World People's Conference on Climate Change: An Alternative to Copenhagen and Cancun?

Bolivia has played an interesting role in climate change negotiations. At the climate change conference in Copenhagen last December, Bolivia was one of only seven countries to not sign onto the Copenhagen Accord. President Morales, chose not to sign onto the Copenhagen Accord because he viewed it as an inadequate deal that put undue strain on the world’s poorest people. This resulted in Britain pulling $3.5 million from Bolivia in climate aid. The US also announced in April that it would be reneging on $3 million in climate-related aid for Bolivia.

This doesn’t mean Bolivia isn’t serious about climate change, though.  On May 7, Bolivian president Evo Morales presented the results of the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Right’s of Mother Earth (WPCCC), which took place in Bolivia a few weeks ago, to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Did you hear much about it? Probably not as the mainstream media in the US has ignored it for the most part.

Three texts lay out the findings and work done at the WPCCC.  These include an official document o the UN as well as the “Peoples Agreement” and “Universal Declaration of Mother Earth’s Rights.”

The documents that came out of the WPCCC are an interesting counter to the Copenhagen Accord. They are sweeping in their scope and cover many areas that will be affected by climate change. Some of the more interesting points include:

  • Recognizing Mother Earth as a being defined to include “ecosystems, natural communities, species and all other natural entities which exist as part of Mother Earth.
  • Using the next climate change conference in Cancun as an opportunity to amend the Kyoto Protocol for a second commitment period lasting from 2013 until 2017. During that time, parties should agree to reduce emissions by 50% below 1990 levels.
  • At the same time, this new amendment should also prohibit the use of carbon markets and offsets as mechanisms to reduce emissions.
  • Adaptation is not a form of resignation to catastrophic climate change, but rather a way to help vulnerable people insulate themselves from climate variability, both natural and anthropogenic.
  • Acknowledging this, an Adaptation Fund should be set up by developed countries that not only helps vulnerable people adapt but also includes compensation for damages and lost opportunities “due to extreme and gradual climatic events.”
  • Defining monoculture plantations as forest for use in REDD schemes is unacceptable. A more traditional definition of forests as a diverse ecosystem is needed going forward with international negotiations.
  • A vision of common but differentiated responsibilities that lead the world to a path to a global atmospheric carbon dioxide level of 300ppm.
  • Having a discussion of not just the physical causes of climate change but also the underlying economic causes, particularly capitalism.

Overall the documents suggest that we need to step back from globalization and turn to meeting people’s needs at a more regional level to reduce emissions and increase prosperity worldwide. They also suggest that the Earth is not a commodity but rather a system which needs to be in alignment. Climate is one part of that system, and changes in the climate will in turn alter the health of the rest of the system.

Many of the points stand as a challenge to the way the chips fell in Copenhagen and are lining up for Cancun. The documents point out the failures of developed nations to live up to their common but differentiated responsibilities when it comes to reducing emissions. The US in particular is singled out. It has failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol or any other binding treaty and emissions have increased 16.8% between 1990 and 2007.  This means the average American creates 20 times more carbon dioxide than the average person living in sub-Saharan Africa.

Clearly there’s a disparity that needs to be addressed, especially given that that person in sub-Saharan Africa will be drastically more affected by shifts in the climate than that person in the US.  As a result of this inaction, the WPCCC insists that indigenous and less politically powerful groups should have a greater role in forging a new climate treaty as the current powers have failed to rein in emissions.

Many of the attendees of the WPCCC were indigenous people from developing countries. Some developing world heads of state attended the event as well. Most all were cast as minor (if not invisible) players at Copenhagen.

In spite of that, you’d think this would be a major news story given that the size and scope of the conference were similar to the climate change conference at Copenhagen. However, a quick (admittedly unscientific) check of Google Trends searches and news mentions shows the WPCCC didn’t even register on the internet radar.

There are a number reasons this might be. The implication, though, is that the voices of these 35,000 people aren’t as important as the 35,000 people that were in Copenhagen. While some of the ideas proposed at the WPCCC might seem like radical ways of dealing with climate change, they are ideas worth listening to. The 35,000 voices that drafted them certainly have reason to believe so.

Sadly, the disparity between the developed and the developing world’s ideas of how to deal with climate change is something that hasn’t been thoroughly explored by the mainstream media. However, this tension will affect the outcome of any major climate treaty. If it is ignored, then that outcome will likely be flawed in the eyes of many of the people who attended the WPCCC.

The majority of people live in the developing world. Populations in developing countries are expected to increase more dramatically than in developed ones in the future. Therefore, it is essential that opinions and ideas of people from developing countries be included when it comes to shaping global climate policy. The voices from Bolivia have said that to confront climate change is to change the entire system of how we do business and treat the Earth. It involves “decolonizing” the atmosphere and searching for real environmental justice. It involves using justice and will to craft solutions that are equitable and beneficial to all humans and the Earth. Without paying attention to these ideas, international climate negotiations risk alienating and disenfranchising the majority of the world’s people.

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