Cochabamba: People’s Fight for Climate Justice

Shashwat Sinha

On April 22nd over 35,000 delegates representing different social movements from 140 countries converged to Cochabamba in Bolivia for World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. The conference was a response to the corporations and governments of the “developed” countries in Copenhagen, who in complicity with a segment of the scientific community discussed climate change as a problem limited to the rise in temperature without questioning the cause. The cause, which the Conference most unequivocally declared, was the capitalist system.
The Conference represented the people’s voice which was largely shut out in Copenhagen. President Evo Morales of Bolivia, host of this People’s Conference, presented UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon with the People’s Agreement on May 10 and stressed that the voice of the civil societies and indigenous people around the world must be heard and any climate talk is incomplete without it. The Conference represented a rejection of the exclusivity of ‘Copenhagen Accord’ where deals were cut behind closed doors and civil societies and many smaller countries were not included in the negotiations on the premise that ‘too much democracy will not get us anywhere.’ In Cochabamba on the contrary, the participatory process including voices of civil societies and indigenous people all over the world came out with a draft with most transformative and radical vision so far. The Conference demanded a global referendum on crucial issues like climate change and rejected the notion of decision by a few elite representatives.
During bloody Water Wars against privatization of water by Bechtel, Bolivia got its transformative leader in Evo Morales who comes from its indigenous population. Under Morales’ leadership, Bolivia has emerged as a remarkable exception to the anti-people, pro-imperialist path taken by most developing countries in the world – India included. In Bolivia today, key industries are being nationalized, workers are being encouraged to form unions, open participatory democracy encouraged and imperialism resisted. This made Bolivia an ideal host for the summit, which took place in a giant football stadium with Morales marshalling the event.
It is to oppose ineffective pseudo-solutions like carbon trading that Bolivia along with Venezuela refused to sign the Copenhagen accord which resulted in cutting off of the ‘climate aid’ by the US to these countries. Bolivia is a land-locked country with its primary source of water being its age-old glaciers which are fast melting as a result of climate change. Very soon, Bolivia might face a threat to the survival of its population – along with island nations and other African countries, which are facing the severest consequences of climate change without contributing one bit to its cause. Africa already has climate refugees and it can further suffer an increase in temperature of more than 3 degrees Celsius in the current Copenhagen framework. The pattern will extend to South America and Asia where deserts can expand and droughts, floods would affect different regions due to melting of glaciers. India is already witnessing flash floods in Himalayan regions, which has led to displaced populations and destruction of agriculture. The production of food would diminish in the world, with catastrophic impact on the survival of inhabitants of vast regions in the planet, and the number of people in the world suffering from hunger would increase dramatically, a figure that already exceeds 1.02 billion people. Recognizing the roots of these drastic consequences, the Conference called for ‘decolonizing’ of atmosphere and recognizing Mother Earth as the source of life.
The Conference in its final analysis declared that the “capitalist system has imposed on us the logic of competition, progress and limitless growth. This regime of production and consumption seeks profit without limits, separating human beings from nature and imposing a logic of domination upon nature, transforming everything into commodities: water, earth, the human genome, ancestral cultures, biodiversity, justice, ethics, the rights of peoples, and life itself. Under capitalism, Mother Earth is converted into a source of raw materials, and human beings into consumers and a means of production, into people that are seen as valuable only for what they own, and not for what they are.”
The People’s Agreement that came out of Cochabamba proposed to forge a new system that restores harmony between nature and human beings and “elimination of all forms of colonialism, imperialism and interventionism” as one of its principles.
The Conference posed a profound question for future of mankind: “humanity confronts a great dilemma; to continue on the path of capitalism, depredation, and death, or to choose the path of harmony with nature and respect for life.” However, the Conference declaration did not address how to deal with the recalcitrant US, the single biggest polluter and the primary cause of the failure of the Copenhagen climate talks. It could also not come up with a credible mechanism for a reliable global referendum; the Conference was at times mired and bogged down with ideological debates over subtle differences in the final wording of the declaration. Still, it is a big step forward in voicing a people’s agenda on climate change.