MARGARITA ISLAND, VENEZUELA — College of the Atlantic students, alumni, and Professor Doreen Stabinsky took part in an international forum that’s bringing the voice of average citizens to United Nations climate change talks.

At the invitation of the Venezuelan government, members of COA’s Earth in Brackets attending the first-ever Social PreCOP on Climate Change in July were Maria Escalante ’16, of Chia, Colombia; and Angela Valenzuela ’17 of Victoria, Chile. COA alumni Anjali Appadurai ’13, of Coquitlam, B.C., Canada; and Nathan Thanki ’14, of Belfast, Northern Ireland, also took part.

“The topics were broad, but there was a clear premise — change the system, not the climate,” Escalante said of the July 15-18 forum.

Escalante said the forum produced the Margarita Declaration, “consisting of 62 points, some on specific issues within the climate change negotiations, as well as other cross-cutting issues which delegates at the UNFCCC usually do not take into account, such as the impact on education, food sovereignty, the rights of Mother Earth, the adoption of new ways of life unattached to the idea of development, and intergenerational exchange as solutions to the rising global temperatures and its disastrous effects.”

UNFCCC stands for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, created to collectively address climate change. It was adopted in 1992 and entered into force in 1994. The objective of the convention is to stabilize emissions of greenhouse gases at a level to prevent dangerous impacts of climate change on ecosystems, food production, and sustainable development.

COP stands for Conference of the Parties — the 195 member countries of the UNFCCC.

The first COP was held in Rome in 1997; the next, the Twentieth Conference of the Parties, will take place in Lima, Dec. 1-12.

Prior to the December COP in Lima, two other high-level climate talks will occur:

  • Talks will convene at UN headquarters in New York within the framework of the 69th UN General Assembly on Sept. 23.
  • Venezuela will host a high-level ministerial PreCOP, Nov. 4-7.

The Venezuelan government is expanding the participation of the November PreCOP beyond the standard high-level ministerial and negotiator participation to include representatives of social movements and civil society organizations. One of the specific objectives of the November PreCOP will be to “allow social movements and organizations worldwide to influence the agenda of the UN at a historic moment: the construction of a new climate agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol,” according to literature announcing the conference.

Attending the PreCOP in Venezuela in November will be COA students Julian Velez ’15, of Tepoztlan Morelos, Mexico; Adrian Fernandez ’15, a Davis United World College Scholar, of Samaipata, Bolivia; Hiyasmin Saturay ’15, a Davis United World College Scholar, of Utrecht, The Netherlands; and Klever Descarpontriez, a Davis United World College Scholar, of Santa Cruz, Bolivia; as well as Professor Stabinsky.

The four-day Social PreCOP in July was a “preparatory forum” leading to the November PreCOP.

One day of the July Social PreCOP was dedicated to the work of local governments; one day was devoted to youth issues; and two days were spent negotiating and writing the Margarita Declaration, which qualifies as a draft U.N. declaration. A more formal declaration on the importance of including civil society in climate change talks will be drafted at the PreCOP in November and furnished to global U.N. ministers for the COP in Lima.

Stabinsky credited Appadurai’s “Get it Done” speech at a 2011 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, as a spark that drew attention to Earth in Brackets and perhaps the invitation for its members to come to Venezuela.

Earth in Brackets — also known by its symbol, [Earth] — has attended numerous global conferences on the environment, world food security and sustainable development, including meetings pertaining to the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 2012. The group was started by COA students preparing to attend UN Climate Negotiations in Nairobi in 2006. From there, it has grown into an internationally recognized voice.

The Venezuelan government paid for attendees to travel to Margarita Island and did logistics such as arranging in-country transportation — actions Stabinsky said were bent on “showing their investment in the process of bringing the voice of civil society to climate talks.”

“There’s a government that’s actually listening to civil society and giving them a voice in the negotiations around climate change,” Stabinsky said. “It’s an important signal Venezuela is trying to convey.”

For an article on why Earth in Brackets decided to go, click here.

Earth in Brackets meticulously prepares for international environmental policy meetings through course work and tutorials. For example, a delegation of 12 students prepared for a previous COP meeting in Doha, Qatar, by taking Stabinsky’s “Practicum in Environmental Diplomacy.” Many also took an advanced tutorial in international environmental law with COA professor Ken Cline, the David Rockefeller Family Chair in Ecosystem Management and Protection. The delegation organized a meeting with US and Canadian allies two months before the COP to develop joint strategies for their work in the UNFCCC.

For more about Earth in Brackets, watch this video by Devin Altobello ’13, who followed the team in Durban, South Africa, in 2011. Earth in Brackets also has a detailed website.

“To be known and recognized as global leaders in the youth movement is quite impressive,” Stabinsky said regarding the invitation. “It’s quite a unique organization. I can’t say enough about what they do.”

“Some people are surprised undergraduate students are attending U.N. forums,” College President Darron Collins ’92 said. “COA students aren’t just attending them, they’re taking active roles in leading them. COA students lead by doing, whether the scope is local or international. ”