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How to prevent catastrophic climate change

climate change artwork

Mark under a Creative Commons Licence

Communities affected by climate change were given a voice last week, at the four-day gathering of civil-society and social movements known as the Social Pre-COP. The event, held on Margarita Island in Venezuela, concluded on 7 November and was an important precursor to December’s UN climate talks in Lima, Peru (COP 20).

A diverse group of people from all over of the world attended – indigenous peoples, women and gender groups, youth, farmers, NGOs, grassroots groups – though representation from Africa and Asia was missing due to unfortunate logistical challenges. The Pre-COP gave space to affected communities to speak about their struggles, connect in solidarity and send a strong message of climate justice to world leaders.

Oscar Rea of the Movement for Climate Change and Social Justice in Bolivia said that the Pre-COP was a step towards a global participatory democracy. ‘Many people are already asking the questions [regarding how we live and why the climate is changing] because they have been forced to emigrate as they ran out of water sources, for example. If [our] leaders are not lucid enough to listen, millions of people are going to mobilize for change.’

Carolina Lara, an activist from the Ecuadorian Coalition for Climate Justice, stressed the need for the Pre-COP to be part of the UN’s decision-making process. ‘The completion of this event proves that something is changing in the world. People are understanding that decisions are not made so as to be vertical, but focus more on the grassroots.’

One day of the Pre-COP was dedicated to delivering people’s demands directly to heads of delegations and environmental ministers from around 30 countries.

‘My sisters and brothers from social movements and civil-society groups from across the globe can bear testimony to the already devastating impacts of climate change on our lives, livelihoods and ecosystems. They echo the warnings of climate scientists of existing impacts and the threat of catastrophic climate change as we breach tipping points,’ said Asad Rehman from Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland during the ministerial meeting.

Meaningful and immediate climate action by rich developed countries was demanded by those present; an adequately financed and just transition to a sustainable energy world, based on the historical responsibilities of countries and corporations, and by respecting people’s right to fight poverty.

Participants warned against ‘false solutions’ like geoengineering, REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), carbon markets, ‘climate-smart agriculture’, industrial agribusiness, mega-dams, fracking, nuclear energy and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology. Furthermore, they argued that it is necessary to use the framework of a global emissions budget to keep any global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

They stressed that an important way to achieve these goals is through better participation of civil-society and social movements in decision-making processes. They rejected the criminalization of social protests, and the overbearing influence of private transnational corporations on both the political process and people’s lives. Instead, they demanded that we hear the voices of communities most affected by climate change.

The following day, ministers discussed the process going towards the UN climate negotiations in Lima next month and in Paris in 2015.

The UN climate summit in New York in September had been held with the intention of securing promises of more ambitious cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from developed countries. While this did not happen, the strength of the people’s movement was clearly shown – 400,000 took to the streets of New York on 21 September calling for climate justice.

Now, the main concern for ministers and negotiators should be how to raise ambition for climate action before 2020: close the gap on finance, technology transfer, mitigation and adaptation, guarantee significant amounts of new, predictable funds to the Green Climate Fund, create a global emissions budget to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees, and establish a scheme for globally funded feed-in tariffs to catalyse the global energy revolution, which would allow developed countries to pay off their climate debt and give access to energy to the two billion without.

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

Governments need finally to conclude the 20-year-long negotiations, take real climate action, and agree to a just and ambitious legally binding agreement in Paris in 2015.

Written by Maruška Mileta from Young Friends of the Earth Europe; contributions by the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice.

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

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