Apr 24, 2010
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.
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.
According 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
Four 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
Responses 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
To 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
In 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.
This 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.
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