Thursday, September 23, 2010

Civil Society Divided Ahead of Climate Summit

By Emilio Godoy

MEXICO CITY, Jun 4, 2010 (IPS) - With less than six months before Mexico hosts the next global climate change summit, Mexican environmental organisations hosting the parallel civil society forum are divided on how to carry it out -- which some fear could ultimately weaken their role at the negotiating table.

The differences are centred on the scenario for bringing together non- governmental organisations (NGOs) in Mexico's Caribbean resort city of Cancún, where the 16th Conference of Parties (COP 16) to the United Framework Convention on Climate Change will be held Nov. 29 to Dec. 10.

At the COP 15 summit held in Copenhagen last December, the NGOs organised the Kilmaforum09, and some of the Mexican environmental groups want to repeat that formula, while many others want an approach that better reflects the Mexican and Latin American reality.

The disagreements "arise primarily because of power imbalances," Miguel Valencia, one of the 10 members of the Klimaforum 2010 Mexican organising committee, told IPS.

"The big international NGOs, like Greenpeace and Oxfam, are well connected and tolerate too many things from the governments. They accept programmes and issues in the summit negotiations which are unacceptable to the social movements," he said.

Following the failure of the official Copenhagen summit, a group of 30 Danish NGOs passed the Klimaforum baton to representatives of Mexican NGOs. Last December, the parallel forum, also known as the Peoples' Climate Summit, involved some 50,000 activists in more than 300 events.

The organising committee was established in February and meetings immediately began with Mexican NGOs to work together to create a civil society space for the Cancún summit.

The first major open meeting took place during the Peoples' Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, held in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba, Apr. 20-22.

At that event, a group of Latin American NGOs issued a statement saying, "While we respect and value the experience of the Klimaforum, it responds to the European, and more specifically, Danish, context."

"An attempt to transfer or import it to our region would not respect the reality of our struggles, the identity or history of the mobilisations in our hemisphere," argued the NGOs opposed to imitating the Copenhagen civil society forum.

The split among the Mexican NGOs came at a May 12 meeting in Mexico City, when it became impossible to overcome the differences on how to best represent the interests of the people at the Cancún summit.

On one side are the Klimaforum10 organising committee and about 50 Mexican NGOs, and on the other are the Mexican affiliates of big international groups -- including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and Oxfam -- and the usual leaders of local environmentalism, such as the Mexican Centre for Environmental Law.

Gustavo Ampugnani, Greenpeace's Latin American policy coordinator, played down the discord.

"They are two spaces that coexist. Perhaps some are more interested in influencing the official negotiations, while others have lost faith in that process," Ampugnani told IPS, referring to organising committee member Valencia's harsh criticism of the role played by the major international environmental groups in the UN-sponsored talks.

The dispute generated concern among some of the European NGOs planning to participate in Cancún. They are hoping the situation can be resolved, and avoid the creation of two opposing forums claiming to represent global civil society -- as was predicted at the divisive May planning meeting.

Members of the Danish organising committee of Klimaforum09 issued an open letter in regards to the space for civil society at the Cancún summit.

"It is our hope that we may learn from Klimaforum09's experiences, mistakes and successes, in a way that contributes to the further strengthening of the grassroots and civil society movements throughout the world, and the further development of the movement of movements, which is so vital if we really want to change the system and save the climate," wrote Mathilde Kaalund- Jørgensen and John Holten-Andersen.

COP 15 ended in failure when the more than 120 participating governments produced only a non-binding agreement. It is hoped that the Cancún summit will reach an accord that provides continuity to the Kyoto Protocol, which entered into force in 2005 and will expire in 2012.

The Kyoto Protocol requires the 37 industrialised countries that ratified the agreement to reduce emissions of greenhouse-effect gases (responsible for global climate change) by at least 5.2 percent, based on 1990 emissions levels.

"The worst that could happen is that the position of civil society in relation to the negotiations comes out weakened and the effort is diluted," a source close to the Mexican NGOs dialogue for COP 16 told IPS.

European funds intended for Klimaforum10 have been frozen, according to the organising committee, which has opted to move forward, regardless of what the other Mexican NGOs decide.

Klimaforum09 cost more than 125 million dollars, provided mostly by the Danish government.

Klimaforum10 organisers asked the Mexican government and the Cancún municipal government to provide the facilities for the events programmed for their civil society meet.

In Valencia's opinion, the fragmentation "weakens the position of civil society" in the larger context of the Cancún summit, where "we'll end up with four or 10 different peoples' summits."

But Greenpeace's Ampugnani countered that "Mexican civil society is diverse, and that should be celebrated. What has occurred is not going to affect civil society's position in relation to the formal negotiations."

The letter from the Danish committee states: "We urge all concerned and radical voices to come together to create a diverse and determined forum for the social, political and ecological movements." (END)

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