Convinced that recent Government-led climate negotiations had ignored the perspective of the people most affected by global warming, Bolivian President Evo Morales told reporters today that the United Nations should adopt the outcomes of a “people’s summit” he had convened last month in the Andean city of Cochabamba as a more inclusive, people-centred framework for future talks to ensure equitable decision-making and respect for the rights of the planet.
“I’m talking about justice,” said President Morales, who was in New York accompanied by a group of social activists to present United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with the outcomes of the first World People’s Congress on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, held in Cochabamba 20-22 April.
Nnimmo Bassey, Chair of Friends of the Earth International, Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of Executive Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, Meena Raman, of the Third World Network, and Maude Barlow, of the Blue Planet Project, joined the President at the press conference.
During the Headquarters press conference following his meeting with the Secretary-General, President Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous Head of State, said the People’s Congress had been something of an alternative to the fifteenth Conference of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change held this past December in Copenhagen, Denmark. That meeting had produced the “Copenhagen Accord”, a product of closed-door diplomatic horse trading that Mr. Morales said ignored the causes of global warming and placed no obligations on those most responsible for putting our planet, Mother Earth, in peril.
He said that, unlike the Copenhagen Accord, which had been reticently approved by an elite group of negotiators, the People’s Agreement had been adopted by some 35,000 representatives of social movements, indigenous peoples and others. Some 9,254 of the participants in the Congress had come from outside South America, representing 140 countries, including 56 Government delegations. “Their outcome document vows to deal with the structural changes needed to really [tackle] global warming,” he said.
Responding to questions later in the press conference, he said that, among other things, the Agreement called on developed countries to cut their greenhouse gases by 50 per cent by 2020 (compared to 1990 levels). It also wanted the average global temperature rise to be limited to 1° C. The “People’s Agreement” also called for the establishment of an “international court of climate and environmental justice” to prosecute States, companies and people that damaged the climate.
“There are two ways forward: Either save capitalism, or save Mother Earth,” President Morales said. “If Cancun [the next round of United Nations-backed climate talks] is the same as Copenhagen, then unfortunately the United Nations will lose its authority among people in the world.”
Mr. Bassey agreed that the people’s summit had been held out of necessity, so that activists and other ordinary people could raise their voices, express their concerns and provide solutions to the climate change crisis. While such voices had been sidelined in Copenhagen, the negotiations in Cochabamba had been very different. Indeed, most of the critical issues discussed at Copenhagen had been debated in “green rooms” away from the plenary, whereas in Bolivia, ordinary people, as well as Government representatives, had sat together and debated frankly.
He said that one critical point of agreement that emerged in Cochabamba was that climate change was being caused by systemic issues. So, systemic changes must be implemented, so that real solutions could be identified. The Copenhagen Accord had been a product of an undemocratic process and had only called for voluntary emissions cuts. But, the Peoples Agreement had stated clearly that the future of mankind and the planet hinged on real obligations and concrete, verifiable actions.
Indeed, Mr. Bassey continued, if stakeholders followed the voluntary path laid out in the Copenhagen Accord, scientists had subsequently revealed that world temperatures would increase by 4° C over the next 20 years. “That would be a death sentence for Africa, the small island developing States, the Arctic States and other vulnerable nations,” he declared, underscoring that the People’s Agreement had demanded emissions cuts at the source, not through offsetting or market mechanisms that really did nothing to check climate change.
The agreement had called for emissions cuts of at least 50 per cent of 1990 levels during the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2013-2017), and on mitigation and adaptation, it had called on rich nations to devote at least 6 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP), rather than the meagre amounts suggested at Copenhagen, “which would be little more than a drop in an ocean of needs”.
Another critical issue that the Agreement underscored was that the climate debt must be recognized and paid; not just with money, but with decolonization of the atmospheric space, of which 80 per cent was already being exploited by rich nations. The participants at Cochabamba had also called for the adoption by developed nations of a declaration recognizing the universal rights of Mother Earth. “That would to provide a clear avenue through which actions would be taken to give Mother Earth the opportunity to have her cycles restored,” he said.
Mr. Bassey said he had reiterated to the Secretary-General that the United Nations must “robustly” take on the outcomes at Cochabamba and use the People’s Agreement as a tool to break the current deadlock in official climate negotiations and spur real action against climate change. “Climate change is not a thing of the future — it had already claimed many victims,” he added.
Mr. Goldtooth told correspondents that the draft “universal declaration on the rights of Mother Earth” was an international framework to ensure recognition of human rights for all and the rights of Mother Earth. Indigenous peoples’ groups were urging the active participation of civil society and social movements in the upcoming Cancun meeting of States parties to the Convention, as well as in all future United Nations-backed talks towards creating climate polices that actually addressed the needs of real people.
He added that said indigenous people were suffering human rights abuses from schemes such as reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries, which pushed carbon-trading and carbon offsets as the answer to global warming. Because of their unique “cosmovision”, indigenous people were concerned about a world that privatized air and water, and commodified the sanctity of Mother Earth. He said the Copenhagen “deal” was really a “ Copenhagen steal” because it did not recognize, or include, any language ensuring the rights of indigenous peoples.
If implemented, the Copenhagen outcome would lead to more humiliation and marginalization, as well as loss of indigenous peoples’ lands. “Adoption of the Cochabamba Peoples Agreement and the universal declaration is extremely necessary if we are to survive this climate crisis, which will only get worse in the near future,” he said.
Ms. Raman said she had urged the Secretary-General to ensure that what had happened in Copenhagen was not repeated. The Cochabamba People’s Agreement had called for a “global referendum” if future negotiations did not deliver the aspirations of that agreement. She said it was time to acknowledge that the intent of the Copenhagen Accord was to kill the Kyoto Protocol, and it was the duty of the United Nations Secretariat to stress that Kyoto “has not and was not about to die”. Indeed, it was a legally binding instrument, contrary to what was being portrayed in the press. Heading into Cancun, she said civil society mobilization had already begun: “The world is watching. Civil society is watching and we are very encouraged by the leadership being shown by president Evo Morales,” she said.
Maude Barlow, of the Blue Planet Project, said she too believed that the people’s voice had not found a place in the Copenhagen Accord. That was why the Cochabamba people’s summit had been historic and she believed it would have historic outcomes. The hope was that the universal declaration on the rights of Mother Earth would one day be seen as a companion to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. She added that a key recommendation from Cochabamba was the right to water, “perhaps one of the greatest crises of the day”. Water was a fundamental right and public trust. It must not be privatized or commodified.
Answering a question about next steps, Mr. Bassey said Cochabamba had been a turning point. There had been very clear outcomes and they would be used as “organizing tools” to build a grassroots, groundswell movement aimed at forcing Government officials to start listening to the voices of the people that actually elected them. That movement would also aim to ensure that Cochabamba was a framework for future climate negotiations. People must be allowed to follow their own development models, but they must have an eye on what was best for the entire planet, he added.