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Global Greens: 15 Year Anniversary

By Juan Behrend, Advisor, Global Greens Coordination

15 years ago, in April 2001, an unexpected event took place in Canberra, Australia, that would change the scene of international political organisations.  Without much noise or awakening of the interest of major press organisations, a significant number of environmentalists travelled to the Australian capital from the varied reaches of Africa, the Americas, Europe and Asia.  They came with a single objective: to found a global green movement that brings together all the Green parties and political movements of the Green world.  

They represented Green parties and movements from over 70 nations.  In their minds and their hearts, the participants carried the principles, experiences and conviction from the collective fight for environmental protection, an understanding of climate change and opposition to nuclear power.  They also came animated by the desire to share their experiences and strengthen their movement for participatory democracy, social justice, respect for diversity, non-violence, sustainability and ecological wisdom.  Heirs of the struggles of diverse emancipatory movements arrived convinced that another world is possible and necessary.  They were aware that the present generation only enjoys the planet on loan and has the responsibility to leave it the same or improved for future generations.

In these pioneers’ backpacks they also carried a belief in ecological politics and the Green movement, as well as a clear sense of responsibility and solidarity with indigenous peoples, civil society organisations, academia and many other social movements who also recognised the increasingly urgent need for a radical environmentalism.

The instrument which enabled this burgeoning initiative was the Global Greens Charter, adopted at this first congress of the Global Greens, held in Canberra in 2001, and which remains to this day the foundation and source of inspiration for Greens around the world.

Looking back at that mythical meeting arouses much nostalgia - the endless sessions of negotiations, the large number of workshops and working groups and the magnificent reception hosted by the Australian Greens for the pioneers and founders of this grand common adventure.  

We were all aware that we were launching an endeavour that was anything but simple.  A few foresaw that the train we’d taken would be like a rollercoaster; but it was in fact much more dangerous for the simple reason that the obstacles we faced are not simulated, but very real.

The construction of the Global Greens today includes both Green parties and green political movements and organisations around the world from nearly 90 countries, which are grouped into four regional federations; it is a truly herculean organisation!  Such an organisation is only possible because behind these structures are people whose hearts are full of enthusiasm and determination to overcome adversity, and are supported by a strong willpower which over these fifteen years drove the consolidation and strengthening of this global organisation.

Launching and keeping it alive over the years, given the lack of resources and dependence on volunteer support was not simple.  In any case we can say that without the continued support of the Australian Greens, the European Greens, foundations such the Green Forum and the Heinrich Boell Stiftung, and committed individuals - most significantly the stalwart leadership of Margaret Blakers, the Convenor of the Global Greens - and increasingly individual donors, we would not be here.  This does not mean that we have left the phase in which the very existence of the Global Greens remains at risk.  The absence of a regular source of resources, appropriate to the needs of an organisation with global ambitions, is like a sword of Damocles hanging over its head all the time.

Despite all these material and practical difficulties, the Global Greens, during these long 15 years, managed to build a solid network of common policy guidelines.  The three Congresses held since its founding, and the resolutions adopted at them give life to the principles and political objectives of the Global Greens Charter in a context of significant political homogeneity.  This development was achieved gradually starting with the first congress in Australia and its Charter, followed the second in São Paulo organised with the invaluable help of the Greens in Brazil, in which the 21 Commitments  for the 21st Century was adopted.  During the third Congress which was held in Dakar, Senegal, with the invaluable help of the African Green Federation, a number of resolutions on North-South cooperation were adopted; progress was made in the field of Green economy and key decisions were approved to strengthen the organisation of the Greens at a global level.  The congresses are held in different continents the globe, and the fact that the fourth will be held in 2017 in Liverpool, UK - a place loaded with history from the slave trade to the cry of freedom which the Beatles sang on behalf of generations of people - demonstrates geographically the planetary ambition of our movement.

