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Apr 24, 2010

World Peoples Climate Change Summit Ends

by PhilLee — last modified Apr 24, 2010 01:05 PM
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A team of Friends of the Earth climate justice campaigners are in Cochabamba, Bolivia attending an historic people's summit on climate change. Nnimmo Bassey, Chair of Friends of the Earth International is also there and wrote this blog post.

FoEI team in bolivia





















The last day of the World Peoples Climate Change Conference was remarkable in many ways. The day opened with a dialogue session between governments and peoples. This session clearly showed a convergence between the thinking of governments and peoples with regard to the structural causes of climate change and the ways to tackle it.


In attendance were Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. The Vice President of Cuba, the Foreign Minister of Ecuador and a representative of the United Nations were also in attendance. There were official delegations from 47 countries including those from Paraguay, Panama, Mexico, Georgia, Uruguay, Sierra Leone, Yemen, Brazil, Russia, the United Kingdom, Ethiopia, Spain, Sweden, India, Mali, Nigeria, Mozambique, South Africa, Qatar and South Korea.

The closing session was held at the Cochabamba stadium and the atmosphere was one of a fiesta with reports of the outcome of the working groups and fiery speeches from Presidents Morales and Chavez.

Addressing the Dialogue session, Morales stated that Copenhagen was a failure for those who were not interested in tackling climate change but a success for those fighting to save Mother Earth. He thanked governments present, social movements and international organisations. He then called for “conclusions that would ensure that governments have responsibilities to our peoples.” He also called for the setting up of structures and processes for the defence of Mother Earth at national, regional and global levels. He urged that debates should be transparent and have future generations in mind.

Promoting hayaya

cochabamba-br07.jpgAccording to the Bolivian Minister for Foreign Affairs the conference was called for the promotion of life or hayaya as they say in Bolivia.

The Minister gave an overview of the workings of the 17 thematic groups during the conference stressing that they started online debates two and a half months before the conference with inputs from scholars, indigenous peoples, civil society groups and social movements. He said that the Bolivian government had actually expected 10,000 to 15,000 participants, but that at the end of the day over 35,000 people from 142 countries participated. Of this number 9,250 were from countries other than Bolivia.

Speaking about aspects of the work he mentioned the need for a climate tribunal where individuals and countries would be held to account for climate crimes. On climate debt, he urged that there was a need to settle it, although, he said, even if countries achieve 100% reduction in carbon emissions today, "we would not recover up to 10% of what has been lost already."

The people have spoken

cochabamba-br10.jpgFour delegates presented preliminary reports from the working groups. Among key resolutions was that the Accord of Cochabamba should be promoted and within this should be a clear recognition of climate debt to be paid without intervention of international financial institutions such as the World Bank. It also called for the promotion of a new development model away from the destructive tendencies of unbridled capitalist modes.

There was a total rejection of market mechanisms in tackling climate change, including REDD and a total rejection of the Copenhagen Accord and its voluntary emissions rejection suggestions and attempt to expand the carbon market. There was also a call for transfer of technology and adequate finance.

The people also resolved that the definition of forests in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) should be reviewed to exclude monoculture plantations. A clear call was also made to leave fossil fuels such as crude oil in the soil and extractions in forests.

Modern biotechnology in agriculture was also denounced with one delegate saying, "Mother Earth is a living being and must not be used as a slave."

The working groups did not always have easy debates, but unlike the UN climate processes they managed to reach conclusions in record time.

The world must not be held to ransom

cochabamba-br08.jpgResponses from governments came from Cuba, Ecuador and Venezuela. The United Nations representative also responded.

The Cuban vice-president conveyed greetings from the president of his country as well as from Fidel Castro. He regretted the inability of governments to frontally tackle climate change, the most urgent threat confronting humanity today. He added that the essence of capitalism was recently revealed when $12 trillion was mobilised to rescue banks and reward financial speculators rather than investing in the urgent need of saving lives and the planet. He regretted that 1 billion of the population of the rich world waste 50% of the world’s energy while 2 billion people do not have access to electricity.

He then called on peoples of the world to ensure that a few rich countries do not hold everyone to ransom over the climate change negotiations.

Keeping our dignity

cochabamba-br02.jpgTo Ecuador, climate change ceased being a purely environmental issue years ago. It has become an issue for geo-politics in the world. The foreign minister recognised the role of civil society in finding real solutions as vital. “There can be no serious tackling of climate change without civil society groups involvements,” he said.

