This article is written by Elizabeth Buchan.
(Isla Margarita, Venezuela) In the lead up to the climate change negotiations in Paris 2015, theVenezuelan government took the unprecedented and bold step to host civil society groups for two ‘PreCOP’ meetings in July and October this year. Elizabeth Buchan, as a delegate of CliMates, attended in July.
In an attempt to be inclusive, many civil society organisations, including those not officially involved with the UN, received invitations. Over 70 organisations from Latin America, as selected by Venezuela were present. More than a mere diplomatic gesture, the government covered the delegates’ costs to travel and attend the meeting. For many delegates, the trip to Venezeula was a two-day exercise. Unfortunately, visa challenges meant that some delegates were unable to attend.
Claudia Selerno, the Venezuelan climate change negotiator and PreCOP host, acknowledged simply hosting the event was a political risk. In an effort to allow civil society to effectively organise and work together without outside influences in the lead up to COP19 in Lima, Peru later this year, the Venezuelan Government declined requests from Poland, France and Peru governments to send delegates.
One example of the space being for civil society, was in the organisers receptiveness to delegates’ requests to alter the schedule to allow more time to work in groups around the following themes, that eventually formed working groups, or Mesas, that contributed to the Margarita Declaration:
- 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.
The declaration will be brought to the Climate Summit in September by President Maduro on behalf of civil society.
Given the unique challenges of hosting an inaugural event that feeds into the ongoing international climate change negotiations process, the Venezuelan Government no doubt learned some valuable lessons. The PreCOP meeting, like any quasi UN meeting, may end up being stymied by process and eventually fail to represent the diverse views on offer. The political sensitivities around the Venezuelan government in a UN context also brings into question how any declaration may be delivered by President Maduro.
The Margarita Declaration is an ambitious and idealistic document unconstrained by the limitations of the terminology and conventions of traditional civil society interventions within the UNFCCC process. However, it carries some strong language and unique ideas that may limit its acceptance and integration in to the negotiations process at a UN level.
The challenge now for civil society to leverage the momentum and potential influence of the Margarita Declaration. The Social PreCOP was an imperfect but valuable opportunity for civil society to work together outside the UNFCCC settings in the lead up to the 2015 negotiations in Paris. It was also a vital opportunity to collaborate with less of the political and cultural baggage inherent in current processes.
About the author: Elizabeth Buchan has a Bachelor of Science (Environmental Policy) and Bachelor of Arts (International Relations and French), from the National Australian University. She currently works in the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.