Global Trends by Martin Khor
Monday 26 April 2010
Climate battle moves to Bolivia
In Cochabamba in the Andean mountains, whose glaciers
are melting, a people's climate conference was held last week that invigorated
the spirit of social and political leaders to intensify the battle against
Last week over 30,000 people converged in the
Bolivian town of Cochabamba in the heart
of the Andes mountains for an unusual summit on climate change
– it involved thousands of grassroots leaders as well as some political
leaders and government officials.
It was a stark contrast to the stuffy conference
rooms and diplomatic language of the formal climate negotiations. Indeed
the 4-day People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother
Earth was meant to both challenge and to contribute to the United Nations'
official climate talks.
gathering was convened by Bolivia's
President Evo Morales, as a response to what he saw was the unfair way
in which the Copenhagen
climate conference was organised.
“When I arrived in Copenhagen,
I was struck by environmental activists braving the freezing weather
to voice their disappointment at being locked out of the meeting,” said
Morales, an indigenous people's leader who came to power some years
ago on the wave of a popular movement.
“Inside the conference, I realized that
Bolivia was in a position similar
to that of the protesters outside. We, the representatives of the majority
of the world's peoples, were effectively being left in the cold while
a tiny group dominated by a few rich governments met in private to produce
an unacceptable compromise...which we refused to sign.
will not accept an agreement reached between the world's biggest polluters
that is based on the exclusion of the very countries, communities and
peoples who will suffer most from the consequences of climate change...If
governments could not come to an agreement because of self-interest
or ideology, it is time for the people to decide.”
The Conference was organised to give grassroots
groups, and especially indigenous people, the chance to be in the spotlight
and air their views on how to tackle the climate crisis. Bolivia
pledged to bring the results of the meeting into the UN's negotiating
Working groups on 17 topics discussed a variety
of issues, and a summary of their conclusions was put into a 6-page
Agreement of the People.
Since the crowd of participants was so big,
a closing ceremony was held in a stadium, and leaders of social movements
and environmental groups shared the limelight with Morales, Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez and other political leaders from the region.
The People's Agreement called on developed
countries to cut their greenhouse gases by 50% by 2020 (compared to
1990 levels). It also wanted the average global temperature rise to
be limited to 1 degree celsius and greenhouse gas concentration in the
atmosphere to be brought to below 300 ppm.
These are ambitious targets which the participants
argued are needed because of how serious the situation is. In contrast,
the Copenhagen Accord goal is a limit of 2 degrees. At this level,
says the People's Agreement, there is a 50% chance of irreversible damage
to the Earth, with many parts of the world becoming inhabitable.
The Agreement also called for the establishment
of an International Court of Climate and Environmental Justice to prosecute
states, companies and people who are damaging the climate, and a global
referendum on how the world should tackle the climate crisis.
The Conference also set a target for developed
countries to contribute 6% of their GNP to enable developing countries
to take climate actions.
Technology should also be made available
at low cost to developing countries, which should thus be be allowed
to exclude patents on climate-related technologies.
The Agreement gives prominence to the Rights
of Mother Earth and the need for humanity to live in harmony with nature.
A prominent issue was water, reflected in
the Agreement's demand “to recognize the right of all peoples, living
beings and Mother Earth to access and enjoy water” and that the right
to water should be recognized as a fundamental human right.
This emphasis on water is not surprising
for two reasons. Firstly, the glaciers in the Andes are disappearing
as a result of climate change, and this is having a severe effect on
water supplies and agriculture in Bolivia and neighbouring countries.
And secondly, it was in Cochamamba that the Bolivian
“water wars” took place a decade ago, when thousands of people protested
against the privatisation of the country's water system to a foreign
company. They were afraid that this would lead to higher prices of
and reduced access to water.
In the forefront of the protest were the
indigenous people who comprise a majority of the population, and their
leader Evo Morales, and this movement for the public control over water
helped sweep him to power.
According to a BBC report last week, climate change
has led to irregular water flows in the Andes mountains of Bolivia, and the streams have become
torrents or dwindle to just trickles.
It quotes Max, an elderly Aymara Indian as saying:
"We are very worried because we have no water. Half the people
of this community have already left. Those who remain are struggling
with the lack of water.
"The weather has drastically changed
and it is now two or three times hotter than it was. We cannot water
our crops and the sun and the heat are very strong. Our crops are dry
now, our animals are dying; we want to cry."
And a community leader, Alivio Aruquipa,
who is taking the community's case to international fora, added: "For
the past two decades, we, the people from the Andean regions have been
suffering because of the greenhouse emissions from the developed countries.
If they don't stop our glaciers will disappear soon.”
This is the background to why Bolivia wants a world climate tribunal
to be set up, so that cases such as this can be taken up and those causing
the problems will be made responsible for restoring the environment
and compensating the victims.
"What we want to achieve is justice,"
said Pablo Solon, Bolivia's
ambassador to the United Nations and the main organiser of last week's
"When we say climate justice tribunal,
we are speaking about how to sanction actions that seriously affect
the environment and have consequences for populations, for nations that
may even disappear beneath the ocean," he told the BBC.
"You might be on one side of the world, but
what you do is affecting somebody else in another continent very far
away...There might be, there will be, millions of people who are affected,
and may even die, because of those actions.
“The situation we are facing deserves a new judicial
is the beginning of the discussion. The beginning of a very big fight,"
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