Speaking about the arm-twisting strategy of the USA to get governments to agree to the Copenhagen Accord, the foreign minister revealed that the USA withdrew $2.5 million of environmental aid they had pledged to extend to Ecuador because the country refused to endorse the accord. 


In response to this the Ecuadorean minister said, "Man shall not live on bread alone, but also in dignity. We cannot allow blackmail to affect our dignity.” As a dignified country, Ecuador has offered to give the USA $2.5 million if they sign the Kyoto Protocol.  He called on other countries to add to this offer to urge the USA to sign the protocol.

Responding later to this call, President Chavez said that rather than giving money to the USA such funds should be channeled towards getting people to attend the climate talks coming up in Cancun, Mexico.

The minister urged nations to include the rights of Mother Earth in their constitutions, noting that the Ecuadorian provision allows communities to press for rights on behalf of nature, since nature on its own cannot make such demands at a court of law.

He ended the response from Ecuador by revealing that their proposal to leave the oil in the soil of the Yasuni Park means not extracting over 4000 metric tonnes of crude oil and a loss of $7 billion. He said his country is ready to bear 50% of that loss and that they expect other countries and organisations to share the burden of the other 50%. He urged other nations to adopt this important initiative as a real solution to climate change.

Learning to listen

The key message from the United Nations was that they have learned the vital need of listening to people from the conference in Cochabamba. They came here to listen especially to the voices that are never heard in official circles. "We have learned here to be more open to listen and have better communication with people from all sectors around the world."

They were also happy that the conclusions "fit" the UNFCCC.

We will go to Cancun

cochabamba-br03.jpgIn his response, President Chavez thanked President Morales for hosting the conference and added that the Cochabamba conference was a continuation of the battle of Copenhagen. He recalled how both of them were almost denied space to make contributions at the Copenhagen conference and how they persisted and with the support of the Cuban vice president got some space to intervene. The Cochabamba conference was a success and also marked a rise of the moral authority of Bolivia in the climate change struggle, according to him.

He declared that no one would stop him from attending COP16 at Cancun and urged the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) states to mobilise resources to assist as many as should attend the conference in Cancun to do so. He also called for massive dissemination of the outcomes of Cochabamba as a tool for popular education, strategizing and mobilisation for the fight against climate change. 

He wondered why human beings considered themselves to be of a higher order than other species whereas we do not see ants or animals declaring war on each other while nations keep destroying each other through wars.

He recalled a saying that the earth is our aircraft, we don’t have another one and yet we are destroying it. For some countries to maintain their current consumption levels we will need five earths, he warned. He also brought to mind an article that Albert Einstein wrote that the future of mankind could only be secured through socialism.

President Chavez thereafter spent time setting out strong arguments for the construction of socialism in countries of the world, each taking cognizance of their specific contexts.

He explained that his commitment to fight for real solutions to climate change: "we are not in a permanent state of rebellion, we are just concerned about the future of the earth."

He concluded by saying that the so-called Copenhagen accord to which 120 countries have been coerced to adopt is of no higher standing than the outcomes of the Cochabamba conference. He urged that if the United Nations allows the voice of The Empire to prevail, then peoples have to take steps to ensure that their voices are heard

Taking up that line, President Morales urged that if governments do not listen to the voice of the people social movements should once more take the lead in bringing about popular revolutions to safe the earth: build alliances and structures across the continents and erect a new paradigm of relations and production that will safe Mother Earth.

He told the gathering that the outcomes of the conference will be handed over to the Secretary General of the United Nations as major document for future climate talks. 

Leaving Cochabamba

cochabamba-br11.jpgThis was my first time in Bolivia. A day spent in La Paz saw me panting for breath on account of the elevation of the city above see level. Adjusting to the environment was easy due to the warmth of my hosts and many cups of coca tea.

People were friendly in Cochabamba and the FoEI squad were fantastic. With scant Spanish it was the lot of Cristina Fernandez, a volunteer, to ensure I got to my many destinations on schedule and also to communicate with so many folks that needed to be communicated with. It was a fulfilling time in need.

Looking forward to flying out of La Paz, I recalled the beautiful peaks of the Andes and look forward to flying over Lake Titicaca rated as the highest navigable lake in the world – wishing I could scoop a handful of its water as I fly over it!

To the grassroots we must take the outcomes of Cochabamba, and then to Cancun.

