Sourse: Climate Change Stuff
By Jamie Peters
What Went Down at the Social PreCOP?
In the beautiful settings of Margarita, Civil Society and social justice movements from around the world gathered in an event hosted by the Venezuelan Government.
The name of the event was new. The process was new. Here is what happened.
Previous PreCOPs are generally closed and all sessions related to the UN Climate Talks (UNFCCC) afford Civil Society the most limited of participation. Venezuela had the aim of opening this up in an unprecedented effort to put social movements at the centre of climate change solutions. This was a refreshing change and one that the Venezuelan Government could only organise for groups to make the most of the opportunity. Any attempt to influence the process or groups in attendance would have been shot down quickly by organisations from around the world, with Venezuelan groups leading the way.
65 international groups attended and 70 Venezuelan groups were represented. A list of attendees can be see here.
What was the point of groups meeting?
Hugo Chavez, ex-President of Venezuela spoke strongly against current lack of action on climate change in Copenhagen, 2009 at COP15 and also condemned the undemocratic nature of that series of the UN climate talks. He spoke of a need for social movements to be listened to and to address the climate catastrophe through meaningful participation. This Social PreCOP was in some way a realization of Chavez’s words from 2009.
Venezuela put great effort into inviting a range of Civil Society members to the event, not only the status quo of the NGO movement. This included groups engaged in local struggles particularly youth. Not everyone who wanted to go went, I am sure. This is the same as every single other climate conference in that aspect. It is entirely different from ever other UN Climate Talk in the sense of who WAS in attendance. The inference that only groups who would not push the Venezuelan Government for harder domestic action were invited is untrue. I know this as I spoke to groups who are engaged in local and national struggles in Venezuela. And also because the final declaration calls for an end to dirty energy production, an element included at the behest of Venezuelan groups.
When the concept of a Social PreCOP was announced last year, Vice Minister Claudia Salerno stated that Venezuela did not know how the Social PreCOP would go but only that it was something they had to try given the lack of progress climate talks have seen after nearly 20 years of meeting. Venezuela helped give Civil Society the opportunity to work together on building a movement and working towards a document we can see as a vision for climate justice. The current document is a progressive and inspiring piece that will be refined. The process itself was difficult but entirely rewarding for those involved.
How was the Social PreCOP structured?
Over the course of 4 days a mixture of panels, discussion and then a series of issue based mesas (roundtables) were organised by Civil Society alongside the Venezuelan Social PreCOP team. An initial day on Local Government involvement in climate solutions allowed participants to hear and discuss this theme.
For the second day, a special platform for discussion was given to youth. This included an 11 year old Venezuelan speaker and a number of young children from local schools. It should be noted that in official UNFCCC spaces participation of under-18s is essentially prohibited. Additionally, Civil Society is limited to 2 or 3 minutes speeches and youth are regularly banned for mild expressions of protest at the state of talks. To be clear, this Social PreCOP was a safe space for Civil Society and a massive shift from the usual set up of sessions related to the UNFCCC.
The remainder of the PreCOP was devoted to 5 separate mesas that served as working groups. These working groups were chaired by Civil Society, notes were taken by Civil Society and the agenda and content was entirely driven by Civil Society (Any suggestions that this was not the case are impossible to comprehend for anyone who was in attendance in Margarita). The 5 mesas were labelled under the following topics:
Social impacts of climate change;
- Climate ethics: differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities;
- Social participation in decision making;
- Fighting climate change: direct actions for transformation;
- North – South responsibilities: commitments in the north to strengthen action in the south.
Latin American groups, particularly Venezuelan ones, had a prominent role throughout the Social PreCOP with Spanish being the dominant language and the Venezuelan organisers providing interpreters for each session that took place.
What was discussed or agreed?
The content is within this declaration for all to read and to any eyes it is a strong declaration with key root causes and solutions being outlined by Civil Society (Some media reports on the PreCOP would make you believe it was simply a Venezuelan Government manifesto shouting for an end to capitalism). Calls for an eradication of fossil fuel usage and leaving the 80% of current reserves untapped were some key points. Using education as a driver for climate justice and a condemnation for false climate solutions were also vital aspects of the declaration.
An easily readable document that was people led and touches on the essential issues we must tackle to stay below 1.5 degrees of warming is contained within this declaration. To highlight all of the important and inspiring issues would be to type out the document in almost its complete form. Once again, an incredibly contrast to the death pacts which the UNFCCC produces for the world each year to sign up to.
The current declaration is a draft. It will be worked on by Civil Society and revisited. Current Venezuelan President, Maduro, will take the document to the Ban Ki-moon Climate Summit in September 2014.
The second PreCOP meeting in November will see more time devoted to the declaration and to see how it can become even more relevant to the current tired and clunky UNFCCC process which will have its main meeting in Lima, at the end of this year. The Venezuelan Government have been active in liaising with the Peruvian team to ensure that this Social PreCOP gets the recognition it deserves from Ministers and negotiating teams.
The UNFCCC is a process desperately close to becoming irrelevant. Repeated failures from developed countries to fulfil their promises and obligations has seen a trust crises dominate undertakings. With a Global Treaty to be agreed in Paris next year, coordinated Global North efforts to rip up international law in the form of the foundations of UNFCCC, such as historical responsibility and equity could do untold damage to the UN process and more importantly our climate and planet.
When President Maduro takes the Margarita Declaration to the Climate Summit in NYC this year he is taking more than the words on the paper. He is taking a process and a way of working that Venezuela has facilitated. A process that is people centred, that is about social movements and about tackling root causes to our climate crisis. This is a message that should be heard by every world leader in attendance in New York and something that the UNFCCC must be listen to.
The UNFCCC has become about incrementalism and a space that steals your soul and energy as a climate campaigner. We got a bit of our energy back and found our souls again in Margarita. All Venezuela could do was ‘give us independence’ as Claudia Salerno told groups, whilst refining the Social PreCOP process up until the last minute at the demand of Civil Society. They did their part of the bargain. Those in attendance for Civil Society did their bit in working together with groups holding a range of views.
This Social PreCOP has created an essential space for social movements to discuss the climate problem in a context freed from the shackles of the UNFCCC. The content of the Margarita Declaration is perhaps not the most important issue to take from the PreCOP. The process of creating an essential space for marginalised and impacted groups to work together on building a movement could make the UN process a place for solutions.
For the Venezuelan Government to take such a risk, and it definitely is a risk, in organising this session must be recognized. In doing so they set the standard for future countries who must listen to Civil Society as we demand that this space become a regular place for collaboration.