Global Climate Change Conference Coming to Bolivia in April
It's two decades from now and my life is approaching an end. The realities of global climate change are no longer debated. They are clear, enormous, and worsening with great speed. Draught and rising seas are converting millions into climate refugees. Whole regions lack basic access to water and others are battered by increasingly erratic weather patterns, from deadly hurricanes to chilling blizzards.
And it is now too late to take the actions we could have taken to prevent the much worse conditions that are now coming. My seven-years old daughter will be a young adult, and along with the rest of her global generation she will be looking at a lifetime marked by a planet in deepening disarray. Nothing she and they can do at that point will prevent it. We will have failed them all, and their children even more so, because when there was still time, we denied and dawdled.
In Copenhagen last December we learned that the governments of the world are unable to reach a binding agreement to address this crisis. Blame it on whatever you care to – nationalism, corporate influence, blindness, extremism, resistance to compromise, grandstanding, or anything else. The point here is that we can't count on those with the authority to act to do so and we don't have time to wait and hope they change their minds.
That is why I welcome the fact that, in the aftermath of the failure in Copenhagen, many of the organizations that were left on the outside of that process will gather themselves here in Cochabamba next month (April 19-22), in a new global meeting on climate change initiated by President Morales. The meeting bears the official title: The First World Conference of the People on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth.
Let’s begin with the criticism that will be aimed at this meeting, much of it certainly valid.
From one perspective the meeting will be labeled as a gathering of the left – an assortment of environmentalists, capitalism-haters, indigenous peoples, so-called socialists, and others who will only marginalize themselves more by engaging in a process so disengaged from the places where actual policy decisions and agreements are made. True enough. The Cochabamba conference is not a forum that will take any action that binds anyone to any concrete change of the system. The only agreements that it can reach will be about clearer goals for the climate change movement and clearer strategies for how to go after those goals. But those are both not only good things, they are essential things and worth the effort to aim for.
From yet another perspective, the meeting will be looked at as just one more gathering of the professional NGO crowd, leaving behind little more than a massive new carbon footprint to fly people in and out of Bolivia and never really addressing the fundamental change in consciousness required to save the planet. Some of those with this view will actively criticize the event, others will just ignore it entirely. But however valid the criticisms might be, we still have to find a unified way forward. Self-righteous memories of being more pure will be of little value to our children a generation hence. To be clear, there are some real charges to be discussed about how some leading environmental groups have intertwined corporate financing into their genetic code, about the role of compromise, and real conversations about equity and power. I hope those conversations also happen in Cochabamba next month.
Lastly, more than a few Bolivian eyes have rolled upwards at the new image of Evo Morales as an environmental crusader and "spiritual protector of la Pachamama." Morales has never, until Copenhagen, made the environment a centerpiece of his political agenda. And if one looks to extraction issues in particular (oil and gas, iron, silver, lithium) the Morales government has clearly made getting the wealth out of the ground the real priority and protecting the environment as secondary at best. On this score Bolivia, an impoverished nation, falls into the same trap impoverished people do when faced with an Income vs. Earth tradeoff. Income wins. It's the same reason people clear-cut land here in Tiquipaya. You can't eat trees.
There will certainly be some Bolivian environmental groups who will seek to use the conference to confront the Bolivian government with these contradictions between word and action. They should. But all that said, it is still a valuable thing that Morales has done, to use his clout on the global stage to convene this meeting. Climate change is an issue larger than Bolivia and larger than Morales and the meeting in April remains a critical opportunity to not be lost.
It is also appropriate that Bolivia host such a meeting, given that it is already one of the planet's first serious victims of climate change, with its glaciers melting fast (see the Democracy Center's video report here.)
How the Meeting will be Organized
The Bolivian government's invitation to the meeting is open. Anyone can register and attend. Most of the participants, however, are expected to come from NGOs and social movements in Bolivia, South America, and other regions of the world. Official estimates began at 15,000 foreigners were coming, then shrunk to 10,000, and now seem to have settled at 5,000 (though it could easily be less). What governments will be formally represented besides Bolivia's remains unclear, thought no one expects it to attract any real engagement by the world's wealthier nations, whose actions on the climate issue are so critical.
For those considering coming to Cochabamba for the meeting, here is a preview of how the conference will be organized.
1. Workshops and Events Organized by Participants: This is likely to be the real soul of the conference, with more than 30 of these two-hour sessions are already registered and new ones being added until the deadline for submission on March 15th. These sessions will range from ethereal ("Conversations with Mother Earth") to hard-edged ("Compromising and Caving In: The Nemesis of Climate Change Justice").
2. Working Groups: The conference will also include an ongoing thread of 17 working groups organized around specific issues. These include (among others): the structural roots of climate change, indigenous peoples, and plans for a global referendum on climate change issues.
3. Mass Gatherings: While much of the conference will take place in smaller groups, there will also be a few events that will seek to assemble all the participants together, culminating in an event in the Cochabamba soccer stadium on the evening of April 22.
Additional information about the meeting can be found (in English) here.
What the Democracy Center Will be Doing at the Conference
The April meeting on climate change is taking place, almost literally, on the Democracy Center's doorstep. And we plan to be deeply involved in it. Here are a few of the things we'll be doing:
1. Taking Strategic Action Against the Corporations Damaging the Earth's Climate
If we look behind both the damage being done to the Earth's climate and at the inability of governments to take aggressive action, it is obvious that some of the most onerous actors are multinational corporations that have put profit above the planet. The Democracy Center and other groups will be putting together a workshop to look at how we can take the most strategic action possible to stop dangerous corporate actions.
2. Global Trade Courts: A Threat to the Planet's Health
One of the most important tools that corporations use to undermine government protections of the environment is the system of global trade courts, such as the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes at the World Bank, where Bechtel filed its $50 million case against Bolivia following the Cochabamba Water Revolt. In another workshop the Democracy Center and its allies will help people understand more about the tribunal system and offer a chance to engage in the debate over how the system needs to be changed. This builds on our work with the Network for Justice in Global Investment.
3. Bolivia and its Lithium: Will Electric Cars Lift a Nation out of Poverty?
The Democracy Center is just wrapping up work on an extensive study of Bolivia's plans to develop its vast lithium reserves, a study which has included multiple visits to the region and interviews all of the key actors involved. We'll be releasing our report during the climate change meeting, and announcing it and posting it on-line as well.
4. Reporting from the Conference
If you are interested in the conference but can't come, have no fears. The Democracy Center team is preparing to offer our readers a wide range of coverage from the meeting, including many of the voices and ideas you might not otherwise hear.
Stay tuned here to the Blog for additional information and analysis about the climate change conference as the date approaches. And if you are headed this way, let us know, by sending us an email here.