COP23 Update: Climate Justice Frontline Voices Disrupt US Side Events

The United Nations climate talks in Bonn, Germany — COP23 — have entered their second week and things are heating up, you could say. It was somewhat hard to predict how the USA would show up to COP23 (aside from “awfully”), given the Trump Administration pulling out of the Paris Agreement last June and the fact that our State Department is headed by the former CEO of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson.

On the one hand, the USA official representatives just hosted a panel called “The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation,” inviting representatives of the coal, nuclear, and natural gas industries. One panelist, Barry K. Worthington, executive director of the United States Energy Association, told the New York Times he expected the panel would be a “horrible experience”, saying “The reality of it is the world is going to continue to use fossil fuels,” he said, “and if I can throw myself on the hand grenade to help people realize that, I’m willing to do it.”

The jury is still out on whether Worthington’s valiant act of martyrdom for the fossil fuel industry woke up hearts and minds. What is clear is that their panel was interrupted by a large portion of the audience standing up and singing:


After minutes of silence from the panel and the singing of “So you claim to be an American, but we see right through your greed”, the vast majority of the audience walked out of the room:
And hundreds gathered outside of the room to hear from the frontlines of the climate justice movement:

UU Young Adults for Climate Justice leader Amelia Diehl participated in this sing-in and walk out protest, as a member of the SustainUS youth delegation.

Meanwhile, on Nov 11th, in the “U.S. Climate Action Pavilion” exhibition space sponsored by non-federal US representatives, California Governor Jerry Brown was interrupted during his speech about the release of the “America’s Pledge” report by the We Are Still In initiative (which the UUA is a signatory to) by members of the Climate Justice Alliance – Our Power Campaign “It Takes Roots” delegation in solidarity with California’s front-line communities.

Governor Brown literally suggests killing Indigenous activists in order to “get on with the show” when his speech is interrupted a second time:

Just Happened!!! It Takes Roots leads a protest when Gov. Jerry Brown starts speaking at with other groups!

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Amy Goodman was able to catch Gov. Brown to ask him about the incident. He says this was a joke that no one is taking personally or seriously:
Here are some perspectives from participants in the disruption:

Chief Ninawa Nuneshuni Kui’s statement above is related to California’s carbon credit market (cap and trade) approach to climate action — an approach that has been prevalent in the United States domestic and international climate policy advocacy for quite some time.

COP23 will continue through Friday, November 16th. UU Young Adults for Climate Justice leader Amelia Diehl will be reporting from her personal and the SustainUS Twitter accounts, and you can also follow Salote Soqo, UUSC’s Senior Program Leader for Environmental Justice and Climate Action,  on UUSC’s COP23 blog.

Aly Tharp
Aly Tharp
Aly Tharp is the program director at the UU Ministry for Earth and has been with UUMFE since 2014, initially serving as the network coordinator for the UU Young Adults for Climate Justice. Aly lives in Austin, Texas, and in their free time is an arts-activist and community organizer supporting a local food forest on public parkland and Gulf South climate justice movements.