Further reading

Bolivian President, Evo Morales, invited Friends of the Earth to join him to brief the UN on the latest in international climate talks. Find out more

Apr 21, 2010

Capitalism is root cause of climate change – President Evo Morales

by PhilLee — last modified Apr 21, 2010 11:10 PM
Filed Under:

A team of Friends of the Earth climate justice campaigners are in Cochabamba, Bolivia attending an historic people's summit on climate change. Nnimmo Bassey, Chair of Friends of the Earth International is also there and wrote this blog post.

cochabamba-2President Evo Morales of Bolivia did not mince words yesterday when he diagnosed the root cause of climate change as being capitalism and all that it entails. The President was speaking at the formal opening of the first-ever World Peoples Climate Change Summit (CMPCC).

The Tiquipaya stadium, venue of the event, was filled to capacity with about 10,000 people from the nations and continents of the world. Many more milled around the streets outside the stadium while thousands more queued in the town square waiting for accreditation to participate in the conference.


Present on the platform with the President was the Vice President of Burundi, country ambassadors and representatives of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat. Seventeen thousand participants were expected at this conference but by the end of the second day up to 30,000 had registered.

Victory in Copenhagen

The opening ceremony was colourful in the literal sense with multicoloured flags waving, music by musicians from various countries and rituals carried out by leaders of indigenous peoples of the Americas. There was also poetry (written and read by this writer. See end of this report).

To President Morales, the Copenhagen climate conference was not a failure but a victory. According to him, it was a failure of governments but a victory for the peoples of the world.

"We are here today because the governments of the world could not reach an agreement in Copenhagen on cutting emissions and acting on climate change,” he said. 


"If they had reached a just agreement, this gathering would not have been necessary."
According to Morales, capitalism and its pursuit of profits and limitless extraction of resources in a finite world is hastening the disappearance of species, the rise of hunger, melting of glaciers and small island nations may disappear. He added that in the last 100 years, developed countries with 20% of the world’s population have generated over 76% of carbon emissions responsible for climate change. 

"Capitalism merchandises everything. It seeks continual expansion. The system needs to be changed. We have to choose between change or death,"

President Morales warned, adding, "Capitalism is the number one enemy of mankind.”


He saw a sustainable future as being possible only through actions of solidarity and complementarities as well as equity and the respect of human rights, right to water and biodiversity – the Rights of Mother Earth – a new system of rights that abolishes all forms of colonialism.

The President condemned the erosion of sustainable and traditional ways of life, indigenous knowledge and wisdom. He also condemned the introduction of genetically engineered crops as well as heavy dependence on chemicals in agriculture.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth

cochabamba-1The president said that the climate conference was called so that governments and peoples can sit together and fashion out ways to save the earth from climate change resulting from current destructive modes of production and consumption. To him, it is vital for governments to respect the views of social movements and peoples of the world. He called for the decolonisation of the atmosphere and a United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth. Such a charter will secure for the people of the world a right to freedom from fear of pollution as well as from fear of contamination of the food chain through genetic engineering.

President Morales called for the building of intercontinental movements, strengthening of international organisations and organisations of indigenous peoples and workers.  He reminded the gathering that in recent times nature has been sending strong signals to the world through tsunamis, floods and earthquakes. In addition to these signals, climate change portends more dangers. Urgent action is needed.

In conclusion, the president called on the peoples of the world to act together to save Mother Earth from capitalism: “There are two options before us all, two ways that we must choose from: death to capitalism or death to Mother Earth.”

Mother Earth or Barbarism

Speaking later in the day on a panel that examined the structural causes of climate change, Alvaro Garcia Linera, the Vice President of Bolivia, further explained the concept of Mother Earth. We note here that President Morales attended this session held at the Coliseo of the Univalle and sat among the participants. (That in itself constitutes a message to leaders who need to know that they need to listen and hear what the people are saying.)

"The concept of Mother Earth is not just a slogan. It means a new way of producing, a new way of relationship with nature and with one another,” he said. “This relationship is one of equality and not domination, a relationship of dialogue, of giving and receiving. It is not merely a philosophy or folklore. It is a new ethics, a new way of developing technologies and modes of production."

Recalling a statement by Rosa Luxemburg, "socialism or barbarism," Vice President Linera said that today we could say "Mother Earth or barbarism."

Affirming that capitalism was the root cause of climate change and many of the ills of the world today, Linera said that the system permits oil companies and the military complex to commit genocide, destroy the environment and reap ever-rising profits at the expense of the blood of the people.

"Nothing will change as long as capitalism reigns," he warned. “It is a system that destroys society and nature through the destruction of knowledge and positive productive forces. It is a system without conscience."

