Venezuela needs low-carbon action - not greenwash

by Alicia Villamizar and Guy Edwards | Institute for the Study of Environment and Society
Tuesday, 26 August 2014 11:00 GMT

A worker shows money equivalent to about USD$0.60 (at official rate) after a driver paid that for more than 40 liters to fill his tank at a service station in Caracas, Venezuela, on August 7, 2014. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

South America's oil giant needs to act on climate change, not just talk about it

The Venezuelan government is being praised for organising an event last July with over 100 organisations dedicated to promoting civil society participation at the United Nations climate change negotiations. The event was a preparatory meeting for a conference this November called the ‘Social Pre-COP’ to be held in Venezuela.

However, for those Venezuelans working for a greener and more resilient nation to confront climate change, the Social Pre-COP risks missing an unprecedented opportunity to set Venezuela on a more sustainable path.

Venezuela’s motivations to organise the Social Pre-COP are more than simply passing non-governmental organisations a microphone. The country is also attempting to gain credibility within the global climate community to deflect attention from its lack of domestic action on climate change.

While many other Latin American countries such as Chile, Mexico and Brazil have national climate change policies, targets for clean energy and plans to adapt to climate impacts, Venezuela is yet to develop specific policies on climate change. This reflects the Venezuelan government’s position on climate change which combines a blend of ideology and pragmatism.


The government blames capitalism for causing global warming. Given its attempt to establish Venezuela as a socialist state, which entails a rejection of the capitalist status quo, it denies its own contribution to the problem, regardless of the heavy environmental impact of its oil-based economy.

The dominance of oil for the nation’s development and foreign policy leads Venezuela to adopt pragmatic positions at the U.N. Venezuela is able to secure billions of dollars in credit for government spending on social programs from China by paying it back in oil, while its PetroCaribe programme sells heavily subsidised oil to Caribbean nations. To protect its interests, Venezuela is against any commitments to reduce its emissions which could threaten its oil industry.

Yet, Venezuela’s reluctance to build a coherent response to climate change is not in the national interest. The emphasis on framing global warming as a struggle between capitalism and socialism ensures that a common sense approach is sidelined.

Other countries in Latin America which also have considerable fossil fuel reserves are taking important steps to reduce their emissions and promote renewable energy. Mexico passed a climate change law in 2012 to reduce its emissions by 30 percent by 2020 while Ecuador is attempting to increase the use of renewable energy. Conversely, Venezuela has used its oil as an excuse to justify inaction.  


Venezuela needs to beef up its resilience to climate impacts such as floods and droughts by designing a national adaptation plan – something that is long overdue. The electricity system, based largely on hydropower, is very vulnerable to climate impacts so boosting other forms of renewable energy, especially wind and solar, is essential.

Cutting Venezuela’s emissions is necessary since its per capita emissions – although lower than developed countries – are much higher than the world’s least developed countries. It has a responsibility to act. By refusing to reduce its carbon footprint, Venezuela cannot reap the benefits offered by sustainable urban transport and improved air quality and more renewable energy which could also benefit the economy.

With the Social Pre-COP meeting in November, there is an unprecedented opportunity to encourage the Venezuelan government to develop a national strategy on climate change, build adaptation efforts, promote renewable energy and reduce emissions and take steps to diversify the economy away from oil.

In the build-up to the November meeting, international NGOs can work with various national civil society groups in Venezuela to attempt to encourage the Venezuelan government to take these steps. The Social Pre-COP can go beyond the promotion of NGO voices by also generating space for these organisations to work together with the Venezuelan government to adopt a common sense approach to tackling climate change.

Alicia Villamizar is a professor of environmental studies at the University of Simón Bolívar, Venezuela and a lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report. Guy Edwards is research fellow at the Institute for the Study of the Environment and Society and co-director of the Climate and Development Lab at Brown University.  Both authors write in a personal capacity.