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Winds of Change PDF Print E-mail

New Internationalist blog

By Ivonne Yanez

There is a new climate for the struggle to keep the oil in the soil, writes Ivonne Yanez in this excerpt from Paths beyond Paris, a new publication from Carbon Trade Watch.

From the COP1 in Berlin in 1995 to the COP20 in Lima, 20 years have passed. Under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), countless formal meetings have taken place. In addition to Conferences of the Parties (COPs), there have been meetings of various Committees, Working Groups, Expert Groups, Panels, Subsidiary Bodies, and so on. State delegates have taken close to 400 'decisions' and more than 25 'resolutions'. They have signed Mandates, Ministerial Declarations, the Kyoto Protocol, Action Plans, Agreements, Accords, Frameworks, Roadmaps, Workplans, Gateways and Calls to Action, and have adopted guidelines, committed funds, designed forms and taken many other actions supposedly to tackle climate change.(i)


Despite this impressive display of bureaucracy, time, and money, throughout these 20 years, greenhouse gas emissions have been steadily increasing. Thousands of delegates, with their hordes of consultants, have managed in a scandalous manner to divert attention away from real solutions. In practice, UNFCCC events have been business conventions licensing the continued burning of fossil fuels and opening avenues for profiting from the climate crisis. For these and other reasons, many of us assert that everything performed during the COPs and their satellite events has been illegitimate, unjust, a farce and above all a trick played on humankind.

In Kyoto in 1997, the Oilwatch Network released its first position paper calling for a moratorium on oil exploration as a concrete, firm step to confront global warming and at the same time to criticize the market-based solutions being plotted at the time. Then, in 2005 in Montreal, an international Eco-Call was launched to leave oil in the ground and to protect the peoples on whose lands and territories oil, gas and coal is extracted, in addition to confronting climate change.(ii)

Today hundreds of organizations and institutions around the world have come to accept this proposal. The need is widely recognized to leave at least two-thirds of proven fossil fuels underground in order to avoid social and environmental disasters.

But not everything is as it seems. There are at least three questionable ways in which this campaign is being discussed that we need to understand strategically if we are to move towards a post-oil civilization.

For one thing, the campaign to leave 70% of fossil fuels untapped is possibly being used – or even partly driven – by a fraction of the oil sector, in order to achieve an increase in oil prices in international markets. It is also possible that many of those promoting the campaign to leave two-thirds of fossil fuels unexploited are linked to the carbon market and are merely seeking a stable and robust market price.

Another problem is the way in which the movement for a post-oil civilization is sometimes tied to the rhetoric of permissible degrees of temperature rise or permissible 'parts per million of CO2'. Both government officials and independent organizations tend to focus on IPCC scenarios and their use of such metrics. This focus tends to serve the interests of mitigation plans linked to carbon markets, environmental services and other false solutions within the 'green economy'.

Third, there is still widespread hope that state and government representatives will someday take effective action, perhaps even at the COP21 in Paris. Some observers are even looking to people like Bill Gates to lead the way toward solutions.

These tendencies are distracting from the need to talk about the real causes of climate change and capitalism, the transformation of production and consumption fueled by oil addiction, social and environmental justice, democracy and the rights of nature. This is the context in which proposals to keep the oil in the soil and move to a post-petroleum civilization must be discussed.

The Yasuni-ITT initiative developed by social movements in Ecuador was a pioneering proposal intended to address these issues. But it was too bold to be accepted in the climate negotiations and was too radical for the Ecuadorian government. However, this proposal set the stage for the current situation. One can divide the history of climate change action into before-Yasuni and after-Yasuni eras, both nationally and internationally.

How can we seize this exciting moment around the positioning of 'Keep the oil in the soil' without falling into traps created by the corporate and financial sector or those promoting green capitalism?

Oilwatch initiated the campaign to keep the oil in the soil globally, and it must remain a key actor.(iii) Its provocative proposal for Paris, for movements fighting against climate change, and for a change in the extractivist and overaccumulation and consumption models, is called 'Annex 0'.

The UNFCCC divided nations into at least two groups: Annex I and non-Annex I. Annex I countries were required to reduce emissions, while non-Annex I countries were seen as not principally responsible for historic emissions. But the Paris agreement is expected to commit all countries, North and South alike, to mitigation commitments.

One of the problems with both arrangements is that they fail to recognize other crucial actors who are able and willing to accelerate the changes needed to protect the global climate. What is needed now is an Annex 0 that includes, for example, indigenous nations, subnational spaces, and localities that are making concrete efforts to resolve the climate crisis. The UNFCCC should recognize these groups as Parties to, and not merely as observers of, its processes.

After all, it is at this 'Annex 0' level that the most important concrete steps are being taken to tackle climate change, to prevent more oil, gas and coal from being extracted, and to provide examples of how life can be lived with little fossil fuel use.

As a part of our proposal for an Annex 0, we must stop talking about carbon emissions once and for all. Let's not talk about the 2800 GtC that exists underground or the 565 GtC that 'we' supposedly 'can' still emit. Who decides this budget? What is it to be used for, and by whom? If such questions cannot be democratically debated, it would be better simply to discard this dangerous 'carbon budget' terminology. It would be better for the IPCC to talk about oil barrel equivalents rather than tons of CO2, and at the same time to create two more scenarios, one assuming that 70% of underground fossil fuels will remain untapped and another assuming that 100% will remain untapped. Let us see the outcomes.

We know roughly how much fossil fuel reserves remain. We know that at least 70% should be left underground. To translate emissions into barrels of oil, cubic meters of gas or tons of coal would be to bring quantitative discussions more in line with reality. The challenge would be to decide which fossil fuels will be the first not to be exploited, and where. That is not going to be decided by the United Nations – it is already being decided by the peoples.

A global campaign to keep the oil in the soil should do more than remove the subsidies from the oil industry or invest in clean and sovereign energy. It must also protect those who join in a practical and concrete manner to build this initiative. The peoples of Annex 0 must be made visible and their contributions recognized. They must be rewarded for their commitment and not criminalized.

Ivonne Yáne


Quito, June 2015


(i) UNFCCC. A Brief Overview of Decisions. http://unfccc.int/documentation/decisions/items/2964.php Fecha de consulta: 11 de junio de 2015

(ii) OILWATCH. Declarations. http://www.oilwatchsudamerica.org/documentos/26-declaraciones.html

(iii) http://www.amazoniaporlavida.org/es/La-propuesta/