Andres Schipani in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Friday 23 April 2010
Rich countries should reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% and set up a court to punish climate crimes, according to an international conference of grassroots climate groups and social movements in Bolivia.
President Evo Morales, who organised the gathering, also announced plans to mount a referendum of 2 billion people on solutions to the climate crisis within a year.
Speaking at the close of the four-day World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, Morales called on the UN to listen to the voice of the poorest. “The UN has an obligation to listen to its peoples and social forces. If the UN doesn’t want to lose its authority, they should apply the conclusions of this conference. And if they don’t, I am convinced that the peoples will apply their wisdom, recommendations and documents,” he said.
The conference – which was attended by 30,000 people, according to the organisers, including NGOs, scientists, as well as union and government delegations – resolved to push for proposals that keep fossil fuels in the ground, protect indigenous rights, and reject plans to pay countries not to cut down forests through schemes like Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (Redd). “This alternative has to succeed because the alternative to Cochabamba is Copenhagen and Copenhagen came out with a so-called solution to climate change that in no way meets the severity of the climate crisis,” said Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein.
“Here in Cochabamba you have one of the governments that is really negotiating for its own survival saying we can’t afford to lose and you have all of civil society lining up behind that government and saying we don’t want to negotiate away any country’s survival, we refuse to be part of any negotiation like that,” she said.
The united opposition to the forest conservation scheme Redd – under which countries earn carbon credits for keeping forests intact – will concern many rich countries who are depending on it to provide billions of dollars but must convince indigenous peoples of its value. “Redd is branded as a friendly forest conservation programme, yet it is backed by big polluters and climate profiteers. We cannot solve this crisis with out addressing the root cause: a fossil fuel economy that disregards the rights of Mother Earth,” said Alberto Saldamando, legal counsel for the International Indian Treaty Council.
Many delegates doubted if world leaders would pay much attention to the talks. “They may wish to deny that the peoples of the world have gathered in Cochabamba and brought forward real solutions to the problems of the world. But the reality is that the proposals coming out from here won’t be ignored by anyone, they cannot wish it away,” said Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International.
The meeting has no direct bearing on the UN climate talks, but it has been set up as a venue for grassroots movements to put pressure on governments to act on climate change. “They cannot simply ignore that something happened here. This is better and more real than the Copenhagen accord that did not take off, this is the real forum for tackling the climate problems,” Bassey said.
Jim Shultz, Harvard-educated and Cochabamba-based head of the Democracy Centre, cautioned that indigenous peoples would have to learn how to achieve change in rich countries. “Change is not going to happen by convincing people to unscrew one kind of lightbulb and put in another. It’s not going to happen by getting people to just pick up their litter. It’s going to happen because we as a planet relate in fundamentally different ways to the way we use energy… If people in the global south are serious about demanding political change from the global north then they need to get a lot more astute very quickly, about how political change in the north actually happens.”
“Developed countries should take very seriously what happened here,” said Angelica Navarro, Bolivian ambassador to the UN in Geneva. “This is real democracy. We are trying to bring a solution onto the negotiations table, coming from the people. If they don’t listen I think it will be one of the biggest mistakes. Because this is coming from the grassroots, from people that are really suffering, that are at the forefront of the battle, it will be a mistake not to hear to their own people.”