Caracas government to focus on social impacts of climate change ahead of UN Lima conference
By Sophie Yeo in Bonn
Venezuela plans to canvass civil society for their views on climate change during a four-day meeting in Julyâan attempt to rejuvenate “boring” UN talks, according to the country’s chief climate negotiator.Â
The meetingÂ will focus on the âsocial impact of climate changeâ, said Claudia Salerno, who outlined her intentions during UN negotiations taking place this week in Bonn.
“It is a humbling process for us [the government], and it is an empowering process for people,” she said, adding that it wasÂ an opportunity to âchange the debate a little bitâ, including issues such as gender, health and ethicsâtopics which are frequently sidelined in favour of discussions such as reform of the energy and transport sectors.
The meeting, called the “Social Pre-COP”, is being held in advance of the UN’s forthcoming December Conference in Limaâthe worldâs final chance to discuss dangerous climate change before a landmark treaty is scheduled to be signed off in Paris in 2015.
Leading green groups walked out of the last major UN climate summit in Warsaw, claiming “rich industrialised countries had held action on climate change hostage.”
While NGOs do not have a seat at the negotiating table, various organisations play an active role behind the scenes, lobbying and advising governments. Many poorer countries rely heavily on the expertise and manpower of these groups to guide them through the talks.
Venezuelaâs decision to focus on civil society prior to the UNâs 2014 climate talk was first announced last November in Warsaw.Â Since then, the country has faced violent clashes between government and opposition student protesters, which have resulted in 42 fatalities since February.
On 4 June, the US state department issued a travel warning, saying that demonstrations and counter-demonstrations are expected to continue and âmay pose a security riskâ.
Guy Edwards, a research fellow on Latin American climate policy at Brown University, told RTCC that Venezuela’s attitude towards its domestic civil society, as well as its positioning within the UN climate talks and its large oil reserves, could cast a shadow over the meeting.
“Raising the volume of civil society at the negotiations is an important goal, but whether Venezuela is a credible and appropriate host is questionable,” he said.
But Salerno said that âpeace was backâ in Venezuela, and that the recent conflict would was not likely to undermine the upcoming gathering, repeating President Maduroâs suggestion that the current protesters were more like âterroristsâ than protesters.
âI think the way we handled that extreme situation shows the world that are committed to peace and to wellbeing of everybody,â she said. âWe are engaging constructively and trying to build peace above everything.â
Unwrapping the jargon
The focus on social issues and civil society means that, while ministers are not being expressly forbidden from the meeting, Salerno warned that they should not expect any special treatment if they decide to attend.
âWe are not encouraging ministers to come to July because that is not supposed to be a minister âIâm king of the worldâ kind of thing,â she said. âIf ministers want to come, they will be there as one more person in the room.â
She added that the government had hired two anthropologists to translate the UNâsÂ notoriously complex jargonÂ into everyday language that will allow the general public to engage more effectively with the process.
As an untested approach, focusing on the social aspects of climate change is a risk, said Salerno, but she hopes that its messages could be taken forward not only at the Lima Conference, but also a climate summit to be hosted by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in September.
“The process is already so boring, so what can we do that will be worse?” she said.
The meeting will take place on Margarita Island from 15-18 July, and will be followed by a further Â ministerial meeting on 4-7 November, where ministers will be presented with a document summarising the ideas of civil society.
The July meeting was welcomed by civil society groups present at Saturdayâs briefing. Wael Hmaiden, president of campaigning group CAN International, said: âWe welcome the social pre-COP and we definitely want it to be a success.â
He added: âFor us to see it as a success, it is to have it replicated beyond this year as well, and that means the ministers have to see it as valuable.
âIf it was a nightmare for them, theyâre definitely going to go back and say, ânever bring me to something like this again,â and definitely [COP21 host] France will not do it.â