Since the Copenhagen summit in December didn’t produce results, grassroots activists held an alternative climate summit in Bolivia. More than 10,000 delegates came to the “People’s Summit for Climate Change.”Grassroots activists, NGOs, climate experts and scientists from more than 100 countries gathered on the outskirts of Cochabamba, in the Bolivian highlands, for the three day-summit that was scheduled until April 22nd.

Among the aims of the People’s Summit for Climate Change were a declaration on the “rights of Mother Earth,” a move to establish an international  environmental tribunal, and a call for a global public referendum on climate change.

Indigenous peoples from many countries attended the meeting

“We now have two paths,” Bolivian President Evo Morales told the crowd in his opening speech. “Cochabamba or death … It’s the death of capitalism or the death of Mother Earth.”

Morales again decried the climate accord reached amid fraught negotiations in Copenhagen late last year, which he called “a complete failure.” He refused to sign that accord.

As a result, the People’s Summit was convened. Its stated aim is to create an alternative climate agenda that gives a voice to those most affected by climate change – namely, the world’s poorest people.

Indigenous groups at the forefront

Origingal inhabitant are among those most severly threatened

Morales, a former coca farmer, is the first president from his country’s indigenous majority. A number of indigenous groups from both Bolivia and around the world were given particular prominence in the proceedings.

Many said their communities were at risk of being hard hit by the effects of climate change. They said they could be among an estimated 200 million so-called climate migrants by the year 2050 unless drastic measures are taken.

“This [conference] is the start,” Filipe Calixto Quilla, a traditional Aymaran Amawta, or shaman, told Deutsche Welle. “It’s the start of changing the habitual victimization of indigenous people by those from Europe.”

He said that the Andean glaciers that are the lifeblood of his people, supplying water used in agriculture, are already slowing in their production.

Last year scientists reported that Chacaltaya, one of the country’s iconic glaciers, had completely disappeared.

Javier Ranieri of the action group International Association of Supreme Masters, said that urgent and drastic measures have to be taken now.

“There is disequilibrium,” he said. “The water is not coming, and this greatly affects agricultural production. The glaciers are also big mirrors. To not have glaciers means there is nothing to reflect the heat. Then there is also the problems of floods. It’s an entire chain of events.”

To blame: wealthy nations

The blame for similar near-apocalyptic scenarios depicted at the meeting was laid squarely at the door of developed countries. These countries, referred to as “northern,” represent 20 percent of the world’s population, but are estimated to cause 70 percent of harmful emissions.

“My country, Canada, is the world’s biggest climate criminal” the writer Naomi Klein said. “We signed up to the Kyoto protocol and pledged to reduce emissions, yet they have gone up by 35 per cent in the last year alone.”

“If we make a mockery of the Kyoto protocol there are absolutely no consequences … that is why ideas like a climate tribunal are so urgent.”

However, discussions on how to establish such a tribunal demonstrate the difficulties the Cochabamba agenda may encounter moving forward. Some environmental lawyers were advocating a court based within an international UN framework.

Pano Kroko, an activist with the group Environmental Parliament, told Deutsche Welle that he has established a peaceful “non penal” environment court set-up using retired supreme court judges in London who are ready to hear cases from organizations, beginning with a case concerning the damming of the Mekong River by China.

However, it remains to be seen whether a body with no formal sanctions can be effective.

Air traffic problems cut attendance

Kroko is one of the few European delegates who made it to the event. The airport closures due to the Icelandic volcanic ash meant many from Europe and Africa were left frustrated in their attempts to attend.

Josie Riffaud from La Via Campesina, an organization campaigning for the return to organic, sustainable farming as a way of combating climate change, took four days to arrive from France.

Riffaud says it is difficult to guess the general public’s awareness of alternative events like the Bolivian summit.

“Often when you meet people, they are aware of us… [In France] there are people trying to live life differently… They are saying  ‘I refuse the system, I want to build another, and I want to contribute.'”

Hopes for UN summit in Mexico

Events in Cochabamba have no direct effect on negotiations to reach a binding accord to succeed the Kyoto protocol.

But any deal requires general consensus from all UN members, so Bolivia, Ecuador, Tuvalu and a handful of other nations who claim they are fighting for their very survival are bound to hold out until at least some of their conditions are met

Given the nature of some of those conditions, some of the strident claims made by Evo Morales, and the already complex battles over emission-reduction levels being waged between China, the US and others, it is evident it will be a long and difficult road to anything near a consensus.

Battle lines have long been drawn. Ecuador used the conference to claim that the US is withholding $2.4 million worth of environmental aid – an accusation also leveled by Bolivia.

The next point of conflict is likely to be UN talks in Cancun in Mexico in December.

Author: Greg Norman

Editor: Anke Rasper (jen)

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