“System Change, Not Climate Change”, Moroccan Activists Globalize Their Struggle

This is an excerpt of an article by Salena Tramel, which appeared in the Huffington Post on 15th November 2016.

As the 22nd Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP22) opened in Marrakesh this week, social justice movements have gathered in a village on its outskirts at the gateway to the Sahara to define their own proposals to combat the increasing threat of climate change. Vía Campesina, hosted by Morocco’s National Federation of Agricultural Unions (FNSA), has strategically chosen this political moment to hold a climate justice training for its constituencies and close allies with a focus on youth and women, and on strengthening its understanding of issues in the Middle East and North Africa.


The peasant movement is no stranger to the world of climate negotiations and the social justice spaces that run parallel to them. At COP13 in Bali, Vía Campesina took a firm stance with transnational indigenous and environmental justice movements against the injection of forests into the market for speculation through Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+).

In Durban at COP17, the movement organized a caravan that travelled across the southernmost part of Africa with the message that small farmers are cooling the planet through food sovereignty and agroecology—a counterpunch to climate-smart agriculture, which was being unveiled as part of the official negotiations. And last year in Paris at the highly anticipated COP21 where a global treaty was signed, Vía Campesina was extremely well organized and critical of the text of the Paris Agreement that put profit before the planet in the form of unmatched carbon markets as a ‘solution’ to the twin challenges of global warming and ocean acidification.

Here in Marrakesh, the task at hand is twofold. For those governments and corporations inside the tent city constructed for COP22, it is to define and decide how to implement the Paris Agreement. Alternately for the social justice movements at the nexus of food sovereignty and climate justice, the way forward involves giving voice and political power to marginalized people.

“In the context of the U.S., we see the most hope in Indigenous, Latin@, Asian and African American solutions—the people living on the frontlines of extraction who are standing up in defense of water and land,” offered Jaron Browne, an organizer with Grassroots Global Justice and ally representative at Vía Campesina’s climate justice training. “Right now 5,000 indigenous people are putting their bodies on the line at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline. These are the struggles from which solutions are born, and the more we converge as movements, the more power we build to change the system.”

System change is an expression of root cause analysis, which is a critical part of what Vía Campesina is doing in Morocco this week. Instead of jumping haphazardly from the problem of the climate crisis to solutions, activists are affirming that they must first get to the heart of its contention.

“Climate change is a manifestation of capitalism,” said Maria Isabelle Soc Carillo, a youth leader from Vía Campesina’s Guatemalan member organization CONAVIGUA, who traveled from Central America to be part of the training. “The solutions proposed in the COP generate more poverty because they cause dependency, and that impacts women and children the most,” she elaborated. Maria’s organization is part of a push against climate change mitigation strategies in the form of industrial tree plantations and monocrop agriculture primarily marked for export.

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