Fr Bonnie Mendes, the regional coordinator for Caritas Asia, tells us about his day at the Bangkok climate talks in 2009.

Credits: Caritas

Fr Bonnie Mendes, the regional coordinator for Caritas Asia, tells us about his day at the Bangkok climate talks in 2009.

You see rich countries who want to use the maximum of the Earth’s resources but they don’t worry about the poor. They don’t seem to realise people will have to suffer for this choice.

I travelled to the climate change talks in downtown Bangkok in a taxi with people from India and the Philippines. There was a sense of anticipation. We were saying to each other: “Something’s got to happen!”

The Bangkok climate change talks were in September 2009, just a couple of months before the UN climate change conference COP15 in Copenhagen. We wanted consensus on the Kyoto Protocol and we wanted countries to stop delaying important climate decisions.

The Prime Minister of Thailand said at the talks, “There is no plan B. If we do not realise plan A, we go straight to plan F, which stands for failure.”

I was at the meeting with Caritas representatives from Bangladesh, India, the Philippines, South Africa and Kenya. In our previous day’s preparations, I made it clear that it wasn’t always necessary to shout to get your view across. Using the media is important as that gets the message to many other people.

For part of the day, we split up and went to different sessions so we could lobby. I attended an adaptation session. It was the first time I’d ever attended such a big meeting on climate change and I was surprised at the attitudes of some of the countries. They tried to block anything that would mean change and some delegates made extra long speeches so others had less chance to speak.

In my country, Pakistan, there is no rain and everyone prays for it, then it comes and it is devastating. Inland, Pakistan is mountainous but then it flattens out towards the sea. Heavy rains just sweep down onto the plains and wash people’s homes away. This happens quite frequently. The people don’t own the land and their houses aren’t built to withstand disasters.

Caritas is working with communities on adaptation and mitigation across the world with projects such as mushroom farming in Cambodia, tree planting in Pakistan and cyclone preparedness in Bangladesh. We think that with a little input communities can become less vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather.

We demonstrated on the streets of Bangkok, calling for more climate justice. I had brought three young women from Pakistan to participate in the climate talks. I think it’s very important to get young people to understand the climate issue and take it back to their own countries. We sat on the pavement with placards saying things like, “Earth is slowly dying, save her, go green.”

I think that with the involvement of young people there will always be some hope.

That evening we all went back to the Caritas Asia office to discuss how everyone felt. There was great suspicion that nothing would happen at an international level. If that was so, we’d have to continue doing what we could at the grassroots. But we need governments and experts to guide us in our choices and initiatives. Without their backing how are the poor ever going to be able to live with climate change?