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World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth

From 19 to 22 April, the ‘World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth’ was held in Cochabamba and convened by Bolivian President Evo Morales. The alternate climate summit, held in the aftermath of unsatisfactory negotiations in Copenhagen, brought together over 30,000 participants including grassroots activists, social, indigenous, environmental and cultural organizations, NGOs, climate experts and scientists from more than 100 countries, including official representation of 48 countries. Many more people participated via the Internet and in campaign actions on the final day of the conference, 22 April which coincided with UN Mother Earth Day.

“The United Nations seeks dialogue, inclusiveness and transparency in the global climate discourse,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his message to the conference read by Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of ECLAC.

“Climate change is an ethical issue,” the Secretary-General continued, “with serious implications for the well-being of our generation and those that will follow. It requires a global solution that takes into account the views and needs of all who share Mother Earth.”

“The main point of the conference is to convince developed countries to make and meet commitments to reduce emissions, and we have observed that this will not happen without pressure from civil society,” Bolivian UN ambassador Pablo Solón said in an official press release. “Those who are already suffering from global warming will have the chance to speak out.”

In his opening speech, President Evo Morales said that poor countries would likely bear the brunt of climate change and that all countries should be held accountable for their actions. To get discussions started, the Bolivian government put forth four proposals for consideration: a “universal declaration of Mother Earth rights” that would protect ecosystems from annihilation; a “climate justice tribunal”; the notion of “climate debt” and recognition that poor countries should receive various forms of compensation for a crisis they are facing but had little to do in creating; and a “world people’s referendum on climate change” that would provide a mechanism for people around the world to express their views.

New approach

The particularity of this meeting was its democratic and citizen-oriented structure, and its aim to give voice to those directly affected by climate change. More than 17 Working Group sessions were held during the conference on various topics, including: structural causes of climate change; migration forced by climate change; climate change and poverty; the right to water and lands; financing, technology and carbon markets; the impact on women; and human, economic, social and cultural rights, among other issues. Based on the outcomes of these sessions, the final outcome document, a "Peoples Agreement" was drawn.

The agreement questions the sustainability of the world’s current capitalist system, which feeds climate change, while separating human beings from nature. Therefore, it calls for a new system that restores harmony with nature and creates equity among human beings: "To face climate change, we must recognize Mother Earth as the source of life and forge a new system based on the principles of: harmony and balance among all and with all things; complementarity, solidarity, and equality; collective well-being and the satisfaction of the basic necessities of all; people in harmony with nature; recognition of human beings for what they are, not what they own; elimination of all forms of colonialism, imperialism and interventionism; and peace among the peoples and with Mother Earth."

The agreement also calls upon developed countries to acknowledge the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth; to commit to ambitious short term targets for reducing emissions as to avoid an increase in average world temperature of more than one degree Celsius; and to recognize their climate debt in all of its dimensions as the basis for finding a just, effective, and scientific solution to climate change.

To read the full "Peoples Agreement," click here.

According to a recent press release, Morales underscored that he will present the various proposals, including the Peoples Agreement, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP16) later this year (29 November - 10 December) in Mexico. He also stated that “The United Nations has an obligation to listen to its peoples and social forces.”

Earlier that week, while referring to what had happened in Copenhagen (COP15), Alicia Bárcena, representative of the UN Secretary-General, had underlined that “Sometimes at the global level, as with what happened with the recent climate change debate, many groups felt excluded and I think it is right to address this.” She also conveyed the desire of the Secretary-General that the deliberations in this meeting provide constructive, positive and viable inputs for COP16.

Further information is available online.

Click here for the programme.

Click here for press releases.