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I came to Madrid to be part of the first week of COP 25. Chile is engulfed in crisis and could not host this big event as intended and Spain grabbed the opportunity to host the 25th UNFCC COP.  Someone said to me that apparently this is the biggest event next to the world cup, unfortunately this time the ball is our Earth. That the ball is our earth is at full display in this dreary looking, huge and complex building where the main negotiations are taking place. The majority of the big polluters are out here to greenwash themselves, as well as those who are genuinely looking for change.

I tried to join some mainly government events, going from one negotiation to another only to be chased away as I do not have a government badge. Why in the hell do they need me to be part of government to join a discussion on adaptation and agriculture? Some of the titles of the workshops in the big pavilions stop you in your track,  ‘Shell hosting an event on Nature Based Solutions, EU on nature-based solution through climate smart agriculture, a workshop with a title ‘business partnership with small scale farmers through climate smart agriculture and carbon financing’, etc.  You do not feel and see the urgency that is needed here and everything seems to move slowly, except when Greta Thunberg arrived and everyone was rushing to have a photo with her. Uggggghhhh! I could see government negotiators with limited understanding of the history and the political economy underpinning the negotiations. The main issue seems how much to get from finance.

With my energy drained and my interest in the COP deep diving, I went to the Peoples Summit on the third day. It is taking place at a university far away from the main event, which is of course very comfortable for the governments. Arriving, I couldn’t help laughing at the difference in looks. Disheveled hair, wrinkled clothes, jovial and young faces, a sense of comradeship and love oozing from almost everyone, and colorful banners and cloths to top it all. When I entered the big tent, I heard an Indian social movement leader speaking, ‘my brothers and sisters, if you go to the other side, you see the big polluters, Spanish and international, greenwashing their dirty actions.’ Whistles and thunderous claps followed. Fiiiiwwww, yesssssssss clappppplappplappppp . ‘We are not going to allow that.’ More clapping and whistles.  Let us come as one and claim our Earth, our life, our future. ‘Yeesss!’ Thunderous applause.

What a difference! I felt in my element.

Here the whole idea of Nature Based Solutions is questioned. Here the climate problem is situated in patriarchy, colonialism, capitalism and development. Financing through carbon markets and gender  is discussed in these contexts not in access to credits and services. You see very practical solutions for meeting the challenges that we are facing. The custodians of the large part of our earth, the indigenous people, are in mass here and feel in their element and speak in many of the events. There is no confusion about concepts, including agroecology and food sovereignty. You see very few power point presentations.

On the surface, there seems to be disconnect between the two events.  The power seems to lie within the main negotiation space. Big business has claimed that space. They organize events, flood it with their glossy publications, take key governments to expensive hotels to organize one to one or group meetings, promise millions of dollars and influence the discussion and the decisions. They are busy in ‘clever accounting and creative PR’ as Greta Thunberg said. The good thing is, even in the big space where the governments and business are pretending to care, there are thousands of organizations and people who are trying to genuinely  change the status quo.

Despite all this apparent disconnect and apparent animosity among the two events, there is also a much more hopeful and positive current. I was invited to an event organized by Biovision, a Swiss based NGO working on sustainability issues. There were a bunch of us and there were some speeches, including from German and French government representatives. They both affirmed that they are working to make agroecology a policy direction for their respective countries. The only UNFCC process, which is focused on agriculture, the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture (KJWA), has a number of references to agroecology or elements of agroecology. I have heard today that the EU spoke about the Green New Deal, which is related to the Green New Deal in the US. These are radical initiatives which may change how our world operates. So there is hope and undercurrent relationships between the two meetings. What we need to do is to use the little opportunities, the little windows, to push for the transformative changes that we are all craving for and that the time requires. This week key government and other high-level decision makers are in Madrid and I really hope that they feel the emergency and act accordingly. We all need to keep, though, a watchful eye to make sure that the change is real and transformational. Otherwise, they will still keep on doing their old tricks under the guises of new initiatives, including Nature Based Solutions.

Million Belay (PhD) 

General Coordinator

Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa



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