How Bolivia celebrates Earth Day

22 04 2010

This morning my email inbox was full of advocacy groups commemorating the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. As the ecological systems that support life are reaching their brink, there is certainly a good reason to use this opportunity to shine a spotlight on a range of issues and challenges. But activist organizations aren’t alone in commemorating today.

Today I was struck even more by corporations trying to capitalize on Earth Day to green their images. As Becky Tarbotton observed in the Huffington Post, the New York Times summarized the situation well: “So strong was the antibusiness sentiment for the first Earth Day in 1970 that organizers took no money from corporations and held teach-ins ‘to challenge corporate and government leaders’… Forty years later, the day has turned into a premier marketing platform for selling a variety of goods and services, like office products, Greek yogurt and eco-dentistry.”

Photo by Diana Pei Wu

Against this backdrop, World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba today is a breath of fresh air.

The Indigenous Environmental Network celebrated today by explaining that “this morning Bolivian President Evo Morales was joined by representatives of 90 governments and several Heads of State to receive the findings of the conference on topics such as a Climate Tribunal, Climate Debt, just finance for mitigation and adaptation, agriculture, and forests. The working group on forests held one of the more hotly contested negotiations of the summit, but with the leadership of Indigenous Peoples, a consensus was reached to reject REDD and call for wide-scale grassroots reforestation programs.”

Jason Negrón-Gonzales of Movement Generation elaborated on how they do Earth Day in Cochabamba: “…from now I’ll be talking to my children and 2010 will be remembered as the year that Earth Day took on new meaning.  It will be the year that humanity turned a corner in our relationship to Mother Earth and began struggling along a new course…more than politics, the conference in Cochabamba brought to the table humanity’s relationship with Pachamama.  This question, raised most pointedly by the Indigenous communities present, was reflected in the project of creating a declaration of Mother Earth Rights, but also went way beyond it.  Can we really reach a sustainable relationship with the Earth unless we stop looking at it as something to be conquered or fixed that is outside of us?  How would it change our lives and our struggles if we thought, as Leonardo Boff of Brazil said, ‘Todo lo que existe merece existir, y todo lo que vive merece vivir (Everything that exists deserves to exist, and everything that lives deserves to live)’?  Or if we understood the Earth as a living thing that we are a part of and that, ‘La vida es un momento de la tierra, y la vida humana un momento de la vida (Life is a moment of the earth, and the human life is a moment of life)’?”

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Dispatch 1: Rumbo a Cochabamba

19 04 2010

The historic gathering of the worlds most affected by climate change is kicking off in Cochabamba this week. Delegations of grassroots activists from the U.S. are going to help give a voice to the “South within the North” – communities on the frontlines of the impacts of climate change and resource extraction and fossil fuel development. Below is the first blog from Jason Negrón-Gonzales of the Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project on his way down to Bolivia. For up-to-the-minute reports back from Cochabamba check out Global Justice Ecology Project’s Climate Connections Blog.
Dispatch 1: Rumbo a Cochabamba
Jason Negrón-Gonzales

I’m writing from the plane in route to Cochabamba for the People’s World Conference on Climate Change and Rights of the Mother Earth. For those who aren’t familiar with the conference, it was proposed by Bolivian president Evo Morales in the aftermath of the COP15 conference in Copenhagen last December. While that conference was billed early as “Hopenhagen”, this week’s meetings in Cochabamba, Bolivia hold the real seeds of hope for a global response to climate chaos that is rooted in justice, equity, and historical accountability, and led by global social movements of workers, farmers, and the poor.

What’s at stake?

While the world needed and hoped for a responsible and sufficient (if not radical) response to climate change, or at least a solid step in that direction, instead what we got in Copenhagen was more of the same: corporations and developed countries trying to extend their advantage and wealth. The class character of the debate was striking. One the one hand, delegates from Global South and Indigenous communities who are least to blame for emissions and are facing the loss of the livelihoods and homelands were demanding strong action now. On the other, economic powerhouses like the US, which consumes about a quarter of the global energy supply, refused to be accountable for the environmental impacts of their economies and way of life.

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VIDEO: Climate Justice and the Copenhagen Moment

19 11 2009

An inspiring new video from smartMeme with leaders from frontline communities and allies talking about the Copenhagen moment.





