By John Vidal, The Guardian, April 13, 2010
In what is becoming the hippest environment meeting of the year, presidents, politicians, intellectuals, scientists and Hollywood stars will join more than 15,000 indigenous people and thousands of grass roots groups from more than 100 countries to debate climate change in one of the world’s poorest nations.
The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth which opens next week in the small Bolivian town of Cochabamba, will have no direct bearing on the UN climate talks being conducted by 192 governments. But Bolivian President Evo Morales says it will give a voice to the poorest people of the world and encourage governments to be far more ambitious following the failure of the Copenhagen summit.
Morales will use the meeting to announce the world’s largest referendum, with up to 2 billion people being asked to vote on ways out of the climate crisis. Bolivia also wants to create a UN charter of rights and to draft an action plan to set up an international climate justice tribunal.
“The only way to get climate negotiations back on track not just for Bolivia or other countries, but for all of life, biodiversity, our Mother Earth is to put civil society back into the process. The only thing that can save mankind from a [climate] tragedy is the exercise of global democracy,” said Bolivia’s United Nations Ambassador Pablo Solon in Bonn, at the end of the latest UN talks.
“There will be no secret discussions behind closed doors. The debate and the proposals will be led by communities on the frontlines of climate change and by organisations and individuals from civil society dedicated to tackling the climate crisis,” he said.
More than 90 governments are sending delegations to Cochabamba, Bolivia’s third largest city. Also expected to attend are scientists such as James Hansen, James Cameron, the director of Avatar, the linguist Noam Chomsky, author Naomi Klein of Canada, anti-globalisation activist José Bové of France, and actors Danny Glover, Robert Redford and Susan Sarandon are expected.
The meeting will coincide with celebrations of the Cochabamba “water war” of 2000 when a revolt against the privatisation of water in the city acted as an inspiration for social movements across Latin America and indirectly to the election of Morales as Bolivia’s president.
“We hope that this unique format will help shift power back to the people, which is where it needs to be on this critical issue for all humanity. We don’t expect agreement on everything, but at least we can start to discuss openly and sincerely in a way that didn’t happen in Copenhagen,” said Solón.