Civil society speaks: only a just world can prevent catastrophic climate change

Group photo of delegates to the Isla Margarita Social Pre-COP. Photo: via
Group photo of delegates to the Isla Margarita Social Pre-COP. Photo: via
A gathering of civil society and social movements in Venezuela concluded last week with a strong demand for climate justice, writes Maruška Mileta. Rich countries must stop passing off their 'false solutions' - from nuclear power to geoengineering - and pay the costs of a rapid transition to low-carbon world that brings renewable energy to all.
A fairer and more just world is not just a precondition for sustainable development, but also a necessity for preventing catastrophic climate change.

The four day 'Social Pre-COP' on Venezuela's Margarita Island brought together a diverse group of people from all over of the world - indigenous peoples, women and gender groups, youth, farmers, NGOs, grassroots groups - and gave them a voice in December's UN climate negotiations in Lima, COP 20.

The event empowered climate-affected communities from around the world to speak about their struggles, connect in solidarity and send a strong message of climate justice to world leaders - though sadly it lacked voices from Africa and Asia due to logistical challenges.

Some people might be sceptical about a process where a government - even a progressive one like Venezuela - hosts a civil society meeting.

But (without any cheerleading) which other government has ever created such a space for interacting and listening to social movements and civil society? A space which finally recognises that people need to be put before the interests of corporations and profit.

You can still be critical and cautious, while accepting that Venezuela is one of very few countries ever to host such an initiative.

Demand of the people: 'climate justice now!'

The Social Pre-COP process started in July with a preparatory meeting where civil society and social movements drafted a real people's declaration. It allowed to articulate a vision for a social justice-based response to climate change and a world we want.

At this November meeting civil society groups contributed to a document putting their vision from the declaration into terms and recommendations that policy-makers can understand and work with.

This document, together with people's demands, was then delivered directly to heads of delegations and environmental ministers from around 30 countries, including the ALBA states, Mexico, Chile, USA, China, France, Germany, EU, Japan, Saudi Arabia on November 6th.

Civil society and social movements clearly stated to the ministers that we need meaningful climate action from rich developed countries, and that it needs to happen now. As Asad Rehman from Friends of the Earth (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) said during the ministerial meeting:

"My sisters and brothers from social movements and civil society groups from across the globe can bear personal testimony to the already devastating impacts of climate change on our lives, livelihoods and our ecosystems. They echo the warnings of climate scientists of existing impacts and the threat of catastrophic climate change as we breach tipping points".

A fairer and more just world is not just a precondition for sustainable development, but also a necessity for preventing catastrophic climate change.

We need an adequately financed and a just transition to a sustainable energy world, other delegates added - based on the historical responsibilities of countries and corporations, and by respecting people's right to fight poverty.

Rejecting 'false solutions' and corporate dominance

There was no doubt among civil society at the Pre-COP about the dangers of 'false solutions' like geoengeneering, REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), carbon markets, 'climate-smart agriculture', industrial agribusiness, mega-dams, fracking, nuclear energy and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology.

These will not keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees C. Instead, it's necessary to keep the remaining fossil fuel reserves in the ground, using the framework of a global emissions budget.

A crucial way to achieve these goals is through better participation of civil society and social movements in decision making processes. It's time to stop shutting out the public, and to be more transparent by exposing corporate interests which are influencing political decisions.

Social Pre-COP participants clearly rejected the overbearing power of private transnational corporations on both the political process and people's lives. And they rejected the increased criminalisation of social protests, which are endangering people's right to stand against injustices.

Instead, voices of communities most affected by climate change need to be put first.

Carolina Lara, an activist from the Ecuadorian Coalition for Climate Justice stressed the need for the Social Pre-COP to be institutionalised in the decision making process of the UN, and allow social organizations to vote for it, adding

"The completion of this event proves that something is changing in the world and people are understanding that decisions are not made so as to be vertical, but focus more on the grassroots."

Equity and higher ambition for the 2015 global agreement

On the last day of the Social Pre-COP, ministers discussed the process going towards the UN climate negotiations in Lima next month and in Paris in 2015 (COP21).

The main concern for them should be how to raise ambition for climate action before 2020: close the gap on finance, technology transfer, mitigation and adaptation and guarantee significant amounts of new, predictable funds to the Green Climate Fund.

Furthermore, it's necessary to create a global emissions budget to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees, and establish a scheme for globally funded feed-in tariffs to catalyse the global energy revolution, which would allow rich developed countries to pay off their climate debt and give access to energy to the 2 billion people who live without it.

In the post-2020 agenda, a plan for higher commitments from rich developed countries has to be put on the table now, and their obligations need to be legally binding, measurable and verifiable.

They need to stop avoiding their responsibility for the climate crisis, finally conclude the 20-year long negotiations, take real climate action, and agree to a legally binding agreement in Paris in 2015.

Fair shares of the 'global commons'

That agreement and actions to tackle climate change as the biggest threat to humankind need to be ambitious and in line with equity - fairness or justice in the way people are treated.

Of course we need an equitable approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions enshrined in legal agreements on climate change - particularly through the 'common but differentiated responsibilities' principle.

But with such a small remaining carbon budget it is inevitable that the largest polluting countries (as measured by average per capita emissions and historical responsibility) must reduce their emissions by the greatest amount - and very rapidly.

And as Professor Kevin Anderson argues, it's no longer possible for these countries to adequately reduce emissions only through switching from fossil fuel energy to low carbon energy supply. Due to time constraints they will also need to reduce their consumption, particularly of energy, says Anderson.

Ultimately, tackling climate change is a problem of the 'global commons' - and as such requires global solutions that tackle climate change in every country.

In this sense, redistribution of wealth from rich countries to poor countries is necessary. A fairer and more just world is not just a precondition for sustainable development, but also a necessity for preventing catastrophic climate change.

The message from civil society is clear. Now it is up to world leaders to listen, and it is up to us to continue building social movements before and after the main UN climate negotiations in Paris in 2015.



Maruška Mileta is a climate campaigner from Young Friends of the Earth Europe. Additional contributions by the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice.

For more information about the event, visit the Social Pre-COP website.