Reporting from Cochabamba, Bolivia
Bolivian President Evo Morales launched the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth on Tuesday, welcoming over 10,000 people from 135 countries and dozens of social organizations to what he declared to be an alternative to the United Nations climate talks.
In a moving multicultural ceremony in a stadium outside Cochabamba, amautas — indigenous cultural leaders — performed an official opening ceremony offering a gift to mother earth "Pachamama".
A written goal of the conference is “to save the planet,” and Morales, who opposed the U.S.-backed Copenhagen Accord during the last international climate conference, was clear about where he’d like to start.
"We can not have equilibrium in this world with the current inequality and destruction of Mother Earth," Morales told the crowd. "Capitalism is what is causing this problem and it needs to end."
For three days, Cochabamba, a city of fewer than a million people, will hold 17 conference workshops where topics such as structural causes of climate change, harmony with nature, adapting to climate change, indigenous peoples, the dangers of the carbon market, climate justice and others will be discussed.
The participants, many from environmental and social groups, hope the summit’s conclusions will be taken into account at the next UN talks in Mexico in December, though its unclear whether world leaders will even acknowledge the proposals.
The Rebel Workshop
Off the official summit campus, visitors can find Workshop No. 18 and another set of concerns.
Workshop No. 18 is a self-declared rebel workshop.
Morales’ government doesn’t want to hear the demands of the social organizations there because they are exposing environmental problems caused by extractive activities like mining, new projects hydroelectric dams and water legislation within Bolivia, participants said. Mining is likely to expand and cross paths with the global push for sustainability because Bolivia holds huge deposits of lithium, used in manufacturing lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars. At the same time, Bolivia faces a danger of water shortages as its glaciers melt.
"The social and environmental issues that we are raising must be addressed by government," Secretary of Extractive Industries of the Confederation of indigenous Aymara Rafael Quispe said.
The Regional Federation of Peasant Workers of the Altiplano Sud (FRUTCAS) is one of the participating organizations at workshop No. 18. It is a grassroots organization of community members from Nor Lipez province of the department of Potosi who are in the midst of a conflict that has upended the operations of a huge Japanese trading company.
The protest is against the San Cristobal mine, which is owned by Sumitomo Corporation. It has been in operation for more than three years in the Andean region near the Salar de Uyuni in the town of Avaroa, but for the past week and a half, it has been largely shut down by the protesters.
With blockades, marches and office take-overs of the San Cristobal mine, the communities are demanding that the silver and lead mine replenish the water expended by the extraction processes of an open pit mine and that it be taxed. Six hundred liters of water every second are extracted by the mine.
They are also demanding the completion of projects that were promised by the mining companies when they began operations, such as electrification and improved road infrastructure, with emphasis on water issues.
So far, the Morales government has not taken action against the protest. The situation remains tense, and organizations at Workshop No. 18 are in solidarity with those who are mobilized.
So with an emphasis on indigenous culture, a sharing of information, and participants that range from indigenous to students, academics, government representatives from around the world, the conference and its satellites are under way. There is expectation and an excited willingness to move forward in the heated debates that are sure to come.
(Photo: Simon Wedege)