Bolivian President Evo Morales earlier this year called for an international conference to deal with the structural causes of climate change and to propose “alternative models” for humans to live in harmony with the natural world. The First World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth (WPCCC) took place April 19-22 near Cochabamba, Bolivia.
Some 18,000 people were on hand, including, scientists, intellectuals, lawyers and official representatives from 94 countries, among them the presidents of Ecuador, Venezuela, Paraguay and Nicaragua. The Cuban vice president and the prime ministers of Antigua and Barbados were present. Social movements from 132 countries were represented. A complete schedule of events is available online.
The conference came about in reaction to last December’s failed UN Copenhagen Climate Conference. Dim prospects for a 17th UN Climate Conference in Mexico next December were confirmed at an interim UN climate conference in Bonn earlier this month.
The Copenhagen Summit missed in meeting its obligation under the 1997 Kyoto Protocols to establish numerical goals for reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by individual nations. A handful of industrialized nations, led by the U.S. government, commandeered the proceedings, finishing them off with a brief statement of generalities.
Sociologist Raul Prada, Bolivia’s vice minister for strategic state planning, indicated that the Cochabamba summit would pay attention to a range of causes of climate change rather than focus on greenhouse gases alone. The agenda, he said, would include “environmental depredation,” understood as wastage of renewable resources, “ecological disequilibrium,” and environmental contamination.
Inaugurating the conference, President Morales stated, “We have only two roads, Mother Earth or death. Either capitalism dies or Mother Earth dies.” Earlier in Copenhagen, he had observed, “We are the ones called upon to head this struggle for the defense of Mother Earth …The debate [is] between the culture of life and the culture of death.”
This was not new for Morales. At an indigenous congress in 2007 he called for “national and international decisions to save Mother Nature from the disasters provoked by capitalism in its decadence.” At the United Nations in April 2008, he announced “10 commandments to save the planet, humanity, and life.”
The United Nations last year made good on his proposal to name April 22 the International Day of Mother Earth. According to Mercosurnoticias.com, “Climate change [for indigenous peoples] is a problem not only of atmosphere, technology, or financing, but one of the western model of life, of the ambition and greed of capitalism.” Some 7,500 indigenous people attended the Cochabamba conference.
The names given to 17 conference working groups suggested the broad range of topics undertaken. They included: structural causes, harmony with nature, the rights of Mother Earth, climate migrants, indigenous peoples, climate debt, climate change adaptation, forests, agriculture and food sovereignty, Kyoto Protocol requirements, development and transfer of technologies, “shared vision” for action, financing, action strategies, and “carbon market dangers.” Morales’ proposals for a climate justice tribunal and a world referendum on climate change filled out the list. Crammed into four days were 164 two-hour presentations carried out on the initiative of environmental, indigenous, energy, peasant and food sovereignty groups at the summit.
The gathering took on the colors of a “people’s summit,” reflected in commentary by one participant that “Confrontation on climate change had to proceed from the bottom up.” Social movements dominated at the WPCCC, just as they have done in the new Bolivia. “It’s not by accident,” explained writer Eduardo Galeano, unable to attend, that this “summit of mother earth” took place in “this nation of nations.”
The Bolivian setting for the summit indicated world recognition of Evo Morales’ expanding leadership role in popular struggle. The United Nations last August named him a “World Hero of Mother Earth,” identifying him as the “leading exponent and paradigm of love for mother earth in this world.”
The WPCC’s message ultimately came down to the idea expressed by Galeano: that “human rights and the rights of nature are two names for the same dignity.” The People’s Summit unfolded on the anniversary of popular victory marking Cochabamba’s “Water War.” Ten years ago, street clashes with security forces ended up dumping water privatization plans set in motion by U.S.-based Bechtel Corp. From then on popular mobilization grew, leading to the election of Morales’ socialist government in 2005.