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Venezuela climate summit calls for end to “green economy”

UN-backed event ends with unusual call from civil society groups to end capitalism 

Green groups celebrate the Margarita Declaration (Pic: @socialprecop/Twitter)

Green groups celebrate the Margarita Declaration (Pic: @socialprecop/Twitter)

By Sophie Yeo

A UN-backed conference in Venezuela has ended with a declaration to scrap carbon markets and reject the green economy.

The Margarita Declaration was issued at the end of a four-day meeting of around 130 green activist groups, which the Venezuelan government hosted in order to raise the volume of civil society demands in UN discussions on climate change.

“The structural causes of climate change are linked to the current capitalist hegemonic system,” the final declaration said. “To combat climate change it is necessary to change the system.”

The declaration will be handed to environment ministers when they meet ahead of the UN’s main round of talks in Lima this year.

The meeting, called the Social Pre-COP, is the first time that civil society has been invited to participate with the UN at this scale at international climate talks.

Groups who participated in the meeting include WWF, CAN International, Third World Network and Christian Aid.

Venezuela said the purpose of the meeting is to “set the basis of an alliance between peoples and governments”.

While it is unclear who signed the declaration, it contrasts with the views of many national governments, which see the transition to a green economy as underpinning efforts to tackle climate change.

‘False solution’

The declaration also conflicts with the UN’s own schemes to tackle climate change.

It says carbon markets are a “false solution” to the problem of climate change and brands a UN-backed forest conservation scheme “dangerous and unethical”.

The forests programme, called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Land Degradation (REDD), was first introduced into UN proceedings in 2005 at the request of the governments of Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica.

Under this mechanism, rich countries pay developing nations to preserve their forests, removing some of the financial incentive to chop them down.

Deforestation is a significant contributor to climate change as it releases the carbon that is stored in trees.

Similarly, the UN has set up its own carbon market, called the Clean Development Mechanism, which allows developed countries to pay for projects that will reduce the carbon footprint of poor countries.

The latest set of proposals for a global climate treaty recently released UN officials explicitly includes references to market-based solutions aimed at tackling environmental degradation and raising investment capital.

Maria de Pilar García-Guadilla, a professor at the Simon Bolivar University in Venezuela, said that there was an underlying assumption in the declaration that capitalism was the cause of climate change – a position maintained by the Venezuelan government in its own development plan – but that this was a “fallacy”.

“Venezuela relies heavily on the use of hydrocarbons, or the extractive economies, to support their anti-neoliberal socialist policies. The extractive economy has a severe negative social and environmental impacts in the indigenous communities and in the most biodiverse areas,” she said.

She added that the Margarita Declaration is “very discursive and the real issues are not inside.”

Mixed opinions

Objections to the concept of a “green economy”, which encourages green growth through carbon markets and clean energy investments, prompted a walkout at the Rio+20 summit in 2012.

Some developing countries are concerned that this model could put them at a commercial disadvantage, and that rich countries should instead focus on how to transfer cash and sustainable technologies to poorer nations.

Venezuela, a staunchly socialist government, has long opposed the “green economy” concept, alongside other Latin American countries including Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, and Nicaragua.

But the opinions of civil society are more mixed. CAN International, a coalition of green NGOs which was present at the Social Pre-COP, said that REDD is “key to emissions reductions” in the manifesto that it released before the UN’s last climate conference, in Warsaw last year.

One participant at last week’s meeting told RTCC on condition of anonymity that: “In terms of being a neutral observer, [the Venezuelan government] do have their views and they definitely have their ways”.

He added that most of the Venezuelan groups present at the meeting were supportive of the government’s position, in contrast to the 34 Venezuelan NGOs who rejected their invitation to the gathering, due to concerns that it would provide an opportunity for the government to push their socialist agenda.

“That made Venezuela not need to actively push for things, letting the movements propose their views instead,” he said.

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  • jimharvey

    Venezuela is next on the list…..

  • bmatkin

    I was waiting for the environmental part of the declaration and all there was….was political.

  • Neil

    The planet’s doomed because of human overpopulation.

    • Sarah Chen Lin

      Partly yes, but other key factors (i.e. mismanagement of resources, incompetent governments, etc) are definitely to blame as well. I personally believe nature will always “check” population through natural disasters and whatnot =P

    • Raymond Michael Borland

      Nell, the world is doomed because of socialism and communism which have destroyed 200 million people in the 20th century, devastated economies, destroyed ecosystems and polluted their countries worse than capitalistic countries. Birth rates go down as countries develop economically. Socialism and communism leave everyone but the party leaders in absolute poverty.Venezuela has rationing of food and toilet paper now following Hugo Chavez’s Marxist policies. The environmental groups attending this conference have proven they are watermelons: green outside but red inside.

