoed many of his sentiments. Coming from all over the world, these activists are here to demand a greater voice in solving a problem they believe is of the utmost importance.
Two hundred national delegates are in Cancun through Friday to try to work toward a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They're addressing four main themes: developing ways to adapt to changing climate and weather patterns; transferring knowledge and green technologies to help poorer nations adapt; increasing regulation to prevent tropical deforestation; and creating a plan for how all of this will be financed.
Meanwhile, the activists are hosting their own discussions, roundtables and workshops. Most are organized by Via Campesina and Espacio de Dialogo Climatico, two social justice groups trying to ensure vulnerable people and ecosystems have a place on the agenda during the conference.
The topics vary wildly, but have included guests from Argentina, South Africa, Haiti and everywhere in between. An overarching theme emanates from these discussions: farmers, indigenous people and the health of the planet are not being properly addressed.
Organizers, speakers and participants all reiterate that control of the planet should be with the people, not in the hands of governments and corporations.
In particular, members of these two groups point to the dangers of putting a market value on carbon, and in turn, a price on forests that millions of indigenous people still call home.
They promote the idea that people who live off the land have a right to continue doing so. And, that those living in this manner need to treat the land with respect, and therefore cause little impact.
Raul Bennet is a member of the group TckTckTck and spokesman for Espacio de Dialogo Climatico. He said the purpose of being there is so that the attendees at the U.N. conference will listen.
“We think that as citizens we can influence the decisions of our countries. Besides denouncing the bad practices, we need to also applaud the good practices, and to offer information that our delegations may not have,” he said.
Bennett, like the vast majority of the activists attending, wants to see countries that have contributed most to global emissions take responsibility, and fix the problem. He also said many of the groups at the Espacio forum reject the move to a carbon economy.
“Through the mechanisms of carbon markets, companies will keep polluting,” he said, adding that companies are privatizing the forests. These groups feel this puts the ownership of the forests in the hands of international governments, organizations and companies, a fact they are not comfortable with.
Allowing these external actors to control natural lands, he added, "is putting the sovereignty of indigenous people in the forests at great risk.”
For these smaller groups to create a space to be heard at a U.N. conference is difficult. But, this does not deter people like Kevin Cowan, who came here from Detroit with Via Campesina. He sees value in coming together and sharing information to make a collective, shared decision that accounts for the needs of everyone, from top to bottom.
“We’re here, we’re here now,” he said from Tuesday's march. “We are just trying to show that we are a voice, that we want to be heard."