In 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), which will take place in 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 the CIVICUS Monitor.