Sustaining All Life at COP22

In November 2016, a Sustaining All Life delegation participated in COP22, in Marrakech, Morocco. [COP22 is an abbreviation for the twenty-second Conference of the Parties (annual United Nations international climate talks).]

Our goal was to bring RC insights to the environmental/ climate change movement. As RCers we understand the following:

  • That attentive listening frees human intelligence and connects people to each other
  • That oppression divides people who would otherwise work together as allies in common struggles, like stopping climate change
  • That distress recordings of early defeats confuse us and slow us down as we confront big challenges
  • That racism hides the damage from climate change that People of the Global Majority are already experiencing
  • That our fears about security have wedded us to consumption beyond what our planet can support

Sustaining All Life had learned a lot from participating in COP21 in Paris (France) in 2015 and hoped to build on that experience in Marrakech.

Our COP22 delegation consisted of twenty-nine delegates and volunteers and was led by Barbara Love, the International Liberation Reference Person for African-Heritage People, and Teresa Enrico, the International Liberation Reference Person for Pacific Islander and Pilipino/a-Heritage People—both of whom had been at COP21. Half of the delegation had also been in Paris; the rest were new to the COP. I organized our participation, along with Anne Helgedagsrud, the Regional Reference Person for Norway.

The COP lasted from Monday, November 7, to Friday, November 18. Because some of us had to leave Morocco on Wednesday, November 16, to attend the African Pre-World Conference, we decided to begin our official presence at the COP on the previous Wednesday, so the entire delegation would be there for a full week.

In order to be officially recognized, we had applied for NGO (non-governmental organization) status with the United Nations. However, our application was not approved until after the deadline for applying for a booth or workshop space, so we initially partnered with an organization that we had shared a booth with in Paris. Then we learned that this organization had lied to us, so we ended the partnership and wrote directly to the steering committee of the COP about our situation. At the last minute, they gave us a booth as well as space for our workshops and forums, and more spaces as interest in our workshops became apparent. (Several COP steering committee members attended and appreciated our events, as did many of the young volunteers staffing the COP.)

Our plan had been to begin with an RC workshop for our delegation on Wednesday evening, November 9, after everyone had arrived. However, because we had no control over the COP22 schedule, we had to begin our Sustaining All Life activities on Monday, November 7, the opening day. Fortunately, a handful of RCers had arrived early to rest, and at 11 a.m. on Monday they elegantly conducted our forum “The Impact of Climate Change on Developing Nations and Communities.” More than twenty people attended—a large crowd for the first day! We had to fit in our RC workshop between the blocks of time we spent attending the COP, holding caucuses and forums, and staffing our booth.

We held all of our forums and workshops in one of several open circular spaces in the middle of the Green Zone—the area for the “civil society” (non-governmental) events. Fortunately a microphone and speakers had been provided. We encircled the space with colorful fabrics to make it more contained and attractive and had high visibility and a lot of traffic. Every one of our events filled the space.

After each workshop or forum we held a support group, usually attended by at least ten people. Most of these groups met in our small booth space, so people had to jam in, but no one complained—they were so happy to be together and to have a place where they could be listened to.

We also held caucuses in which people shared their experiences with climate change and talked about their activism as members of targeted constituencies. When our booth space was too small for these, we found a few large unused spaces where we could gather in a corner.

As in Paris, we created signs for each event, and for the hour before the event we walked around with our bilingual or trilingual (English, French, and Arabic) signs, encouraging people to attend. We also held listening projects with questions related to the topic of the event, to interest people in coming. And, of course, our delegates invited individuals they’d been building relationships with and attended the events with them.

In Paris it had been difficult to get people to our workshops (in part, because they’d had to walk to a nearby school), so we held a reception midway through COP22 to introduce people more fully to RC and show them the value of our workshops. It was stunningly successful. Over fifty people came to our hotel in the center of Marrakech. Barbara and Teresa welcomed them, and Barbara led an introduction to Sustaining All Life, complete with a counseling demonstration and several mini-sessions. We could not get people to leave after the four-hour event. They would have happily stayed all night.

Most of our activities were on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of the second week (see schedule). These were busy times for us. The French interpreters, always in demand, worked every minute. It was exhilarating and exhausting, and we needed our nightly meetings and sessions.

A majority of the people in the Green Zone were from Morocco, so they spoke French (the colonial language) or Arabic. (There were also some Moroccans who spoke the local Indigenous languages.) It made a big difference to people that all of our handouts were translated into French and that our basic handout, The Work of Sustaining All Life, and the pamphlet Sustaining All Life were also translated into Arabic, along with twelve other languages. As in Paris, at all of our events we interpreted into French. When possible, we also interpreted into Arabic (we had only one Arabic interpreter).

In Paris, we were pleased with the interest expressed in the work of Sustaining All Life. From contacts we made there, we have started three new RC Communities, two in Nigeria and one in Cameroon, and we are in the process of starting Communities in the Gambia, Madagascar, and Nepal. In Marrakech there was even more interest. Over four hundred Moroccans indicated on the contact cards they filled out that they wanted to learn more about Sustaining All Life. People loved the chance to talk and be listened to, and to listen to others, and for most people our information about racism was new and eye opening.

Before we left Marrakech, we had two planning meetings for people who were interested in starting an RC Community there. As a result, there will be a daylong introductory RC workshop in Marrakech on December 11 [twenty-two people attended; see article on page 14] and a second one in January. Then there will be a series of monthly fundamentals daylong workshops for those committed to learning more. All the workshops will be in French and Arabic. A group of European RCers, with international support, are committed to making this happen. (Fortunately, if tickets are purchased in advance, it is inexpensive to travel between major European cities and Marrakech.)

We were able to cover all our expenses with the fundraising we’d done before the COP. Now we are fundraising for the upcoming Morocco RC project and for sending a smaller delegation to COP23, in Bonn, Germany, in November 2017.

We have requests to start RC in Guinea, Mali, Egypt, Tunisia, Mauritania, and several other countries. Unfortunately, we lack the resources to follow up with all of these requests, as our first commitment is to follow up on the work we have already begun with contacts from the Paris COP. Still, we will use these opportunities to begin RC in some Muslim communities in northern Africa where we have not had a presence before.

We had initially thought we could keep developing relationships with climate-activist organizations we’d had contact with in Paris. However, it now seems that those groups do not attend all of the COPs (every five years there is a major COP—Paris was one of those). Or they limit their activism at the COPs to the Blue Zone (the governmental area). As an NGO we were granted a few passes into the Blue Zone, and we made a few good contacts, but the people there were generally focused on the specific governmental work they had come to do and had little time for or interest in what was happening in the Green Zone, where we based our activities. Next time we might try to focus on building relationships with a few specific groups that are doing work in areas of particular interest to us.

We will be attending COP23 in Germany next year. Being in a COP delegation is an excellent experience for the RCers who participate. We also want Sustaining All Life to be widely known as an ongoing actor against climate change. In addition, COP23 will be a good opportunity to strengthen RC in Germany and neighboring countries.

Our next major involvement will likely be in COP26—the next “super-COP.”

A list of all our events at COP22 is on the following page.

Diane Shisk

Alternate International Reference Person for the Re-evaluation Counseling Communities

Seattle, Washington, USA

(Present Time 186, January 2017)

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00