Climate change refugees reach Copenhagen

Climate change refugees reach Copenhagen


Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu: Often when we are overwhelmed by all the ugliness, we forget there is so much good, human beings who care. There are all kinds of competing voices in this beautiful city. Amid all of this glamour, all of this cacophony, it is really the voices of all of these wonderful people and the others, people who are living on the frontlines of climate change, who understand the realities of climate change better than others...their voices must be heard, they must be heeded, they must be acted upon. It is the climax of a much longer journey that spanned the globe in 2009. The first climate hearing was in Bangladesh. Since then, 1.5 million people have participated in similar events in 36 countries. I have a hotline as you know (gesturing upwards), and I have been told to convey approval from celestial quarters.


Kayetano Huanca, Peru:

Shorbanu Khatun, Bangladesh:

I am a single mother of four. I come from a small island surrounded by rivers. My husband was a farmer, he used to grow rice, fruit trees, and we had a lot of cattle. We had a happy life. About 15 years ago, the water started rising. We started losing crops and then my husband started going to the forest to collect honey. It was the only option. One day he went to the forest and never came back. A tiger ate him.

My in-laws threw me out on the streets. My parents came to my rescue and built me a hut. But they are also very poor. They could not grow enough crops because of salinity and unpredictable climate. The days became hotter; we didn’t get enough rain. I worked as a maid, I went to the forest to get wood, to the river to get fish. Somehow, I managed to feed my family.

Six months ago, cyclone Aila came and took away everything. We were about to have our lunch one day, when the water came from everywhere. My children started crying, we climbed the roof. I lost consciousness. Two days later, I found myself in a hospital. We had lost everything, the whole village was under water. I went to a refugee camp and found my family. They were all crying. Our house was in shoulder-deep water. We used to think God is punishing us but I have found that is not so. I come to you to seek justice, to seek compensation. I want my life back. My village is now under water, shoulder-deep water. We don’t know how to live our lives, so we have come to you to do something for us.

Constance Okollet:

Universal disorder: Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu (centre) and former Irish president Mary Robinson (second from left) during a candlelight vigil outside the Bella Center in Copenhagen on Saturday. Robinson says climate change is undermining human rights on an unprecedented scale. Anja Niedringhaus/AP

When we came back there was nothing left in the house, garden; goat, sheep were washed away. Sickness was in the floods. We had cholera, malaria. Immediately droughts came, drying up all the food that was left. All the wells dried up in seven months of drought. There was meningitis. People killed children because they did not want to see them die. Immediately after that a lot of rain came and destroyed everything else. Children go to school hungry. We used to have two seasons, now we have none. We don’t know when to plant, we don’t know when to harvest. We had a lot of food. We fed others. We don’t have anything to give anyone now. I have come here to share my testimonies and to tell the leaders, we want our seasons back. We want our generations back. We want them to stop the emissions because we are suffering. How would they feel if they were suffering? We want m-o-n-e-y.

We have to adapt, or we will die.


Mary Robinson, former Irish president, tasked with giving the verdict on the global hearings: I and the reverend (Tutu) were mandated by Nelson Mandela to listen. I am giving the verdict because I am the lawyer. We heard from all the witnesses. We heard how climate change exacerbates poverty and land degradation. We heard of the extraordinary resilience of people in the face of these devastating experiences. We heard how women face severe pressure from climate change. So what verdict can we draw from this?

Our verdict is that climate change is undermining human rights on an unprecedented scale. It is leading us to social and universal disorder. Our verdict is: that is a deep and global injustice. Just 23 industrialized countries, home to just 14%, have produced 80% of the emissions since 1850 and still produce 40%, today. The poorest are being hit the hardest. They are being hit the most by the indecision in Copenhagen. Our verdict is that it is vital for these negotiations for a fair and binding deal to tackle climate change. The “tck tck tck" of climate change is louder than ever. We demand a standard that allows a full life in fair circumstances. We say we must cut emissions at least 40% by 2020 from 1990 levels. Thus far they’ve agreed to only 8-10%. We will have parts of the world that are unliveable. There are six million at risk from hunger, 70 million at risk at flooding in coastal areas, droughts in Africa and Europe. We are not near the 2 degree Celsius ambition. As Constance put it, very simply, show me the money. Industrialized countries have to put the money on the table. It must be the scale of $200 billion (around Rs9.32 trillion) annually by 2020; $100 billion for mitigation; $100 billion for adaptation. The $10 billion they agreed on a few days ago is a start, but it’s shuffling money around, from existing funds, as far as we understand it. These are not outcomes we can tolerate as a civil society. We understand profoundly that we have only one world.