Rich countries halt Barcelona climate talks with inaction – Africa walks out

3 11 2009

Cross posted from Grist

African negotiators at the U.N. climate talks in Barcelona just refused to continue formal discussions about all other issues until wealthy countries live up to their legal and moral responsibility to commit to deep emissions reductions. Rich countries (also called “Annex 1 countries”) have ground negotiations to a halt by failing to agree their new targets under the Kyoto Protocol (KP), driving developing countries to put their feet down. This walkout is significant and opens up political space – it means many of the countries in Africa just stopped one half of the UN climate negotiation process until rich countries say how much they will reduce their carbon.

We’re down to the wire: just four negotiating days left before the big agreement in Copenhagen is supposed to go down. Its day one, and we saw just a taste of the breakdowns to come. While rich countries continue to undermine commitments for the Kyoto Protocol (one of two negotiating tracks for Copenhagen which is supposed to be renewed for a second commitment period of Annex 1 targets), the spin has already taken hold: they’re blaming Africa for their own delay-mongering. Oy vey.

In response, movement and civil society organizations held a demonstration at the U.N. building in support of African delegates’ insistence that developed countries commit to new, strong binding targets. Delegates and observers were invited to join a human shield against the killing of Kyoto targets (complete with an Annex 1 grim reaper) and instead urged to promote at least 40% emission reductions with no offsets by 2020.

Kamese Geoffrey of NAPE/ Friends of the Earth Uganda warned, “Rich countries are attempting to dodge their legal and moral responsibilities to reduce emissions. Developing countries and communities have historically had practically no fault in the creation of climate change, yet they will be the first to face the devastating impacts of climate change.”

Many of us have longstanding criticisms of the Kyoto Protocol, particularly its market mechanisms. But here’s why Kyoto is important:

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Bangkok: Rich countries try to kill the Kyoto Protocol, International Youth declare “No Confidence” in road to Copenhagen

7 10 2009

cross posted from Grist.

Today marked one of the final days of the Bangkok UN Climate Negotiations. With the end of this intersessional in sight, the International Youth Delegation (IYD) has officially declared “No Confidence” in the road to Copenhagen.

With youth delegates from over 30 countries engaging in the Bangkok process, the IYD cited pathetically weak targets from the North, alarm that a second commitment period in the Kyoto Protocol will not be secured, and a lack of guarantees for protection of Indigenous peoples’ rights and interests, in its Declaration. The current text of the draft climate deal is so weak and so full of “false solutions” (measures like offsetting that actually make the problem worse) it is unacceptable.

Youth delegates representing each continent addressed the U.N. today, detailing the urgency of the crisis as it affects their communities currently, telling stories of their hope and organizing alongside their denunciation of the state of play in the UN Negotiations.

This week the Annex 1 (rich countries), attempted to kill the Kyoto Protocol (KP). We are nearing upon the end of the current KP term, and a lack of renewing it means that the world would lose the few legally binding international climate agreements it has (as insufficient as they are). The excuse is that the United States will not sign, and therefore the whole thing should be scrapped and an entirely new deal can be struck on its own. It is lunacy to think that this will yield a stronger outcome, and the G77 (the rest of the world) countries are furious. We have always known the US wont sign the KP; the world cannot continue to wait for the US to get on board. In Bali, the U.S. already committed to setting comparable targets to other Annex 1 countries, so the world could deal with the U.S. in the LCA (Long Term Cooperative Action).

This all amounts to a shell game: more dirty delaying tactics from self-interested countries who are content to strip away basic attempts at an international agreement (for example “compliance” – meaning that the U.S. would have international oversight of its targets, or “top-down target setting” – meaning the international community sets carbon targets together based on science, rather than each countries independently setting their targets based on what their fossil fuel extraction industries dictate).

Allowing the U.S. to drag the world out of existing legal obligations is disgraceful. These negotiations are going backwards.

Make no mistake: Our future is being held hostage to interests that have consistently thumbed their noses at the international community and their obligations to the rest of the world. This process has been polluted by self-interested corporations and nations looking to profit off of our crisis. They have been pushing false solutions that exacerbate rather than fix the problem. Not only are the targets set by rich countries weak, but they are deceptive. Rather than representing actual emissions reductions, they contain unacceptable proportions of offsets, which do not reduce emissions, and displace the burden back onto the developing countries of the world.
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Bangkok: day one of the UN Climate Negotiations

28 09 2009

…and we’re off to a crawl

cross posted from Grist.