Vice President Linera called for the rebuilding of our collective environmental and social consciousness. He also called for the building of an organic relationship with nature where human beings understand that nature has rights and human beings have obligations towards nature.

In an oblique reference to carbon offsets and REDD projects, Linera warned, "We are not forest rangers for those causing pollutions and climate change. This system of indulgences cannot be accepted. It is a system of colonialism. It is not a solution."

Keep the Oil in the Soil

cochabamba-3Speaking also on the structural causes of climate change, Maria Espinosa, a minister from Ecuador, said that climate change must not be used as a smokescreen to obscure other problems confronting the world today, including the lingering impacts of the structural adjustment programmes foisted on developing nations by the World Bank and the IMF in the 1980s. 

Espinosa informed participants that owing to Ecuador’s refusal to associate with the Copenhagen Accord drawn up by a few countries during COP15, the United States of America government has refused Ecuador an environmental aid of $2.5 million. In response, Ecuador has offered to pay the USA $2.5 million if they sign the Kyoto Protocol.

She also spoke on the Ecuadorian initiative to disallow the exploitation of crude oil in the Yasuni Park, a biodiversity hotspot and home to indigenous peoples. This move will keep 400 million metric tonnes of carbon out of the atmosphere thus offering a real solution to climate change.

Earlier this writer, while speaking on the same panel, had said that the real solution to climate change is the cutting of emissions at source and that rather than waste resources on untested technologies such as those of carbon capture and storage and geo-engineering, the world should quickly move away from the fossil fuels driven civilization.  This call is captured in the well-known slogan: leave the oil in the soil, the coal in the hole and the tar sands in the land.

We also stated that the equation of energy security to national security has led some nations into military adventures which apart from being destructive in themselves consume huge fossil fuels and compound the problems of climate change. We also rejected the neoliberal systems that permit the World Bank to parade itself as a climate bank while funding dirty energy projects such as the Eskom coal plant in South Africa and a number of other fossil fuels projects elsewhere.  We called for the overturning of corporate power and halting its erosion of peoples’ sovereignty.

Transformation solutions offered included:

  • Reclaiming peoples control over their resources
  • Building progressive people-oriented governments and power structures and shifting away from capitalist modes of relations
  • Direct action to stem climate crimes at source
  • Legislation – such as the Rights of Mother Earth
  • Litigation and other actions that connect civil society actions in the North and the South. Example the prosecution of Shell in the Netherlands over pollution in Nigeria.
  • Leave fossil fuels in the soil
  • Reject the Copenhagen Accord

The working groups continued their work throughout yesterday and many other panels with enthusiastic participation.


I will not dance to your beat

(a poem by Nnimmo Bassey)

I will not dance to your beat
If you call plantations forests
I will not sing with you
If you privatise my water
I will confront you with my fists
If climate change means death to me but business to you
I will expose your evil greed
If you don’t leave crude oil in the soil
Coal in the hole and tar sands in the land
I will confront and denounce you
If you insist on carbon offsetting and other do-nothing false solutions
I will make you see red
If you keep talking of REDD and push forest communities away from their land
I will drag you to the Climate Tribunal 
If you pile up ecological debt
& refuse to pay your climate debt
I will make you drink your own medicine 
If you endorse genetically modified crops
And throw dust into the skies to mask the sun
I will not dance to your beat
Unless we walk the sustainable path
And accept real solutions & respect Mother Earth
Unless you do
I will not &
We will not dance to your beat

Cochabamba, Tiquipaya, Bolivia
20 April 2010


Read at the opening ceremony of the World Peoples Climate Conference Summit.

Apr 20, 2010

World People's Summit on Climate Change opens in Cochabamba

by PhilLee — last modified Apr 20, 2010 10:47 AM

A team of Friends of the Earth climate justice campaigners are in Cochabamba, Bolivia attending an historic people's summit on climate change. Nnimmo Bassey, Chair of Friends of the Earth International is also there and filed this blog post.


Following the catastrophic outcome of the United Nations’ climate negotiations held in Copenhagen in December 2009, a breath of fresh air wafts in as peoples from around the world gather in the first ever global summit on climate change initiated by a government in league with social movements, indigenous peoples and other civil society actors.


An assembly of governments and peoples

When the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, announced that the world would meet in Bolivia for a thorough and inclusive discussion on this vital issue of our day many may have thought that the announcement was nothing but a pipedream. To the joy of many and the consternation of some the summit is taking place as planned.

