Dispatch 1: Rumbo a Cochabamba

By Jason Negrón-Gonzales, en route to Cochabamba (April 2010)

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.

Turning to the US situation for a second, as we’ve seen with healthcare, the Democratic Party has been extremely ineffective in capitalizing on their majority to push strong progressive legislation through Congress.  Why?  Because as a party they aren’t progressive, and they are just as beholden to corporate interests as the Republicans.  The US attempt to pass domestic climate legislation, called ACES, started too weak and quickly became weaker under the attacks of Republicans (and Democrats) in Congress from big agriculture, coal and oil industry states.

So, given this difficult situation at home, the US delegation decided not to lead but also not to get out of the way.  President Obama couldn’t (or wouldn’t attempt to) pass the strong climate legislation needed at home.  He might then have said, “You know guys, I can’t make it happen at home.  I’m doing the best I can, but in the mean time we want to support the strongest international plan that we can.”

But he didn’t do that.  Instead the US tried to turn back the clock, scrapping the progress made with the Kyoto Protocol and fighting for a new accord, the Copenhagen Accord, that it pulled together in a back room deal.  (Even with it’s flaws, the Kyoto Protocol contained some language and mechanisms that Global South nations wanted to move forward on rather than starting from scratch.)  The Copenhagen Accord offers no shared targets for emissions reductions but rather takes whatever each country wants to offer up and aggregates these commitments as a plan. Then, if the bad back-room plan wasn’t enough, the US showed up waving money to buy delegates just like congress people get bought and sold at home.  In response to this crass display, a delegate from Africa replied that the money offered wouldn’t be enough to pay for their coffins.

The Road to Cancun

Today negotiations continue but the US has taken the hard-line strategy of pushing its back room Copenhagen Accord like it’s the new basis of negotiations.  In the last week: 1. The US announced that it won’t provide climate aid to any country that doesn’t support the Copenhagen Accord, 2. The game plan from the Obama administration was leaked, revealing a plan to ram the accords through in their entirety and to do small “intimate” meetings with Big Green NGO’s to get them on board, and 3. At a follow up meeting to Copenhagen in Bonn, the Mexican delegation which will host the next COP announced that they there was no plan to continue the main tracks of negotiation in Mexico, another nod towards the US attempt to suspend open debate by all nations and ram the Copenhagen Accord through.  Scandalous!

All of which brings us to Cochabamba.  The Obama administration stated explicitly that they would give no money to Bolivia based on their opposition to the Copenhagen Accord.  Now Bolivia is hosting governments, NGO’s, and social movements from all over the world to build something better.  A head to head battle is shaping up – democracy vs. the back room, accountability vs. impunity, an uncompromising assertion of the dignity and value of all life vs. crass attempts to buy countries’ support.  I know what team I want to be on.

For those of us in the US who care about these issues, president Obama’s behavior is a bitter disappointment. The transition we have to make is a transition we want– not one that is forced on us by history.  We want a transition from a fossil-fueled economy.  We want sustainable communities built on principles of justice, equity, and democracy.  We want a world of good work, and good housing, where families, children, and communities count.  We want to meet our global obligations and to ensure that our sisters and brothers everywhere have what they need too.  That’s where I want my children to live.  And it’s why I’m in Bolivia with the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, the Indigenous Environmental Network and other forces from across the globe who are working to build social movements with a strategy to win that world.