The COP17 was a watershed moment for Latin American civil society
participation in the UNFCCC negotiations. Civil society organizations
(CSOs) actively engaged with governments at the talks and, in turn,
governments made efforts to reach out to civil society. This increased
level of exchange can be observed on two levels.
The first consists of shared gatherings to encourage dialogue and
cooperation. Country delegations arranged open meetings in which CSOs
were invited to participate, while CSOs invited country delegations to
their own specially arranged events. During COP17 the ALBA countries,
represented by Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Cuba, organized a meeting
with Latin American CSOs to discuss their key positions, focusing on
the Kyoto Protocol and the Green Climate Fund.
Bolivia emphasizes creating spaces for civil society participation in
decision-making on climate change. Although the involvement of civil
society in Bolivia’s own national decision-making is less robust, on a
global scale, Bolivia is an important driver of global climate change
Bolivia’s efforts to reach out to civil society can be traced back to
the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of
Mother Earth, held in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba in April 2010.
Bolivian President Evo Morales and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
joined 30,000 activists from around the globe in demanding climate
justice. The People’s Agreement
of Cochabamba, which emerged from the conference, set out a series of
demands including a call for developed countries to recognize and honor
their climate debt.
In Durban, the other ALBA countries emulated these efforts to ensure a
more participatory negotiating process — to a certain extent at least.
This can be explained by a variety of factors. Firstly, there is a
strategic imperative. The ALBA countries and particularly Bolivia, which
stood alone in rejecting the Cancun Agreements, require support from
CSOs to gain legitimacy and coverage for adopting a particular stance in
the negotiations. There is greater recognition of civil society’s
ability to communicate rapidly and effectively with diverse audiences
Secondly, the political weight of civil society in Ecuador, Bolivia
and Nicaragua presents an important reason to engage with these actors.
CSOs can be prickly and fickle partners, and it would be unwise to risk
bad press back home by shunning opportunities for engagement and
cooperation at the talks.
Latin American CSOs have also been proactive in engaging with country delegations. Following its formation in March 2011, the Construyendo Puentes (Building Bridges)
Initiative brings together Latin American platforms and networks to
improve coordination, communication and dialogue between CSOs and
negotiators at the UNFCCC talks. On two occasions during the COP17, Construyendo Puentes met
with delegations from a number of countries–including Peru and
Panama–to discuss those countries’ principal issues at the negotiations.
These meetings were an opportunity for CSOs to take the pulse of the
talks based on country delegates’ perspectives, and to offer specific
recommendations in an open and participatory environment.
The second level focuses on increasing levels of CSO participation within
country delegations. The COP17 was the first time the Mexican
delegation included members of CSOs in its ranks. The Bolivian
delegation also included a limited number of civil society
representatives. The Brazilian delegation, on the other hand, has
included scores of civil society and private sector representatives in
CSOs participation in country delegations appears to be symbiotic.
Government delegations are able to draw on media and translation skills
and scientific expertise such as in the case of the Rwandan government,
which invited the UK’s former Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King,
to participate in its delegation. These CSO delegates may also be part
of civil society networks and can be called upon to connect with these
large audiences to support the dissemination of governments’ positions
CSOs representatives working in country delegations have unrivalled
access to the internal workings of the UNFCCC negotiating process–a rare
opportunity, given the traditionally closed and secretive nature of the
talks. The potential for CSOs to influence proceedings from the inside
is not an opportunity to be taken lightly.
Increased engagement, dialogue and exchange between Latin American
delegations and civil society organizations at the organizational and
individual levels are beneficial to both actors, as well as the progress
of the UNFCCC negotiations. Given Latin American citizens’ high level
over climate issues, further exchange between these actors should be
encouraged to ensure a more participatory and democratic process at the
domestic and international levels.