“Wake up! It’s time to save our home!” This slogan, in English and Polish, was carried on a banner at the head of Saturday’s Climate March that filled the icy streets of Katowice, Poland, where the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has been taking place since last Monday.
In Poland and another 20 countries, Dec. 8 was chosen as the date on which demonstrations and protest actions would take place to denounce the lack of ambition of the governments that have come together to decide on the plan for implementing the Paris Agreement—a plan that still seems a long way off.
In Katowice, thousands of people marched peacefully with masks, banners and colorful signs among the concrete tower blocks lining the streets in the city center, surrounded by an impressive deployment of the armed forces.
The climate of militarization and the choice to suppress social protests were already evident before the summit started.
The Polish police has intensified the checks on people entering the country during the previous weeks, and just before the demonstration, a few buses carrying protesters to Katowice from other cities were stopped and subjected to thorough searches.
During the march, three activists were arrested by the police, one of whom was released shortly afterwards. The police surrounded the end section of the procession, preventing around 100 protesters from continuing to march. In solidarity with those arrested, the march stopped near the official venue of the COP, where the demonstrators stayed until 4pm and then dispersed without reaching the endpoint that had been initially planned.
A part of the procession headed towards the local police headquarters, demanding the release of the two activists still being held.
During the march, there were speeches by the representatives of movements, social organizations and grassroots networks from all over the world—from Latin America to Asia, from Africa to Europe. Their speeches highlighted the connection between the climate challenge and the ongoing battle to change the agricultural model, abandon fossil fuels, protect soils and biodiversity, and change individual lifestyles.
The main antagonist, however, was coal, both in the slogans on the marchers’ signs and in the speeches of many Polish activists. For the local organizations, the battle to save the climate cannot avoid the fight for the choice to abandon coal, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, which still accounts for 80 percent of electricity production in Poland at the national level.
However, the current Polish government led by Duda shows no intention of making such a choice.
One of the most photographed signs at the march was one held by a young girl wearing a gas mask, which read: “Welcome to the Coal24.”
It’s hard to argue with that, considering who are the main sponsors of the summit. It’s enough to look at the list to get an good idea about how prominent a presence the country’s coal tradition has in the halls of the conference.
Three of the largest public coal companies are listed among the main sponsors: JSW, the main European producer of coking coal, PGE, the owner of the largest coal-fired plant on the continent in Bełchatów, and Tauron.
The three energy giants, firmly wedded to coal, are bringing the full weight of the fossil energy lobby to the COP24—a pressure which tends to weaken at every point the efforts, faint as they are, towards an effective action plan for reducing CO2 emissions.
“The protests won’t end here,” shouted the organizers from the truck that led the procession. “In the coming months, it will be necessary to stay actively engaged to get the government to give up coal.”
The movements for climate justice in other countries will also have to do the same, if we are to have any hope of reversing course during the next 12 years—otherwise, as the IPCC report tells us, it may be too late.