climate change

 

  • ‘Address the voice of the 99%’: Rio+20 interview with Jaehyun Jang, Programme Specialist, Reshaping Development Institute, Republic of Korea

    Jaehyun Jang is a Programme Specialist and Researcher at the Reshaping Development Institute (ReDI) in the Republic of Korea. ReDI is an independent think tank in the field of international development cooperation that aims to promote global development, study and research, and policy for the advancement of global knowledge cooperation. Here he tells us about his pessimism about the official Rio+20 process versus his hope in the People’s Summit, and the dangers in the current promotion of green growth and the green economy.

    What are your hopes and aspirations for Rio+20?

    I don’t have much expectation and hope for the forthcoming Rio+20. This is due to the fact that the main agenda of Rio+20 looks ‘zero ambitious’ compared to the original Rio summit, considering the seriousness and urgency of the multiple crises we and the earth face at the moment. By looking at the recent Rio+20 negotiations on the zero draft, it also seems that the recent failures in the UN climate change negotiations, caused by a growing tension between developed and major emerging developing economies, will lead the Rio+20 into another failure.

     

  • ‘Chile has entirely privatised water, which means that theft is institutionalised’

     

    Following a year marked by massive mobilisation on the climate emergency, CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the main environmental challenges they face in their contexts and the actions they are taking. CIVICUS speaks with Rodrigo Mundaca, Agronomist and National Spokesperson of the Defence Movement for Access to Water, Land and Environmental Protection (MODATIMA), an organisation established in 2010 in the Chilean province of Petorca, in the Valparaíso region, to defend the rights of farmers, workers and local people. Since the 1990s, the region has been affected by the massive appropriation of water by agribusiness in collusion with the political establishment.

    Rodrigo Mundaca

    What is the main environmental issue in your context?

    The main problem is water. We live in a territory characterised mainly by the monoculture of avocado, the production of which requires huge amounts of water. Water is in the hands of large producers who have dried out our territory and compromised the lives of our communities. Ours is an extreme case: Chile has entirely privatised water, which means that theft is institutionalised. Chile has clearly prioritised extractive industries over the rights of communities to water.

    The privatisation of water sources in Chile dates back to the Pinochet dictatorship of 1973 to 1990. The 1980 Constitution enshrined the private ownership of water. This was maintained, and even deepened, following the democratic transition, since sanitation was also privatised. The privatisation process of sanitation began in 1998, under the administration led by Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, a Christian Democrat. Nowadays, people in Chile pay the highest rates in Latin America for drinking water, which is owned by large transnational corporations. Overall, the Suez group, Aguas de Barcelona, Marubeni and the Ontario teachers’ pension fund administrator from Canada control 90 per cent of the drinking water supply.

    Right now, President Sebastián Piñera's government is auctioning off rivers. Piñera came into government with a mission to underpin the legal certainty of water rights ownership, and his cabinet includes several ministers who own rights to water use, the most prominent of which is the Minister of Agriculture, Antonio Walker Prieto. This minister and his family own more than 29,000 litres per second, which is equivalent to the continuous water supply used by approximately 17 million people.

    Is it as simple as someone owning the rivers and being able to prevent others from using the water?

    Yes, the 1980 Chilean Constitution literally states that the rights of individuals over water, recognised or constituted in accordance with the law, grant their bearers ownership over it. In 1981, the Water Code established that water is a national good for public use but also an economic good. Water ownership was separated from land ownership, so that there are water owners who have no land and landowners who have no water. It is the state's prerogative to grant rights for water use. These rights fall into two categories: water rights for consumption use and water rights for non-consumptive use, for example for generating electricity. In the first category, 77 per cent of the rights are held by the agricultural and forestry sector, 13 per cent by the mining sector, seven per cent by the industrial sector and approximately three per cent by the health sector. As for the rights for the use of water that is not consumed, 81 per cent are in the hands of an Italian public-private company. The owners of exploitation rights can sell or lease water use in the marketplace.

    In 2018, the Piñera administration proposed a bill aimed at providing legal certainty to perpetuity to private owners of water and introducing water auctions. Currently, 38 rivers in Chile are being auctioned off; basically, what the state does is auction off the litres per second that run through a river. While this occurs in some territories where there is still water, areas accounting for 67 per cent of the Chilean population – some 12 million people – have become water emergency areas. Our region, Valparaíso, is a zone of water catastrophe due to drought. This is unheard of: while such a large population has serious difficulties in accessing drinking water, the state is auctioning off rivers.

    What kind of work do you do to promote the recognition of access to water as a right?

    For more than 15 years we have made visible the conflict over water in our territory. Although we originated in the Valparaíso region, from 2016 onwards our organisation has worked nationwide. We fight at the national level for water to be regulated as a common good. The right to water is a fundamental human right.

    Our original strategy was to kickstart the struggle for water, render the conflict visible and bring debate to parliament about the need to repeal private ownership of water, despite our lack of confidence in the political class that has the responsibility to make the law and watch over its implementation.

    In 2016 we took an important step by putting forward an international strategy that made it known throughout the world that in our province the human right to water was being violated in order to grow avocados. We were featured in a German TV report, ‘Avocado: Superfood and Environmental Killer’, in several articles in The Guardian describing how Chileans are running out of water and in an RT report in Spanish, ‘Chile’s Dry Tears’, among others. Last year Netflix dedicated an episode of its Rotten show to the avocado business and the violation of the human right to water in Chile. We have had a positive reception. In 2019 alone, we received two international awards: the International Human Rights Prize awarded by the city of Nuremberg, Germany, in September, and the Danielle Mitterrand Prize, awarded by the France Libertés Foundation, in November.

    Another thing we do is develop activists and leaders. We have long-term training programmes and do ongoing work to develop theoretical and political thinking. We also mobilise. In the context of the widespread protests that started in Chile on 18 October 2019, we have made our demands heard. Clearly, although at the national level the main demands concern the restitution of workers’ pension funds and improvements in education and health, in some regions further north and further south of the capital, the most important demand concerns the recovery of water as a common good and a human right.

    In addition to mobilising, our work on the ground involves more radical actions such as roadblocks and occupations. Among direct actions carried out on the ground are the seizure of wells and the destruction of drains. Some local grassroots organisations seize wells owned by mining companies, resist as long as they can – sometimes for 60 or 70 days – and divert the water to their communities. In places where rivers no longer carry water, groundwater has been captured through drains, works of engineering that capture, channel and carry all groundwater away. Some communities destroy the drains that transport water for use by agribusiness such as forestry companies. Such actions of resistance have increased since the start of the social protests in October 2019.

    The struggle for water is a radical one because it erodes the foundations of inequality. The origin of the major Chilean fortunes is the appropriation of common goods, basically water and land. President Piñera's fortune is no exception.

    Have you faced reprisals because of your activism?

    Yes, because of our strategy to give visibility to the conflict over water, several of our activists have been threatened with death. That is why in 2017 Amnesty International conducted a worldwide campaign that collected more than 50,000 signatures to demand protection for us.

    Between 2012 and 2014, I was summoned 24 times by four different courts because I denounced a public official who had been Minister of the Interior under the first administration of President Michelle Bachelet (2006 to 2010). As well as being a leading Christian Democratic Party official, this person was a business owner who diverted water toward his properties to grow avocado and citrus. I reported this in 2012, during an interview with CNN, and that cost me 24 court appearances over two years. I was finally sentenced, first to five years in jail, which were then reduced to 540 days and then to 61, and finally our lawyers managed to put me on probation. I had to show up and sign on the first five days of each month. We also had to pay a fine.

    We have been attacked and threatened with death many times. In November 2019, an investigation published on a news site revealed that we were being targeted by police intelligence surveillance. However, in response to an amparo appeal – a petition for basic rights – against the police, in February 2020 the Supreme Court issued a ruling that the surveillance to which we are subjected does not violate our constitutional rights. This is Chile in all of its filthy injustice.

    Government behaviour has always been the same, regardless of the political colour of the incumbent government. All governments have reached agreements to keep the private water model because it is business, and one that is highly profitable for the political class. When they leave their positions in government, former public officials go on to occupy positions in the boards of the companies that appropriate the water.

    Did you join the global climate mobilisations of 2019?

    In Chile we have been mobilising since long before. In 2013 we had our first national march for the recovery of water and land, and from then on we have mobilised every year on 22 April, Earth Day. We also demonstrate to commemorate World Water Day on 22 March. We have been on the move for a long time. Chile is going through a social, environmental and humanity crisis. We face the need to safeguard human rights that are essential for the fulfilment of other rights. The human right to water is a basic precondition for people to be able to access all other rights.

    We have also been mobilised for a long time to denounce that Chile's development model is extremely polluting and deeply predatory. We have privatised marine resources: seven families own all of Chile’s marine resources. Our country has five areas of sacrifice, that is, areas that concentrate a large number of polluting industries. These are in Colonel, Huasco, Mussels, Quintero and Tocopilla. The areas of sacrifice are not only an environmental problem but also a social problem; they discriminate against the poorest and most vulnerable communities. They are overflowing with coal-fired thermoelectric plants and, in some cases, with copper smelters. The are 28 thermoelectric plants: 15 of these are US companies, eight are French, three are Italian and two are owned by domestic capital. The population in these areas has endured the emission of toxic gases and heavy metals for decades. We have been mobilising in these areas for years in defence of common natural assets.

    Have you engaged in international forums on the environment and climate change?

    Yes, I have been involved several times. In 2014, before I was convicted, I went to Paris, France by invitation of several European civil society organisations to attend a forum on human rights defenders, where I spoke about the private water and land model. In 2018 I was invited to a global meeting of human rights defenders at risk, held in Dublin, Ireland. That same year I was also invited to a regional meeting of human rights defenders that took place in Lima, Peru.

    We have also been involved in intergovernmental forums such as the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In 2019, Chile was going to host the COP 25, and the global mobilisation for climate throughout the year had a tremendous echo in Chile. Obviously neither the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, planned for November, nor COP 25, scheduled for early December, could be held in Chile, because the government was completely overwhelmed by the popular mobilisation that began in late October, and because it responded to this with systematic human rights violations.

    Several of our members were at COP 25 in Madrid, Spain, and were able to speak with the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón and with some officials of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Shortly after this meeting we had a meeting in Chile with Baltasar Garzón, the judge who prosecuted former dictator Pinochet and had him arrested in the UK. Garzón was very impressed with the water model and the stories our activists told him. Also recently we met with the delegation of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) during their visit to Chile. We met with Soledad García Muñoz, the IACHR Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights, and presented an overview of the Chilean situation and what it means to live deprived of water.

    Do you think that forums such as the COP offer space for civil society to speak up and exercise influence?

    I have a critical opinion of the COP. I think that in general it is a fair of vanities attended by many presidents, and many ministers of environment and agriculture, to promise the world what they cannot fulfil in their own countries. The main greenhouse gas emitting countries have leaders who either deny climate change, or are talking the talk about climate change but don’t seem to have the intention to make any change in their country’s predatory economic behaviour. The countries that are most responsible for climate change and global warming are currently the main detractors of the COP.

    However, the summits do offer a space for civil society, from where it is possible to challenge the powerful, speak up about the climate injustice that affects the entire planet and promote the construction of a new development model that is viable and economically competitive while also socially fairer and ecologically healthier. But for that we need new paradigms: we cannot continue to think that there are unlimited development prospects on a planet that has finite natural resources.

    Civic space in Chile is classified as ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with MODATIMA through theirwebsite andFacebook page, or follow@Modatima_cl on Twitter.

