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From Buenos Aires to Cochabamba

Joseph Huff-Hannon, Guardian/UK
Travellers on a long bus journey to Bolivia’s climate change conference reflected the diversity of grassroots organising efforts

The second time the bus broke down we were just 60 km shy of Cochabamba, a city of half a million people in central Bolivia. The sun was falling down behind the mountains, and two of the Argentines had started a fire by the side of the road. Before long, as we waited for a few taxis to ferry us the rest of the way, a round of singing had broken out around the impromptu campfire. To the tune of La Bamba some improvised lyrics were hashed out, and before long we were all singing along to our new version: “To Cochabamba!” After a few rounds our new ride showed up, and we finally made it down to the dusty city in the valley below, where a historic gathering drawing as many as 20,000 environmental activists, government representatives, and journalists from all over the world is set to commence this week.

The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, running from April 20-22, is organised by the Bolivian government after the widely acknowledged negotiating failures of the UN-sponsored climate meetings in Copenhagen last December. In both spirit and in structure, the Cochabamba meeting is meant to give greater voice to civil society, indigenous groups, and those who hail from countries most impacted by the effects of climate change. The serendipitous band of activists, teachers, scientists and journalists, from seven different countries, who I joined on a two-day overland trek from Buenos Aires to Cochabamba (3,000 km), could be seen as a microcosm of sorts. The varied work of many of the bus riders reflects the multifaceted roots of climate change, as well as the kinds of diverse grassroots organising efforts that will be highlighted at the conference.

“We plan to participate in the working group on a climate tribunal, the idea to lay down a clear picture of who is responsible,” Enrique Schwartz told me, a Chilean who works with a Buenos Aires based human rights group. “It grows out of what we see so many transnational companies doing in so many of our communities.”
(20 April 2010)
Also at Common Dreams.

Changing the Climate for Justice

Joseph Huff-Hannon, ColorLines
In a central plaza of the Universidad del Valle in Cochabamba, Bolivia, a small group of men and women are presiding over a beauty competition, of sorts. They’re looking after a half a dozen llamas tethered to the base of a nearby stage, and flashing smiles as people come up to have their pictures taken with the tall, wooly animals. Over the sound system, somebody is describing with loving detail the various ecologically important functions that the llama plays in local agriculture, not to mention providing wool for winter clothing.

Nearby an impressive solar panel display has been set up by a local NGO called Energética, which supplies electricity to some of the nearby food stands and feeds into the university’s power grid. “Our goal is to bring clean energy to places in the country that have never before received electricity, rural places where they haven’t even ever had light after sundown,” staff engineer Mauricio Richter tells me, describing Energetica’s work, which is funded by both private grants and the Bolivian government. “We’re here to show that the technology is here, and it’s available.”

Welcome to the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth—a massive meeting organized by the Bolivian government in response to the resounding failure of the United Nations-sponsored climate talks in Copenhagen last year. The world’s governments were unable to find enough common ground in Copenhagen to hash out even a weak treaty to control carbon emissions. News reports largely caricatured developing countries at the talks as pawns in China’s chess match with the United States and Europe. But organizers of this week’s meeting see it differently: Copenhagen entirely ignored the question of climate justice—and the debt wealthy nations owe the world for the resources they depleted during their own development.
(20 April 2010)
Also at In These Times.

The “people’s climate conference” in Bolivia kicks off with ambitious aims

Tina Gerhardt, Grist
TIQUIPAYA, Bolivia — This small town outside Cochabamba, Bolivia — where cows roam freely and campesinos grow fruit, vegetables, and flowers to sell at the local market — is a far cry from Copenhagen. But it’s the latest gathering place in the ongoing effort to shape an effective global response to climate change.

Here, Bolivian President Evo Morales is convening the People’s World Conference on Climate Change this week, an alternative to the unwieldy and thus far unsuccessful U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. NGOs, scientists, activists, indigenous leaders, and representatives of 60 to 70 national governments are coming together for the event — in all, about 7,500 attendees from 110 countries.

The poor nations and poor people of the world were left out of dealings at Copenhagen, conference organizers argue.

What Evo Morales wants

Morales was one of five heads of state to formally oppose the Copenhagen Accord. In what many are interpreting as a direct response to that intransigence, the U.S. recently denied Bolivia climate aid.

To address climate change on a global level, Morales has put forward four suggestions:

1.  Climate reparations from developed nations for developing nations

While developed or rich nations are historically responsible for causing climate change through their greenhouse-gas emissions, poorer nations are more likely to feel the effects and are less able to fund and undertake changes to adapt to climate change. The idea of reparations was widely discussed in Copenhagen and endorsed by well-known figures like Naomi Klein as well as organizations like Jubilee South and Focus on the Global South. Here in Bolivia, villagers are demanding compensation for their glaciers melting.

2.  An international court to prosecute transgressions against the environment

The goal is to establish an International Climate Justice Tribunal or International Environmental Court within the U.N. framework, modeled on the International Court of Justice, that will seek to enforce nations’ commitments to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Last week, international environmental lawyer Polly Higgins put forward a related proposal to include “ecocide” in the list of crimes against peace, so that cases could be tried at the International Criminal Court.  

3.  A Universal Declaration for the Rights of Mother Earth

On Earth Day 2009, Morales called on the U.N. General Assembly to develop such a declaration, modeled on the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.  “One of the most important implications is that it would enable legal systems to maintain vital ecological balances by balancing human rights against the rights of other members of the Earth community,” write Solón and environmental lawyer Cormac Cullinan.

4.  Development and transfer of clean technology

The UNFCCC has been discussing technology transfer, and Morales wants to make sure it stays on the agenda, so that developed countries provide developing countries with the technology necessary to adapt to climate change and produce and use energy sustainably and efficiently.

(20 April 2010)

Other Links

Conference website

Environmentalist, Founder Bill McKibben on “Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet”

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales, Democracy Now
Has comments on Cochabamba

Bless Bolivia for Recharging the Fight to Rescue Our Climate

Bill McKibben, Huffington Post

Bolivia organizes grassroots alternative to UN climate change

MercoPress (South Atlantic News Agency)

Eco-activists mass for climate summit

nine msn (Australia)

World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth Kicks Off in Bolivia

Robert S. Eshelman, Huffington Post