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Representing Green Radicalism: the limits of state-based representation in global climate governance


In recent years, the post-neoliberal bloc of Latin America countries, ALBA, has fashioned a role for itself in international climate change negotiations as representing the voice of ‘the people’. In this article I draw on innovative theorising of representation to critically examine this claim. I argue that although ALBA has sought to construct a constituency based on the malleable notion of ‘the people’, its function is better understood as ‘discursive representation’, and specifically as representation of Green Radical discourses. Such forms of representation are potentially important in global governance given the challenges of capturing the interests of all affected parties. I critically evaluate this case of discursive representation in terms of its rhetorical efficacy; accountability; consistency; and legitimacy. Although certain favourable elements emerge from this evaluation, this case also points to the hazards of transmitting a public discourse through a state-based representative in multilateral settings.

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1 Translations from Spanish in this article are the author's own unless indicated as quoted in an English source.

2 John Drexhage and Deborah Murphy, ‘Copenhagen: A Memorable Time for All the Wrong Reasons?’, IISD Commentary (December 2009), available at: {}.

3 Comment of senior negotiator under Chatham House rule.

4 Author's translation. Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP) resumed 12th Meeting, Copenhagen (19 December 2009), Plenary. 03:10 CET. {}.

5 Ibid.

6 Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América.

7 Evo Morales, ‘Intervención en la Conferencia Mundial de los Pueblos sobre Cambio Climático’ (20 April 2010), available at: {}.

8 See, for example, Hocking, Brian. ‘Catalytic Diplomacy: Beyond “Newness” and “Decline”, in Melissen, Jan (ed.), Innovation in Diplomatic Practice (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999), pp. 2139; Macdonald, Terry, Global Multistakeholder Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008); Betsill, Michele M. and Corell, Elizabeth (eds), NGO Diplomacy: The Influence of Nongovernmental Organizations in International Environmental Negotiations (Cambridge Mass.: MIT Press, 2008).

9 Saward, Michael, The Representative Claim (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

10 Dryzek, John S. and Niemeyer, Simon, ‘Discursive Representation’, American Political Science Review, 102:4 (2008), pp. 481–93.

11 Saward, The Representative Claim; and Saward, Michael, ‘The Representative Claim’, Contemporary Political Theory, 5 (2006), pp. 297318.

12 Saward, The Representative Claim, pp. 42–3.

13 Ibid., p. 302.

14 The UNFCCC is the primary multilateral setting for global climate governance.

15 Saward, The Representative Claim, p. 302. This example is based on Hitcher's statement that ‘The peoples will have in the revolutionary governments of ALBA an official voice in the (Cancún) Summit.’ Abrebrecha, ‘Alba representará la voz de los pueblos en cumbre de cambio climático en Cancún’ (23 April 2010), available at: {}.

16 Canovan, Margaret, ‘The People’, in Dryzek, John S., Honig, Bonnie, and Phillips, Anne (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Political Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 253.

17 Dryzek and Niemeyer, ‘Discursive Representation’, p. 481.

18 Ibid., pp. 482–4. While the ethical justification may suggest that discourses serve only as proxies for people, the rational and ontological justifications caution against such an assumption. Individuals do not embody a fixed set of discourses but rather a variable set of discourses that can alter over time, including in deliberation across discourses. Even if individuals feel represented by particular discursive representatives, this feeling may change over time. I am grateful to John Dryzek for clarifying this point in personal communication.

19 Stevenson, Hayley and Dryzek, John S., ‘Enhancing the legitimacy of multilateral climate governance: a deliberative democratic approach’, Critical Policy Studies, 6:1 (2012), pp. 118.

20 This section summarises key aspects of these discourses. A complete account of the constitutive elements of each discourse, as well as the discourse analysis method employed, is presented in Stevenson, Hayley and Dryzek, John S., The discursive democratisation of global climate governance, Environmental Politics, 21:2 (2012), pp. 189210.

21 Ibid.

22 A more general overview of which discourses are represented in the UNFCCC is provided in Stevenson and Dryzek, ‘Enhancing the legitimacy of multilateral climate governance’.

23 Evidence of these discourses articulated in other public settings is presented in (ibid.).

24 MacGregor, Sherilyn, ‘A stranger silence still: the need for feminist social research on climate change’, The Sociological Review, 57:s2 (2010), pp. 124–40.

25 Harvey, David, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 2.

26 Emir Sader, ‘Postneoliberalism in Latin America’, Development Dialogue (January 2009), pp. 171–9; Macdonald, Laura and Ruckert, Arne (eds), Post-Neoliberalism in the Americas (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

27 Hershberg, Eric and Rosen, Fred (eds), Latin America after Neoliberalism: Turning the Tide in the 21st Century? (New York: The New Press, 2006).