     

  • ‘Solo un gobierno auténticamente democrático podrá enfrentar seriamente el problema del cambio climático’

    English

    CIVICUS conversa con Enrique de León, dirigente del Comité Nacional de Lucha Contra el Cambio Climático (CNLCC), unaorganización de la sociedad civil dominicana que lucha por la desaceleración del calentamiento global. La organización trabaja para diseminar información y educar a la ciudadanía sobre el cambio climático, monitorear y presionar para que el gobierno cumpla con los compromisos contraídos en la materia, y promover las energías renovables y la descarbonización de la economía nacional.

    1. ¿A qué se debió el fuerte impacto que tuvieron los recientes huracanes Irma y María sobre el Caribe? ¿Cabe considerarlos desastres solamente “naturales”, o tuvieron causas humanas y acaso hubiera podido hacerse algo para morigerar sus impactos?

    En el Caribe siempre hemos tenido huracanes; los ha habido antes de que se iniciara el registro histórico. Pero han cambiado su intensidad, su frecuencia y su previsibilidad. Este año los ciclones fueron consecutivos y en línea, lo que no había pasado en mucho tiempo, por no decir nunca desde que se tenga registro. Y han tenido un comportamiento muy difícil de prever. Esto se debe al cambio climático, y más precisamente al aumento de la temperatura por efecto de la creciente concentración de partículas de dióxido de carbono. Sabemos que el enorme volumen de emisiones de dióxido de carbono en todo el planeta está creando las condiciones para que los huracanes en el Caribe sean más frecuentes, intensos y difíciles de prever.

    Lo que se puede hacer para evitarlo lo sabemos hace mucho, aunque algunos lo nieguen: tenemos que disminuir las emisiones de dióxido de carbono. Es difícil, porque nuestra civilización está basada en la quema de combustibles fósiles – carbón, gas natural, petróleo - que emiten gases de efecto invernadero, causantes del calentamiento global. Pero la solución al problema está en manos de la humanidad, y en particular de la parte de la humanidad que es responsable de la mayor parte de la emisión de gases, es decir de los países altamente industrializados – aunque también los países menos industrializados tenemos un alto nivel de emisiones en términos relativos.

    Las emisiones de dióxido de carbono y el consiguiente calentamiento global constituyen una amenaza particularmente grave para los países insulares, vulnerables a la elevación del nivel del mar. Tal es nuestro caso, que además vivimos de nuestras playas. Más del 80% de nuestra población vive en las costas, y estamos perdiendo territorio. La elevación de la temperatura está afectando también la biodiversidad en nuestros arrecifes y, por consiguiente, la viabilidad de la pesca. De modo que también está en juego nuestra seguridad alimentaria.

    Los huracanes están provocando fenómenos extremos: en 2014-2015 tuvimos una gran sequía, mientras que a fines de 2016 tuvimos un diluvio en una época inhabitual, que fue un verdadero desastre. En 2017 tuvimos tres huracanes que vinieron en fila india, y si bien la isla de Santo Domingo – que la República Dominicana comparte con Haití – se libró por poco de su impacto directo, Puerto Rico fue atravesado por el huracán María, y todavía no consigue recuperar ni siquiera la energía eléctrica.

    En suma, se puede hacer algo para modificar la intensidad y el comportamiento de los huracanes en el Caribe: disminuir las emisiones de dióxido de carbono tal como lo establecen los Acuerdos de París de noviembre de 2015. Pero es difícil, porque ello depende de la introducción de cambios profundos en el sistema económico global.

    1. Más allá de lo que pase a nivel global, ¿hay algo que los países más afectados por estos fenómenos puedan hacer para protegerse?

    Ante todo, podemos y debemos emprender una acción política, consistente en apelar a la comunidad internacional, y en particular a los países con mayor responsabilidad en la emisión de dióxido de carbono, para que reduzcan sus emisiones. Y nosotros también debemos hacer lo mismo, dado que si bien son bajas en términos absolutos, las emisiones per cápita de la República Dominicana son muy altas (3,8 toneladas anuales). De modo que somos corresponsables, y no podemos demandar que otros reduzcan sus emisiones si nosotros no hacemos lo mismo.

    Por lo menos es necesario cumplir con las metas fijadas por el Acuerdo de París, aunque habría que fijar metas más ambiciosas, ya que está comprobado que con aquellas no será suficiente para llevar el calentamiento global a niveles aceptables. El Comité Nacional de Lucha Contra el Cambio Climático (CNLCC), al igual que todo el movimiento ambientalista latinoamericano y mundial, sostiene que los países más vulnerables, que son los estados insulares del mundo en desarrollo, deben exigir que los mayores responsables por un lado reduzcan las emisiones, y por el otro ayuden a mitigar los efectos del cambio climático y a establecer un sistema económico más sostenible.

    Este tiene que ser un movimiento político. Hemos hecho una apuesta fuerte en la Conferencia de las Naciones Unidas sobre el Cambio Climático (COP 23) que tuvo lugar en Noviembre de 2017. Con el liderazgo de los compañeros peruanos, que han resultado muy golpeados por el cambio climático, hemos formado una coalición latinoamericana con apoyos europeos que presiona para que se alcancen acuerdos puntuales, tales como la eliminación para 2020 del uso del carbón para generar electricidad. Aunque la eliminación de la minería de carbón pueda llevar más tiempo, al menos no deben seguir construyéndose nuevas plantas eléctricas de carbón. También hemos planteado, sobre todo con los compañeros bolivianos y brasileños, que para 2030 se mantenga por lo menos el 80-85% de las reservas mundiales de hidrocarburos bajo tierra. Como contrapartida, deben usarse energías renovables tanto para la generación de energía eléctrica como para el transporte y otras necesidades.

    Lamentablemente, dependemos de la voluntad de los gobiernos y de los políticos, que en muchas partes del mundo responden a intereses económicos muy mezquinos. El mejor ejemplo de esto es el presidente de los Estados Unidos, que es realmente un energúmeno, pero no uno cualquiera sino uno que representa a otros energúmenos cuyos intereses y fortunas están vinculados a la reproducción de una economía basada en la quema de combustibles fósiles. El hecho de que Estados Unidos se haya retirado de los Acuerdos de París es un retroceso catastrófico, así como la expresión de que la cúpula dominante de ese país está dispuesta a arriesgar un holocausto global con tal de conservar sus tasas de ganancia.

    Esta es una batalla política que no puede ser de unos pocos, y que como todas las luchas cruciales debe librarse en las calles. Tenemos que sacar a la humanidad a la calle, como lo hicimos en 2015, para dejar en claro que no está dispuesta a sacrificarse en aras de las ganancias de una minoría, y exigir que los yacimientos de hidrocarburos permanezcan bajo tierra y que se impulsen con fuerza las energías renovables en todas sus expresiones. En las islas del trópico, por ejemplo, debe promocionarse la energía solar y eólica.

    1. Internamente, en la República Dominicana, ¿libran ustedes en tanto que sociedad civil  una lucha similar con su propio gobierno, o acaso el gobierno dominicano está alineado con estas posturas?

    Efectivamente libramos una lucha similar. El nuestro es un gobierno canalla: de un modo ilegal y corrupto hasta un grado nunca visto en nuestra historia, desde 2013 construye dos plantas de carbón de 770 megavatios en Punta Catalina, a 50 kilómetros de la capital. Al mismo tiempo, en noviembre de 2015 nuestro presidente fue a París a liderar a los estados insulares más amenazados en el planteo de la demanda de reducción de la huella de carbono, y a prometer una disminución del las emisiones de 25% para 2030. Cosa que será imposible de cumplir si se pone a funcionar unas plantas de carbón que por sí solas generarán 6,34 millones de toneladas anuales de dióxido de carbono, lo cual supone un incremento de más de 20% en las emisiones totales del país.

    Así, mientras construye estas plantas de carbón que van a disparar nuestras emisiones de carbono, que ya son altas en términos relativos, el gobierno se compromete con la comunidad internacional a reducirlas sustancialmente. Frente a esto, desde principios de 2016 el CNLCC, junto con otras veintitantas OSC, sobre todo del movimiento ambientalista, desarrolló una campaña intensa para que nuestro país ratificara los Acuerdos de París. Una vez que, gracias a la campaña, logramos que el Congreso de la República ratificara los acuerdos, y que lo hiciera de manera rápida, unánime y en una sola lectura, tuvimos que esperar tres meses para que del despacho de la Cancillería se dignaran a informárselo a la Secretaría de la Convención sobre el Cambio Climático de las Naciones Unidas. Para que eso sucediera tuvimos que movilizarnos; el gobierno se resistía a la ratificación porque sabía que con las nuevas plantas de carbón le sería imposible cumplir con las metas, más allá de su plan de sembrar un millón de árboles de caoba, con los cuales en 50 años con suerte lograrían absorber la cuarta parte del dióxido de carbono que esas plantas van a emitir.

    Nuestro país tiene una gran necesidad de energía eléctrica porque, aún bajo un modelo de gran desigualdad y exclusión, la economía está creciendo. Actualmente tenemos déficit energético, con producción de energía cara e ineficiente, y por eso tenemos grandes apagones. O sea que sí necesitamos producir más y mejor energía, pero lo que no necesitamos es que esa energía salga del carbón, cuando nosotros ni siquiera somos productores de carbón. Gracias a la lucha de la sociedad civil dominicana, en 2012 fue aprobada la ley de la Estrategia Nacional de Desarrollo, que en su artículo 27 estableció la meta de reemplazar antes de 2030 los combustibles fósiles importados por energías renovables, y así descarbonizar la economía. Pero desde que llegó al poder en 2013, el gobierno de Danilo Medina ha hecho todo lo contrario, con acuerdos muy redituables para establecer nuevas plantas eléctricas de carbón.

    1. ¿Por qué el gobierno dominicano optó por el carbón en vez de energías renovables? ¿A qué intereses representa?

    La opción por el carbón, así como la elección de la empresa Odebrecht, que encabeza el consorcio que construye Punta Catalina, fue una decisión de financiamiento político. El gobierno de Danilo Medina necesitaba reelegirse, y la reelección estaba prohibida, de modo que tuvo que financiar primero la reforma electoral y luego la campaña para la reelección. Ese financiamiento lo facilitó la planta de carbón construida junto con Odebrecht. Está plenamente documentado que la licitación fue amañada: Odebrecht compró ese contrato, tal como lo confesó en diciembre de 2016 en Nueva York. En tanto que forma de financiamiento político corrupto, la obra incluyó desde el principio una sobrevaluación de mil millones de dólares. De los 2945 millones de dólares que iba a costar la obra, mil eran sobreprecios. Esto lo denunciamos, pero no hubo forma de que se abriera un proceso de investigación serio, porque nuestro Poder Judicial es extremadamente dependiente del Ejecutivo.

    De hecho, esas plantas van a terminar costando mucho más caras, porque recientemente se develó que hay un sobrecosto de 708 millones más, ya que no se habían hecho los estudios correspondientes y para hacerlos le están pasando la factura al gobierno. Además, una de las socias de Odebrecht en la construcción de la planta ha hecho una reclamación por 720 millones por montos adeudados a proveedores y por la reposición de un generador dañado por la empresa estatal cuando quiso montar a toda velocidad la primera unidad para hacer una demostración. Nosotros denunciamos que la planta no estaba lista, y efectivamente tiene una enorme demora, pero para demostrar que no era así el gobierno se apuró y dañó un generador. En cuanto a los pagos adeudados, los retrasos se deben a la campaña que hicimos con el apoyo de aliados europeos para que los bancos europeos que estaban financiando las obras detuvieran el desembolso por razones de corrupción.