The achievements of the Global Greens during its 15 years of existence are numerous although not always directly visible.  The impact of these achievements takes different shapes across the globe.  The ability to show membership in the Global Greens is of great importance for new, small and still fragile parties.  That membership offers a particular significance and protects against discrimination, indifference and repression; something not always easy to understand from the perspective of consolidated Green parties and particularly those belonging to the most developed countries.  

In the context of growing integration driven by globalisation and the increasingly fluid information exchange, membership in the Global Green family allows parties to access the policy development and experience of parties in spite of geographic or linguistic differences.

Thanks to the “Green Shield” we can denounce and to some extent protect fellow Green activists and organisations suffering from political persecution in their countries.  For instance, the simple evidence that an action against a Green activist would unleash a cry of indignation around the world has discouraged political oppression of Greens.

Another of the most significant achievements is that the Global Greens have succeeded in becoming a legal organisation recognised internationally as well as becoming an organisation formally recognised by the United Nations.

The Global Greens have also contributed to major environmental events by coordinating the activities of Green activists and politicians from diverse backgrounds.  We have facilitated the development of resolutions expressing the common voice and political position of all Green parties; we have supported the convening of initiatives such as meetings, political dialogues and the work of the press; and we have built relationships that connect people, ideas and organisations to achieve more together.  

The Global Greens moreover acts as a powerful attractor for political forces and emerging movements, which, thanks to the existence of aggregated Green policy, they are able to approach, to better understand and to cooperate with the environmental movement, sometimes even when they find themselves in competition with a local Green party.  

The existence of the Global Greens has allowed Green parties and Green elected representatives from different geographies to collaborate on initiatives of mutual concern.  Although this dimension must be developed and strengthened, there are some noteworthy examples such as the initiative launched jointly by the Green Party of Canada, several countries in Latin America and Australia against open pit mining.  Similarly, we can refer to policy initiatives against land grabbing.  The list of similar initiatives is long and touches subjects as varied as the destruction of the Amazon, the exploitation of uranium and gold, fighting Monsanto, and so on.  In the same sense we can mention the Green networks that have been organised with the support of the Global Greens in recent years, such as the network of Green parliamentarians, women, institutes as well as countless initiatives working on environmental and social issues.

The Global Greens have been important for strengthening and growing the cooperation between Green foundations and parties.  One remarkable example is joint-work achieved between the Swedish Green Forum and the African Green Federation, and that is not the only experience that can be mentioned.

Last but not least, we cannot fail to mention the efforts that have been undertaken all these years to improve the flow of information between the Green parties of the globe, as shown in this newsletter’s regular appearance for a considerable time.


By Way of Balance

These 15 years of cooperation between Global Greens have not been simple and have not always developed on well-oiled rails.  In order to better prepare for the future we must critically evaluate the current reality both externally and internally.

Some important external obstacles include:

  • Repression both direct and indirect on Green party activists.  In many countries environmental activists have been persecuted, imprisoned and in some cases even killed.  One case is of Chico Mendez, a Brazilian ecologist who paid with his life for his determined struggle to defend the Amazon rainforest and its inhabitants.  The Rwandan Green party’s Vice President is another activist who paid with his life for his efforts for social and environmental justice.  These are but two of a long list of victims of oppression. According to Global Witness, in 2014 some 116 environmental activists in 17 countries had been killed - an increase by 20% over the previous year.  And that’s not to mention other murdered activists who struggle to end other human rights violations.

  • Unfair electoral systems which obstruct access by new parties is another problem we face.  It is a widespread practice for majoritarian electoral systems to combine with other systems to prevent new and smaller parties from participating in elections; the list of techniques used is endless.

  • The creation of false political parties designed to weaken and confuse electoral review is another widespread practice.  In many countries the authorities have created and funded pseudo-green parties under the organs of state direction in order to confuse public opinion and to weaken emerging real Green parties.

  • Campaigns by climate deniers funded by oil companies and others with explicit interests in maintaining an energy mix based on fossil fuels is also an obstacle to progress.  

