Having returned and digested the climate change negotiations (COP16) held in December in Cancún, Mexico, Maggie Von Vogt is back at UNES (Unidad Ecológica Salvadoreña), and immersed in vision, strategy, media messaging, and planning activities for 2011 and beyond...  

What next?

People from the communities and organizations that are part of the Climate Justice Campaign have been asking me about the COP. They are asking:  "What happened? How did it go? How's it looking for us? What do we need to work on? What’s next?"

I haven't really known what to say. I admit I left the COP feeling a little hopeless, but I also feel obliged to convey my experience. I feel it is too simplistic to declare the COP either a success or a failure, but I left Cancún seriously wondering how we are going to advance towards emissions reduction and adaptation in the face of so many conflicting interests and agendas, complex global power dynamics, and very little time.

People power inspired by Romero

So, on Tuesday January 25th, about 100 people from 37 local and national organizations came together for a roundtable discussion entitled "Results from Cancún: Climate Challenges for El Salvador." 

The event was held at the site of the Divina Providencia hospital, where Monsignor Oscar Romero spent his final days caring for cancer patients, and where he was then assassinated. It's always an inspiring place to be, and calls one to remember his legacy and dedication to supporting social movements led by the poor.

It's difficult to negotiate with developed countries

People came to the meeting eager to hear perspectives from the official delegation as well as civil society. The morning began with a presentation by Antonio Cañas, representing the Ministry of the Environment and National Resources, which was the primary governmental body that formed the official delegation of El Salvador (though it also included representatives of civil society, such as UNES President Angel Ibarra.) 

It was illuminating to listen to the official government evaluation of the climate talks, since it is both representative of and also differs from the political statements and proposals put forward by the Climate Justice Campaign. 

It's also difficult to negotiate with developing countries

Cañas opened by sharing two important lessons learned during Cancun: 1) It is very difficult to negotiate with developed countries, and 2) It is also difficult to negotiate with developing countries. To me, this simple and accurate observation is an excellent way to sum up the overarching complexity of the international negotiations process. 

Competing to be the most vulnerable

Every delegation defends their interests. Developed countries don't want to make the far-reaching economic, political, and infrastructural changes necessary in their societies to reduce emissions. Developing countries are now in what was coined the "Most Vulnerable Beauty Contest", striving to illustrate just how vulnerable they are to the impacts of climate change to be able to qualify for adaptation funds. 

This competition disrupts possible alliances, as countries that were once natural allies, with a shared interest in demanding developed countries reduce emissions, are now pitted against each other in the pursuit of funds.

Getting to the root of it all, or not

All the while no real advances are being made in addressing the root of the problem: global greenhouse gas emissions. You can see why I felt discouraged at the climate talks.

Here in El Salvador, the relatively new government faces deep-rooted social and economic problems, including violence, poverty, and rising gas and basic food prices, on top of the climate crisis. UNES' president,  Angel Ibarra, pointed out in the morning session that with so many problems, we need to develop an integrated vision of the climate crisis. 

What is climate justice?

I've been trying to get my head round how this could look and am reminded of a video I watched recently from the US-based Vermont Worker's Centre, where Gopal Dayaneni of Movement Generation remarks, "Climate Justice is recognizing that the same thing that makes people poor, that makes people sick, the same thing that makes people hungry, is the same thing that is disrupting the ecosystems on this planet." 

I think we are collectively realizing that we’re in it for the long haul. Whether it's the government, civil society, or the Central American region, a higher level of coordination, strategizing, and proposals are needed. 

People powered solutions

Back in the meeting room at Divina Providencia, among the people I’ve been working with at UNES and Progressio over the last year and a half, it seemed like there was collective hope for good news, hope that someone had figured out the solution to the problem. But it's these very people who are the best adept to be bringing proposals and ideas to the discussion.

Paola from La Florida works with her neighbours in developing community-based emergency mechanisms in the face of flooding. The women of San Jacinto organised themselves to fight for the San Jacinto Hill to be declared a protected zone, thereby reducing the risk of landslides in their community. I have watched people from the community El Picacho in their ongoing struggle for a mitigation project to reduce their risks of being impacted by a landslide on the San Salvador volcano, and members of the Red de Ambientalistas en Acción (Environmentalist Action Network) educate community members on the importance of small scale, organic agriculture and heirloom seeds. 

In it for the long haul, singing our own song

These practices form a large part of the policy proposal for a national climate change policy, which was presented to the Salvadoran government in October of last year.

There are many concrete examples of mitigation and adaptation to keep climate change at arms length. What we need to do now, is, as Angel Ibarra said, learn to sing our own song. "It doesn't matter if the song is in English, in German, or in French. What we need to do is find our song, in Salvadoran, and learn to sing it as loud as we can,"  he said.

This year will be a year of searching for better coordination, increased participation, and securing spaces for dialogue and coordination with decision makers and allies. Ongoing research, education, and technical expertise have an important role to play in nourishing the proposals people bring from the local level, as we know it's not just lifestyle changes that are needed, but also system change. The global-national-local connections need to be strengthened. This is just some of the work we have ahead of us in El Salvador beyond 2011 and COP17, but starting now.

Maggie von Vogt is a Progressio development worker in El Salvador.