Bolivia Climate Change Talks to Give Poor a Voice

Published on
by
The Guardian/UK

Bolivia Climate Change Talks to Give Poor a Voice

by
Andres Schipani in La Paz and John Vidal

Melting Andes glaciers pose a threat to Bolivians. At least 15,000 people from worldwide indigenous movements and civil-society groups, as well as presidents, scientists, activists and observers from 90 governments, are expected to attend what is being called the "Woodstock" of climate change summits.(Photograph: Dado Galdieri/AP)

Rafael Quispe is gearing up for his trip. He packs a small leather
bag, puts on his black poncho, an alpaca scarf sporting the
rainbow-coloured, chequered Andean indigenous flag and his black hat.
"This will be an important gathering, a very important gathering. It is
about saving our Mother Earth, about saving nature," he says.

Quispe, an Aymara indigenous leader, is heading for Bolivia's central city of Cochabamba for the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, the grassroots alternative to last year's ill-fated UN talks in Copenhagen.

At
least 15,000 people from worldwide indigenous movements and
civil-society groups, as well as presidents, scientists, activists and
observers from 90 governments, are expected to attend what is being
called the "Woodstock" of climate change summits.

"According to
some analyses, about 80% of the world's pollution comes from developed
nations and harms, mostly, developing nations. So we feel we have to do
something, we must be heard, we must be compensated," says Quispe, who
last December lobbied the case of his community at Copenhagen.

"The
COP15 was a total failure, so brother President Evo Morales has decided
to call for this climate change conference to do something about it. We
the people are the ones that should take the lead on how to tackle the
climate crisis," says Quispe.

Even if the Cochabamba meeting will
have no bearing on the UN climate talks, the idea is to give a voice to
the world's poorest people – those most affected by climate change –
and to make governments more aware of their plight.

The main goal is to present draft proposals to the UN climate meeting due to be held in Mexico later this year.

Morales
will also use the meeting to announce what could be the world's largest
referendum, with up to 2 billion people being asked to vote on ways out
of the climate crisis. Bolivia 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 UN ambassador,
Pablo Solon.

"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 added.

Bolivia
is playing an increasingly important role in the climate negotiations
by leading attempts to force developed countries to slash their
emissions further than they have so far pledged.

It was one of
seven countries that refused to sign up to the deal that emerged from
Copenhagen, incurring the wrath of Britain and the US, which this month
withdrew $3.5m (£2.3m) of climate aid from Bolivia.

Last April,
the UN general assembly approved Morales' initiative of launching the
International Mother Earth Day every 22 April to protect the rights of
the Andean divinity, Pachamama (Mother Earth), and of "all living
beings".

"What is behind all this discussion is that we have
broken the harmony with Mother Earth, with nature, and because we have
broken that harmony we are now suffering the consequences of climate
change," said Solon.

In an office plastered with images of Che
Guevara, Quispe says Bolivia is taking the initiative because of its
indigenous constituency. "Things are moving in a bad direction.
Governments know it, scientists know it, but things are not changing. I
would say this is the only scenario to make a balance between the
pressure that at this moment the corporations are putting on
governments, versus the pressure that can emerge from civil society."

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