Venezuelan Foreign Minister Demands Action from Developed Countries at UN Climate Talks’s Cory Fischer Hoffman writes a special report from the United Nations climate talks in Lima, Peru, describing the reactions of the Venezuelan government and social movements to the attempt to reach a consensus over how to address global warming.


Lima, December 12th 2014 ( – No binding commitments to action appear to be coming from the United Nations climate talks in Lima, Peru.  Venezuela’s Foreign Minister, Rafael Ramírez, and African nations ask the developed countries to take responsibility for their disproportionate levels of greenhouse emissions. 

Inside the COP20

Over 10,000 people from 195 countries attended the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting, called the Conference of Parties (COP20) this past week in Lima, Peru.  This meeting is the final gathering before the 2015 Paris COP21 where countries are supposed to make binding agreements to reduce emissions by 2020. 

While there is widespread consensus, backed by numerous scientific studies, that the global rise in temperature is a result of carbon emissions, deforestation, and other human activity; many countries disagree about policy solutions in the face of climate change. 

One of the key controversies rests around the “Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capacities”. This provides a framework within UN negotiations to recognize respective countries’ historical responsibility based on past contributions to greenhouse emissions as well as countries’ current capacity to implement public policies to reduce emissions (mitigation), to build alternative forms of energy as well as education and training of how communities can respond to a changing climate (adaptation), and to provide resources to enable this transition (finance).

Venezuelan foreign minister Rafael Ramirez called out the United States for its failure to take action on climate change. “There is no way that the main emitter of greenhouse gases feels like reaching an agreement here at this conference if it isn’t even aware that their economic interests are destroying the planet and that they must make a change in their unsustainable model of capitalist developmentalism,” he said. 

Ramirez went on to criticize the use of “fracking,” calling it “an ecological disaster” during the official proceedings.   Some analysts argue that the recent drop in oil prices are a direct result of the influx of natural gas on the global market as a result of the controversial “fracking” method of extracting shale gas.  Venezuela has been unsuccessful in lobbying the OPEC to raise oil prices, and as a result Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro is looking towards budgetary adjustments to compensate for the loss in anticipated revenue, beginning with a reduction in his own salary.

During the COP meetings in Lima, African nations formed a unified bloc to demand that the more developed countries provide financing for adaptation and mitigation strategies in less developed countries.  The current model of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), in which countries can make distinct commitments to contribute towards a decrease in global emissions, combined with the framework around “Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capacities,” has created a rift between developed and less developed countries. 

“The African position insists that all of the elements need to be taken into account.  Yes, mitigation is important but for us the priority is adaptation and adaptation must be accompanied by finance, by capacity-building and technology transfer,” Samson Malesi Shivaji of the  Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance told

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry swooped into Lima to address the COP20.  While Kerry recognized the urgency for action, he rejected the position held by developing countries that the U.S. has a disproportionate responsibility for the climate crisis. “We simply don’t have time to sit around going back and forth about whose responsibility it is to act. Pretty simple, folks: It’s everyone’s responsibility, because it’s the net amount of carbon that matters, not each country’s share,” he stated in his official address. 

The Guardian cites figures from the World Resources Institute in which the U.S. was responsible for 28.8% of cumulative emissions between 1850 and 2007, the largest share by more than three times that of any other country.

The People’s Climate Change Summit

Outside of the official UN gathering, social movements, youth, indigenous communities, NGOs, and people on the front-lines of climate change held an alternative forum under the banner of “system-change not climate-change.”  Organizers of the “People’s summit” created 7 main themes for the four days of workshops held in Lima’s historic city-center; Change in Civilization and Models of Development, Causes and Impacts of Global Warming and Climate Change; Energy; Agriculture, Food Sovereignty and Security; the Sustainable Use of the Planet; Financing and Technology Transfer and; Women and the Sustainability of Life.

On Wednesday, December 10, over 20,000 activists marched through the streets of Lima demanding swift action on climate change, proclaiming that the whole system must be changed to address the root causes of the climate crisis.  Just before the march took off, Carlos Martín Sáez Asto told that it boils down to the relationship with “Pachamama,” (mother earth in the indigenous Quechua language). He said that he and all indigenous people “understand Pachamama as our mother, not as a resource.” 

Many indigenous people from throughout Peru and the neighboring Andean states traveled great distances to participate in the march.  People from the highlands, the Amazon basin, the cities, and the hillsides each had a story to tell about how climate change was directly impacting their community, highlighting how indigenous peoples are on the front-lines of the climate crisis.  

Hilda Macifue from the Amazon region was demanding an end to deforestation.  Throughout the march, the chant “Water, yes! Gold, no!” could be heard, as groups from throughout Latin America demanded an end to mining which they said contaminated their water and created sickness in their communities.

Marcela Gonzales from Puno, Peru brought attention to the contamination of Lake Titicaca. “In Peru, there are transnationals that are contaminating.  We will die from the contamination but we do not want out children to die from this same contamination,” Gonzales announced as she marched through the streets of Lima.

Participants in the People’s Summit were demonstrating to bring attention to the impacts of climate change on their various communities.  Some of the consistent demands were for access to clean water, an end to mining, coal and oil exploitation, and an end to illegal logging and deforestation, most of which involve the role of multinational corporations in Latin America.  Additionally, marchers demanded support for farmers who are bearing the brunt of a changing climate and are up against huge agro-chemical giants like Monsanto and Bayer who own the patents on genetically engineered seeds and also have a monopoly on pesticides and herbicides used in industrial agriculture.

Alina Saba of the Indigenous Women Upliftment Institute from Nepal asserted that “those who have contributed the least carbon emissions are bearing the brunt of climate change.” Activists largely reject the proposals for Carbon Markets and Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) calling them “false solutions” to the climate crisis.

Before the climate summit the Venezuelan government hosted two Social PreCOPs; gatherings designed to convene social movement leaders, representatives of civil society and government representatives to draft a climate policy proposal prior to the COP20 Conference in Peru.  The original Margarita document, authored by social movement leaders in July 2014, was adjusted through a collaborative process between participants in the second Social PreCOP and representatives of the Venezuelan government in November. It remains to be seen what role this document has played in the drafting process in Lima, as an agreement has yet to be reached.

While the generally agreed upon “danger point” would be a global temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius, many members of civil society think that the goal should be closer to 1.5 degrees.  A recent report by the Carbon Tracker Initiative stated that in order to keep the global temperature rise below the average 2 degree Celsius, 80 percent of known fossil fuels must stay in the ground. Many social movements are also demanding to “keep the oil in the soil.”  This demand to shift away from fossil fuels was represented at the official COP20 meeting as well.  The Huffington Post and Associated Press both reported that the new framework of “ending fossil fuels” by 2050 has surfaced at the COP20 to the surprise of many (considering the influence of the fossil fuel industry.)

The Venezuelan government has taken a strong stance against fracking, perhaps not only because of the “ecological disaster” but also the impact that it has had on falling oil prices.  In addition to initiating the historic process to bring together social movements to meet with government representatives prior to the official UN meetings, they have continued to use the climate change stage to criticize the capitalist system. 

In the face of increasingly strained relations between the U.S. and Venezuela, foreign minister Ramirez has pointed to the United States’ “alarming level of defaulting and ignorance on their own commitments,” and he has continued to demand more action from the world’s leading carbon emitter. 

However, as an oil-exporting country with the largest oil reserves in the world, Venezuela has not proclaimed support for a global transition away from fossil fuels.