For the first time in Australia, a convergence of climate change groups was held in Melbourne on February 9. While the convergence was focused on bringing together climate change groups from Victoria, several groups from Bondi, North Coast, Albury and Wagga Wagga in New South Wales also attended.
One of the convergence organisers, Friends of the Earth coordinator Cam Walker, told Green Left Weekly that "the target audience for the convergence was the suburban and rural climate change groups, to get them together to discuss whether we are a movement or not. That discussion has never been held before".
Walker explained that the climate change movement has arisen quite separately to the established environment movement.
The convergence was a big success, said Walker, with 230 people attending, representing 80 organisations, with almost everyone attending planning to report back to their groups.
Three unions registered for the convergence — the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Australian Services Union and the Australian Education Union. The AMWU representatives were from a newly-established environment group within the union.
The latest climate science was presented by the authors of a new online report, Climate Code Red: The case for a sustainability emergency. Authors David Spratt and Philip Sutton presented a realistic but scary picture of the level of the crisis and the need to treat the climate crisis as a state of emergency.
A strong theme throughout the convergence was that the movement to stop climate change needed to take account of social justice and socially just solutions, and have an internationalist approach.
There was also strong support from a section of participants to focus the climate change movement on lobbying big business and politicians to change their ways. As this was the first such convergence and involving such a broad range of participants from across the movement, the agenda was only able to introduce topics, without being able to have a friendly debate about the best way to build the movement and effect change.
The groups organising the convergence give an indication of the broad range of views represented — the Sustainable Living Foundation, Friends of the Earth, the Greenleap Strategic Institute and Sustainable Business Practices.
Sponsoring organisations included Beyond Zero Emissions, Carbon Equity, Central Victorian Greenhouse Alliance, Environment Victoria, Futureye, Greenpeace, Moreland Energy Foundation, Western Region Environment Centre and Zero Emissions Now.
Walker said that as this was the first such convergence, the organisers didn't want to be too prescriptive about the outcomes. They didn't want the local groups to feel bulldozed into supporting something that they might not be ready for, so there weren't any major proposals for action coming out of the convergence.
However, Walker said that there were three key outcomes that strengthen the movement. Firstly, a lot of new support was gathered for the anti-coal campaign. Secondly, a new network of local climate change groups which are interested in the climate emergency idea has been established. And thirdly, there is a new group that wants to put climate change on the agenda for local elections, due to be held in Victoria later this year.
It is possible that a second gathering will be held later this year as a workshopping conference.