  • The claim by parties opposed to the Greens that ecology is not political and should not be associated with a political party is another widespread tactic aimed at de-legitimising Green parties and their political goals.

As for the internal difficulties, those for which we ourselves are responsible:

  • One of the early developmental afflictions of Green parties, which has weakened the Global Greens, is that some countries - rather than developing integrated, strong parties that are able to organise the world of activists willing to give their support to green movements and politics - have seen sectarian groups organise often around a leader at the expense of participatory democracy. The result is to prevent, at least for a time, the emergence of a Green party in that country.

  • Diminished continuity and capacity of Federations at some periods has detrimentally affected the strength of the Global Greens.  Examples include the internal tensions in the African Green Federation between 2005 and 2010 which caused the Global Greens’ second Congress to be moved from Nairobi, Kenya, to Sao Paulo, Brazil. In the same period there were long months in which the Federation of the Americas was not participating in the Global Greens in an effective way..

  • Respect for the Global Greens Charter has not been as strict as is desirable.  One of the most delicate points in this regard has to do with the support that certain Green parties have given to military intervention in some circumstances without fully complying with the requirements of our Charter. Another problem in this regard that has led to tensions between Green parties, has been the inclination of one or another party towards “populist” practices and violations of principles concerning human rights (as adopted by the Global Greens Charter) in order to win votes and maintain legal recognition.

  • There have also been experiences of “interventionalism” in delicate circumstances against or to the detriment of local Green parties, particularly during elections and often without sufficient knowledge of the local reality.  Luckily we can say that this practice, partly thanks to the efforts of the Global Greens, has been declining over the years.

We should also mention the disparate participation of Green parties in the work of the Global Greens.  Some strong parties with great political influence only appear during Congresses but disappear during the periods in-between, leaving the responsibility in the hands of the federations, or they carry forward their own international policy without enough involvement by Greens globally.


The Next 15 Years

As the political responsibility of the Greens grows globally, we must reform and strengthen the coordination capacity of the Global Greens to assume new responsibilities.  The need to strengthen and consolidate political cohesion, as well as the operational capacity of the Global Greens organisation, is increasingly urgent.  

It is essential that the commitment and common organisation of the member parties of the Global Greens be intensified and regularised.  The Global Greens are and should be, first and foremost, an organisation of its member parties.  And this must be true not only during the Congress held every five years.  The opposite would condemn the Global Greens to be a bureaucratic organisation, a handful of delegates from the Green Federations, which beyond their commitment and effort will eventually be in charge of an empty shell stripped of political influence.

The vitality and the role of the Global Greens is closely related to the strengthening of its member parties and coordination between them globally and regionally, bilaterally and mulitlaterally.  A strong Global Greens is directly linked to the intensity of cooperation between Greens elected at all levels from the local to the national and multinational levels, to the sharing of experiences and projects and to the intensity of cooperation with and among the Green Partners.  It depends on the strength of thematic networks, combined initiatives among party members across different latitudes and the ability to carry out joint campaigns.  A strong Global Greens also depends on the capacity of the main actors of the Green parties to establish positions which respond to global events and which require a direct response from the Global Greens.

Even today, 15 years after its adoption, there is no more inspiring formulation to stimulate our common march toward the future than the Global Greens Charter.  

Then, as now, we must intensify cooperation between the Greens on the planet.

Then, as now, it is supporting the strengthening of the Green party and Green youth.

Then, as now, it is essential that the behavior of our party and our members is consistent with our principles and we will act as a model of participatory democracy in our own internal organisation at all levels.

Then, as now, it is essential that we not only criticise corruption, but that we have as a priority the encouragement and support of grassroots movements and other organisations of civil society working for democratic, transparent and accountable government, at all levels.

Then, as now, it is essential that we support each other “with friendship, optimism and good humour, and not forget to enjoy ourselves in the process!”

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