Politicians Block Police From Arresting Protesters At A Capital Hill Climate Change Rally

If politicians won't get serious, people will.

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The long-awaited Paris climate talks are finally underway, with the leaders of nearly 150 nations gathering to hammer out a comprehensive global agreement to mitigate the impact of global warming over the next few decades. The rhetoric has been pretty stark, even from leaders of those nations best able to act; French President Francois Hollande told the conference that “the hope of all humanity rests on your shoulders”. Pacific Island leaders have met with US President Barack Obama to demand a warming cap of 1.5 degrees Celsius, with Kiribati President Anote Tong calling such an outcome “a matter of survival” for nations like his.

But the global solidarity and mutual burden-sharing urged by world leaders has, perhaps unsurprisingly, been undercut by Australia’s refusal to agree to measures the rest of the developed world are signing up for. Following domestic pressure from conservative politicians and the mining industry, yesterday Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull refused to sign a non-binding agreement encouraging signatories to phase out government subsidies to coal, oil and gas projects.

While Turnbull has pledged that Australia will ratify the second phase of the 1997 Kyoto agreement, as well as $800 million to help Pacific Island nations deal with climate change, the fine print reveals how disappointing those promises are. Signing Kyoto II so won’t actually increase Australia’s obligation to cut its carbon emissions, and that $800 million is just money being shifted out of our already-gutted foreign aid budget. While Turnbull has said a lot of vaguely positive things about dealing with climate change, in substance Australia’s meagre efforts in Paris so far have been reminiscent of his predecessor. All of which has led domestic climate campaigners to do something pretty drastic. Earlier today, a group of more than 250 people calling themselves the “People’s Parliament” parked their butts in the foyer of Parliament House, demanding that the government step up and get serious about the Paris talks.

The swiftness and scale of the protest seemingly took much of Parliament House by surprise. A number of Greens politicians, including Scott Ludlam, Richard Di Natale, Janet Rice, Adam Bandt and Lee Rhiannon, eventually joined the protest themselves — even blocking police and security when they tried to arrest some of the protesters.

Police and security were quickly on the scene, and protesters were physically removed from the foyer. Among the last to be removed were Aunty Mabel, a Bailai elder and climate campaigner against the expansion of dredging near the Great Barrier Reef, and 92-year-old Bill Ryan, a veteran of Kokoda. The group then gathered outside Parliament, where the protest continued.

Memo to Malcolm Turnbull: if you won’t get serious about climate change, plenty of people will. Hopefully the government starts getting the message.

Feature image via 350 Australia.