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We Need 1,000 Cochabambas

Getting the Message from the UNFCCC: “Just Go Home.” . . . and ORGANIZE!

Shannon Biggs

Months before civil society boarded planes or hopped on buses and bikes destined for Cancun (yes, we met up with a small contingent of cyclists arriving from West Virginia) — it was clear that we weren’t really very welcome.

Far too few of us were even approved as credentialed NGO observers.  The Moon Palace conference site was miles and miles away from the city center, and those without credentials were left out in the Cancun sun.  When La Via Campesina attempted to set up their gathering site nearby, the permits were denied.

For anyone who might have thought we could ingratiate ourselves upon arrival with a heartfelt message from the people of planet Earth, those notions were quickly set straight: We were eschewed, ignored, stopped, searched, silenced, kicked out, barricaded, and banned.

Despite Bolivia’s introduction to the UNFCCC of the People’s Accord that emerged from 35,000 people gathered in Cochabamba earlier this year, it mysteriously disappeared from the negotiating table in Cancun.  Police detained caravans of campesinos and internationals en route carrying messages from communities across Mexico who themselves could not come to Cancun.  When some 20 caravans finally converged for a spiritual ceremony at the ancient Mayan temple of Chichen Itza two hours west of Cancun, they were turned away at the gates. Intense police barricades stopped the civil society march miles from the official space or the public eye.  Those who dared to enter the Moon Palace to publicly opposed the market-based mechanism of the carbon trading scheme REDD were silenced, hauled away and some had their credentials revoked.

OK we get it.  Go home already.

Last year’s talks in Copenhagen made it clear that the official United Nations FCCC process is based not on the root causes of environmental exploitation—but ‘market fixes’ to the same corporate-­led economic model and ‘endless-m­ore’ value system that have driven us to the cliff’s edge.  In Cancun it has become clear that even the modest goals set forth in Kyoto can’t stand against the juggernaut of economic growth at all costs.

There were voices of reason at the table. Bolivia’s UN Ambassador and negotiator to the talks, Pablo Salon, in taking seriously the People’s Accord and Rights of Nature Declaration that came out of the Cochabamba World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth is being called an agitator stalling progress within the official negotiations.

Yesterday, Bolivian President Evo Morales spoke eloquently about the need for a radically new path forward: “In past decades, the United Nations approved human rights, then civil rights, economic and political rights, and finally a few years ago indigenous rights. In this new century, it is time to debate and discuss rights of Mother Earth. These include the right to regenerate biocapacity, the right to life without contamination.”

But the Bolivians who came to the negotiations to represent social movements and to seriously address the failure of the market to protect the planet have been isolated, sidelined and ridiculed along with the rest of us who stand outside. As Bolivia’s official statement from this morning pronounces “History will be the judge of what has happened in Cancun.”

Many came to bring the message of Cochabamba to Cancun. But where do we go from here if the lessons of Copenhagen and Cancun are that our leaders are deaf to the cries of the planet?

The UNFCCC may have it right—we should just go home.   It is time to deliver the message of Cochabamba to the people who are capable of creating change, of creating 1,000 Cochabambas.

Last month with the help of Global Exchange partners the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, Pittsburgh, PA became the first major U.S. city to ban natural gas drilling while elevating community decision-making and the rights of nature over corporate “rights.” They join over 125 communities who are also taking local control of their destinies, refusing to become sacrifice zones for the good of the market and the destruction of the environment.

Along with CELDF, Global Exchange is working with dozens of communities here at home to do the same thing, from Mt. Shasta CA to Big Sur to Santa Monica. Buffalo New York.  New Mexico. Maine. Washington State. Ecuador. Bolivia. In all of these places, a new set of rules is being put into place.

If we want to be heard at the UN, then we need to go home and build the revolution of change in the places where we live.   That is what Global Exchange came to Cancun for — to link arms with our friends on the outside toward building a real movement for rights—for nature and for our communities.

Global Exchange, the Council of Canadians and Fundacion Pachamama‘s new report for Cancun, “Does Nature have Rights? Transformi­ng Grassroots Organizing to Protect People and the Planet” explores the grassroots movement for the rights of nature taking root. The way forward is in our own backyards.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Shannon Biggs

Shannon Biggs is director of the community rights program at Global Exchange.

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