Coming right off the heels of the UN General Assembly in New York and the G20 in Pittsburgh, the world has taken its next step on the road to Copenhagen: the Bangkok round of negotiations for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

This morning the Thai Prime Minister opened the session by saying “There is no plan B, if we do not realize plan A, we go straight to plan F, which stands for failure.”

So, no pressure.

With an invigorated sense of skepticism, civil society, governments, and of course business interests are here to try to hammer through obtuse and contradictory text to create something that can be of some use on the table at the Copenhagen meetings this December.

The UN press office was quick to hand me a defensive-sounding media release stating ‘Negotiations set to pick up in Bangkok as a result of New York Climate Change Summit’ – hoping to put a positive spin on the process. Sure, the New York summit yielded lots of big talk about Climate – unfortunately very little in the way of meaningful targets and commitments, as pointed out (to much applause) by a Sudanese delegate this morning.

The reality of the US being able to meaningfully commit is grim, as illustrated by the statement released by John Podesta and Rajendra Pachauri, this Friday. Despite Obama talking a good game (which in itself is a welcome departure from the Bush years), he still failed to put forward any details. Hopes previously pinned on Obama have been deflated by stalled domestic legislation that NASA’s Dr. James Hansen said, if implemented “would do more harm to the environment than nothing at all.”

On the flip side, many people here in Bangkok have been encouraged by China’s announcement at the NY summit that it is increasing commitments on carbon reduction. We all know though, that responsibility to lead with these negotiations lies on the global North to make bolder and serious commitments. India and China are moving, and the classic US approach trying to pin blame on them is increasingly seen as excuse-mongering even to those who may have bought the line before.

From where we stand now, it looks like Copenhagen will be a greenwash. But civil society here in Bangkok is not taking this as a moment to despair but as a higher call to action for just and equitable ways to meet meaningful targets. Peoples movements and activist networks from across the globe are taking this opportunity to build and organize, invigorating local solutions back home, regardless of what ends up on the negotiating table. And so we keep pushing. If we temper our ambition along with our expectations, governments will feel more emboldened to backslide and allow the treaty to be an industry giveaway. Lets keep pressure up.

Here’s an inspiring quickie of organizers in the United States working for community based solutions to the climate crisis:





International Youth call for a Climate Rescue Plan at the UN

5 12 2008

The economic crisis is an opportunity to transform our economy
Cross Posted from Grist

It’s day four of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations in Poznan Poland, but it feels like I’ve been here for months. I’m up before the sun rises and in bed after midnight – and the action is nonstop. I with 500 youth delegates here from over 54 countries across the globe, from India to Peru, to Australia. Young people have been meeting with governments, participating in negotiations, harassing corporations, training each other in everything from climate justice to organizing skills, and speaking clearly and loudly: young people are collaborating across borders and have a shared vision. We want binding, equitable, science-based targets, and we’re going to fight for them.

One of the ways that we’ve been telling our story is through actions – we’ve been coordinating two per day! This afternoon, we hosted a “Who Wants To Be a Trillionaire?” game show. One contestant was the “big banks,” who have recently won 4.1 trillion dollars in government bailouts from the E.U. and the U.S. The other was a “climate rescue plan” which got over 40 times less – a measly 13.1 billion (if that doesn’t sound like a big disparity, check out the graph on this report here: http://www.ips-dc.org/getfile.php?id=314). The United States Congress has committed zero dollars (http://www.ips-dc.org/articles/913). Despite getting all the questions wrong, the “big banks” got all the money anyway. A rambunctious game show audience held a banner that said: “EU Bailout: $2.8 Trillion. US Bailout: $1.3 Trillion. Climate Rescue: Priceless”

Our point was simple: the same people who have spent decades telling us they can’t afford to save our planet, can clearly move trillions of dollars within weeks (when their own pocketbooks are directly affected). The issue is not lack of resources, its lack of political will. Youth are demanding our governments invest in a strong green economy, our planet, and our future.

Lucky for us, this economic crisis presents us with a wonderful opportunity. The opening day here in Poland, the UNFCCC said that the economic crisis is no excuse for inaction. We are saying that in fact, it’s the best reason in the world to invest in clean energy now, creating green jobs and sparking opportunity worldwide.
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