    1. ¿Cómo reaccionó la ciudadanía dominicana a medida que se develaron estos hechos de megacorrupción?

    Desde el 22 de enero de 2017 ha habido todos los meses manifestaciones multitudinarias inéditas en nuestra historia, en reclamo del fin de la corrupción y la impunidad. Y el corazón de esa demanda es Punta Catalina, que es realmente la prueba del delito. Estos reclamos expresados en las calles obligaron al gobierno a montar una ópera cómica: al fin y al cabo procesó a todo el mundo menos a los principales culpables. Odebrecht ha comprado contratos desde 2001 hasta 2015, y el gobierno procesó a gran parte de los presuntos implicados hasta 2012, pero a ninguno desde 2012 para acá. Es decir, no rozó siquiera a los involucrados en Punta Catalina, entre ellos el propio Presidente de la República. Además, ni uno solo de los procesados está en prisión.

    El país no solo está indignado: está frustrado y harto, y se siente violentado. Para contener posibles reacciones ciudadanas, el Ministerio Público apeló la liberación de dos de los imputados: el empresario Ángel Rondón, intermediario a cargo del reparto del dinero de los sobornos y las ganancias ilícitas, y Víctor Díaz Rúa, ministro de Obras Públicas del gobierno anterior. Sin embargo, la Suprema Corte mantuvo la libertad de ambos. Esto realmente no sorprendió a nadie.

    El pueblo dominicano hizo uso del medio más democrático que tenía a su disposición: la manifestación callejera. El gobierno se mantuvo indiferente y apostó al desgaste del movimiento: lo dejó gritar y patalear hasta cansarse. Pero ya hay una parte importante de la población que piensa que este gobierno es el principal obstáculo para impartir justicia y acabar con la impunidad, y que hay que terminar con él. Hace poco se comprobó que en las elecciones de 2016, en las que fue reelecto el presidente Danilo Medina, la empresa que proveyó los escáneres también programó el conteo de los votos. La ciudadanía lo tomó con calma, porque de hecho ya lo sabía, pero desde entonces se está buscando alguna forma de acortar esta presidencia.

    El 16 de julio de 2017 el movimiento anticorrupción Marcha Verde hizo la manifestación más grande en la historia del país, y allí se lanzó la idea de procesar al presidente. El pueblo dominicano ha hecho todo lo que ha estado a su alcance para encontrar una salida, y hasta ahora no la ha encontrado porque el Poder Ejecutivo tiene secuestrada a toda la institucionalidad democrática. Ni el Legislativo ni el Judicial son poderes independientes, de modo que ¿quién va a procesar al presidente?

    Más recientemente, sectores de la Marcha Verde y diversas agrupaciones políticas están haciendo el planteo de que el año próximo se busque un gran acuerdo de todos los sectores para ponerle fin al mandato presidencial y buscar una solución institucional mediante una Constituyente que establezca un Poder Judicial y un Poder Legislativo realmente independientes y provea garantías de pulcritud electoral, de modo de preparar las condiciones para la elección de un nuevo gobierno en 2020.

    1. ¿Hay alguna chance de que nuevas elecciones lleven al poder a alguien que represente intereses más amplios, y que esté en condiciones de enfrentar seriamente el problema del cambio climático?

    No perdemos las esperanzas de que así sea. El pueblo dominicano nunca se ha cansado de luchar por una auténtica democracia. El 22 de enero de 2017, un pueblo al que muchos creíamos derrotado se levantó con fuerza en rechazo de la corrupción. No lo hizo por aumentos de salarios ni por rebajas en los precios de los alimentos, ambas causas legítimas, sino por simple indignación en relación con las implicaciones que las confesiones de Odebrecht tenían para nuestro país.

    El Estado dominicano está atravesado de punta a punta por la corrupción y la impunidad, y ello limita fuertemente su capacidad para luchar contra el cambio climático. Hoy por hoy, a las autoridades no les importa en lo más mínimo mentirle a la comunidad internacional, prometiendo una cosa que saben que no van a cumplir.

    Nosotros abogamos por que una parte del Fondo Verde establecido por la Convención Marco de las Naciones Unidas sobre el Cambio Climático se utilice para mitigar los daños que sufre la República Dominicana a causa del calentamiento global. Es decir, que una parte de esos 100 mil millones de dólares anuales que los países desarrollados, los mayores emisores de gases causantes del cambio climático, aportarán para materializar acciones de mitigación y adaptación en las naciones en desarrollo, financie la adaptación tecnológica, cultural y productiva de nuestro país. Para mitigar desastres y volver a reconstruir se necesita mucho dinero: por ejemplo, el huracán Georges, que en 1998 nos pegó de lleno, provocó en República Dominicana pérdidas que representaron el 14% del PIB (de 1997). La lluvia de finales de 2016 nos costó 9478 millones. Con el huracán María, nuevamente, hemos tenido entre 9 mil y 10 mil millones de dólares en pérdidas, pese a que no nos pegó directamente sino que solamente pasó cerca.

    El problema es que si ese dinero llega hasta aquí, corre el riesgo de perderse, ya que los desastres y la posterior reconstrucción son ocasiones perfectas para la corrupción. Así, por ejemplo, los fondos destinados a la mitigación de los efectos de las lluvias de 2016 nunca llegaron a los territorios. La gente de Marcha Verde en las regiones más afectadas reclamó una y otra vez que el dinero no había llegado. De modo que enfrentamos un dilema muy duro: al mismo tiempo que reclamamos a la comunidad internacional apoyo para enfrentar las consecuencias y combatir las causas del cambio climático, nos sometemos a la rapacidad de nuestros propios gobiernos. Evitar que ese dinero se pierda y lograr que llegue a su destino es un problema que compartimos con otros países de la región. Solo un gobierno auténticamente democrático, que represente los intereses de la mayoría de la ciudadanía en vez de los intereses concentrados de los empresarios y los políticos aunados por la corrupción, podrá enfrentar seriamente el problema del cambio climático.

    • El espacio cívico en República Dominicana recibe la calificación de ‘obstruido’ en elCIVICUS Monitor, lo cual indica la existencia de restricciones serias de las libertades cívicas.
    • Visite el perfil deFacebook delCNLCC o siga en Twitter a @CNLCC2016

     

     

     

  • ‘Young women are a vital part of shaping the future’ – Rio+20 interview

    A Rio+20 interview with Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, World YWCA

    Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda is the General Secretary of the World YWCA, a global federation in 125 countries, and a human rights lawyer with extensive experience in CSO governance and transition management. She is also the Vice Chair of CIVICUS. She is active in trying to ensure that young women are able to help shape the future sustainable development agenda, and that the women's human rights impacts of climate change and sustainability challenges are taken into account. She talks to CIVICUS about her hopes for Rio+20 and the work of the World YWCA.

    How is the World YWCA planning to advance women's issues, and participation at Rio+20?

    The World YWCA will have a small delegation of YWCA representatives at Rio+20 with two clear goals – to ensure young people, and particularly young women, play a role in shaping the sustainable development agenda, and to ensure the agenda coming out of Rio+20 is inextricably linked with advancing gender equality and women's human rights. It is also essential that commitments are adequately resourced and that we continue to strengthen accountability mechanisms.

     

  • 6. Fighting from the frontlines of the Pacific’s climate crisis

    Pacific Island countries are suffering the devastating effects of climate change. But as CIVICUS Youth Action Team’sBetty Barkha stresses, they are amazingly resilient. 

    The sea is coming closer to home, we don’t have to walk to the lagoon anymore.” The haunting words of a four-year-old playing with his friends near Bonriki village, on the main island of Tarawa in Kiribati, still gives me chills. Little did he know that the ocean that gives him and his friends so much happiness was out to claim their home.

     

  • A clean and safe environment is a human right

    Joint statement by Earthjustice, Greenpeace, AIDA, Amnesty Internationa, CIEL, CIVICUS, CRIN, Human Rights Watch, The Global Initiative

    We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s report which usefully identifies a wealth of governmental good practices in recognizing and implementing a right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

    The report highlights that 80% of UN member states have recognized this human right. It also shows that at least 90% UN member states have reported at least some good practices that reflect procedural and/or the substantive elements of this right. The report therefore shows that “environmental progress and the protection of human rights from environmental harm are possible”. While the report is clear that all states must urgently step up their action at all levels to adequately address the present “daunting and unprecedented global environmental crisis”, it also shows that global recognition of the right to a healthy environment is an essential ingredient of such efforts.

    Our organizations therefore call on the Human Rights Council to promptly adopt a resolution recognizing the right to a healthy environment. At a time when people from around the world, and particularly children, are increasingly concerned and mobilized by the environmental crisis, and environmental human rights defenders continue to face violence, states need to make this important move signaling their unequivocal intention to work towards the fulfillment of this right for all.

     

  • Activists call on elite at World Economic Forum to declare climate emergency

    Open Letter from Activist Leaders World Economic Forum Delegates

    ‘Activist Leaders Call on World Economic Forum Delegates to Declare Climate Emergency’

    We #StandTogether with hundreds of millions of people around the world committed to climate justice, economic transformation, equality, human rights, the environment, gender justice, and the rights of workers, children, refugees, Indigenous peoples and faith-based communities. 

    To limit global warming to 1.5°C we must halve global emissions by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050.

    We believe it’s time for decision-makers attending the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos to declare a Climate Emergency in their own countries and companies and urgently take the measures necessary to protect humanity and our planet. 

    Governments, businesses, investors and civil society must collaborate rapidly to transform our economic system by the end of the decade, to stop climate chaos while tackling inequality and upholding human and labor rights. 

    To deliver a just transition for workers and communities we must

    • End Fossil Fuel Exploration and Extraction – Rapidly phase out exploration, extraction and use, with high-income countries making the fastest reductions and investors divesting from fossil fuels. 
    • End Fossil Fuel Subsidies – Redistribute the 5.2 USD Trillion in subsidies for fossil fuels to support renewable energy and bolster social protection systems.
    • Make Polluters Pay – Put a meaningful price on pollution and make emitters pay for the true cost of their activities on human health and the environment.

    We believe it’s time to build a thriving, regenerative and more equal future that delivers gender justice and leaves no one behind. This will require companies to comply with laws that respect human rights and the environment, work in a transparent and accountable manner to get transformative policies in place and implement due diligence to identify, disclose and address negative impacts.

    Without such leadership, the focus of this 50th World Economic Forum in Davos on ‘Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World’ will ring hollow and we will be unable to reach the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. 

    As we begin this decisive decade, it's time for governments and companies meeting at Davos to decide whether they stand with humanity for our common future. 


    350
    Amnesty International
    Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
    CIVICUS
    Global Call to Action Against Poverty
    Global Witness
    Greenpeace
    ITUC
    OXFAM

     

  • Africa to Address Post- 2015 Disaster Resilience Agenda

    Governments from over 50 countries in Africa will meet in Arusha, Tanzania from 13-15 February for the Fourth Africa Regional Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction (ARP) to address the challenges of building a disaster resilient society.


    The Africa region is home to some of the fastest growing economies in the world. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is projecting economic growth of 5.25% for sub-Saharan Africa in 2013, a rate that places the region second only to Asia's booming economies and well above a world forecast of 3.6%.


    As the countries in this blossoming region continue to develop, this impressive growth could be undermined by exposure to disaster risks and a changing climate. A recent statement "Raising the African Voice" at the Eighth Annual Meeting of the African Science Academies, claims that climate change will impact Africa more severely than any other region in the world and that severe weather events such as droughts and floods are on the increase.

