Campaigners march for climate justice in Cancún

“Central America demands a climate where peace, social justice, and environmental sustainability flourish,” states the most recent document from the Mesoamerican Climate Justice Campaign. And now is their chance to bring this demand to the global negotiating tables all the way from Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.

I have had the privilege of witnessing much of the process of the campaign in El Salvador over the past year, and feel a mixture of emotions as I watch things unfold in Cancun. I realize that there is much more work to do, but that there has also been a huge amount accomplished in the past year.

I’m watching members of civil society who are involved in the campaign bring proposals, demands, and local experiences to the official United Nations climate change negotiations as well as the alternative forum for climate justice organized by Mexican social movements. I’m watching debates, exchanges, and demands.

A year's hard work pays off

These proposals and demands of the Mesoamerican Climate Justice Campaign are the results of intense labor over the past year to create participatory processes of consultation, popular education, and exchange between people in civil society. Campaign members have been working across the region to generate spaces for discussion, proposals, and action in the face of climate change. Throughout this process, they have built a base with organizations from civil society and the people most impacted by climate change to derive the principal demands and actions that drive the campaign.

Unidad Ecológica Salvadoreña (UNES) is a Progressio partner organization El Salvador and member organization of the Mesoamerican Climate Justice Campaign. Much of the campaign work that has been done in El Salvador has been to pressure the government in El Salvador to make public policies and institutional changes that incorporate the principles of climate justice and sustainability. Despite El Salvador being a country highly impacted by climate change, it does not have a national policy or work program on the issue. So the Climate Justice Campaign decided to give them a policy proposal.

Together with organizations of fishermen, indigenous people, women, faith-based communities, local governments, and other NGOs, UNES created a series of community-based referendums with these sectors of the population. Later, the recommendations and proposals which came out in the referendums were woven together into a national policy proposal that was presented to the Salvadoran government after a march for climate justice on 13 October, 2010. Elements of the proposal are mirrored in some of the work that the official delegation from El Salvador is putting forward in the UN negotiations as well as the activities in the alternative event.

Getting to the root of the issues

This participatory process provided an experience from which to learn, adapt, and continue moving forward. It is a model which challenges top-down solutions, and seeks to get to the root of the problem. This experience is part of what representatives of the campaign are sharing with others in Cancún.

Sharing top tips

I was able to watch a roundtable discussion about the impacts of the climate crisis on indigenous communities in the alternative forum. Participants discussed the many complex, interconnected issues affecting their communities: from monocrops to flooding, pesticides and megaprojects. One moment I found really interesting was when people from the Ixcán region of Guatemala shared tactics that have helped them prevent the construction of a hydroelectric dam that would flood a large area and affect many communities.

One element of their work was to hold a community consulta, which is a long standing practice of community consultation and decision making in indigenous communities in Guatemala, and recognized as a necessary and legitimate consultation process in the 1996 Peace Accords. As I watched people from Ixcán share their experience I thought about how enriching learning about the consulta process could be for continuing to develop and strengthen the participatory processes of the Climate Justice Campaign.

Seeking a legally binding agreement

Some members of the campaign are also participating in the official negotiations within the UNFCCC process. Angel Ibarra is the President of Unidad Ecologica Salvadoreña (UNES), and was invited to join the official delegation of El Salvador as a representative of civil society. “We are present in the climate negotiations to seek a legally binding agreement, recognition of and funding for the ecological debt that Northern countries have with Southern ones, and maintain the population informed on what is happening inside the meetings,” he explained. He also participates in the alternative forum, and was present in the march for climate justice that was held on Tuesday 7 December.

Carolina Amaya of UNES has been present and active in both the official and alternative events. She explains why campaign members have made the strategic decision to participate in both events. “We have designed our strategy so that there are teams that participate inside and outside of the official delegations. Each one depends on the other. We have to know what our governments are negotiating on the inside in our name, and those of us that are outside, as we know that climate change is a global problem that requires global action, so we are strengthening alliances with people in other countries. We are the ones who are experiencing climate change, so this is the space for us to exchange, debate, and vision together,” she explained to me.

Opportunities to learn, share and grow together

Cancún is not a beginning or an end in the struggle for climate justice. It’s another opportunity to learn, share, and grow. “Participating as Central America gives us the opportunity to understand and learn more about climate change. We are able to strengthen our collective expressions and abilities to verbalize the problem of climate change. This also gives us the opportunity to strengthen international alliances and chances to connect with other organizations and global campaigns,” added Carolina.

After Cancún, there will be a period of reflection, analysis, and evaluation, to see where the international negotiations will go, but also identify what is necessary on a community and national level, especially around organization, education, adaptation, and public policies.

It's time for us as humanity to go back and fix things

“Sometimes these forums can motivate you or de-motivate you, “comments Carolina.“Since this is a global problem you feel like you cannot do anything. But for example, today, we learned about people in Ixcán, Guatemala who fought and won to stop the construction of a dam in their community. Today an indigenous compañero told us, ‘when you get lost, you have to go back to where you came from’. We have taken the wrong path as civilization, we have made mistakes. So we need to go back as humanity, and fix our mistakes.”

The idea is to build both genuine, participatory processes and also concrete proposals from the bottom up, so communities can forge their own paths towards sustainability, justice, health, and sovereignty. No one has it all figured out, but these are steps in that process.


Photo by Maggie Von Vogt/Progressio