The Cochabamba summit was officially inaugurated today with
impressive colour and movement. The outdoor stadium was packed with
approximately 20,000 people and probably as many indigenous Andean
rainbow flags, video cameras, dancers, soldiers, you name it. The sun
beat down as we sat through several hours of ceremony and speeches.
Pablo managed to take a break from sitting in the sun when he was roped
into translating between two indigenous Mohawk Indians from North
America and a Bolivian Aymara. They exchanged warm words of solidarity
and grains of corn.
After an official and inclusive indigenous welcome ceremony, we heard
from representatives from the "5 continents" attending the conference
(we’re not sure how they classify continents). These included: an
indigenous woman from Alaska, an African, an Indian, a Spanish member of
the European parliament, and a leader from the Brazilian branch of Via
Campesina. A representative from the UN spoke and got heckled a bit.
Oceania missed out.
The speeches all echoed one another. We heard several times that Evo
Morales is an inspiration for giving a voice and a platform for
developing countries, indigenous peoples and social movements on the
issue of climate change. We heard that Copenhagen failed and that
developing countries are not going to "dance to the beat" of the rich
world. The only interruptions to the cheers of support were the
decidedly lukewarm/mixed response to the UN address and the usual argy
bargy between patriots from different Latin American countries about
flag waving etiquette.
And then there was Evo himself. In his hour-long address this
popular, proudly indigenous president of Bolivia made it clear that 2
degrees Celsius warming of the earth is completely unacceptable and gave us his
perspective on the climate crisis, presenting what is essentially the
crux of this conference. It is a perspective that is unashamedly and
explicitly anti-capitalist. It places climate change firmly within the
ideological story that says that the capitalist model (which to us
Westerners is better known as "just the way things are") does not value
the environment, does not value people and never will.
In this part of the world this story is well understood and popular.
Similarly widely grasped is the idea that indigenous values and
lifestyles offer a legitimate and superior alternative. Evo presented
numerous examples: ceramic plates and cups are far superior to
disposable plastic ones, quinoa is better than rice, the beautifully
designed and hand-made ponchos of the Andes could never be substituted
for $2 el-cheapo versions, Andean potatoes are better than Dutch ones
and chicha (the local alcoholic drink made from maize) is far better for
you than Coca Cola. The list went on and the speech became theatrical
as the props were brought out to demonstrate his points.
The conference represents a major push for "Mother Earth rights",
which Evo presented as the alternative to capitalism and as the
application of indigenous thought to human development. This concept is
one of the most interesting and radical that we´ve come across at the
conference and we explore it further below.
In late 2008, the Ecuadorian people via a referendum approved a new
constitution that had been written by an elected assembly. This
constitution is the first to include rights for the natural ecosystems
The new constitution gives nature the “right to exist, persist,
maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its
processes in evolution”. It places the responsibility on the government
to take “precaution and restriction measures in all the activities that
can lead to the extinction of species, the destruction of the ecosystems
or the permanent alteration of the natural cycles".
While it is still unclear how this clause will be implemented and
whether it will have an effect on the current destructive extractive
(and greenhouse gas intensive) model of development being followed by
Ecuador (with some exceptions including the Yasuni ITT initiative), it
is still a fascinating advance in environmental law. It also represents
the growing influence of indigenous views in Ecuador. The indigenous
people see themselves as a part of nature (Pachamama), and have fought
throughout the history of colonisation and capitalist development
against the commodification and exploitation of essential resources.
This new constitution is a major victory for them.
In Bolivia since the election of the Morales government in 2004,
indigenous ideology and culture have also been in ascendancy. Bolivia is
pushing hard within the UN for the development of a Universal
Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth to sit alongside the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights. So far this proposal has the backing of
nine countries and it is expected that this conference will give this
concept a boost. The Bolivian Ambassador to the UN explains this concept
In Bolivia the shift towards giving "Mother Earth" rights is embodied
in the concept they call "living well". This is a form of development
that emphasises quality of life and harmony with nature rather than GDP
growth or accumulation of wealth. We hope to find out more about this
concept and be able to give you some concrete examples as the conference
These developments, stemming from the cultures of indigenous
Americans, are starting a fundamental paradigm shift that puts humans
inside nature, rather than outside it.