     

    Read more at reliefweb

     

     

     

  • As global tensions rise, the UN stands on the sidelines

    By  Mandeep Tiwana

    It’s tempting to lay the blame for unresolved conflicts at the UN’s door but the reality is that the UN can only deliver when it has the support of member states and the buy-in of citizens.
    Read on: Jerusalem Post

     

  • BANGLADESH: ‘Protecting water amounts to protecting basic human rights in all nations’

    Following a year marked by massive mobilisation on the climate emergency, CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the main environmental challenges they face in their contexts and the actions they are taking. CIVICUS speaks with Sharif Jamil, an environmental activist and the General Secretary of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (BAPA), a platform that organises civil society movements against environmental degradation. Since 2009 Sharif has been involved with the Waterkeeper Alliance, a global network aimed at ensuring every community’s right to clean water, and he is currently the Coordinator of Waterkeepers Bangladesh.

     sharif jamil

     

    What is the key environmental issue that you work on?

    The Waterkeeper Alliance is a global platform and network that now includes over 400 organisations in 40 countries across the globe. We protect the water bodies that we all need and use, but that cannot speak for themselves. We call for people to respect water bodies and defend their rights, so when a waterkeeper speaks it is as if a water body spoke.

    We focus on water, but we don’t work only on water, because if there is no rainforest there is no water, if there are no mountains there is no water: if you don’t preserve the environment and ecology as a whole, then the water is also in trouble. So our water protection movement is not limited to protecting water bodies. 

    We have launched a global campaign because water does not respect borders, so it needs to be protected globally. Climate change and global warming are threatening the entire planet, and we need the planet to come out of this crisis as a whole.

    While thinking globally, you are also acting locally. Can you tell us about the work you are doing in Bangladesh?

    I started my activism 20 years ago. BAPA was formed in 2000 at an international conference on the environment in Bangladesh. The conference was held to discuss what we could do for the environment from the civil society level. It was agreed that civil organisations were doing good work but a platform was still needed for all of them to act as a unified pressure group, to bring the conflict to the table and apply pressure to come up with a solution. When BAPA started, we prioritised the issues directly affecting the environment in Bangladesh, but as rivers do not follow political boundaries, we realised that protecting water amounts to protecting basic human rights in all nations. That is why I also got involved with human rights organisations and members of a human rights group based in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and we are now tracking human rights violations related to ecological degradation.

    Specifically in Bangladesh, in recent times, we are focusing our work on the conflict between fossil fuels, the energy system and environmental degradation. In 2010 the government updated a power system master plan required for the country to grow economically. The government decided to focus on industrialisation, so it formed a special economy zone authority and declared more than 100 special economic zones across the country. These were meant to attract investment from foreign investors and to facilitate the establishment of multinational companies in the country. Industry requires energy, so to foster industrialisation the government came up with a plan to produce the power that it estimated would be required up to 2030. In order to meet the requirement, it decided to increase dramatically the share of energy produced from coal, from 2.5 per cent of total electricity to over 50 per cent. The government made this decision just as the world was shifting away from coal because of global warming.

    At this point there were civil society reactions, but initially we did not know enough. We lacked information, expertise and funding. But we worked hard to understand how much this master plan would impact on water and climate. With the collaboration of the Waterkeeper Alliance, in 2015 we organised an international conference in Dhaka, ‘Coal energy in Bangladesh: impact on water and climate’, and we came to understand that coal is more of a problem than a solution. The government’s plan identified three major hubs to establish coal-based power plants in the coastal region, and each of those hubs is threatening a unique ecological treasure.

    One of them is the Sundarbans, a mangrove area in the delta formed by the confluence of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers in the Bay of Bengal. The Sundarbans, a World Heritage Site, is the largest remaining mangrove forest in the world. It covers an area of about 10,000 square kilometres in both Bangladesh (60 per cent) and India (40 per cent) and it is the last habitat of the endangered Bengal tiger. The Sundarbans protects the entire nation from cyclone and storm surges because Bangladesh is a densely populated country and is highly vulnerable to global warming, climate change and extreme weather hitting the land from the Indian Ocean. Bangladesh is almost a flat country and is therefore affected by floods. The Sundarbans is a lot more than just a huge forest – it is also a barrier that protects all of our country’s land.

    So we started protesting against the Rampal and Orion coal power-plant projects, located only around four kilometres away from the Ecologically Critical Area of the Sundarbans. We first started protesting against the coal-based power developments that were closest to home and then found out that on the other side of the Sundarbans, there were also huge numbers of coal-based power production plants going on in and around Payra, which were also threatening the Sundarbans as well as one of the rarest sea beaches where you can see the sunrise and sunset. And more importantly, thinking about the food security of our nation, the pollution that it causes threatens our national fish, hilsa. This is a fish that migrates from sea to freshwater and from freshwater to sea. The region is one of the major landing stations for this migratory fish and would be entirely destroyed by the coal plants.

    What we are trying to do is to reach a balance and understand what we should do and how we can protect this environment while keeping development moving onwards, that is, how we can make development sustainable. But the most urgent thing to do is protecting our water and air from this kind of pollution. We have been organising people’s movements. We are trying to convince our government, doing research and presenting global data and studies to our policy-makers. We are also inviting global investors like China, Japan and the UK to review their strategies. Some of the biggest investors are phasing out coal in their own countries while funding its use in this poor, overpopulated nation. We want the global community to influence and engage global investors to keep development progressing while ensuring that it is done with renewable energy. The global community should understand that producing 5,000 megawatts in Australia is not the same as producing 5,000 megawatts in Bangladesh. We are an overpopulated deltaic country, with more than 1,084 people per square kilometre. 

    Have you participated in global climate mobilisations?

    I was the national coordinator of the climate march in Bangladesh in 2015, when the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 21) was held in Paris, France. We took people out on the street and had a very good turnout. We held a procession together with other civil society organisations in the capital, Dhaka, and more than 30,000 people participated in the march.

    More recently, in September 2019, we mobilised in the context of the global climate strike called by Greta Thunberg. Waterkeepers Bangladesh, Waterkeepers Nepal, the Nepal River Conservation Trust and BAPA jointly organised a series of events and activities in solidarity, including a mobilisation to protect the Himalayas by the banks of the Sunkoshi River in Nepal, near the source of the Brahmaputra and Ganges rivers, on 23 September, and another focused on protecting the Sundarbans, held at Katka Beach in the Bay of Bengal, near the source of the sea, on 29 September.

    I also took part in COP 25 in Madrid, Spain, and joined the European Union’s 21st EU-NGO Human Rights Forum in Brussels, Belgium, both in December 2019. Discussions there revolved around building a fair environmental future.

    So yes, Bangladeshi people are the victims of climate change, which they face every day, but they are also protecting themselves with their own knowledge and capacity, and reaching out to the global community.

    A big problem is that many in the global community are ready to help people with adaptation, but no one is putting enough attention on mitigation. So we request help for Bangladesh not only regarding adaptation to climate change, but also for mitigation, to keep our forest, to protect the Sundarbans, to protect the water bodies. The truth is that if you don’t keep this place alive, the entire region will be in trouble.

    The situation is urgent because water is depleting and there are no shared protocols. So we have started efforts within civil society, with people-to-people communication. We are working on the five countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India and Nepal – to manage the entire Brahmaputra, Ganges and Meghna basins together on the basis of equity and trust. These countries should come up with a treaty or some form of consensus to deal with the problem of melting Himalayan glaciers. Bangladesh is a water-scarce country as we get only 20 per cent of total water over half of the year from upstream during the lean period. When a neighbouring country blocks all the water, water bodies die, agriculture collapses and the economy is destroyed.

    Do you think international climate forums provide a useful space for civil society?

    I have participated in many global talks; in September 2018 I was even invited as a speaker to the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, USA. The problem with these forums is that sometimes good things are said, but actions do not match words. The government of California was one of the organisers of the summit in San Francisco, but California’s policies are all about protecting themselves while exporting fossil fuels to other countries. It’s irrational to think that you can save yourself alone. What you have to do to protect the planet from climate change is to keep fossil fuel underground. You cannot exploit mines in poor nations and then organise a nice summit to come up with recommendations to solve the problem you have created and that you do not have any intention to implement.

    Still, we are invited to these forums and we attend. The former BAPA general secretary was a member of the Bangladeshi government team for the climate negotiations at three successive sessions of the COP. We try to help our government in the negotiations, for instance by providing data and analysis. True, our government still needs to change its mindset and understand that economic growth needs to be sustainable. Our government needs to conduct itself diplomatically while being firm in searching for funding for sustainable development. 

    But we support our government in international negotiations because Bangladesh is a poor nation and there are many things that our government is not in a position to do or decide by itself; we depend on developed nations in many respects. We understand that responsibility falls on our government when it comes to changing its mindset and becoming more inclusive in its decision-making processes, but it is the responsibility of the global community to come up with a holistic approach to deal with a global problem.

    Civic space in Bangladesh is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Waterkeepers Bangladesh through itswebsite and itsFacebook page, or follow@WaterkeepersBD on Twitter.

     

     

  • BOLIVIA: ‘We empower young people so they can lead the climate movement’

    Rodrigo MeruviaFollowing a year marked by massive mobilisation on the climate emergency, CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the main environmental challenges they face in their contexts and the actions they are taking. CIVICUS speaks with Rodrigo Meruvia, general coordinator and researcher of the Gaia Pacha Foundation, a civil society organisation (CSO) dedicated to environmental protection and conservation. Based in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Gaia Pacha undertakes research, extension and development initiatives on the basis of cooperation with other CSOs, universities, research centres, government agencies and private companies.

     

     

    What is the main environmental problem in the context where you work?

    The central issue is climate change, a planetary phenomenon that is having impacts at all levels, on populations and their productive and food systems, and that exceeds local and institutional capacities. Among other things, this phenomenon is reflected in an increase in the frequency and magnitude of climatic events and the depth of their impacts.

    We work with the aim of increasing the resilience of rural communities in the face of climate change, as well as building awareness among the urban population regarding the ways in which their consumption patterns affect the development prospects of many communities in rural areas. First of all we work to show how climate change impacts on areas of small family subsistence production and create mechanisms to help increase their resilience to climate change. We also work to empower young people both in rural communities and cities. We train them in technical issues as well as in matters of strategy and leadership, so that they can produce initiatives and generate alternatives on topics such as deforestation or greenhouse gas emission. We encourage them to generate projects applicable to their immediate surroundings and we foster networks and bridges with other civil society and academic organisations to support the implementation of their initiatives.

    For example, at the moment we are working with universities in Cochabamba on the subject of alternative transportation, with the aim of establishing bike paths between the various university campuses within the city, so that young people can use bicycles as an emission-free and safe means of transportation. With that aim in mind, mobile phone apps are being developed that will indicate the safest routes, and parking lots for bicycles are being established, among other things. Work is also being done to educate car drivers, in partnership with the university and in a joint initiative with the municipality and some private companies that are interested in this issue.

    Were there climate mobilisations in Bolivia during 2019?

    Yes, in September, when the global climate mobilisations were held, major Bolivian cities joined as well. In Cochabamba, we provide support to the youth movement, providing them with resources so that they can lead the climate movement. We provide them with logistical and institutional support, which is needed because there is still a lack of trust in young people in our cities. We propel them without becoming the spokespeople for the movement. We provide training on a variety of topics and transmit the fundamentals and basic concepts to them so that they can account for the reasons for their mobilisation rather than just go to a march armed with a single slogan. The idea is for them to become the disseminators of accurate information regarding both the causes and local effects of global climate change.