28 Barrett, Patrick, Chavez, Daniel, and Rodríguez-Garavito, César (eds), The New Latin American Left (Norwich: Pluto Press, 2008).

29 Zibechi, Raúl, ‘Gobiernos y Movimientos: Entre la Autonomía y las Nuevas Formas de Dominación’, in Hoetmer, Raphael (ed.), Repensar la política desde América Latina: Cultura, Estado y movimientos sociales (Lima: Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, 2009), p. 185.

30 Portal ALBA ‘Qué es el ALBA?’ (2004), available at: {}.

31 Webber, Jeffrey R., ‘Venezuela under Chávez: The Prospects and Limitations of Twenty-First Century Socialism, 1999–2009’, Socialist Studies: the Journal of the Society for Socialist Studies, 6:1 (2010), pp. 1415.

32 Consejo de Movimientos Sociales, ‘Manifiesto General de la Primera Cumbre de Consejos de Movimientos Sociales del ALBA-TCP’ (16 October 2009), available at: {}.

33 AWG-LCA, 4th session (3 December 2008); AWG-LCA, 5th session (1 April 2009), 10:00 (second intervention during Q&A).

34 AWG-LCA, 4th session (3 December 2008). Author's own translation from the original Spanish intervention. The official English interpretation delivered on the UNFCCC webcast was uncharacteristically poor and contained errors and important omissions.

35 Dunkerly, James, ‘Evo Morales, the “Two Bolivias” and the Third Bolivian Revolution’, Journal of Latin American Studies, 39 (2007), p. 134.

36 UNFCCC. ‘Delegation of Bolivia, Press Conference’ (18 December 2009), 14:00, available at: {}.

37 Interview with author (9 February 2010).

38 Ibid.

39 Quoted in Ron Ridenour, ‘COP15: An Insider's Report from the ALBA Delegation’ (29 December 2009), available at: {}.

40 UNFCCC, ‘Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP), resumed 12th Meeting’ (19 December 2009), 03:10, available at: {}.

41 PWCCC (People's World Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth) ‘Call’ (5 January 2010), available at: {}.

42 Evo Morales, ‘Discurso de Evo Morales Ayma, Presidente del Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia, al Grupo del G 77+China en las Naciones Unidas’ (7 May 2010), available at: {}.

43 PWCCC, ‘Working Groups’ (2010), available at: {}.

44 Ibid.

45 See Stevenson and Dryzek. ‘Enhancing the legitimacy of multilateral climate governance’; and Dryzek, John S. and Stevenson, Hayley, ‘Global Democracy and Earth System Governance’, Ecological Economics, 70 (2011), pp. 1865–74.

46 See ‘People's Agreement’, PWCCC (22 April 2010), Cochabamba, Bolivia, available at: {}.

47 Ibid., para. 3.

48 Ibid., para. 8.

49 Ibid., para. 25.

50 Ibid., para. 28.

51 Ibid., para. 8.

52 Ibid., para. 13.

53 Ibid., para. 24.

54 Ibid., para. 37.

55 Ibid., para. 44.

56 Ibid., para. 49.

57 Dryzek and Niemeyer, ‘Discursive Representation’.

58 Saward, The Representative Claim.

59 Pablo Solón, ‘Bolivian ambassador to the UN addresses the Vía Campesina march’, Global Exchange video (YouTube) (7 December 2010), available at: {}.

60 ALBA, Paper No. 18: Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic Of) on behalf of Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Cuba, Ecuador and Nicaragua. UNFCCC Doc. FCCC/AWGLCA/2010/MISC.2 (30 April 2010).

61 HidrocarburosBolivia, ‘Evo será el embajador de la Cumbre en la ONU y el mundo’ (27 April 2010), available at: {}; Boca de Polen, ‘Vivir en armonía con la madre tierra, la dignidad y la igualdad’ (2010), available at: {}; and CLOC-VC, ‘Evo Morales propuso un nuevo socialismo para vivir bien’ (2010), available at: {}.

62 Carlos Valdez, ‘ONU blanco de duras críticas en cita climática de pueblos’, Associated Press (22 April 2010).

63 Saward, ‘The Representative Claim’, p. 304.

64 Erika Loritz, ‘Ecos de la Cumbre: Gestión Ambiental de Bolivia y Sus Contradicciones’ (27 April 2010), available at: {}.

