By Guy Edwards
The COP17 was a watershed moment for Latin American civil society participation in the UNFCCC negotiations. Civil society organizations (CSOs) actively engaged with governments at the talks and, in turn, governments made efforts to reach out to civil society. This increased level of exchange can be observed on two levels.
The first consists of shared gatherings to encourage dialogue and cooperation. Country delegations arranged open meetings in which CSOs were invited to participate, while CSOs invited country delegations to their own specially arranged events. During COP17 the ALBA countries, represented by Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Cuba, organized a meeting with Latin American CSOs to discuss their key positions, focusing on the Kyoto Protocol and the Green Climate Fund.
Bolivia emphasizes creating spaces for civil society participation in decision-making on climate change. Although the involvement of civil society in Bolivia’s own national decision-making is less robust, on a global scale, Bolivia is an important driver of global climate change activist networks.
Bolivia’s efforts to reach out to civil society can be traced back to the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, held in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba in April 2010. Bolivian President Evo Morales and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez joined 30,000 activists from around the globe in demanding climate justice. The People’s Agreement of Cochabamba, which emerged from the conference, set out a series of demands including a call for developed countries to recognize and honor their climate debt.
In Durban, the other ALBA countries emulated these efforts to ensure a more participatory negotiating process — to a certain extent at least. This can be explained by a variety of factors. Firstly, there is a strategic imperative. The ALBA countries and particularly Bolivia, which stood alone in rejecting the Cancun Agreements, require support from CSOs to gain legitimacy and coverage for adopting a particular stance in the negotiations. There is greater recognition of civil society’s ability to communicate rapidly and effectively with diverse audiences and constituencies.
Secondly, the political weight of civil society in Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua presents an important reason to engage with these actors. CSOs can be prickly and fickle partners, and it would be unwise to risk bad press back home by shunning opportunities for engagement and cooperation at the talks.
Latin American CSOs have also been proactive in engaging with country delegations. Following its formation in March 2011, the Construyendo Puentes (Building Bridges) Initiative brings together Latin American platforms and networks to improve coordination, communication and dialogue between CSOs and negotiators at the UNFCCC talks. On two occasions during the COP17, Construyendo Puentes met with delegations from a number of countries–including Peru and Panama–to discuss those countries’ principal issues at the negotiations. These meetings were an opportunity for CSOs to take the pulse of the talks based on country delegates’ perspectives, and to offer specific recommendations in an open and participatory environment.
The second level focuses on increasing levels of CSO participation within country delegations. The COP17 was the first time the Mexican delegation included members of CSOs in its ranks. The Bolivian delegation also included a limited number of civil society representatives. The Brazilian delegation, on the other hand, has included scores of civil society and private sector representatives in the past.
CSOs participation in country delegations appears to be symbiotic. Government delegations are able to draw on media and translation skills and scientific expertise such as in the case of the Rwandan government, which invited the UK’s former Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King, to participate in its delegation. These CSO delegates may also be part of civil society networks and can be called upon to connect with these large audiences to support the dissemination of governments’ positions and demands.
CSOs representatives working in country delegations have unrivalled access to the internal workings of the UNFCCC negotiating process–a rare opportunity, given the traditionally closed and secretive nature of the talks. The potential for CSOs to influence proceedings from the inside is not an opportunity to be taken lightly.
Increased engagement, dialogue and exchange between Latin American delegations and civil society organizations at the organizational and individual levels are beneficial to both actors, as well as the progress of the UNFCCC negotiations. Given Latin American citizens’ high level of concern over climate issues, further exchange between these actors should be encouraged to ensure a more participatory and democratic process at the domestic and international levels.
Cross-posted from intercambioclimatico.com