Six Canadian youths were booted out of a plenary session of the UN climate talks in Durban on Wednesday after staging a silent demonstration.
Soon after Canadian Environmental Minister Peter Kent started his address, the youths stood up without a word and made an about-turn, with the message “Turn your back on Canada” scrawled on their T-shirts for Kent to read.
They failed to respond when asked to take their seats. UN security escorted them from the room and revoked their accreditation for being disruptive.
The six were part of the Canadian Youth Delegation to COP17, a project of the Canadian Youth Climate Alliance.
The youths, as well as indigenous peoples, have become increasingly vocal in their criticism of Kent.
This is because the Canadian government has refused to stop the development of its immense reserves of tar sands to produce fuel, and has indicated a withdrawal from the Kyoto protocol.
After Wednesday’s incident, the national director of the alliance, Cameron Fenton, said that previous efforts to sway the government on its climate policies had come to naught – “the reality is they just don’t listen”.
“Young people here and across Canada do not agree with the goverment’s stance – the stance they’ve taken on our behalf. There is a need in Canada to separate the oil from the state.”
Karen Rooney, a 25-year-old nurse from Saskatchewan, one of the six to be barred from COP17, said the action was part of a continuing campaign to make her government aware that it was “representing the interests of the polluters”.
“We tried the polite, respectable and so-called right way of doing things to get through to them before.”
James Hutt, a 24-year-old student from Halifax, said that if anything, it was the official Canadian delegation that was guilty of disrupting negotiations by “sabotaging” support for and progress on Kyoto. Hutt said that the east coast where he lived had had hurricanes in recent years such as had not been seen before.
Rooney and Hutt are the eldest of the six, though the entire youth delegation comprises 18 members.
Patrick Bond, who directs the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, applauded the action.
“This was a not only a good example of what we should all be doing when facing destructive power: express dissent. Gandhi developed this approach, satyagraha, a century ago in Durban. But it was also one of the first signals that the demand for generational justice – kids demanding that adults behave – will be articulated through disrespect for elders who deserve disrespect.
“I hope this tactic catches on across Africa, because as we saw in Tunisia and Egypt this year, youths are often the brave conscience of the society.” - The Mercury