65 CONAMAQ (Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Markas del Qullasuyu) ‘Declaración mesa n°18’ (21 April 2010), available at: {}.

66 Stevenson and Dryzek, ‘The discursive democratisation of global climate governance’.

67 Fraser, Nancy, ‘Rethinking the Public Sphere: A contribution to the critique of actually existing democracy’, in Calhoun, Craig (ed.), Habermas and the Public Sphere (Cambridge Mass.: MIT Press, 1992), p. 123.

68 Young, Iris Marion, Inclusion and Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 69; Dryzek, John S., ‘Rhetoric in Democracy: A Systemic Appreciation’, Political Theory, 38:3 (2010), p. 320.

69 For example, Young, Inclusion and Democracy; Chambers, Simone, ‘Rhetoric and the Public Sphere: Has Deliberative Democracy Abandoned Mass Democracy?’, Political Theory, 37 (2009), pp. 323–50.

70 For a summary of this literature, see Dryzek, ‘Rhetoric in Democracy’.

71 Ibid, pp. 328–30. Dryzek explains that the ‘basic terminology is taken from Robert Putnam's treatment of social capital: bonding is associating with people who are similar in social background, bridging is associating with people with different social characteristics’ (ibid. p. 328).

72 Ibid., pp. 328–9.

73 Each of the analysed acts of representation (speeches and submissions) is available online: 1. Pablo Solón, ‘Intervención de Bolivia en el Grupo de Trabajo de Cooperación a Largo Plazo de Naciones Unidas’, presenta los Resultados de la Conferencia Mundial de los Pueblos (1 June 2010), available at: {}; 2. ALBA, ‘Paper no. 18’; 3. Hugo Chávez, ‘Discurso del Presidente Hugo Chávez: Clausura de la Cumbre de la Conferencia Mundial de los Pueblos sobre el cambio climático y los derechos de la Madre Tierra Cochabamba’ (22 April 2010), available at: {}; 4. Hugo Chávez, ‘Discurso del Presidente Chávez durante la XV Conferencia sobre Cambio Climático en Copenhague’ (16 December 2009), available at: {}; 5. Esteban Lazo Hernández, ‘Discurso en la Conferencia Mundial de Cochabamba’ (22 April 2010), available at: {}; 6. Evo Morales, ‘Intervención del Presidente de Bolivia en la Cumbre Climática de Cancún’; 7. Evo Morales, ‘Intervención en la Conferencia Mundial de los Pueblos sobre Cambio Climático’ (20 April 2010), available at: {}; 8. Evo Morales, ‘Discurso de Evo Morales Ayma, Presidente del Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia, al Grupo del G 77+China en las Naciones Unidas’ (7 May 2010), available at: {}; 9. Evo Morales, ‘Intervención de Evo Morales Ayma, presidente del Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia, en la Cumbre Climática de las Naciones Unidas, en Copenhague’ (18 December 2009), available at: {}; and 10. Evo Morales, ‘Intervención de Evo Morales Ayma, presidente del Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia, en la Cumbre Climática de las Naciones Unidas, en Copenhague’ (17 December 2009), available at: {}.

74 Morales, ‘Intervención en la Conferencia Mundial de los Pueblos sobre Cambio Climático’.

75 Hernández, ‘Discurso en la Conferencia Mundial de Cochabamba’.

76 Chávez, ‘Discurso del Presidente Hugo Chávez’.

77 Ibid.

78 Indeed, the fact that heads of government's speeches in the UNFCCC are scheduled to coincide with television prime time in their own countries suggests that the target audience is often different from the immediate audience.

79 Stevenson and Dryzek, ‘The discursive democratisation of global climate governance’.

80 Morales, ‘Intervención de Evo Morales Ayma’ (17 December 2009).

81 Ibid.

82 Morales, ‘Intervención de Evo Morales Ayma’ (18 December 2009).

83 Chávez, ‘Discurso del Presidente Chávez’ (2009).

84 Morales, ‘Discurso de Evo Morales Ayma’ (7 May 2010).

85 Ibid.

86 Chávez, ‘Discurso del Presidente Chávez’ (2009).

87 Morales, ‘Intervención del Presidente de Bolivia’ (10 December 2010).

88 Mansbridge, Jane, ‘A “Selection Model” of Political Representation’, The Journal of Political Philosophy, 17:4 (2009), pp. 369–98.

89 Ibid., p. 384.

90 Dryzek and Niemeyer, ‘Discursive Representation’, p. 490.

91 Minister Hitcher quoted in Abrebrecha, ‘Alba representará la voz’.

92 Pablo Solón, ‘Discurso del Embajador Pablo Solón del Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia’ (10 December 2010), COP16, Cancún, available at: {}.

