Lukewarm UN climate conference failed to reflect the heat on the streets

Even though the COP25 in Madrid ended in inaction, the parallel Social Summit revealed that the streets are more alive than ever, argues Samuel Martín-Sosa.

The bitter taste left behind by the failure of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Madrid to deliver tangible results had a bright counterpoint. A few kilometres from where official negotiations were going nowhere, the Social Summit for Climate Action provided a space for social contestation that proved to be more necessary than ever, in light of the poor outcome of COP25.

It is a common practice to hold civil society gatherings in parallel with the official Conferences of the Parties (COPs), beyond the official ‘Green Zone’. The difference in this case was that the Social Summit organised in record time: in the very short six-week period since it was decided to move the COP25 from Santiago de Chile to Madrid.

By 2020 We Rise Up‘, a new joint action platform for climate justice – which includes EEB member Ecologistas en Acción – accepted the unenviable responsibility of of organising this parallel summit. And many other organisations and movements quickly joined the effort. Together, we managed to organise different working groups and subgroups (logistics, kitchen, hosting, programme, interpretation, documents translation, and more) connecting via Telegram (once the Summit came to an end, we identified more than 50 telegram groups had been created for coordination purposes). An assembly of delegates was set up, with representatives elected from the main core groups, to act as a quick decision-making and response mechanism. In addition, a weekly presential assemblies were held.

Dynamic space

The event itself was a real success. The Social Summit proved to be an incredibly dynamic space where so many things happened. Right from the very start, we agreed on a common position, inviting organisations from all over the world to sign it. Around 1,000 did so, in a short space of time.

Despite the short notice, we managed to establish two spaces. First, there was a Convergence Space, which we offered to organisations and networks coming to Madrid where they could hold their meetings and events, particularly those taking place before 7 December 2019. In addition, Complutense University agreed to host the majority of the events taking place from 7-12 December 2019. 

We are proud of the fact that we managed to provide free accommodation for several hundred people, either in ‘solidarity houses’ or in sporting facilities. We also provided three vegan meals a day at reduced prices to many of those in attendance.

Alternative visions

The programme we put together encompassed more than 350 events, organised around six main themes: planetary boundaries, economic and financial systems, social justice, political systems, intersectionality, and systemic alternatives. Activities ranged from events focusing on agroecology, just transition and geoengineering, to mining, fossil fuel divestment and emotional healing.

We were very clear in our call for participants that we wanted to give special prominence to our Chilean colleagues who had been working so hard for months to develop their own social spaces in preparation for the COP25, which was originally to be hosted in Chile.

We wanted to restore to them as much as possible the voice that had been taking away with the decision to move the COP, for the third time in a row, to a European country. So we held regular international coordination calls with them.

Chile back on the agenda

The Social Summits final declaration contained explicit references to the basic of our Chilean counterparts, such as the fight for social justice in Chile and Latin America, the violation of human rights by the Chilean government, the devastating effects of decades of extractivism in Chile, and the need to prioritise the interests and proposals of indigenous peoples.

In Madrid, we also wanted to ensure the physical presence of delegations representing the three main social spaces that were being organised in Chile: Summit of the Peoples, Indigenous Minga, and Civil Society for Climate Action (SCAC). All three of them made it successfully to Madrid, sharing shared their messages and work with all of us.  

During the daily plenaries, we had the opportunity to hear the stories from frontline communities and indigenous peoples suffering the most at the forefront of the socio-ecological crisis.

Pressure from the people

Last but not least, the Social Summit acted as a basecamp for the many forms of protest action held during the COP25, which included toxic tours, non-violent direct actions, inside/outside protest, sit-ins, etc.

The emergence of new movements over the past year has raised the stakes, with more and more activists engaging in civil disobedience, as it has become increasingly clear that governments will not act unless growing social pressure forces them to do so.

It was special to feel the power and energy at the Social Summit, emanating from so many different movements from all over the world, all united around the demand for climate justice and the need for true solutions.

Even though COP25 ended in deadlock and inaction, the parallel Social Summit revealed that the streets are more alive than ever. And this will only grow. In 2020, we will keep on rising.


Samuel Martín-Sosa has a PhD in biology. He is the author of the Handbook to Combat Climate Change and Global Resistance to Fracking. He is also a researcher into communications and climate change. Has taken part in the creation of different alliances and networks, such as the Resource Cap Coalition, Frack free Europe, Gas no es Solución, and By 2020 We Rise Up. He was an EEB board member from 2003 to 2010.