Is this paradigm shift necessary to reach a safe climate future? It´s
not an easy question to answer.
What we do know is that we are finding it hard to reconcile the kind
of rhetoric we are hearing so strongly here with what is happening in
Australia. This is something that we are grappling with.
We realised that we have so far neglected to
paint a picture of what exactly are the activities underway at this
conference and for this, dear readers, we apologise and rectify
First of all, there are the 17 working
groups that we mentioned in our first post, each preparing statements
and recommendations which will eventually find their way to the UN
climate summit in Mexico at the end of this year. These working groups
reported back to several plenary sessions today and we have listed some
of the main outcomes below.
Apart from the working groups there are
countless self-organised workshops, put on by organisations on a range
of different topics (including, funnily enough, Australian coal). At
the same time, there has been a range of panel discussions. These panel
discussions cover the big picture issues, such as the structural causes
of climate change or the concept of climate debt, and feature conference
celebrities such as Naomi Klein,
Dr. James Hansen and Bill McKibben,
as well as a range of Latin American government ministers and
international climate negotiators.
Of course there are also the stalls, both
official and unofficial, with the government-run stalls giving away
posters and flyers attracting long queues and indignant accusations when
they run out of free stuff (the crappiness of the free stuff bearing no
relation to the level of indignation).
The Bolivian media has also given plenty of
attention to the unofficial 18th working group, which the Morales government tried to suppress. This working group, focused on local
Bolivian climate and environment issues and run by Cochabamba grassroots
environment groups, has been critical of the Morales government,
accusing it of not living up to its environmentalist rhetoric in its
domestic policies (sound familiar?).
So back to Day 3. This morning we managed to
accost a bureaucrat from the Bolivian Environment Ministry and talk to
her about the Beyond Zero Emissions' approach and specifically the Zero
Carbon Australia 2020 project. Unfortunately, people don’t seem to have
much awareness of the backcasting and full transition to zero emissions
concept here. In fact, so far, we’re the only ones we´ve heard talking
about it. The coca-chewing bureaucrat was very excited about the idea,
and promised to pass on our work to the appropriate people.
After a lunch of vegetarian empanadas (and
that’s Australian standard vegetarian not South American, standard which
sometimes includes chicken or fish) came the moment we had all been
waiting for: the Aussies got to run their own workshop! We almost had to
cancel it because the room it was supposed to be in had been taken over
by the working group on forests, and they were in heated debate
furiously trying to finish their work, but luckily they were done about10 minutes before we were due to start.
The workshop was about the climate movement in
Australia, with a focus on coal export campaigning and direct action.
Steve from Rising Tide
in Newcastle presented some facts and figures on Australian coal and
then went through a series of photos showing actions in Australia over
the last few years.
We emphasised the significant impact of
Australian coal exports on global greenhouse gas emissions and the
importance of working together as sellers and buyers of coal to break
the coal addiction. While the presentation may have seemed a little
abstract to an audience consisting mainly of Bolivians with a smattering
of other Latinos, Europeans and South Africans, an interesting dialogue
was generated afterwards in the question and answer session, and
continued after the workshop had finished.
Key outcomes of the 17 summit working
As mentioned above, 17 themed
working groups have been meeting and
working continuously since the conference began three days ago. Anyone
was free to participate -- if they could get into the room! These groups
today presented their conclusions and recommendations at three
concurrent plenary sessions.
The ideas generated, some of which are listed
below, will be formally passed on to government officials (from Bolivia
and other delegations) tomorrow morning at a special "Government-Peoples
Dialogue" session. The story goes that several people have been
nominated to then integrate and prepare a final document which will
constitute the official outcomes of the summit and be taken to UN
climate change negotiations.
Some of the main statements or outcomes of the
working group process include:
- An International Climate Justice Tribunal should be
formed with headquarters in Bolivia. The tribunal would have the
capacity to warn, judge and sanction states, businesses and people who
pollute and cause climate change by action or failure to act.
- Preparation of text for a Universal Declaration of the
Rights of Mother Earth, outlining obligations of humans to
preserve and take care of natural systems, which will be presented for
adoption by the UN in Mexico in December this year.