    With that aim we held several workshops targeted at young people. We trained about 100 young people directly, and indirectly we have reached around 1,400.

    Did climate mobilisations in Bolivia echo global demands, or did demands have specific local components?

    Demonstrations in Bolivia expressed demands related mainly to the forest fires that come hand in hand with the expansion of the agricultural frontier. Their main demand was the repeal of domestic laws that benefit agribusiness and neglect the protection of forests.

    Bolivian laws do not protect forests, but rather the opposite. In mid-2019, just a few months before 2019’s great forest fires, the government enacted decree 3973, which authorised clearance for agricultural activities in private and community lands in the departments of Beni and Santa Cruz, and allowed controlled fires. In other words, the law gives free rein to any owner interested in expanding their production space, whether for livestock or agriculture. Unfortunately, this has been the position of the state so far, and in our experience whether there were leftist or right-wing governments in place has not made any difference. Beyond the party ideology of the incumbent government, there’s the interests of the agribusiness sector, which are much more permanent and broader, since they involve not only local actors but also transnational companies.

    We believe that the cause of the fires is primarily human in origin, since they are started to expand the agricultural frontier. This is how about five and a half million hectares have already been burned. To give an idea of​​the dimensions of the disaster: the area that has been burned in the lowlands of Bolivia is almost the same size as Guatemala. And not only the forest is lost, but also the entire habitat is degraded, the water sources of some communities disappear and the effects of this extend beyond Bolivia, as bioclimates and rainfall change.

    We understand that the phenomenon that affects us is part of a bigger problem, which this year had several expressions in the form of fires in the Brazilian Amazon, in African countries and in Australia. As there is insufficient rainfall due to climate change, forests are much more prone to burning. In addition to agricultural expansion policies, especially those aimed at growing soybeans – which in addition are genetically modified – this makes these places much more vulnerable. The consequences of this are suffered not only by the population living in the territories where these incidents occur, which is directly affected, but also by the general population.

    At the same time, we also put forward the issue of urban deforestation. In Cochabamba there are around 200 deaths per year due to respiratory problems. It is one of the cities with the most polluted air in Latin America, so this was also one of the specific demands of our mobilisations, as well as the fact that we adhere to the global call for definitive and effective action by governments.

    Have you had participated in international processes related to climate change?

    We have participated from the local level, training young people to take part in the international negotiation processes, mainly at the COP – Conference of the Signatory Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – series of meetings.

    We started by recruiting in various institutions that work with young people, and making a diagnosis to identify who were the ones who were ready and committed to addressing the issue of climate change, and then we made selections based on the issues we were working on. We gave workshops on topics ranging from the conceptual and technical approach to the issue of climate change, to the management of environmental projects, the characteristics of the negotiation process and strategies to participate, as well as workshops to improve people’s ability to express themselves adequately at these events. It was a long process, but it yielded very good results, because we already have leaders in the country’s nine departments who are trained to go participate in discussions and show the world the initiatives and projects that are being developed in Bolivia.

    Unfortunately, the last-minute change of the venue for COP 25 to Spain – because it could not take place in Santiago de Chile due to the context of protests and repression – deflated us, because we were well prepared and had a firm position that in the end we could not contribute to the event. This was the case not just for us in Bolivia, but more generally for Latin America, where something very big was being prepared to share in Chile. The change of location and the short notice with which it was decided created a big complication for us, financially and logistically. On top of this, for us in Bolivia the consequences of recent socio-political conflicts also were an obstacle that prevented us from implementing our strategy before COP 25.

    But we do not want to throw away the existing motivation and the accumulated work that we have done over approximately one and a half years, so we have continued to work to train young leaders. Our goal is to underpin the ability of young people to generate proposals and initiatives, both technically and politically, not only in their regions but also in international spaces.

    Do you think that the disappointing outcomes of COP 25 had something to do with the absence of many people who were ready to influence the agenda but could not participate?

    Yes, I think so. Without detracting from the work done by the countries and organisations that did participate, I think it ended up being a very improvised event, and if it had been held in Chile as planned, the results could have been a bit more significant and positive thanks to the presence and the participation of young people. For the first time, Bolivia was going to count on the participation of a group of young people recognised by the state, who were to carry out the mandate of a collective process developed in Bolivia’s nine departments through four or five prior forums.

    However, we are trying to have a constructive attitude in the face of this setback, and we are taking advantage of the extra time we have to get ready. We already have these young people who are in a position to formulate demands and proposals wherever it might be necessary to do so – be it in the UK, where COP 26 will be held, or in any other international event if the opportunity arises.

    Civic space in Bolivia is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with the Pacha Gaia Foundation through itswebsite and itsFacebook page, or follow@GaiaPacha on Twitter.

     

  • Carta abierta de líderes y lideresas activistas a los/as delegados/as del Foro Económico Mundial

    Líderes y lideresas activistas piden a delegados/as del Foro Económico Mundial que declaren la emergencia climática

    Actuamos conjuntamente con cientos de millones de personas de todo el mundo comprometidas con la justicia climática, la transformación económica, la igualdad, los derechos humanos, el medio ambiente, la justicia de género y los derechos de las personas trabajadoras, de la infancia, de las personas refugiadas, de los pueblos indígenas y de las comunidades religiosas. #StandTogether

    Para limitar el calentamiento global a 1,5 ºC, debemos reducir a la mitad las emisiones globales en 2030 y llegar al cero neto en 2050.

    Creemos que es hora de que las personas con capacidad de decisión que asisten a la reunión anual en Davos del Foro Económico Mundial declaren una emergencia climática en sus respectivos países y empresas, y tomen con urgencia las medidas necesarias para proteger a la humanidad y nuestro planeta.

    Gobiernos, empresas, inversionistas y sociedad civil deben colaborar rápidamente para transformar nuestro sistema económico antes de que termine la década, a fin de detener el caos climático abordando al mismo tiempo la desigualdad y defendiendo los derechos humanos y laborales.

    Para llevar a cabo una transición justa para las personas trabajadoras y las comunidades debemos:

    • Poner fin a la búsqueda y extracción de combustibles fósiles. Eliminar de forma gradual y rápida su búsqueda, su extracción y su uso; los países de ingresos altos deberán hacer las reducciones más rápidas y los inversionistas, desinvertir en combustibles fósiles.
    • Poner fin a las subvenciones a combustibles fósiles. Redistribuir los 5,2 billones de dólares estadounidenses en subvenciones a combustibles fósiles para apoyar energías renovables y fomentar sistemas de protección social.
    • Hacer que quien contamine pague. Fijar un precio significativo a la contaminación y hacer que los emisores paguen el coste real de sus actividades para la salud humana y el medio ambiente.

    Creemos que es hora de construir un futuro floreciente, regenerativo y más igualitario en el que haya justicia de género y no deje a nadie atrás. Esto exigirá que las empresas cumplan las leyes que respetan los derechos humanos y el medio ambiente, trabajen de un modo transparente y responsable para implantar medidas transformativas y ejerzan la diligencia debida para identificar, revelar y abordar los impactos negativos.

    Sin este liderazgo, el foco de este 50º Foro Económico Mundial en Davos en “partes interesadas por un mundo cohesivo y sostenible” sonará a falso y no podremos alcanzar los Objetivos de Desarrollo Sostenible en 2030.

    Al comienzo de esta década decisiva, es hora de que los gobiernos y las empresas que se reúnen en Davos decidan si están del lado de la humanidad y por nuestro futuro común.


    350
    Amnesty International
    Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
    CIVICUS
    Global Call to Action Against Poverty
    Global Witness
    Greenpeace
    ITUC
    OXFAM

     

  • CHILE: ‘The COP needs the participation of civil society’

    Gabriela BurdilesIn a context of great mobilisation on climate action around the world and in the run up to the next Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP 25), whichwill take placein Chile in November 2019, CIVICUS speaks with Gabriela Burdines of Fiscalía del Medio Ambiente (FIMA), a civil society organisation that since 1998 has worked to promote access to environmental justice and related legislation in Chile.

    In view of access restrictions faced during COP 24 in Poland, what expectations does civil society have of COP 25 in Chile?

    So far we have not been aware of any action by the government against civil society participation. On the contrary, the government has tried to approach civil society by organising information-sharing meetings and facilitating access to the 'green space' at COP 25, which is the area that civil society has traditionally occupied during these events, and which in Chile will be open between 2 December and 13 December at the Metropolitan Park of Cerrillos. In addition, there are civil society initiatives such as the Social Summit for Climate Action, a summit organised by civil society parallel to COP 25, and the Peoples’ Summit, an annual meeting that brings together organisations and networks from various parts of the world to share experiences, promote alternative solutions and strengthen global organisation and local action to curb the socio-environmental catastrophe. While they have not received any official government support, these meetings have so far not experienced any restrictions.

    We are yet to see what happens with the protests that will take place in public spaces, which will begin soon, in September. As civil society we are calling for a great mobilisation to be held during COP 25, on 8 December, which we hope will appeal to all people as well as to Chilean and global civil society organisations (CSOs) participating in the conference.

    How is Chilean civil society organising its participation in COP 25?

    Chile took on the challenge of hosting COP 25 after Jair Bolsonaro's government decided not to hold it in Brazil. This has significantly reduced planning times. Chilean civil society is organising around at least three groups or platforms. The three that I have knowledge of are Civil Society for Climate Action (SCAC), which is in charge of the Social Summit for Climate Action, where FIMA is participating and coordinating several groups; the People's Summit, which is taking place around the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in November and COP 25; and the parallel COP 25 Civil Society Forum.

    So there are several organised spaces. In the specific case of SCAC, this came into existence because there was no other network around the issue at the time, and because there were no spaces for participation in the official COP, since FIMA is the only Chilean CSO that is currently accredited with the secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). These groups are all working on different issues. They focus on national climate policy, including consultation on climate change law, decarbonisation planning and nationally determined contributions to greenhouse gas emission reductions under the UNFCCC. And they focus internationally, along with foreign CSOs such as Climate Action Network Latin America, and mainly with organisations from Central America, South America and Europe. In addition, we are doing advocacy and participating in events that will take place prior to COP 25, such as the Climate Action Summit in September and the Pre-COP.

    COP meetings need the participation of civil society, and a participatory COP would have to include parallel events held by civil society, academics, governments and other actors, within the framework of the official conference and in the green space. It would also have to facilitate mobilisations in public spaces and activities in other citizens’ forums.

    From the perspective of Chilean civil society, what are the most important issues that need to be addressed in COP 25?

    During COP 25 it will be very important to have transparency and for the participation of CSOs in events such as this to be guaranteed as a right and established as a minimum requirement that the Chilean government must comply with. I would also highlight the importance of raising awareness about the urgent actions that need to be taken in the fight against climate change and raising the issues that make up the citizen agenda that are essential to curb global warming. Finally, as civil society we will be working for the real decarbonisation of our energy matrix; the termination and reparation of environmental sacrifice zones, that is, those areas encompassing a great number of polluting industries; the promotion of clean energies with a low impact on both the environment and human rights and policies for a fair transition and adaptation to climate change; and the design of market mechanisms that include adequate environmental and social safeguards.

    For years the Chilean government led the negotiation of the Escazú Agreement on environmental democracy, but now refuses to sign it. Why is it refusing, and why is it important that it signs it?

    For several years, Chile, alongside Costa Rica, led the negotiations that culminated with the adoption of the Escazú Agreement. Through a statement when the agreement opened to signature, which they issued on 7 June 2018 in their roles as co-chairs of the negotiation process, Chile and Costa Rica reaffirmed their commitment to signing the treaty and its prompt entry into force. However, ever since the treaty opened for signature on 27 September 2018, Chile has refrained from signing.

