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Building a Climate Justice Movement

The climate justice movement has taken up two enormous concerns: How to address ecological catastrophe and how to develop a new global economic model.

In the Bolivian village of Tiquipaya, just outside of Cochabamba, 15,000 people from 125 countries gathered for the People’s World Conference on Climate Change, which Bolivian President Evo Morales organized after the failed Copenhagen climate talks. Under a beaming sun, indigenous groups dedicated the conference to Pachamama (Mother Earth in the native Quechua), dancing, singing and playing traditional instruments like charangos and zampoñas, as rainbow-checkered flags of the Andean indigenous peoples waved.

From the podium, President Morales clarified the reason for gathering: “Either capitalism lives or Mother Earth lives.” Morales criticized capitalism: "The main cause of climate change is capitalism. As people who inhabit Mother Earth, we have the right to say that the cause is capitalism, to protest limitless growth. Capitalism is the source of the problem. More than 800 million people live on less than $2 a day. Until we change the capitalist system, our measures to address climate change are limited.”

The conference brought indigenous groups and climate justice action networks together with government delegates and several heads of state from 70 countries. There were 17 working groups and panels, which drafted in a final declaration that the Bolivian government has pledged to present to the UNFCCC’s COP 16 talks in Cancun at the end of the year.

Working groups were to hash out concerns on topics such as agriculture and food sovereignty, financing and technology transfer, the dangers of the carbon market, the impact of climate change on indigenous people and how it produces climate refugees, among others.

Expressing frustration with the non-democratic manner in which the Copenhagen Accord was drawn up, Morales underscored that it was a backroom deal between five countries -- the U.S., China, India, South Africa and Brazil.

Criticism of the UN was evident at the opening ceremony: when Alicia Barcena, representative of UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon, attempted to give her speech, she was booed.

Morales underscored that the Copenhagen Accord ran counter to and disrespected the UNFCCC process, which stipulates transparency in protocol drafting and consensus in decision-making. It ignored the progress of the UN’s two working groups -- AWG-KP and AWG-LCA -- responsible for drafting an agreement extending the Kyoto Protocol.

Numerous countries from groupings such as the G77 (130 nations), the Alliance of Small Island States (42 countries) and the Least Developed Countries (49 nations) echoed his criticism at the recent preparatory UNFCCC meeting in Bonn, Germany.

Bolivia’s lead climate negotiator Angelica Navarro described what happened in Copenhagen: “That is not democracy. That is not the UN. For months, we were discussing our proposals with other countries. They did not listen. What we want in Bolivia is a true and participatory democracy, a grassroots democracy. If the governments do not come up with a plan for climate change, the people have to lead with a plan."

The conference sought to establish a balance of power by bringing together governmental representatives and climate justice groups from around the world.

Navarro echoed Morales’ criticism of free market solutions to global warming, saying, “You cannot create a climate market to solve climate change. You have to address the structural causes. These causes are not only to be measured in terms of greenhouse gases. They are trade, finances and economy.”

As an alternative, Morales has called for a “communitarian socialism” that would equally distribute resources and re-establish harmony between humans and nature. He outlined his plan to achieve this balance:

  1. Reparations from rich countries to poor and low-lying nations, to assist them with adaptations to climate change;
  2. The creation of an International Climate Justice Tribunal, modeled on the UN’s International Court of Justice;
  3. The development and transfer of technology by developed nations to developing countries; and
  4. A Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, modeled on the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Additionally, Morales called for borders to be opened to climate refugees.

In many ways, the conference was a success.

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