From Copenhagen to Cochabamba

By Andrea Harden-Donahue

An historic gathering of peoples has just concluded.

The People’s World Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia, last week, brought together social movements, organizations and governments for a dialogue on alternative proposals to the climate crisis.

In sharp contrast to the climate negotiations in Copenhagen which saw civil society increasingly shut out and police repression on the streets, this gathering emphasized a participatory process.

And, in direct response to the Copenhagen Accord, this historic conference has put forward the Cochabamba Accord.

The Copenhagen Accord failed to address climate change. It is the product of backroom negotiations between a handful of countries led by the U.S. It is not legally binding, nor does it have mandatory emission reduction targets.

In fact, the voluntary targets that have been submitted under the accord could mean up to a 4-degree rise in temperature. This spells disaster for much of the world.

In Bolivia, for example, rising temperatures have caused severe glacial melt, which has meant serious water shortages. Legitimate concerns also continue to be raised about the amount of money dedicated to climate financing for the global South, the sources of this funding and potential conditions.

Just recently the Obama administration announced it would pull the plug on climate financing for Bolivia ($3 million) and Ecuador ($2.5 million) — both opponents of the Copenhagen Accord.

Last December the Council of Canadians argued that Copenhagen was a success not because of what happened in the negotiations, but because of what happened on the streets.

Faced with backroom deals and many developed countries refusing to make the needed deep emission cuts, hundreds of delegates led by members of the Bolivian delegation and the Indigenous Peoples Caucus walked out to join the thousands on the streets.

This action attempted to reclaim space for dialogue on the real and false solutions to the climate crisis.

Last week’s conference was announced shortly after the Copenhagen negotiations ended. It aimed to provide a space for dialogue between peoples and governments. It also aimed to give voice to the views of many developing countries and organizations that were ignored in Copenhagen.

Throughout the conference, 18 working groups met. They covered areas such as climate debt and financing (debt owed to global South countries by developed countries that are responsible for emitting more than two-thirds of historical greenhouse gas emissions into an atmosphere all life shares), the dangers of the carbon market (including carbon offsets which allow developed countries to avoid domestic emission reductions by investing in carbon credits generated by projects in the global South), as well as the Kyoto Protocol and Vision, both related to the UN process (the basis of negotiations in December). This process, at times exhausting and exhilarating, with heated debates, produced documents which ultimately transformed into the Cochabamba Accord.

A primary stated goal of Copenhagen was to reduce CO2 emissions. Although this was also a focus in Cochabamba, it was approached in a profoundly different way.

First and foremost emphasis was placed on protecting, loving and respecting Pachamama (Mother Earth). While it may be a new term for many of us, Pachamama is central to indigenous peoples worldwide. It describes the relationship and needed balance between humans and the Earth.

This worldview connects strongly to the demands heard on the streets in Copenhagen. The movement behind the Reclaim the Power action challenged the world to recognize that we cannot address the climate crisis until we recognize root causes of this crisis, including unsustainable production, consumption and trade.

What is needed is a just economy for people and the planet, where economic growth does not trump public and environmental interests.

Bolivian President Evo Morales made it clear in his remarks at the conference’s closing ceremony that he wants to see the Cochabamba Accord at the next climate negotiations in Cancun and considered on an equal basis with the Copenhagen Accord.

On the last day of the conference the UN made clear its support for the Cochabamba process and the need for the inclusion of those who have been excluded.

This gives hope to some of the initiatives at the conference including a proposed Universal Declaration of Mother Earth Rights, a global referendum on climate change in April 2011, and the formation of a climate justice tribunal.

Given the significance of this conference, it is a shame that our government was only an observer and not a full participant in this process. Sadly, Canada’s climate policy is still driven by an agenda of increasing energy exports, not reducing carbon emissions.

While the talks in Cancun start in just seven months, we will use this time to bring the message of Cochabamba to the Harper government and work so that Canada plays a constructive role there.

Our prime minister may be more familiar with prorogation than Pachamama, but the world expects better.

Andrea Harden-Donahue is a climate justice campaigner for the Council of Canadians.

Source: Ottawa Citizen

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