    According to information disseminated in the media – since until now civil society has not received any formal response – the government's refusal to sign the Escazú Agreement is due to security and sovereignty reasons and is centred on the clause on cooperation with landlocked states and dispute resolution, which would affect Chile by virtue of its border conflict with Bolivia. However, the government has not said that it will not sign the treaty, but only that it is still ‘under study’. It has also stated that the entire content of the agreement is already guaranteed in our national legislation, so there would be no need to sign it.

    However, we believe that it is important that the government commits to this agreement. Chile has made great legislative progress on matters related to the right to access environmental justice, but still needs to make progress in implementation. No protection exists for climate activists and there are many gaps in matters of information, participation and justice. We recently published a report on the progress made and challenges encountered in guaranteeing access to environmental justice, and much remains to be done in this area. For example, our country has no mechanisms allowing for the provision of free legal counsel on environmental matters.

    In this context, we hope that Chile will soon sign and ratify the Escazú Agreement, and that this will be the beginning of a path that will take us to a different way of making decisions, in which agendas seeking to encourage investment will not undermine the fundamental rights of people and communities.

    Civic space in Chile is classified as ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with FIMA through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@FIMA_Chile on Twitter.

     

  • Civil Society Meeting Calls for Solidarity, Radical Change to Deal with Global Crises

    By Amy Taylor

    Our strategies have failed us. We can no longer respond to the crises facing us in the same way. We have to be more radical, more creative — together — to build the future we want. This was one of the resounding messages to emerge from a key global gathering of more than 700 leading thinkers, influencers and doers from more than 100 countries in Suva, Fiji in early December.

    Read on: Inter Press Service

     

  • Climate change as a matter of peace

    By Flávia Bellaguarda, Co-Founder and COO,Youth Climate Leaders

    FlaviaThe Youth Climate Leaders (YCL) was honored to be selected to attend the first edition of the Paris Peace Forum, from 11th to 13th November, and to showcase our startup in the environmental village among other 119 projects from all over the world. Youth Climate Leaders would like to give a special "thank you" to CIVICUS for supporting us to attend the Paris Peace Forum. It was a well-organized and bustling event.

    The opening ceremony was full of Heads of State, Heads of Government, and leaders of international organizations. It was a life-time experience to share the same room with President Trudeau, President Macron, President Putin, Chancellor Angela Merkel, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Nobel Peace Nadia Murad, just to name a few. A crucial part of YCL mission is to enable young people worldwide to increasingly occupy those spaces.

    President Macron opened the ceremony stating that the world is in a different path because in the centenary of the 1918 Armistice we had in the same room 84 heads of states peacefully reunited in Paris under the Arc de Triomphe. The Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that peace must be pursed, and the first step is to recognize that the world is facing severe crises. She emphasized the refugee crisis we are facing saying that countries must be united in order to solve the situation providing real support for those in need.

    Additionally, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted that climate change is the biggest challenge of 21st century and that multilateral efforts are crucial for us to take actions as we are gearing up for COP24. He complemented Merkel saying that in the context of climate change, demography and migration issues are the second most important challenge of our century. It reminded me of the amazing lecture that Dr. Caroline Zickgraf gave to us in Paris about the intersection of climate change and the refugee crisis during the #YCL2018Immersion.

    The main purpose of the Paris Peace Forum was thus to produce two primary outputs: testifying and mobilizing in favor of collective action and multilateralism, and advancing concrete projects of global governance. Altogether, the Forum featured three spaces: (1) a Space for Solutions showcasing governance projects in five “Villages” (peace and security, environment, development, new technologies and inclusive economy); (2) a Space for debates where initiatives from the Villages as well as cross-cutting themes were discussed; and (3) a Space for Innovation which invited developers and programmers to devise digital solutions for the identified challenges.

    It was a difficult task to decide which discussion I should participate in, as there were so many interesting topics! Fortunately, the YCL stand was always full of people keen to learn more about our startup and we had the chance to network with amazing people from all over the world. For that reason, I did not have time to participate in a lot of panels, so I chose the panels “Finance for Climate: a Way to go Forward, a Way to go Faster” and “Fleshing out 2250: A Role for Youth in Global Stability”.

    We had three intense days at the Paris Peace Forum, where we could foster important connections to strengthen our ability to solve the challenges mentioned by President Macron. I was happy to hear in the closing ceremony that the next edition of the Paris Peace Forum they will have more open spaces for youth. We were not well represented in many panels, both as speakers and participants, nor as project leaders showcasing projects in the Villages. On the other hand, I was proud to see organizers recognizing this issue and that in order to pursue peace and have a multilateral effort to solve the world problems the youth must be included.

    So, I hope to see many of you on the next edition of the Forum!

     

  • CLIMATE CHANGE: Feminists have pushed for marginalised voices to be heard

    maria nailevuAs calls grow for climate action to be more responsive to frontline communities, CIVICUS spoke to Maria Nailevu, a feminist climate activist from Fiji, about how feminists have been fighting for more inclusive climate policies from the local to the global levels. Nailevu says that United Nations (UN) climate negotiations often claim technical expertise as a reason to exclude diverse voices, but fail to recognise the specific expertise of women, LGBTQI people, people with disabilities, sex workers, rural and remote communities and young people in responding to the climate crisis in inclusive ways.

    As a Fijian climate activist and a feminist, how inclusive of the needs of women, LGBTQI people and other excluded people have you found regional and national climate responses?

    There is still a lot of work needed in terms of inclusiveness within our national and regional climate responses. There are still many key consultation processes that continue to exclude diverse voices that matter – those of women, LGBTQI people, people with disabilities, sex workers, people from rural and remote communities and young people, among others. Also, disaster responses still need to be more inclusive to ensure that all people, regardless of their race, sexuality, or background, have fair access to disaster assistance. After Cyclone Winston in 2016, one of the gaps identified within our disaster risk reduction work was that many marginalised communities were left out from accessing government assistance because it was designed only for traditional family structures. Only men as heads of households received the assistance on behalf of their families, which excluded many people who were already living on or below the poverty line and left them on their own to recover at their own cost.

    Additionally, evacuation centres are not safe for women, girls and LGBTQI people. There have been reports of many human rights violations that arose during the evacuation period. We have also documented cases of LGBTQI people who were willing to risk their lives in temporary shelters because of fear of violence and discrimination at evacuation centres.

    The 2017 climate change Conference of Parties (COP 23) hosted by Fiji emphasised the need for dialogue through the distinct Fijian process oftalanoa – a form of inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue. What do you think decision-makers can learn from talanoa in terms of listening to diverse perspectives?

    I was fortunate to be part of the Talanoa Dialogue in 2017, when I was with DIVA for Equality representing the voices of lesbian, bisexual and transmasculine (LBT) women as well as women from rural, maritime and urban poor communities. As a grassroots feminist, climate activist and a woman holding diverse identities, I personally felt that it was a wonderfully designed platform because of the opportunity it provided for diverse voices to have a direct say in the process. I think decision-makers should create and support more inclusive and safe spaces that encourage the expression of diverse perspectives and shift away from tokenism and the focus on technical capacities.

    Do you think the voices of diverse groups, and particularly of young people, have been heard in climate decision-making in Fiji?

    Having the voice of young people heard has been a continuous challenge. However, in my feminist and climate justice work I feel that there are now spaces slowly opening up for young people and other marginalised voices. This has happened as a result of the continuous push by the feminist movement, and especially by DIVA for Equality, which has been doing great work in connecting direct voices that matter with key spaces.

    I also personally feel that if youth spaces are shrinking, young people have the potential to shift that around by being radical and starting to implement actions rather than staying frustrated at decision-makers and our failing system. Young people can easily organise and act through community activities – such as planting trees, doing clean-up campaigns and conducting awareness drives – so that true work and commitment become visible, which can capture the attention of our leaders and reflect on existing processes.

    Greta Thunberg is a great example of the younger generation having enough and speaking up to our failing system. Look at her now: she not only has the attention of our leaders, but also got international attention. The beauty behind this revolution is that it all started with Greta taking a day off school in 2018 to go sit and outside the Swedish parliament to call for stronger action on global warming. It was just her, on her own, holding up a sign that said, ‘School strike for climate’.

    From your experience, do regional and global climate talks offer meaningful opportunities for the participation of frontline communities? If not, how do you think these processes could be improved?

    I find UN climate-related spaces complicated, and I’m sure it’s the same for any feminist and climate activist from the global south. This happens for a few reasons.

    First, gender balance in government delegations has always been a challenge in COP spaces. There are times you need to speak to your national and regional government delegations and it’s difficult for women when almost the entire teams are male. Another related challenge is that delegation members themselves are not familiar with gender and human rights issues and their interlinking impacts on climate change. This becomes a barrier to our work and efforts to influence our national and regional positions.

    Second, there are almost no spaces and proper support systems for women from the global south to have a direct influence in the process. For COP 23, DIVA for Equality organised side events for the first time. We brought in women from the Pacific and elsewhere in the global south to speak about challenges and strategies. This was a breakthrough, as it created a stronger network of women working on similar issues. We also hosted a side caucus so that we could all find ways to support each other during the intense two-week process, which was helpful for women who were participating for the first time and feeling completely lost and consumed in the process.

    Third, technical aspects tend to be prioritised over the importance of diverse knowledge. There seems to be a prevailing narrative that when you are from the global south or from a marginalised community, you are nothing but a victim. This shifts the attention away from the creation of spaces for grassroots women and marginalised groups to have a direct voice, sharing their realities and their strategies in a way that decision-makers can hear and learn from. There are so many spaces for technical capacity-building but so few that recognise and focus on the types of expertise that diverse communities also bring. There are feminist and women-led initiatives and indigenous and traditional knowledge that should be prioritised and integrated within our key climate responses.

    Finally, there is a permanent tension between global north and global south politics. It is always a challenge for feminists from the global north and global south to convene and work together. I have been engaging in all COP events through the Women and Gender Constituency and it’s tough work when there are women from such different backgrounds. There still needs to be a recognition that our contexts are different and climate change impacts differently on us, and there needs to be more practice around power negotiations and a clear understanding of the different positions and politics in the room.

    How are people in Fiji mobilising for a more just and inclusive response to the climate crisis?

    I will speak on this based on my previous work with DIVA for Equality, which is a radical and feminist organisation in Fiji that works on an intersectional and interlinkage approach within a strong universal human rights framework.

    One of the ways in which DIVA addresses inclusive responses is by creating inclusive and safe spaces for all people. Every year, DIVA hosts national conventions for LBT women, feminist bootcamps and an event called the Fiji Women Defending Commons, which convenes rural, maritime and urban poor women who are already doing work on climate, gender and sustainable development.

    These key spaces that DIVA creates bring in excluded communities to come together to learn, share, strategise and work towards building a stronger social movement that connects communities that are doing great work with little support, contributing towards the resilience of their communities. These convenings produce useful outcomes, including outcome documents and demands that are co-produced by participants and shared with all relevant stakeholders, including the government, so they hear directly from people and can act on it.

    DIVA is modeling a great set of work which I hope others, and especially our national and regional bodies, can follow to ensure that all people are included in climate responses if they truly believe in the 'leave no one behind' statement.

    What do you think about the recent climate strikes around the world and the UN response to them?

    There is a unique and powerful aspect of this climate strike, perhaps because it evolved from Greta Thunberg, who I find special because of her diverse identities: she is young girl with autism and she is from an global north country but stood up and spoke out not only for herself but for millions of people, including us in Fiji and the Pacific, who are angry at our failing system and structures and scared of our uncertain future because of leaders who are prioritising thriving economies at the expense of community livelihoods and our environment.