  • climate-justice.info

    I was there (full disclosure so means I accepted the flight and accommodation from Venezuelan Gov) and although quoting people anonymously is RTCC standard practice it seems a pretty weird thing to do in this context… Particularly as (as I said, being there) every single “Mesa” (or roundtable) nominated its own facilitator and rapporteur and selected its own agenda completely driven by participants. As far as I recall none of those positions were filled by the apparently all-powerful Venezuelan movements who so crushed your anonymous “participant.”

    Interesting that those criticising the declaration may not have read it – it actually criticises all systems that focus on the commodification of nature and calls on developing countries to move away from development models based on fossil fuels. To see a Minister from Venezuela read out a declaration that says that, and that 80% of fossil fuels need to stay in the ground, is indicative of a process that actually challenged Venezuela’s current position – and the Government welcomed that challenge.

    • http://www.rtcc.org/ RTCC

      Hi climate justice-info,

      Many people prefer to speak anonymously (as we can see from the name on your email/twitter). It’s not standard practice and we try and avoid it where possible, as should be apparent from most of our stories, but all sources are verified by reporters.

      From a political perspective, we found it interesting that the declaration calls for policies that appear to contradict the efforts of the UN climate negotiations – which specifically call for a green economy and use of markets.

      It also seems odd that while there were many protests against human rights abuses around the world, few participants were keen to mention the host country’s recent record.

      Our reporter Sophie would be very happy to follow this up with you. We have put in a number of interview requests with the government and participants, none of which have so far been replied to.

      Best wishes, Ed King, RTCC editor

    • Enjoyer

      Interesting that systems that focus on “commodification of nature” are criticized. I’d say that commodification of nature can be good or bad, like most everything. It’s the extremes that can be bad — on either side. I would argue that commodification of nature can also be described as “harnessing nature” — for progress. It’s the definition of progress that’s the real issue. More comfortable lives for the humans of the globe is important and comes from commodification of nature (think clean water, think affordable energy, think health & plentiful food supplies). I think the issues need to be better defined. Commodification of nature isn’t all bad.

      • climate-justice.info

        Hi Enjoyer… apologies for delay in replying, I only just got the notification. Anyway, It’s not the “use” or “harnessing” of nature that people are concerned about but its privatisation and conversion into a product that is removed from the commons and then used to enrich a few whilst providing very little of the “clean water, affordable energy or plentiful food supplies” that you talk about. The term also refers particularly to the creation of “offset” markets – the idea that you can damage nature somewhere but if you do something else “good” somewhere else it’s ok… an idea that fails to understand the interconnectedness of natural systems (for biodiversity offsets) and a proven failure for carbon. You may like this piece by Monboit that explains it in more detial – http://www.monbiot.com/2014/07/24/the-pricing-of-everything/

  • 4TimesAYear

    Doesn’t sound like an end to capitalism to me: “Venezuela climate summit calls for end to ‘green economy’” Did someone write that wrong???

    • Prefabsprout

      RTCC is just another denialist blog.

  • http://www.rtcc.org/ RTCC

    Hi Alex,

    Thanks for the note!

    I suspect this is an issue we will both differ on. For my part, I’m happy with my reporter’s explanation as to why on this occasion the source was kept anonymous. We do this rarely but usually for good reason. Everyone else who was there appears to disagree, and we have been asking for other views – although evidently no-one emailed you.

    I’m interested by the claim we ‘often quote anon Gov officials repeating identical lines from plenary sessions’ – if you can email me some examples I want to look into this, as that worries me if that is the case.

    Happy to continue this on email

    Best
    ed

  • Mtn_Man

    In the title of this article, the word green means “green” as in money as opposed to “green” as in environmentalism.

  • Skulduggery

    Hi Alex

    I notice that you are a lawyer with a background in environmental law and climate change.

    I note, too, that you were an expert reviewer to IPCC Workgroup III which assessed “all relevant options for mitigating climate change through limiting or preventing greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing activities that remove them from the atmosphere.”

    Out of interest, how were you chosen as a reviewer (for clarification, I’m interested in the process) and what was your contribution?

    Paul

    • climate-justice.info

      Hi Paul,

      I completed the registration form as an academic at the Universidad de La Sabana (as I then was) and submitted comments in the expert-review phase, particularly on the parts relating to the international agreement, ethics, equity and sustainable development.

      A.

  • Sarah Chen Lin

    As a Venezuelan, I am not at all surprised by this article and I could totally see where they’re coming from. The Venezuelan society, especially youth groups, are indeed concerned about the environment but sadly the current politics of the country is ranked first in their list of priorities.

    Just a quick observation and suggestion: Next time, it would probably be a good idea to define what “green economy” is, to avoid misinterpretation by readers.