Reporting from Cochabamba, Bolivia
After three days of arduous debate, discussion and cultural meetings, the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of the Mother Earth ended on Thursday, "Earth Day," with big expectations for the upcoming summit late this year in Mexico.
The conference attracted over 30,000 participants and resulted in proposals that emphasized needs for a world referendum on climate change, a climate justice tribunal, and the protection of the rights of Mother Earth.
"The United States has not even signed the Kyoto Protocol, so we must develop a mandatory and binding proposal," said Alberto Acosta, an economist and former president of the Constituent Assembly of Ecuador.
Bolivian President Evo Morales called for a global referendum on climate change as a way to mobilize toward an international climate justice tribunal. As Acosta explained,
"The starting point will establish the fundamental rights of nature, of Mother Earth, and that will establish a clear legal framework for the tribunal to judge crimes against the environment."
On the final day, representatives from the governments and civil society of many nations discussed what David Choquehuanca, the Chancellor of Bolivia, described as, "a proposal from below that must be listened to by those above."
Delegates emphasized the need for a common vocabulary to address the structural causes of climate change and a common vision to address solutions, including international agreements on the respect for human rights of climate migrants, technology transfers and recovery for older technologies.
They also demanded fair payment of climate debt and effective scientific solutions to the problems caused by climate change, with developed countries assuming the costs and responsibility and quickly cutting their greenhouse gas emissions. UN-supported programs like REDD (Reducing Emissions Through Deforestation and Degradation) were roundly criticized for allowing polluters to pay their way out of taking responsibility for their actions.
The conference ended with a rally in the Felix Capriles Stadium attended by Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela and an ally of Morales; Esteban Lazo, Cuba's vice president; and cabinet members from many governments, including Bolivia's.
Morales, in his speech, thanked the participants and government representatives from around the world.
"We must enforce and respect the documents of the summit because they will save planet Earth," Morales said.
"The United Nations, governments of the world, have an obligation to listen to social forces, and if the United Nations doesn´t want to lose authority, it should implement the conclusions of this global conference on the rights of the Mother Earth.
"But if they don't, the peoples of the world will apply their wisdom, enact their documents themselves."
The declaration of the rights of Mother Earth — the official document of the summit — primarily proposes an analysis of the structural causes of climate change, assigning responsibility for climate change to the developed countries and to the capitalist economic model.
It also proposes to build a new system to restore harmony with nature based on the concept of "living well". Morales describes the philosophy this way:
"The human race can benefit from the wisdom of the world's indigenous peoples, who understand that we must live in harmony with nature. The peoples of the Andes believe in the concept of 'living well' instead of wanting to 'live better' by consuming more regardless of the cost to our neighbors and our environment."
The document also gives strength to Article 2 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), demanding that the focus should be not only economic compensation but also implementing restorative justice by assigning responsibility to developed countries, as well as requiring the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and commitments from countries to respect and comply with the emissions reduction targets at the level of the entire economy.
An important point is the proposal to reform the UN so all member states must comply with the decisions of an international tribunal of climate and environmental justice.
As the conference closed, music and cultural celebration was joined by the increasing expectation of what will happen at the UNFCCC's next big international climate conference in Mexico in December. The ability to actually be heard there appears to be a hope of the summit. On whether this is a realistic expectation, Acosta says,
"Everything will depend on how civil society can take over the proposals. The proposals are interesting, the initiative is valid, and the prospects are enormous, but any concrete result will be subject to action by civil society organizations.
"The proposal has to be extended to the civil society and their actions empowered without the sponsorship or invitation of any government, a permanent global mobilization has to begin to take on the global struggles for the defense of environmental balance, for the defense of Mother Earth."