Social movements and organizations gathered on Isla Margarita, Venezuela between July 15-18 to discuss their demands ahead of United Nations climate talks due to take place in Lima, Peru in December. The meeting, organized by the Venezuelan government, was the first of its kind. It brought together social movements and organizations from all over the world and facilitated discussions to arrive at the Margarita declaration, which will form the basis for the Social Pre-COP in November.
The innovative declaration comes right to the heart of a wealth of important issues, long-neglected due to a lack of political will at the UN climate talks, emphasizing the need for justice in the response to climate change, and the need to transform our societies to prevent further environmental decay and social injustice.
The declaration includes a focus on inter-generational responsibilities and the role of youth, particularly youth in the global north. The need for solidarity is clear, but the role of youth in northern countries in pressuring their governments to fulfil and extend their commitments to countries of the global south and to the climate change response generally is explicitly stated, as is the need to ensure that there is a just transition to a climate-safe future that will not adversely affect peoples of the global south.
The concept of good living (known as “buen vivir” in Latin America) is also clearly laid out and unpacked. Addressing the broader political and economic contexts of the climate crisis, the declaration states that the main sources of the climate crisis are the political and economic system that ‘commercializes and commidifies nature and life’, which exacerbates unsustainable practices of exploitation and consumption. The declaration urges all leaders to develop an alternative path to achieve fair, egalitarian and sustainable societies and economies.
A linchpin in the efforts to create such sustainability – and to avoid temperature increases exceeding 1.5 degrees – is the declaration’s demand that 80% of known fossil fuel reserves should remain in the ground and not be exploited. This is vital. Without setting such limits and taking accompanying steps to limit and reduce energy consumption in the global north, run-away climate change will become inevitable. Meanwhile northern countries should unconditionally provide assistance (such as finance, technology transfer) to countries of the south to enable the just transition.
This further ties in with historic responsibility and the need for northern countries to face up to the impact of the emissions they have caused over many years of historically unequal over-consumption of the global emissions budget. The declaration outlines key indicators and benchmarks of how to measure this historically unequal consumption and determine future targets and limits based on these. It further insists that loss and damage incurred by climate related problems should be resolved, addressed and supported by those countries bearing historic responsibility for the climate crisis.
Beyond these approaches there is also an emphasis on debunking and rejecting so-called ‘false solutions’: unethical or dangerous ‘solutions’ to the climate crisis – including carbon market mechanisms, which in turn convert the climate crisis into a source of profit – such as REDD, the production of agrofuels – that serve the interests of corporations and elites and not the peoples likely to be most affected by climate change.
Indeed the declaration recognizes that the infiltration and hijacking of many international forums by powerful corporate entities has undermined the rights of peoples and the sovereignty of States. This corporate influence – often referred to as corporate capture – is manifest at forums such as the UN climate talks and within the operations of other UN organizations, where it serves to push the interests of business and corrals all other concerns into the sphere of the supposedly infallible market. The declaration calls for an end to interference by corporations in UN processes and changes to participation systems at a global level.
The declaration is clear that corporate influence exerted by those seeking profit prevent the transformation needed to meaningfully tackle climate change and its associated problems. The societal and economic transformation needed must include principles of respect for life and human rights, peoples’ sovereignty, solidarity, a just transition, and the recognition of the ecological limits and the rights of Mother Earth. The various ways in which territories and countries are vulnerable, and the particular vulnerabilities of historically victimized and excluded groups must also inform the response and transformation.
The declaration outlines that transformation must include a change in power relations and the decision-making systems for the construction of an anti-patriarchal people’s power, and the reorientation of food production systems into agro ecological systems to ensure food sovereignty and security. It also calls for energy production systems to be transformed to eradicate dirty energy without adopting other harmful energy like megadams or nuclear. The declaration calls for participative governance of territory and city planning systems to be implemented, thus ensuring fair and sustainable access to land and to urban services, as well as other means that are necessary to face the impacts of climate change.
The declaration also highlights the issue of “loss and damage” which refers to the harmful impacts of climate change to which no adaptation is possible, noting the differentiated impacts on the most vulnerable and marginalized peoples and communities.” It calls for the peoples of the south to receive the necessary funds to compensate for loss and damage from the north. south-south solidarity systems were also endorsed. It calls for financing of mitigation and adaptation actions to be considered moral and legal obligations, requiring rich industrialized countries to provide reliable, non-market dependent and sufficient financing. The declaration also makes special mention of the military sector, one of the main consumers of fossil fuels and main contributors of gas-emissions, calling for greater accountability.
The Margarita declaration will now be posted for comment, through a process that has yet to be announced. Governments will be asked to reflect on it at the UN Leader’s Summit in New York on September 23 and then it will form the basis for another meeting of civil society in November. That November meeting will be held jointly with the annual Ministerial meeting, prior to the UN climate summit (“Pre-COP”, hence “social Pre-COP”) where representatives of civil society will present key points from discussion to the Ministers.