The summit attracted a registration of up to 17,000 participants and activities commenced today by way of working groups and a peoples assembly facilitated by La Via Campensina, the largest peasant farmers movement and Friends of the Earth International.

This summit stands in sharp contrast to the Copenhagen event in many ways. First, this is an assembly of governments and peoples. In Copenhagen effort was not spared in keeping civil society out of the conference. That conference was marked by lockouts of civil society, detentions of climate activists and outright brutality on non-violent protesters on the streets.


In Cochabamba the police are offering assistance and are even wearing badges indicating that they too are participants. Whereas Copenhagen showed a disdain to the voices of the people, in Cochabamba this is the essence of the meet. Having said that, we must agree that there is a similarity between the two cities: the two names begin with the letter "c" and both have ten letters.

Participants generally agree that this summit is a great opportunity for the false solutions to climate change to be fully exposed and the real solutions as well as the demands for climate justice to be clearly made. It is a step in the build-up to an unstoppable global environmental justice movement.

Declaration of Mother Earth's rights

Alfredo Felipa, Peru. Second place, Reclaiming Traditions category. Friends of the Earth groups favorite: second place (tied).The summit is organised around seventeen working groups and hopes to examine the structural causes of climate change and also to discuss and agree on the need for a Universal Declaration of Mother Earth Rights.


The working groups around which the work is organised include those planning for a Climate Justice Tribunal, the dangers of a carbon market, climate migrants and technology transfer among others. The summit is also working on the organisation of the Peoples' World Referendum on Climate Change.

The summit will not be without controversial moments. For one, there is a group of techies from Europe who are in Cochabamba to sell the idea of geo-engineering as a solution to climate change. Many groups are already up in arms against in suggestion of using the techniques suggested by geo-engineers. Among which are those that say that manipulation of nature could lead to unexpected outcomes apart from allowing individual unregulated space to take up the global commons and further pile unjust access to resources and place people at risk.


Some proposed geo-engineering solutions are the seeding of the clouds to block off the sun and thereby cool the climate as well as seeding the oceans with “pollutants” in order to enhance its carbon capture and storage capacities.

Another hot area has to do with REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation). While some groups think that REDD would bring benefits to communities, The Indigenous Environmental Network, Oilwatch, The Corner House, Transnational Institute and other NGOs believe that REDD is nothing other than "Reaping profits from Evictions, land grabs, Deforestation and Destruction of biodiversity."   It is also believed that REDD offers polluting companies the space to buy permits to carry on polluting.

In the run up to the Cochabamba summit, an International Fair on Water (towards the World Peoples Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth) was held here on 14-18 April 2010.


The conference declared that climate change is "a result of an extractive, destructive and polluting production pattern of which large-scale mining, oil, coal and gas extraction operations, and water dams intended to meet wasteful energy consumption needs, provide examples."


The conference went ahead to propose among others a transition from an extractive pattern to a pattern based on principles of solidarity, justice, dignity and respect for life, reciprocity and equity.

It also called for a revocation of "licences granted to transnational corporations and especially halt mining, gas, oil and monoculture tree plantations and agro-industrial, land-intensive, cattle ranching corporations. All those activities are voracious water consumers that end up in merchandise aimed at meeting an increasing consumerism."

Strengthening the environmental justice movement

Flood-1-tnSome people wonder what will be achieved in the peoples’ summit seeing the failure of the United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen. Most participants here see Cochabamba as a great opportunity for the strengthening of an environmental justice movement whose birth was so loudly communicated outside the official meeting chambers of Copenhagen.

This summit also illustrates that governments ought to work with the people, after all they their legitimacy can only derive from the support of the people. President Evo Morales of Bolivia is showing very clearly that governance is about engagement with real people in efforts to tackle real problems and that governments and government organs should not be afraid of listening to the people.

The university campus (UNIVALLE) where the summit is taking place is covered with a sea of colourfully dressed participants from around the world. Business suits are a rarity here. People walk with assured steps in full dignity. Laughter rings beneath the trees and the mountains of Tiquipaya provide and excellent backdrop. 

The volcanic ash blowing over Europe may have stopped some participants from getting to Cochabamba, but that event alone illustrated the power of nature and the fact that although there is much knowledge, there are still things that remain under the control of nature. Wisdom urges humanity to respect the rights of Mother Earth and live in cooperating rather than manipulating relationships with her.
Tomorrow the summit opens.


Further information