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World People’s Summit on Climate Change opens in Cochabamba

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19 April 2010

Cochabamba, Bolivia: Following the catastrophic outcome of the United Nations’ climate negotiations held in Copenhagen in December 2009, a breath of fresh air wafts in as peoples from around the world gather in the first ever global summit on climate change initiated by a government in league with social movements, indigenous peoples and other civil society actors. When the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, announced that the world would meet in Bolivia for a thorough and inclusive discussion on this vital issue of our day many may have thought that the announcement was nothing but a pipedream. To the joy of many and the consternation of some the summit is holding as planned.

The summit attracted a registration of up to 17,000 participants and activities commenced today by way of initial sessions by working groups as well as a peoples assembly facilitated by La Via Campensina, the largest peasant farmers movement, and Friends of the Earth International, the world’s largest federation of grassroots environmental organisations as well as other groups and social movements.

This summit stands in sharp contrast to the Copenhagen event in many ways. First, this is an assembly of governments and peoples. In Copenhagen effort was not spared in keeping civil society out of the conference. That conference was marked by lockouts of civil society, detentions of climate activists and outright brutality on non-violent protesters on the streets. In Cochabamba the police are offering assistance and are even wearing badges indicating that they too are participants. Whereas Copenhagen showed a disdain to the voices of the people, in Cochabamba this is the essence of the meet. Having said that, we must agree that there is a similarity between the two cities: the two names begin with the letter “c” and both have ten letters.

Participants generally agree that this summit is a great opportunity for the false solutions to climate change to be fully exposed and the real solutions as well as the demands for climate justice to be clearly made. It is a step in the build-up to an unstoppable global environmental justice movement.

The summit is organised around seventeen working groups and hopes to examine the structural causes of climate change and also to discuss and agree on the need for a Universal Declaration of Mother Earth Rights. The working groups around which the work is organised include those planning for a Climate Justice Tribunal, dangers of carbon market, climate migrants, and technology transfer among others. The summit is also working on the organisation of the Peoples’ World Referendum on Climate Change.

The summit will not be without controversial moments. For one, there is a group of techies from Europe who are in Cochabamba to sell the idea of geo-engineering as a solution to climate change. Many groups are already up in arms against in suggestion of using the techniques suggested by geo-engineers among which are those that say that manipulation of nature could lead to unexpected outcomes apart from allowing individual unregulated space to take up the global commons and further pile unjust access to resources and place people at risk. Some proposed geo-engineering solutions are the seeding of the clouds to block off the sun and thereby cool the climate as well as seeding the oceans with “pollutants” in order to enhance its carbon capture and storage capacities.

Another hot area has to do with REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation). While some groups think that REDD would bring benefits to communities, The Indigenous Environmental Network, Oilwatch, The Corner House, Transnational Institute and other NGOs believe that REDD is nothing other than “Reaping profits from Evictions, land grabs, Deforestation and Destruction of biodiversity.” It is also believed that REDD offers polluting companies the space to buy permits to carry on polluting.

On the run up to the Cochabamba summit, an International Fair on Water towards the World Peoples Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth was held here 14-18 April 2010. The water conference declared that climate change is “a result of an extractive, destructive and polluting production pattern of which large-scale mining. Oil. Coal and gas extraction operations, and water dams intended to meet wasteful energy consumption needs, provide examples.” The conference went ahead to propose among others a transition from an extractive pattern to a pattern based on principles of solidarity, justice, dignity, and respect for life, reciprocity and equity. It also called for a revocation of “licences granted to transnational corporations and especially halt mining, gas, oil and monoculture tree plantations and agro-industrial, land-intensive, cattle ranching corporations. All those activities are voracious water consumers that end up in merchandise aimed at meeting an increasing consumerism.” Some people wonder what will be achieved in the peoples’ summit seeing the failure of the United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen. Most participants here see Cochabamba as a great opportunity for the strengthening of an environmental justice movement whose birth was so loudly illustrated outside the official meeting chambers of Copenhagen. This summit also illustrates that governments ought to work with the people, after all they their legitimacy can only derive from the support of the people. President Evo Morales of Bolivia is showing very clearly that governance is about engagement with real people in efforts to tackle real problems and that governments and government organs should not be afraid of listening to the people.

The university campus (UNIVALLE) where the summit is happening is covered with a sea of colourfully dressed participants from around the world. Business suits are a rarity here. People walk with assured steps in full dignity. Laughter rings beneath the trees and the mountains of Tiquipaya provide and excellent backdrop. The volcanic ash blowing over Europe may have stopped some participants from getting to Cochabamba, but that event alone illustrated the power of nature and the fact that although there is much knowledge, there are still things that remain under the control of nature. Wisdom urges humanity to respect the rights of Mother Earth and live in cooperating rather than manipulating relationships with her.

Tomorrow the summit formally opens.

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