Why is civil society still engaged with the UN climate process?

COMMENT: It’s not the water, it’s the salt: why civil society campaigners are still in the UN climate negotiations

Picture of the author outside a small protest at the UN climate talks in Bonn, 6 June 2014

Picture of the author outside a small protest at the UN climate talks in Bonn, 6 June 2014

By Benjamin Coreas 

It’s not the water but the salt. The salt creeps in as the water rises but it never leaves. In El Salvador, like countries all over the world, the salt from rising sea levels is poisoning our land and water.

This situation makes life for someone like Carlota, who lives in the El Guayabo community, so much harder. Carlota already has to walk more than three hours just to get water.

It’s a long way from the fields in El Guayabo to the UN negotiations in Bonn but it’s a trek that I wanted to make – because I know that the salt poisoning my land is not an accident but one exacerbated by human caused climate change.

Climate change is uniting many of our struggles in El Salvador –against mining and extraction and for the right to water – but we know it’s not a local struggle, it’s an international one.

As it’s international we try and bring our voice, small though our country may be, to the UN to try and explain the emergency we’re facing. To try and convince our so called “leaders” of the solutions that we already have.

So when other observers – unions, scientists, womens groups, indigenous leaders, youth, social movements, and NGOs walked out of the UN climate summit in Warsaw – to protest how far off track it was and the corporate capture driving it there – we knew in El Salvador we were in solidarity with them.

“Volveremos” they shouted as they marched out into the Polish winter cold. It means “We will return” in Spanish and so today I return with them. I return, without having been there before, to take up the demands of people in El Salvador impacted by climate change.

Demands of people in countries across Latin America and other impoverished and vulnerable regions who often seem invisible because other countries’ “interests.”

Which are really the interests of their corporations, who for years have profited from unfair possibilities of a system that promotes wasteful injustice and exploitation of natural resources. Leaving us with limited resources to even participate in these conversations.

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But we want to participate. And we want to say that there are people who are building their own community-controlled energy systems. Energy systems that deliver electricity and a better standard of living to people instead of feeding into the grids controlled by corporations.

People who are shutting down coal mines, and stop fracking. People who put solar panels on their roofs or manage a wind turbine collectively. People who want limits on climate pollution.

We are all returning. And you should too. To take action in your own lands against those who want to exploit the Earth without end. Those who do not acknowledge the scientific reports on climate change, or the salted earth in El Salvador – which proves the planetary emergency.

You should return to ask the governments who claim to represent us to stand with us, to take up our solutions, or to stand aside.

The UN Climate Summit will be held this year in December in Lima, Peru and will be accompanied by a Summit of the Peoples –  I know the people of Latin America will be returning there too. Volveremos!

Benjamin Coreas is an activist with the Mesoamerican Climate Justice Campaign in El Salvador, and works with communities in the struggle for food sovereignty and the defense of water as a human right.

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