Bolivia’s Climate Summit: "The People’s Agreement"


This week, with the People’s Summit on climate change wrapped-up and gone (and Tiquipaya returned to its normal people-to-cows ratio), the Democracy Center has had an opportunity to begin looking more deeply at what happened last week – at what messages have come out of the Summit and at what impact it might have globally and here in Bolivia. Today we begin a series of Blogs posts looking more in depth at the summit, beginning with this one by Elizabeth Cooper examining the People’s Agreement that came out of the meeting. We’ll follow this next week with an analysis by Jessica Aguirre on, “Money and the Market: What Role in Addressing Climate Change? and by me on “Where’s the Strategy for Moving Forward?”

One other note, on May 1 the Blog from Bolivia has to migrate to a new publishing system, a task beyond my feeble mind’s ability to comprehend. So if there are some delays and glitches in our posts in the next week or so, blame technology not chicha.

Jim Shultz

Bolivia’s Climate Summit: “The People’s Agreement”
Written by Elizabeth Cooper

More than 30,000 people were officially registered for last week’s People’s Summit on Climate Change (about 25% from abroad and the rest from various parts of Bolivia). After a wild flurry of meetings by working groups and participant-led workshops, the Summit finally produced a lengthy declaration of conclusions, a so-called “Peoples’ Agreement” designed to respond to what the Bolivian government and other participants branded as the failure of the Copenhagen summit last December. While critical of the UN negotiation process, the Agreement is aimed at the next installment of those negotiations, the UN-hosted summit scheduled for next December in Cancun.

Wrapped in a thick blanket of rhetoric about the perils of imperialism and capitalism for the planet’s health, the conference agreement laid out a set of specific demands and plans aimed primarily at the wealthy countries of the north. The four main proposals among these are:

1. The establishment of a UN Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth that would reflect and complement the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

2. The establishment of an International Climate and Environmental Justice Tribunal with legal teeth to “to prevent, judge and penalize States, industries and people that by commission or omission contaminate and provoke climate change.”

3. The acceptance of a comprehensive climate debt owed by developed countries (notably the U.S. and Europe) to the developing countries suffering the Impact of climate change.’

4. The carrying out of a global referendum to consult the peoples of the world on these and other topics related to climate change.

This People’s Agreement is based on a set of proposals drafted beforehand by the Bolivian government, and then worked through by a set of 17 official working groups which all participants were invited to join during the meeting. The final document was then assembled to communicate the positions each group had adopted.

On the subject of “climate debt”, the Agreement declares that developed countries must assume financial responsibility for a long list of impacts and solutions, including the costs of transferring technologies to developing countries, assuming responsibility for accommodating a potential hundreds of millions of “climate migrants”, and cutting carbon emissions enough to allow for carbon contamination by developing countries as they industrialize.

While the document did heavily reflect Morales’ original language and objectives, there was also certain evidence of the responsiveness of the drafting process to feedback from the participants. For example, an important policy debate reflected in the Agreement deals with the current policy of allowing carbon emitters to offset that contamination by effectively leasing large tracts of forests, mostly in developing countries. The controversial REDD program (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries) was a target of heated opposition at the conference. The forests working group—which initially held a pro-REDD position—ended up adopting a strongly anti-REDD stance, stating, “We condemn the mechanisms of the neoliberal market, such as the REDD mechanism…which are violating the sovereignty of our Peoples and their rights to free, prior and informed consent and self determination.” In some panels those objecting to the REDD approach called it a plan to turn people in developing countries into “park rangers.”

Throughout the Agreement participants in the People’s Summit challenged a fundamental strategy in the Northern approach to climate change since the Kyoto Protocol – the use of market mechanisms as a way to reduce carbon emissions and damage to the climate. The Agreement declares that carbon markets have “become a lucrative business, commodifying our Mother Earth.” The report rejected the commodification of the right to pollute as well as the privatization of common goods such as water. It also called for the transfer of climate-related patents and technologies to into the public domain, to make them more readily accessible to the planet as a whole.

Calling current funding to developing countries as well as the proposal under the Copenhagen Accord “insignificant,” the document demanded that developed countries commit to an additional—direct and non-conditional—annual funding of at least 6% of their GDP to combat climate change in developing countries. It noted that a similar amount is already spent yearly on national defense. It additionally demanded a new mechanism under the UN Conference of the Parties with significant representation from developing countries to dispense these funds and ensure an efficient and compliant process.

The Agreement went beyond specific policy and soared into a debate over fundamental ideology, denouncing the common analysis that climate change is “a problem limited to the rise in temperature without questioning the cause, which is the capitalist system.” The battle between on one hand living sustainably and in harmony with the Earth—“Living Well”—and on the other the continued global pervasion of the capitalist model ran as a thread throughout the whole document, echoing Morales’ opening statements at the beginning of the conference that “either capitalism lives and the earth dies, or capitalism dies and the earth lives.”

In language reminiscent of a Biblical apocalypse, the Agreement warned, “the future of humanity is in danger, and we cannot allow a group of leaders from developed countries to decide for all countries as they tried unsuccessfully to do at the Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen.” It demanded the right to consultation of indigenous peoples in the negotiation and implementation of all climate-change related measures, in accordance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The main dissent expressed at the meeting focused on contradictions at the local level. Some of the strongest dissenting voices came from Mesa 18, the autonomous space called outside the conference by CONAMAQ, a well-known national organization that represents indigenous nations in the Bolivian altiplano. The groups in Mesa 18 focused on a critique of Bolivia’s own environmental policies, charging that the Morales government, on mining and extraction issues in particular, was adopting the same broken capitalist development strategies of the past and risking the same damaging environmental impacts.

There is little question that the Bolivia meeting was more open and participatory than the usual UN summits, but there is also equal debate over what impact the People’s Agreement and Summit will actually have on global practice and policy. The consensus reached amongst the participants remains a consensus of a group of people already in ideological agreement with one another. Reaching out and gaining support beyond those narrow lines will be harder.

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2 Responses to Bolivia’s Climate Summit: "The People’s Agreement"

  1. Anonymous says:

    Not a badly written article. It's presents in a pretty fair way the facts of the Cochabamba Clown Summit. Ideology trumped science, Biblical apocalypse predictions over rationale.

    Regarding the four main proposals:

    1) I think it's so sexist. Where did "Mother" Earth come from anyway. Why not "Parent Earth" or "Guardian Earth?"
    2) You wanna penalize the states, industries, and people for contaminating the environment? The host country and people (Bolivia) should be first in line for its illegal coca/cocaine industry, its thousands of fires during San Juan, and the atrocious Rocha and Choqueyapu Rivers, which have been certifiable dumps for decades.
    3)Note how the imperialist gauche caviar have left out the most contaminating country in the world: China. The developing world should pay the First World royalties for using technology, medicine, etc that they only use and maintain.
    4)The "global referendum" questions are as infantile and useless as can be. Instead of the usual "poor me, I'm a victim" mentality, it should ask how the rich countries became rich and how to implement such policies to the rest of the world.

    PS Did you experience any effects against your, ahem, manhood or hairline after eating the solar powered cooked chicken, Jim?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Forgot to mention that the only reason Evo attacks capitalism is because he wants to be in power for fifty years just like the Castro brothers in Cuba…