By John Parnell
RTCC in Doha
Campaigners at one of the first civil society marches to take place in Doha have urged Arab governments to get serious about climate change and make emissions reduction pledges at the UN talks.
Several hundred protesters gathered on Doha seafront for Qatar’s first legal protest. Mass gatherings of people are forbidden in most Gulf states with police in some countries quick to break up protests with water cannons and those involved routinely deported.
Organisers of this march spent seven months persuading the government to permit the protest. In the end they had little to worry about with a good spirited march passing without incident.
The Arab Youth Climate Movement (AYCM), which featured prominently during proceedings said it hoped the message from the Doha’s corniche, would make its way to the negotiators back at the conference centre.
“We want all the Arab countries to unite their voices and pledge ambitiously and to take the lad to encourage the bigger countries politically, Mostafa Medhat, regional coordinator for Egypt with the AYCM. “If we take the lead, I’m sure others will follow.
“Qatar is hosting the talks amd we hope it leaves a legacy. Since the Arab Spring people have only been concerned about politics and economics but it is important that climate change should go on the priority list too.
“The situation with the oil countries is complicated and yes perhaps some, like Saudi Arabia, are blocking progress, but maybe Qatar can persuade them to join the team…to pledge an emissions reduction and to reduce fossil fuel subsidies and use this money for green technology and renewables,” said Medhat.
The Arab region will have two-thirds of its population under 65 by 2020 and this could yield a powerful voice on climate change issues, according to Medhat.
“In Egypt, the whole regime changed in 18 days. These people have power, we just have to use it. The awareness on climate change has to come first.”
Ihsan Kaadan,who leads the Syrian chapter of the AYCM added: “We want Arab countries to give their pledges and encourage others to do the same. We hope this will leave a big impression on the negotiators back at the convention centre.”
At the conclusion of the two hour march, COP chairman Fahad Bin Mohammed Al-Attiya addressed the crowd.
“This is a proud and historic day for Qatar,” he said. “Today marks a very important moment in our history, today you are standing here together, and this march demonstrates your commitment. I would love to see the delegates take up their responsibilities and find a responsible decision towards addressing the issues of climate change.”
The security presence at the march was light with plain clothes local security forces escorting marchers and three low key police patrol boats maintaining an inconspicuous distance from the coast.
One marcher told RTCC they hadn’t even noticed the boats until they had been pointed out.
Another was asked to remove the head of his polar bear outfit as it obscured his face, but he commented that the request had been made politely and was not unreasonable.
VIDEO: The Doha Climate March – COP18 Arab Climate Activists March in Doha