    I find this year's climate strike really impactful and strong. I think it's a sign that people are now aware of the realities of climate impacts; they now understand the facts and the science that are shared by climate scientists on the status of the planet and our entire ecosystems. People cannot stand by and watch our planet be destroyed and our entire human race wiped out.

    I hope the UN sees the seriousness in the key messages shared through the climate strikes and also strongly recognises that we are now in a time of climate crisis, as we can see in the various disasters striking across the globe. This requires a radical shift if we truly want to save humankind, our planet and all living species.

    What are your hopes for COP 25, to be held in Chile in December 2019?

    I hope there will be more support for diverse representation, including within government delegations. I hope global north countries and corporations will commit to their responsibilities through climate finance to address loss and damage for the global south, stop coal production and markets and invest more in renewable energy and gender-just solutions. I hope the objectives within the Gender Action Plan are implemented, monitored and achieved. And I hope the priority of protecting the ocean and marine life will be scaled up, especially around the global issue of plastic reliance and pollution. This will have a direct impact on food security for us and future generations.

    Civic space in Fiji is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

     

  • Climate refugees need global protection – with or without the US

    By Danny Sriskandarajah

    The United States’ abandonment of global migration and climate change agreements in the same year could be disastrous for climate refugees. When it comes to addressing the growing problem of climate change induced displacement, neither the UN’s Global Compact on Migration nor the Paris Climate Change agreement go far enough. With or without the support of the United States, we need both of these agreements to be more ambitious and implemented faster, to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

    Read on: Open Democracy 

     

  • CLIMATE STRIKES: ‘We take risks because there is no security without a future’

    CIVICUS speaks to Arshak Makichyan, a Russian violin student at the Moscow Conservatory who started weekly climate strikes on 15 March 2019.Arshak, who has played violin since the age of seven, had planned to continue his musical studies in Berlin, but has now decided to stay in Moscow to continue his weekly climate strikes. He has since been joined by students who started their own strikes in other Russian cities and found international support, including through the#letrussiastrikeforclimate campaign.

    ClimateStrikes1

    What initially inspired you to start striking for climate?

    It is strange that I learned about the climate crisis from Greta Thunberg. I am grateful to her for that. It is better to know the truth and fight than to live in ignorance. It was not inspiration. It was hopelessness that made me take action. It was a difficult decision, but I knew I had nothing to lose.

    The first weeks I was very afraid and felt a little silly, as people couldn't understand what I was doing. I had no support in Russia, but people around the world on Twitter were supporting me and that was something. I chose to stand in Pushkin Square, because a week before I'd seen other strikes there, with demands to stop the war with Ukraine, and I thought that it's more possible to influence people in Russia than it is to influence the government. And on top of that, Pushkin is a symbol of freedom in Russia.

    Public protest in Russia is highly restricted. Are people surprised to see you in the streets? What have been their reactions?

    It’s been 21 weeks and thousands of people have come by. Now people seem to be more understanding, but at the same time protest has become more dangerous.

    On my strikes I get many different kinds of reactions from people. Some express their support and take pictures, but some accuse me of being a spy from the USA or some other country. After one of my first interviews, police came and asked how much I was being paid. A few weeks ago, a person threatened to stab me if I didn’t put down my poster and then stayed around, calmly waiting, even after I called the police. And the police couldn't, or rather wouldn’t, arrest him, even though I have a video. But even so, something good came out of that: it was a reason for independent Russian media to write about Fridays for Future.

    Organising mass strikes is also very difficult. Usually the government refuses to authorise them without even providing a reason or only allows you to strike in places where not so many people can see your protest. They refused my two applications in July, then I wrote again saying that if they refused the next one we would do single strikes every day, so they called me and offered a place that was not so bad, even though it was not the place that we wanted.

    But despite the challenges, we are not going to give up. Activism may not work fast enough, but it does work.

    The student climate strikes are unique in that often they involve a single person protesting. How does it feel to protest alone or in small groups? Is it easier knowing other people in other countries are doing the same?

    Yes, it's easier when you know that you have millions of people behind you. The first weeks were the most difficult, because I did not have such support and felt a little silly by myself. Now I have that support, even in Russia, but it is also a very big responsibility. There is more and more responsibility and there is no way back for us. The world now knows that in Russia we are fighting, so that they have hope. We increase the power of protests by taking risks. And we will continue to do so, because there is no security without a future.

    How has digital organising helped your campaign, and have there also been online attacks?

    There are a lot of strange and dirty things online, such as trolls, false information and propaganda. But it's not so bad, because the internet also helps us. Support and communication on the internet have been very important to us.

    An anonymous Telegram channel recently shared the data of 3,000 people, including mine, and I had a very uncomfortable feeling. I felt there was less security and greater danger. But I'm not afraid of them and I'm going to continue and strike to the end with my new friends in Russia and around the world.

    What's scarier for me, even more than trolling and threats, is the indifference of most people.

    Since you started striking, the climate emergency has become more serious. Heatwaves have spread across Europe and even Siberia caught fire. Have you noticed any changes in how people react to your protest?

    Yes, the climate crisis is obvious, even despite the silence of the Russian propaganda media. They are silent about the climate crisis. There is no news about it on TV or elsewhere.

    It seems to me that in a few years there will be no point in going on strikes. Young people will have to solve real problems, because humanity is not ready for a crisis.

    Civic space in Russia is rated as ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

    Follow Arshak on Twitter at@MakichyanA

     

  • COLOMBIA: ‘The protection of the environment is inseparable from the success of the peace process’

    Following a year marked by massive mobilisation on the climate emergency, CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the main environmental challenges they face in their contexts and the actions they are taking. CIVICUS speaks with a young Colombian student, active in the climate movement, who for security reasons asked to remain anonymous. In addition to mobilising in the context of the #FridaysForFuture movement, the interviewee is part of Post-Conflict Children (Hijos del Posconflicto), a recently created group that seeks to render the experiences of people on the ground visible and defend the peace process in Colombia. On the crossroads of various struggles, the interviewee emphasises the defence of the peace process as a key to preserving Colombia’s environment and biodiversity.

    colombia protests

    From your perspective, what is the most urgent environmental problem in Colombia?

    The most urgent environmental problem is deforestation. Deforestation rates in Colombia are very high, and the situation has not improved following the signing of the peace agreements. That is because, in times of armed conflict, the Colombian guerrillas, mainly the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), controlled much of the jungle territory of Colombia. Of course, no one dared get into that territory: multinationals and oil companies did not have a presence there; nor did the industry of cattle-raising. After the peace agreements were signed and the guerrillas withdrew, the problem that has plagued Colombia since the 1950s – land distribution – increased.

    Colombia has extremely regressive land distribution, with land property concentrated in very few hands. With the withdrawal of the guerrillas and the arrival of multinational corporations, land grabbing has increased. Lands are privately appropriated, deforested and used for raising livestock, while the local population continues to be displaced.

    At the same time, there are still active armed groups operating outside the law, particularly far-right paramilitary groups, alongside the smaller guerrilla force of the National Liberation Army (ELN) and some FARC dissidents who refused to engage with the peace process. These armed groups are fighting over the territory with the aim of taking control of coca crops and expanding them, causing greater deforestation.

    Therefore, both the continuation of the conflict in some territories and its termination in others are having a direct influence on deforestation. The peace process contains a series of mechanisms to counteract deforestation, but its effects will depend on whether it is effectively implemented. In that sense, the protection of the environment is inseparable from the success of the peace process.

    What mechanisms in the peace agreements would help stop deforestation?

    The peace agreements include two specific mechanisms to stop deforestation. The first one is comprehensive rural reform, aimed at distributing land in the Colombian countryside and enforcing respect for the uses assigned to the land – for example, by ensuring that if land is for agricultural use, it is not used for raising livestock. The second mechanism is the Programme of Substitution of Crops for Illicit Use, aimed at tackling the drug problem. It is important to understand that many poor peasant families have had to grow coca in order to survive; through this programme, the state is offering them economic incentives to transition towards other sustainable crops.

    How does youth activism contribute to the effective implementation of the peace agreements?

    The struggle for peace is taking place on all fronts. We do three things: we mobilise on the streets in defence of the peace process; we do educational work so that people understand why the peace process is so important; and we do advocacy in various spaces.

    The context in which we do this work is quite difficult. As soon as he took office, President Iván Duque objected to the peace process and tried to modify all aspects that he did not agree with or that he claimed were not fair. If he succeeds, this would ultimately mean a deactivation of the process that resulted from the agreements and the need to start over from scratch. This was no surprise: his entire campaign revolved around the peace process and was based on the dissemination of lies about it. He won the elections by manipulating people’s fears; he told people that the agreements would enshrine impunity. He tried to scare us by telling us that if the left won, we would become a second Venezuela. He also lied regarding his plans for extractive industries: he stated that oil exploration and exploitation through fracking would not be authorised, but in late December 2019 he drafted a decree that would allow fracking.

    As an activist for peace and the environment in Colombia, have you had any participation in the global movement for climate justice?

    Yes, along with a small group, I joined the Fridays for Future initiative. But our participation was limited to a series of actions and strikes aimed at launching the climate movement in our country.

    It has been quite difficult for us to elicit mobilisation around the global climate crisis. First of all, there is much ignorance. In Colombia, most people have no idea what it is being done to them; the current president took advantage of this to spread lies, run a disinformation campaign and win the elections. In a country where public education is of very low quality and only rich people are able to further their studies, it is very easy to lie to people and make them believe you. So, the first problem is ignorance. Add to that fear: in Colombia people are afraid to speak, organise and protest. Colombians live in a state of incredible anxiety due to the systematic murders of social and environmental leaders. Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for human rights defenders in general and for environmental leaders in particular.

    All of this has limited climate mobilisation. Some isolated actions have been held, but there has not been a big national, high-impact demonstration. That is why we were surprised to find out that a massive school mobilisation took place in the south of the country, in the department of Huila, where we least expected it to happen due to the complex security dynamics in those territories. We managed to get in touch with the young people who mobilised in Huila and together we took part in a national meeting held in the department of Caquetá, also known as the golden door to the Colombian Amazon. At that meeting we managed to coordinate our work with the communities that live in Amazonian territory and so far we are in the process of raising the cause of the Amazon and initiating a resistance to defend our forest.

    We are currently starting to bring all the environmental groups together into a single climate front. We hope this will inspire those who are afraid to join as well.

    Have you had any participation in international climate forums?

    We have been to a Latin American meeting of Fridays for Future that was held in Chile with the support of 350.org. It was a meeting of climate advocates to build a Latin American network and take the movement to the regional level. It helped us a lot to meet other young people from other parts of the region who were also mobilising, to discover that we could get together and feel that we had international support to do our job. It gave us some hope.

    Right after that meeting, we began to try to form a national environmental network, travelling to as many territories as possible and enlisting young people from other Colombian regions. There is still a lot to be done, but we are growing exponentially because when a new group joins in, they reach out to three or four other groups. Throughout 2019 we focused on this process, touring territories, communicating our message to people and creating links. We believe that the next time we may be able to mobilise at the national level. We will do so on 24 April 2020, on the occasion of the next global strike.

    What kind of support would you need to be able to hold in 2020 the mobilisation that was not possible in 2019?