- The United States should sign the Kyoto Protocol and the commitments
of developing countries under Kyoto limit global emissions sufficiently
so as to return atmospheric carbon dioxide to less than 300
parts per million.
- A global referendum on April 22, 2011 to
determine agreement with issues including the need to change the
capitalist system and redirect current military budgets towards defence
of the Earth. In countries where referendums cannot be carried out
officially there should be a popular vote or consultation.
- Capitalism, and its model of endless growth, is incompatible with
life on a finite planet. We need to choose a path that establishes
harmony with nature. (There was agreement about the need to change the
capitalist model of production, but not that socialism would be an
appropriate alternative.) The notion that economic growth should
contribute to wellbeing was put forward as a shared vision.
There was lots more said, of course – with some speaking in
higher-pitched voices than others. We will post a more complete summary
if it is available before the end of the summit.
[If you have any comments or questions please write to us at Pablo@beyondzeroemissions.org.
We can´t guarantee we´ll reply, but we´ll do our best. Beyond Zero
Emissions is an Australian group that aims “to facilitate the
implementation of the social changes and technologies that will reduce
the impacts of climate change and give our society and global ecosystems
a chance of surviving into the future.”]
Final day, April 22, 2010
By Pablo and Taegen,
The People’s Agreement
The conference wound up today on the fortieth
anniversary of the first Earth Day. It ended with an epic closing
ceremony at the Cochabamba Stadium which lasted around five hours (we
were smart enough to show up only for the last two) and featured music
and speeches, including one from the show-stealing president of
Venezuela, Hugo Chavez.
Most importantly, the final document to have come
out of the summit, the People’s
Agreement (not yet available in English –
link will be provided ASAP) was presented and accepted. This document
represents the work of thousands of people and the synthesis of the
conclusions from the 17 working groups we discussed yesterday. The
Bolivian government is now trying to put this agreement on the agenda at
the UN Cancun conference in December to allow governments to see and
discuss the position of global social movements on the climate crisis.
Some of the points from this document that we left
out in yesterday’s summary of the 17 working groups are:
A call for emissions cuts of Annex 1
(developed) countries of 50% by 2020 on 1990 levels, without the
use of any offsets or international carbon markets.
A recognition of climate refugees and a call
for developed countries to take responsibility for them and grant
them refugee status in their countries under a special climate
A call for a fund made up of 6% of developed
countries’ gross domestic product (GDP) to unconditionally pay back
the climate debt to countries already facing severe climate
A rejection of free trade agreements which
have put the rights of profit-seeking corporations above the rights
of people and nature.
A call for an end to the logging of forests
and the urgent re-vegetation of lands. A rejection of the
definition within the UN Climate Change Convention of tree plantations
as forests and a rejection of the REDD (reducing
emissions from deforestation and
degradation) scheme, which rich countries are using to avoid
emissions reductions at home and is causing the further theft of
indigenous people’s lands.
$2.5 million incentive for the USA?
Shows of defiance against the United States and el
imperialismo yanqui, are a dime a dozen in South America and there
were many to be found at this conference. The most memorable was an
announcement by Ecuador's foreign minister Ricardo Patiño, at the
government/social movements dialogue held this morning (a meeting
between representatives of government and grassroots organisations). He
explained that the USA had withdrawn $2.5 million of aid funding,
because Ecuador refused to sign the pathetic Copenhagen Accord (which
was negotiated by the USA, China, India, South Africa and Brazil in the
last hours of the Copenhagen talks). In reply, Ecuador has offered the
Obama administration $2.5 million if the USA ratifies the Kyoto
* * *
Six critical differences between climate
change discourse and debate at the Cochabamba conference and in
As Aussies attending this conference perhaps the
most critical question, and something we have been conscious of
throughout the whole event is: How does any of this relate to what is
happening in the climate movement/debate in Australia?
We have come up with six critical differences
what we have heard and seen of the climate change debate here in
Bolivia throughout the course of this conference and what we know of the
situation in Australia:
1. Structural causes
In Australia, there is no serious debate about the
structural causes of climate change. Analysis of systemic reasons for
our high levels of pollution is decidedly absent or marginal and there
is an unspoken (and unproven) implication that we can deal with climate
change simply by putting a price on carbon and going on consuming,
growing, exporting fossil fuels and so on. Anyone who bothers to look at
the big picture quickly understands that something does not add up, but
the majority of people just avert their eyes.
