Cochabambma – a People’s Process to address the Climate Crisis

After the failure at Copenhagen to breach the gap between scientific necessity and political will, more than 35 thousand people gathered in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to develop a civil-society based consensus on how to deal with the climate crisis. Seventeen working groups dealt with topics such as “Structural Causes”, “Adaptation” and “Climate Debt“. The final result of the conference was the “Cochabamba People’s Agreement”, which differs considerably in content and character from climate agreements made between states.

The People’s Agreement calls for (among other things):

  • “The protection and recognition of the rights and needs of forced climate migrants.”
  • “The promotion of the establishment of an International Climate and Environmental Justice Tribunal.”
  • “The consideration of a World Referendum on Climate Change that allows the people to decide what will be done about this issue, which is of vital importance to the future of humanity and Mother Earth.”
  • “A 50% reduction of domestic greenhouse gas emissions by developed countries for the period 2013-2017 under the Kyoto Protocol, domestically and without reliance on market mechanisms.”

One good thing about the Cochabamba proposal is the stress on what action is immediately required, or at least on action required in the near future. In the long term both developed and under developed nations must transition to Carbon Neutrality – but it certainly makes moral and pragmatic sense to cut emissions in the first world now, and allow the under developed world to transition to carbon neutrality over a longer period. It’s also relevant to start talking about the rights of climate migrants – the sooner we do this, the better change we have of avoiding a future which too much resembles Children of Men.

However, I think the single most important thing included in the Cochabamba proposal which is often missing from the mainstream discourse on climate change is the rights of indigenous peoples:

“The implementation of measures for recognizing the rights of Indigenous peoples must be secured in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and applicable universal human rights instruments and agreements. This includes respect for the knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples; their rights to lands, territories and resources, and their full and effective participation, with their free, prior and informed consent.”

It’s difficult to over-stress the importance of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. If Canada were to sign this declaration, this would make it much more difficult to expand oil sands production – both because companies would be forced to respect Aboriginal title to the land under which which the oil sands are extracted, and also because it would allow many nations to block the pipelines required for Oil Sands expansion.

What I like most about the Cochabamba proposal is the emphasis on the importance of civil society rather than current failing political structures. This is manifested in their recommendation of a world referendum:

“The consideration of a World Referendum on Climate Change that allows the people to decide what will be done about this issue, which is of vital importance to the future of humanity and Mother Earth.”

Such a referendum is certainly “politically impossible”. However, even it’s recommendation for consideration stresses the divide between the interest of the people of the world, and the interests on which world leaders currently act on. The recognition of this difference is recognition of the hypocrisy of the current system of national and international governance – a hypocrisy we likely can no longer afford.

5 thoughts on “Cochabambma – a People’s Process to address the Climate Crisis

  1. Milan

    Imagining for a moment that a world referendum were possibly, what do you think the options presented would be, and which one would a plurality of people choose?

    It seems plausible that such a referendum would lead to an ineffective result for some of the same reasons as the ongoing UNFCCC process. A majority of the world’s population may well demand that developed states cut emissions deeply before their states will be obligated to do anything, and then that developed states should pay the costs of their transitions to low-carbon economies.

    While something resembling that might be a fair outcome, it is difficult to imagine developed states following through with it. As such, it might leave us just as deadlocked as now.

  2. Milan

    Also, I don’t think we can assume that First Nations groups would block oil sands pipelines, if legally entitled to do so. They might just demand big royalties.

    If they found themselves substantially benefiting financially from oil sands expansion, they might become ardent supporters, even if there is the occasional leak.

    That said, I do think a strategy of ‘boxing in’ the oil sands is one that must be pursued. The government of Alberta doesn’t seem likely to ever stop supporting them, no matter how clear the evidence for climate change impacts becomes.

  3. Tristan

    I’m not suggesting that all first nations groups will oppose oil pipelines – First Nations groups are as diverse as settler groups (us). This does not mean that we should not aid them when they are allies.

    The good thing about pipelines is that they bring relatively little money into an area, other than compensation paid. They require relatively little maintenance, and therefore produce little local employment.

  4. Milan

    Royalties are still a concern.

    Once a government got dependent on income from pipelines, it would only be able to close them down by raising taxes or cutting services.

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