The pre-COP: a chance we must take

by Maria Escalante & Adrian Fernandez Jauregui

Coming to the Conference of the Parties this year at Warsaw, Poland (COP19) confirmed us that climate change negotiations, under the UNFCCC, are not advancing in even reducing the only incremental climate change impacts, much less considerably mitigating global carbon emissions, transferring resources for adaptation, or fairly compensating developing and least developed countries (LDCs) for their losses and damages. The small steps celebrated by the strong block of G77, representing the views of the Global South, like the establishment of The Warsaw Mechanism on Loss and Damage under the mitigation track, or the fact that discussions around market based approaches and agriculture were postponed to be later discussed in a few months, are very few small celebrations.

          A handful of developed countries – the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan among other usual european actors – are to blame for most of the responsibility of these consecutive failures in the negotiations. Blocking any meaningful agreement, ignoring their mitigation obligations, advocating for market based approaches -which are all false solutions, just as having the private sector lead the charge against climate change-, and blackmailing other less vocal delegations are just some of the actions that clearly indicate their priorities and whose interests these governments represent. Powerful corporations, specially oil and mining industries, dedicated to profit from unsustainable environmental practices often manage to advance their agenda through the position of these countries, thus infecting multilateral negotiations with their greed.

        The world is boiling, literally. We can see the effects of climate change everywhere with increasingly intensity and recurrence, more lost lives, more disasters, more storms, more droughts, more floods. And still, more carbon emissions. Climate change is more real than ever and to keep waiting to act radically against the root causes of climate change is nothing else but insanity. We, as civil society, must not let the future of climate change be in the hands of big oil industry, greedy corporate lobbyist, and  governments run by insensitive bureaucrats. We already know that they won’t do enough and there is no more time to waste. But we have heard this before: action is imperative; yet the next phase seems sometimes not very much exhortative: how to act, who to work with, when is the right time, where is the priority?.

        With not very many answers in our hands, we must say that there is a tempting proposal to act, indeed, and act strongly against climate change. We are surely taking this opportunity, and we need more heads and hands to work along. This is an invitation to you all, climate activists in search of action: if you care to do something, join a group that reflects your ideals, spread the voice, reclaim your political space!

        “The next pre-COP will be very special because, for the first time, it will be a social preCOP”, announced Claudia Salerno, the lead negotiator for Venezuela at the UNFCCC, during the official presentation of the event. The preCOPs are ministerial meetings where climate issues can be addressed in a more informal way. These meetings have often been used as a space to bring executive directors of major corporations to sit at the same table as country representatives. However, Venezuela will be the host for next year’s negotiations and they have decided to try something new: invite to a dialogue governments and all members of civil society, even those not represented by the UNFCCC’s current constituencies. Salerno believes, like us, that governments alone cannot solve the climate crisis, but communities alone will not be able to do so either. She thinks that there should be closer and more direct communication between the people and their governments. This preCOP could provide that opportunity.

Claudia Salerno, Venezuela lead negotiator, announcing the preCOP 2014 at Warsaw, Poland. © Diario Los Tiempos

        This preCOP proposal comes as a preface for the Latin American COP20 in Lima, Peru and it also comes at a time when the UNFCCC process is nearing the 2015 COP21 crossroad: agreeing or not on a global deal that could tackle climate change in the next two decades, or condemn most of the world’s population to its impacts. Keeping our engagement with the UNFCCC is unavoidably crucial, as its agreements resonate globally, regionally, nationally. But our engagement must be kept year round, not only for a couple of weeks during COPs. This preCOP could be a space for civil society to get together, build connections, articulate common demands and draw some red lines, while trying to figure how to scale up the pressure on governments, having long lasting impacts across nations.

        The main objective of the preCOP should be to expand and strengthen the global climate movement from its grassroots, making it durable and autonomous. We must not repeat what happened in Copenhagen 2009, when the global climate movement almost collapsed after the disappointment of a poor outcome. This time, the movement  should grow independently of what happens at the UNFCCC, while still engaging with it. People’s demands, priorities, and red lines should not be built based on the framework provided by the UNFCCC, one mainly for diplomats and technocrats, not for the people on the fields, streets, schools and homes. Instead, those demands should reflect the people’s everyday struggles and needs which start with food sovereignty, public water governance, renewable energy communities, climate change adaptation, equity, social justice, among many. These are the types of demands that resonate with most of us and that will inspire millions to take action.

         Undoubtedly, the preCOP is an opportunity to grab, however we have learned to beware and question governmental initiatives as well. There are many logistical uncertainties to be figured out, like how to make sure that all civil society is adequately represented at this meeting? Who would be covering the costs of those who cannot afford coming but having their presence is invaluable? How to convince those skeptical of the UNFCCC process to participate at this social assembly? There are other concerns which involve Venezuela’s possible intention of handling the preCOP as a political media show for the international community. All these are elements we must start juggling with.

    The challenges of making the preCOP a meaningful event are also many. One of them, probably the biggest one,  will be to find a way to collect people’s struggles and demands into a form that reaches, resonates and influences the course of negotiations within COP20 and beyond. Three years ago in Cochabamba, Bolivia during a similar social gathering, people’s voices were condensed in the People’s Agreement of Cochabamba– yet its content was too different from what was being talked back in the UNFCCC. The gap was too large to make a connection and bring those demands to the negotiation table. The opportunity passed, and the momentum was lost. This time, the preCOP must be the moment when a strong connection is made between local struggles and the multilateral climate regime.

World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, Cochabamba, Bolivia. 2010.

         Challenges, many, as always. But we all should remember: there will not be many more opportunities like this for civil society to come together, share experiences and coordinate demands. Without that social common understanding, the climate movement cannot be built. And without a stronger and larger climate movement we will never be able to win against the current governments of developed countries blocking every initiative and corporations lobbyists behind them. We do not have a choice, this social preCOP has to be a historical success.

     While negotiations at COP19 Poland were spiraling down to failure, the Latin Americans got together to talk about their involvement with the preCOP. Typical celebrations, partying, chatting and delaying sometimes took over the serious work, but we managed to start forming connections with already existing organizations like Clic! and Construyendo Puentes which are also finding the best way to engage with the preCOP in Venezuela. We, as Earth in Brackets, humbly recognize that we have knowledge, experience and skills to contribute to the organization of the preCOP, the different events and its outcomes. We need courage to take on this challenge and more hands and heads to amplify our contributions. We have the chance of constructing the climate justice movement closer to our hands. A climate justice movement that must stretch its back and walk strongly. A chance we must take in.

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