At this conference we have heard over and over that
the capitalist system and mentality is to blame for climate change and
is incompatible with averting climate catastrophe. From Evo´s
grandstanding at official plenaries, to the conclusions of the working
groups, to the most informal of conversations with participants from
different South American delegations, we have heard the mantra – we must
choose capitalism or our Earth. Without launching into an assessment of
the accuracy of this analysis here, we cannot help but notice how much
this discourse jars with what is being discussed in Australia. For many
Australians, capitalism is not necessarily a system they are conscious
of participating in – it is synonymous with "just the way things are".
It is not a system widely scrutinised or questioned, let alone
vehemently opposed and presented as the ultimate culprit, which was the
case at the People’s Conference.
2. A moral leg to stand on
We, in Australia, are part of the rich,
industrialised world. As the world’s highest per capita emitter, we have
a very different perspective from the host country, Bolivia, and many
of the other countries most strongly represented here. In Australia,
when explaining the impacts of climate change at a global level, there
is inevitably some statement about how it is those who live in the
poorest nations that are most screwed and (depending on the audience) a
cloud of guilt and abstract sympathy inevitably descends. In contrast,
the mood at this conference has been very much one of "we are the
victims here and others are to blame".
Going beyond the point about who’s got the moral
upper hand, there is also the related question of who’s got any power to
actually affect climate change and the climate negotiations. When you
consider where this conference fits into the grand scheme of things –
multilateral climate negotiations, the UN process and who inevitably
called the shots in Copenhagen, you have to ask what options Bolivia has
to influence their own climate future.
In Australia, we are much larger emitters and are
among the biggest coal exporters in the world. What we do and say
matters a lot more in a geopolitical and climate sense than what Bolivia
4. Respect for Indigenous values
In Australia, Indigenous people have had a limited
role in the climate change debate. The People’s Conference has been
marked by the presence of indigenous peoples from around the world and
none more strongly represented than Indigenous peoples from all over
Bolivia, young and old alike. You could not turn your head here at this
conference without seeing a colourful mish-mash of traditional costumes.
Here, the idea of revaluing Indigenous knowledge and models for living
in harmony with nature is not an abstract concept – it is central to
finding an alternative to the capitalist model and considered by them to
be part of the solution to climate change.
5. Ideology of the climate movement
In Australia our movement is ideologically broad
and, while it does arguably lean to the left, there are representatives
from most points on the ideological spectrum taking action on climate
change. This may be a product of our lack of analysis of the structural
causes of climate change, mentioned in point 1, or it may be because the
science clearly shows that the climate crisis poses a threat to all
people: rich, poor, right-wing or left-wing. It may be a combination of
In Bolivia, it seems that the right is missing from
the climate movement. From the rhetoric at the summit, climate change
has been incorporated into the series of threats to human life that the
South American left attributes to capitalism. There were no defenders of
market-based mechanisms or sustainable capitalism at the conference.
This may be because the right is very small compared to Australia, or it
may be that the right here just isn’t thinking about the climate crisis
6. No deniers
During our five weeks of travel in South America
before the conference and during, we did not see one single media report
or have a conversation with anyone who took a denialist position on
climate change. This contrasts to the attention given to deniers in the
Australian media. Climate change denial seems to be totally non-existent
in South America where acceptance of the overwhelming scientific
evidence is widespread.
* * *
I did but see her passing by …
At an after party, attended by mainly gringo
activists, held at the office of the Democracy Centre, we were very
excited to see the activist, author
and all-round hero Naomi
(No Logo, The Shock Doctrine) walk in. Unfortunately we were
too gutless to go talk to her.
And a quick thanks ...
Finally we want to say a big thankyou! to our hosts
here in Cochabamba, Manuel and Erin, and also to the Bolivian people
for getting behind this conference in a big way. While from an
organisational point of view it left a little to be desired, the
interest shown by the detailed media coverage and the massive turnout
was very encouraging.