Climate Change, Venezuela

Venezuela Hosts International Gathering Ahead of UN Climate Change Summit

Representatives of civil society meet with government ministers to discuss climate change policy at the second social PreCOP meeting held on Margarita Island in Venezuela, November 4-7. (Cory Fischer-Hoffman, Venezuelanalysis.com)

Representatives of civil society meet with government ministers to discuss climate change policy at the second social PreCOP meeting held on Margarita Island in Venezuela, November 4-7. (Cory Fischer-Hoffman, Venezuelanalysis.com)

Porlamar, November 6th, 2014 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Over 80 social movement organizations from around the world have converged on Margarita Island, Venezuela to discuss and debate climate change policy.  The unique meeting, hosted by the Venezuelan government, brings together government ministers from 47 countries with 20 delegates from global civil society to negotiate a policy platform in preparation for next  month’s United Nations Conference of Parties (COP20) climate change summit in Lima, Peru.

The Social PreCOP gathering, held in the expropriated Hotel Venetur on the Venezuelan Caribbean island, kicked off on Tuesday.  The gathering is one of a series of events that builds towards the 2015 meeting in Paris of the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in which all countries will be asked to make binding agreements to address global climate change.

In July, social movements and youth from around the world gathered in Margarita Island to draft a climate declaration.  Through work in small groups, large assemblies, drafts and re-write, the gathering produced a document, known as the Margarita Declaration, which outlined the key demands of social movements in the face of climate change.

In September, over 400,000 people filled the streets of New York City to demand climate justice, and to represent the voices of civil society during a United Nations Presidential Summit on Climate Change.  Following the march, thousands of protestors took their action to the financial district of New York City in an action dubbed “Flood Wall Street.” According to a group website, the action was called “to confront the system that both causes and profits from the crisis that is threatening humanity.”

For the past two days, members of civil society have been working alongside representatives of the Venezuelan government to adapt the Margarita Declaration into a proposal that can be brought to the COP20 in Lima.  Today, 20 delegates from civil society will meet with government ministers from around the world who have come to the gathering in the hope of engaging in direct and open dialogue with social movements and impacted communities.  Tomorrow, government ministers will meet in a closed door session.

Paul Quintos, Program Manager of NGO IBON International, based in the Philippines, noted to VA.com the significance of the Social PreCop meeting, stating, “It links what social  movements are demanding, talking about and fighting for…with the official process, so in that sense it is quite valuable.”

Quintos also emphasized that “addressing the scientific requirements of reducing emissions has to be combined with the social justice dimension,” and “the historical responsibilities of the advanced industrialized countries that have over-extracted and over-exploited the earth’s resources, including fossil fuels.”

This framework, consistent with the Margarita declaration, re-shifts the burden from developing countries to the global north as a means of “paying reparations for ecological and historical debt for centuries of colonialism, neo-colonial plunder, imperialist plunder,” as Quintos described it to Venezuelanalysis.com.

Wale Obayanjou, a representative of Friends of the Earth Nigeria, noted that “the impact of climate change is really at our door step.” He said that he attended the Social PreCOP “to join voices with people from the developing world.”  Venezuela is a petro-state, and many participants stated bluntly that this fact could shape Venezuela’s role in the negotiations.  Nonetheless, Obaynjou echoed similar sentiments from other participants who noted that “using funds from oil to fund the first social precop in history is a good thing.”

However, questions about the process and the role of the Venezuelan government in the gathering were raised after the Venezuelan presidency of the Social PreCOP returned at 5pm last night with a revised draft of the Margarita declaration.

Brandon Wu, who spearheads Action Aid’s work on Climate Finance told Venezuelanalysis.com that “the document that we got back from the Venezuelan presidency of the PRECOP did not reflect the things that we collectively think are very important and we did not think were controversial.”

Specifically, he argued that the document must include the global goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 Celsius, acknowledge the specific situation of Less Developed Countries (LDC), insist on the autonomy of social movements, and strongly reject carbon markets as a possible solution to the climate crisis.

Josin, of the Organization of Indigenous People (OIS) in Suriname, also emphasized free prior and informed consent for indigenous people and the fundamental issue of land rights for indigenous peoples.

Members of the caucus on youth and women also demanded strengthened language on the impact of climate change on women and youth and the importance of their roles in adaptation, building policy and construing solutions.

At 7pm, these suggestions were sent to the Venezuelan Presidency of the Social PreCOP, and late last night a revised document was released that incorporated many of the proposed changes.  One controversial change that is not reflected in the document is the demand to, as activists say, “keep the oil in the soil.”

Obayanjou, from Nigeria noted, “The scientists have said that we should think about leaving 80 percent of all known fossil fuels in the ground…but when the [government] minister came he had a different opinion…that undermined a lot of things that we came here to deliberate.”

A number of  the members of civil society admitted, off the record, that petro-state Venezuela, with the largest reserves of oil in the world, could not practically sign on to keeping 80 percent of oil in the ground. Nonetheless, they are pushing for the language of the declaration to demand a swift transition from fossil fuels to “community controlled renewable sources of energy.”

The role of the Venezuelan government in this second meeting of the social PreCop has raised some concerns. “I am still trying to get my head around to what extent this is a civil society driven conference and to what extent the is a government driven process,”  said David Tong of a youth organization in New Zealand,  “I  find it uncomfortable that a civil society declaration is being drafted by a state intermediary” he added.

Wu also described the process as “very much driven by the Venezuelan government.”  But Wu, Tong and others still affirmed the importance of participating in the process.  Most members of civil society had come to the Social PreCOP with a clear understanding that they are there to negotiate.   Teresita Vistro of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development said, “This is a dialogue, this is a negotiation, we cannot get everything that we want.”

This type of meeting, which brings together social movements and government ministers to discuss policy is completely unique. According to Venezuela’s chief climate negotiator, Claudia Salerno Caldera, “If this methodology of work functions for the United Nations we could open up similar spaces like this for other topics, beyond just climate change”, she announced after handing back the controversial revised document.

Salerno reaffirmed that “the desired outcome with this document is not that we all love it, nor that none of us do.  It is that we are all equally uncomfortable with it.”  She continued, “In a multilateral scope, this would be considered an extraordinary result.”

This morning’s meetings commenced with delegates of civil society now joined by official state representatives and United Nations’ ambassadors from over 40 countries.  The participation of Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi has attracted international media coverage. Tomorrow, ministers will meet behind closed doors as they prepare to bring the draft document, elaborated by members of civil society, to the COP20 in Lima in early December.

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