Peace and Climate Action: Challenges and Opportunities from Latin America
By Priscila Vazquez
Geneva Peace Week is a leading forum in the peacebuilding calendar, gathering actors from around the world to connect and expand peace dialogues every November. The event highlights that every single person has a role to play in building peace and resolving conflict. As peacebuilding occurs in distinct contexts and crosses multiple disciplines, during a whole week peace is promoted through synchronizing panels on different thematic tracks. In the midst of a pandemic the GPW made its way to address the urgent peacebuilding challenges and it did that by hosting the event entirely online. Of course the Environmental Committee (EC) wouldn’t be out of this event.
The final day of GPW, the 6th of November, was entirely devoted to environmental protection and conservation to further peacebuilding efforts. The Environmental Committee organized in collaboration with the Latin American Network Initiative (LANI), the Peace Nexus Foundation and the Quaker UN Office (QUNO) the panel “Peace and Climate Action: Challenges and Opportunities from Latin America”. The event counted with strong voices to address the linkages between environment, climate action and peacebuilding: José Francisco Calí Tzay, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to the United Nations; Yolanda Kakabadse, former Minister of Environment for Ecuador and former Director of WWF International and IUCN; and Astrid Puentes, Co-Executive Director of AIDA (Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense). The event was moderated by Karen Chica Gomez, President of LANI and student at IHEID.
Francisco Cali started the panel by sharing his experience with climate action in his home country, Guatemala. Initially, a movement started with concerns regarding environmental degradation and protection of nature, it was not specifically related to climate change. Now, not only is it a massive call from him and his indigenous compatriots, but also a movement that finds good allies with the youth to combat climate change. He argued that, after all, his activism goes beyond protecting indigenous land. It is about protecting the house we all live in. He highlighted that environmental activism and climate action will invariably touch upon economic and political interests, but it is important to act immediately. He concluded by saying “Take care of yourself, but also take care of Mother Nature. You have the future in your hands”.
Yolanda Kakabadse explained her strong opinion that in the present climate action requires two things: multilateralism and change in the language used. Three decades ago Kakabadse participated of the Earth Summit in 1992 and the conceptualization of Sustainable Development. She explained about the central role of multilateralism and the notorious massive participation of civil society in the discussions happening back then. Now, thirty years have passed, but for her we find ourselves in a similar situation. In the context of Covid-19, now every country in the world is getting affected by something that is unknown, which demands the urgent continuation of multilateralism. In her understanding, this context requires increasing efforts to encourage all different stakeholders, including civil society, to dialogue for climate action, in an environment that enables the sharing of multilateral institutions, our expectations and needs. Lastly, she stated that climate action requires that another language is used: “climate change” should be substituted by “climate crisis”. For her, the word “change” not necessarily has a negative connotation, which might not sufficiently alert people about the real and negative effects of this phenomena. Since 1992 she observed great evolution of climate action and she is hopeful that we can keep progressing.
Finally, Astrid Puentes centered her discourse on the links between human rights, environmental protection, climate change and peace. As an experienced international lawyer, she has dedicated her career to strengthening this links through climate justice. In her opinion, one of the main challenges for climate action in Latin America is that this link is still not discussed enough. She highlighted that Latin America is one of the most diverse regions of the planet in terms of biodiversity and culture. However, it is also the most unequal region, which prevents climate action. For her we start really linking these things and, more importantly, pointing to solutions in an inclusive manner. Many vulnerable groups can contribute for pointing out solutions but they must be heard. Most importantly, the solutions must tackle inequality and respect human rights, not violate them.
After the panel discussion, the more than one hundred participants of the audience were split into breakout rooms and engaged in discussions on peacebuilding and climate action in their countries, moderated by students from the EC and LANI. The panel was concluded with the agreement that, for all three speakers, climate action and peacebuilding are interconnected and interdependent. Peace requires inclusion and a healthy environment.