Cochabamba Diary Day 4 – Earth Day

This is the final post from Pablo and Taegen at the Cochabamba conference. Many thanks to them for their thorough updates from this globally important event. They will be back May 2 or 3 but are now heading to the jungle for some r & r.

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 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 refugee category.
• 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 impacts.
• 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.

This agreement must be taken seriously by any government that considers itself democratic. Unlike most past climate agreements and most national climate policies, including those of the Rudd Government, this is a truly democratic document that doesn’t have the dirty fingerprints of greedy corporations all over it. It is an expression of a democratic and deliberative process and represents the views of people, many of whom are facing a very real threat to their own survival.

$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. Our highlight was an announcement by the Ecuadorian 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 and only a few other countries in secret during the Copenhagen talks). In reply, Ecuador has offered the Obama Administration $2.5 million if the USA ratifies the Kyoto Protocol. We hope the price is right!

Six critical differences between climate change discourse and debate at the Cochabamba conference and in Australia

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 6 critical differences between 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 the majority of 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 as it is here.

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 are quite clearly the bad guys and this gives us, as citizens and as a country, 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´.

3. Agency.
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 – multi-lateral 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 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 does.

4. Respect for indigenous values.
In Australia, we have no concept of indigenous values and lifestyles as presenting any real alternative to our current lifestyles. This 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 destructive capitalist model and considered part of the real solution to climate change.

5. Ideology of the climate movement
In Australia our movement is ideologically broad and, while it does lean to the left, there are representatives from most points on the ideological spectrum taking action on climate change and calling for government action. 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 both.

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 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 at all.

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. The plague of climate change deniers we have in Australia seems to be totally non-existent here and 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 Klein (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 organizational point of view it left a little to be desired, the interest shown by the detailed media coverage and the massive turn-out was very encouraging.