    Right now our window of opportunity is the national strike, the series of protests that have taken place in several Colombian cities since November 2019. In a country where people are afraid to speak, on 21 November last year millions of people took to the streets. It was one of the largest mobilisations Colombia has witnessed over the past 40 years. This is a unique opportunity. Within the framework of these protests, the environmental movement has also put forward its proposals and demands. We may not be able to mobilise people specifically around climate, but we can take advantage of these mass mobilisations and put our issues out there. If there are people willing to mobilise, we can approach them, tell them what is happening to the environment and communicate our demands so that they understand that our issues also concern them and they start mobilising for them as well. By doing this, we succeeded in getting the national strike committee to include the declaration of a climate emergency in Colombia among its demands. This has been a very big breakthrough.

    Civic space in Colombia is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Fridays for Future through itswebsite, and with the Colombian campaign byemail or through itsFacebook page, and follow @FutureColombia on Twitter.

     

  • COVID-19: ‘Refugees paid a heavier price during a crisis that many believed impacted on us all equally’

    CIVICUS speaks about the situation of climate refugees and increasing challenges under the COVID-19 pandemic with Amali Tower, founder and executive director of Climate Refugees. Founded in 2015, Climate Refugees defends the rights of people displaced and forced to migrate, including across borders, as a result of climate change. It documents their cases to shed light on protection gaps and legal voids and advocates for human rights-based solutions and the creation of legal norms and policies that protect people affected by climate-driven migration and displacement.

    Amali Tower

    Your organisation is called ‘Climate Refugees’, although the term is currently not supported by international law. Why is that? Do you think this is something that should be officially recognised?

    You’re right, the concept does not exist in international law, but drivers of migration are increasingly intertwined, as has been the case in the context of refugee flows and internal displacement resulting from conflict and persecution. It’s no different in the context of climate migration, except that for so many millions, this isn’t purely an environmental issue – it’s a justice issue. For many populations dependent on the land, climate changes have impacts on survival and livelihood, with impacts beyond the individual, to the family, community, local livelihoods, business and so on. If climate is a factor that contributes to migration, it is likely after years of causing deep losses and suffering, intertwined with economic losses and impacts as well as political ramifications. For instance, we can see this playing out among subsistence farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, Central America and many other regions. In this context, someone displaced by the impacts of climate change is also displaced by economic and political factors because the political situation and economic systems in many of these countries are deeply embedded in the environment.

    Further, it’s important to remember that climate change impacts and climate migration and displacement aren’t future risks. They are a reality for many right now, and that reality is playing out in some of the most fragile places in the world for the most impoverished and vulnerable populations who had very little to role in contributing to climate change in the first place.

    This is why we approach this as an issue of equality and justice. Coming from a refugee protection background where I interviewed and provided services to countless refugees fleeing conflict and persecution, based on the legal definition, I’m wholly aware of the controversy and backlash this may cause. I agonised about this decision, but ultimately, I couldn’t reconcile the definition with years of testimonies from people fleeing multiple drivers, who referred to years of environmental devastation at home more than to the war we all knew was ongoing.

    So ultimately, I settled on the term ‘climate refugees’ to provoke conversation. To emphasise the political responsibility of climate change. To raise awareness of its ability to impact on, one might even say persecute, some people more than others. To contribute, provoke and challenge policy. To highlight the needs by giving voice to those affected and to help seek their legal protection. Ultimately, to present this as an issue of equality.

    There’s a lot of discussion, and some might even say confusion, in the migration field about terminology. There is no consensus on appropriate terms so there are many terms being used, like climate-induced migration, environmental migrants and others.

    I think we have to be cautious to not simplify the message. Nor be too clinical in our terminology about the underlying issues and very real suffering millions are bearing. We need to help policy-makers and the public understand there are mixed drivers in complex situations. Refugees have often moved as a result of conflict and drought – just look at Somalia. Others may move to seek safety and better livelihood opportunities, as we are seeing in Central America.

    We need to make clear that the line between ‘forced’ and ‘voluntary’ migration is often misunderstood, if not false.

    In sum, we use the term ‘climate refugees’ to draw attention to the political responsibility of rich countries, certain industries and others to ensure fairness, compensation, protection and equality on many levels, because the solutions must also be multi-faceted.

    What kind of work does Climate Refugees do? 

    Climate Refugees is a research and advocacy organisation that generates field reports and engages in policy-making to view climate change through a human lens and help include and amplify the voices of communities whose livelihoods and security have been impacted on and who have been displaced or forced to migrate. The climate change conversation can otherwise remain largely abstract and clinical, rather than focused on its impacts on real human beings and entire communities.

    Alongside producing field reports from climate displacement hotspots, we provide education and raise awareness of the impacts of climate change on human mobility right now and in ways not necessarily always explored, through two publications: SPOTLIGHT: Climate Displacement in the News, which, as the name implies, is a roundup of global news and expert analysis of climate change impacts on migration, human rights, law and policy, conflict, security and so on, and PERSPECTIVES: Climate Displacement in the Field, which includes features on a variety of topics related to climate-induced migration and displacement, featuring expert commentary and stories from people on the move.

    Our aim with these publications is to be informative and provide stories from people on the move and expert analysis through a climate justice lens that highlights the disproportionate impacts of climate change on marginalised and disenfranchised populations who are the least responsible for climate change. I think a large part of why I formed this organisation is to have the conversation I think many of us want to have – that this is primarily an issue of justice and equality and our solutions need to keep that focus front and centre.

    Have climate refugees been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions? What is being done about it? 

    The COVID-19 pandemic provides a good example of rights violations increasing during a crisis – and an emphatic disproof of the assertion that ‘we are all in this together’. Refugees and migrants certainly paid a heavier price during a global pandemic that many believed impacted on all human beings equally. Social distancing is hard to achieve for displaced persons who live in crowded settlements, whether formal or informal, urban or rural, refugee camps or crowded migrant housing. Refugees and migrants were denied the freedom of movement, the right to health and the right to information to a higher degree than other populations and experienced more impediments to access their rights.

    It’s not about pointing out any one country, because the point is that vulnerable populations that we should have been further protecting in a pandemic actually became more vulnerable just about everywhere. In Lebanon, refugees were held to tighter curfew restrictions that even impeded access to health treatment. Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar refugee settlement in Bangladesh were forced into an encampment and denied their rights to communication and right to health. Many countries where migrants are grouped in crowded housing, like Malaysia, detained migrants. The USA denied asylum-seekers the right to seek asylum and violated the principle of non-refoulement, returning them at the border with no hearings, deported COVID-positive asylum-seekers, and in the process, also exported the virus to Haiti and Central American countries. The USA also continues to detain thousands more people, mostly from Central America, who are fleeing climate change impacts in addition to violence and persecution, denying their freedom of movement, and arguably in some cases, denying rights to seek asylum, due process and the right to health.

    As cyclone Amphan was about to hit the Bay of Bengal in May 2020, at the height of the pandemic, we saw populations in affected areas being relocated ahead of the disaster, which saved lives, but also meant that social distancing could not be enforced during displacement, and vulnerability to the virus became a major concern.

    I am afraid the situation will be no different as the climate crisis worsens. It will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable populations in the world, and once again, a situation where it should be pertinent to think that ‘we are all in this together’ will make us realise that some of us l have the means to escape the worst of the impacts of climate change while some will limited social protections and many others, already in extreme poverty and on the margins of society, will fall in deeper and will have no escape from multiple levels of impacts.

    Is the issue of climate displacement receiving enough attention? Has any progress been made in shaping an international legal framework to protect people who are displaced by climate change?

    We’re certainly seeing more media attention paid to climate change impacts, including migration. But as the issue becomes part of everyday conversation, there’s also a chance that important nuances are lost. I would say some advances have been made in the area of climate displacement – that is, displacements as a result of disasters like floods and storms. We have data that tells us how many people are displaced each year by disasters – an average of around 25 million – and the nature and type of these displacements are less murky in terms of causal factors.

    But climate migration is far trickier, since drivers of migration, whether internal or across borders, are increasingly intertwined. And when there are multiple drivers it’s hard to disentangle what role a single driver plays, or how much of the resulting phenomenon – in this case migration – can be attributed to one cause, namely climate change. Science and technology in the area of climate attribution are improving, increasingly enabling experts to determine just how much climate change is a factor in every situation. But generally speaking, in many parts of the world the environment is also an economic and political issue, so at this point it’s fair to say that climate change is certainly contributing to migration.

    That said, much of the discussion of a legal framework is stalled in conversations that revolve around migration being largely internal, as well as doomsday displacement projections. The international system is hesitant to push conversations that will securitise migration even further and states are reticent to take on commitments that increase migrant or refugee protections even further.

    So for now, advancements are limited to non-binding commitments by states in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which includes some measures dealing with environmental migration across borders. The Platform on Disaster Displacement is a state-led initiative doing good work on the protection of people displaced across borders by disasters and climate change.

    Earlier this year, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee also looked at the case of an individual from Kiribati who claimed to be a ‘climate refugee’. He took his case to the human rights body on the basis that the denial of his asylum claim by the government of New Zealand violated his right to life under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The UN found that countries may not deport individuals who face climate change-induced conditions that violate the right to life.

    What else should be done so that the problem is not only recognised but also mitigated? 

    Some fear that talking about a looming migration crisis due to climate change runs the risk of fuelling current hostility and xenophobia towards migrants and refugees. I definitely see the point and acknowledge that risk, but I also think it’s equally true that to those who are xenophobic towards migrants and refugees, what drives their migration is not the issue. So we have to be careful to find that delicate balance when we talk about these things, because we truly don’t know how it will play out, but what we do know is that the trajectories and outlooks are generally not so great, there’s a lack of political will, and the conversation isn’t too focused on a human rights framework that protects affected communities, including migrants. So on this latter point, it’s not about being an alarmist about the numbers – it’s about sounding the alarm about our need to do better to fill some vital gaps in rights and protections.

    There’s a lot of focus on what we shouldn’t call people, how we shouldn’t frame the issue, but not enough focus on how we should protect vulnerable populations.

    Countries that are already struggling with extreme poverty are now struggling with extreme weather, and there is an inherent unfairness at play here in not recognising that climate change was not created by all equally, and nor will the impacts of it be felt by all equally.

    A lot more could be done in the way of adaptation. Adaptation is very costly, and the countries bearing the burden of climate change impacts now don’t have the capacity to also bear those financial costs. Many regional experts tell us that much of the international finance and response directed at them is focused on climate mitigation, rather than climate adaptation.

    We need to build community resilience to withstand the effects of climate change, and in some contexts, this might also mean building up stronger public and governance institutions and strengthening capacities to withstand the complex stresses that climate change impacts are placing on societies.

    Adaptation can entail innovation, infrastructural development and social changes, all of which can be very costly, and adaptation planning needs to respect human rights and enable choices, including the choice to migrate, which may not necessarily present as a totally voluntary choice. The point is that safe pathways for migration, when conditions don’t allow people to stay, are part of how we safeguard the human rights of climate change-impacted populations.

    Are there enough connections being made between advocacy efforts on behalf of migrants and refugees and climate activism?

    From my vantage point, it feels like there are few connections between these two movements and I feel like there is great potential for stronger advocacy together. For example, just broadening the climate migration conversation to discussions of a movement, rather than being largely a research and policy conversation, would be a welcome step to engage the public in something that I fear many feel is too large to understand, let alone address. 

    At the same time, there are many who are concerned and interested and desire to be a part of the solution. So we keep in mind that, yes, we are trying to inform policy, but we also want to make information more easily accessible to engage and bridge that movement with the public to approach this as an issue of climate justice because that’s how we see it.

    Get in touch with Climate Refugees through theirwebsite, Instagram andFacebook page, and follow@Climate_Refugee and@TowerAmali on Twitter.

     

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