93 Claudia Salerno, ‘Intervention in Joint COP16’, 10th/CMP 11th meetings (11 December 2010), Cancún, available at: {}.

94 Rodríguez, ‘Intervención del Canciller cubano Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla en la sesión final de la Cumbre del Clima en Cancún’ (10 December 2010), available at: {}.

95 IISD, ‘Summary of the Cancun Climate Change Conference’, Earth Negotiations Bulletin, 12:498 (2010), available at: {}.

96 PWCCC. ‘World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth’, available at: {}.

97 Pablo Solón, ‘Why Bolivia stood alone in opposing the Cancún climate agreement’, The Guardian (21 December 2010), available at: {}.

98 Los Tiempos de la Cumbre Mundial, ‘Conferencia cierra con grita de guerra’ (23 April 2010), pp. 4–5.

99 Interview with author (17 February 2011).

100 See note 73: acts 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10.

101 See note 73: act 2.

102 See note 73: acts 3, 4, 8, and 9.

103 See note 73: act 8.

104 See note 73: acts 1 and 8.

105 See note 73: acts 2 and 7.

106 Quoted in Dosh, Paul and Kligerman, Nicole, ‘Correa vs. Social Movements: Showdown in Ecuador’, NACLA Report on the Americas, 42:5 (2009), p. 23.

107 Econoticias Bolivia, ‘Indígenas defienden la Amazonía y enojan a Evo’ (14 July 2010), available at: {}.

108 It is beyond the scope of this article to provide a detailed account of this situation, which remains unresolved at the time of writing in July 2012. More comprehensive coverage can be found in Federico Fuentes, ‘Bolivia: Conflict deepens over disputed highway’, Green Left Weekly 898 (2011), available at: {; and Courtney Frantz, ‘The TIPNIS Affair: Indigenous Conflicts and the Limits on “Pink Tide” States Under Capitalist Realities’ (16 December 2011), available at: {}.

109 Chávez, ‘Bolivia: Morales Clashes with Native Protesters’.

110 Emily Achtenberg ‘Bolivia's controversial highway cancelled, but deeper conflicts remain’, Third World Resurgence, 254:October (2011), available at: {}.

111 Pablo Solón, ‘Carta abierta sobre TIPNIS a Presidente Evo Morales: Pablo Solón’ (28 September 2011), available at: {}.

112 Amazonwatch, Civil society letter to Evo Morales (21 September 2011), available at: {}.

113 de la Torre, Verónica, ‘De las Alternativas para las Américas, de la Alianza Social Continental a la Alternativa Bolivariana’, Argumentos, 22:59 (2009), pp. 187214.

114 49 English- or Spanish-speaking participants were randomly surveyed in Cochabamba. Twenty telephone interviews addressing this topic (partly or exclusively) have been carried out by the author. In some cases these individuals spoke in their capacity as politically active citizens (who may be engaged with numerous movements), but here I will use ‘social movements’ as an umbrella term for those interviewed/surveyed.

115 Day, Richard J. F., ‘From Hegemony to Affinity: The political logic of the newest social movements’, Cultural Studies, 18:5 (2004), p. 733.

116 Ibid.

117 Holloway, John, Change the World Without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today (London: Pluto Press, 2002).

118 Day, ‘From Hegemony to Affinity’, pp. 733–4.

119 CJN! (Climate Justice Now!) ‘CJN! members call on governments to support Cochabamba proposals’ (7 October 2010), available at: {}.

120 Dryzek and Niemeyer, ‘Discursive Representation’.

121 Of course, structural constraints are no justification for violent repression. Given that Morales has denied directing the police crackdown on TIPNIS protesters, this may be better explained by the weakness of the Bolivian state and its lack of control over the police force (see Bolivia Information Forum 2011:2).

122 One such proposal is elaborated in Stevenson and Dryzek, ‘Enhancing the legitimacy of multilateral climate governance’.

* Earlier versions of this article were presented at the School of Politics, International Relations and Philosophy, Keele University (2011); British International Studies Association annual conference (2011); ECPR Standing Group on International Relations Young Researchers’ Workshop (2010); and the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, Australian National University (2010). For helpful comments and suggestions I thank Mauro Aviles, Philip Beddal, Garrett Brown, John Dryzek, Graham Harrison, Tetsuki Tamura, and anonymous reviewers. I am also grateful to those who participated in the research by completing surveys and conducting interviews with me. This research was supported by Australian Research Council Federation Fellowship FF00883522.

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