By Kimia Ghomeshi
Last week, something historic happened in Bolivia, and I got to be a part of it. Remember the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen last December? Highly anticipated as the most important United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change summit in our lifetimes, Copenhagen was instead a treaty-less fiasco. It only intensified the mistrust between the world’s biggest polluters in the global north and the rest of the world, which is being disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. And to boot, Obama tried to save the day by proposing the undemocratically produced and fluffy Copenhagen Accord in the final hours of the conference.
The accord basically counts on the voluntary commitments of governments with no real measures of accountability, encouraging our very own Canadian government to further lower their emission reduction targets. Even if all commitments under the accord are kept, it has been estimated that the global temperature rise will be roughly twice the 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius tipping point for global disaster. Nevertheless, countries are even being bullied into signing onto the accord or else sacrifice climate financing from the U.S.
So after refusing to be bribed into endorsing the Copenhagen Accord, the Bolivian government instead hosted the first World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia, from April 19 to 22. The Cochabamba conference was a space for over 35,000 people, including academics, scientists, trade unionists, and social movements, to come together and build alliances—a space for the world’s indigenous peoples and poor, who were effectively silenced in Copenhagen, to be part of a democratic, inclusive process to find real solutions to global injustice and inequality that has been worsened by climate change. I was one of a handful of young people from Canada who attended the conference in hopes of understanding what climate justice (and injustice) looks like from the perspective of those on the front lines of the crisis, and bringing these new insights home to share with the burgeoning climate youth movement in Canada.
Aside from the official panels, workshops, and self-organized events that were ongoing throughout the conference, 17 working groups met to develop shared visions on themes such as forests, the dangers of carbon markets, indigenous peoples’ rights, climate debt, a climate justice tribunal, climate refugees, agriculture and food sovereignty, the rights of Mother Earth, the Kyoto Protocol, and actions and strategies. A People’s Agreement has emerged from this process and has been officially recognized by the UNFCCC. This people’s declaration outlines the demands of indigenous peoples and affected communities from the global south calling for systems change as the only possible way our civilization can combat the climate crisis.
As stated early on in the declaration, “The capitalist system has imposed on us a logic of competition, progress and limitless growth. This regime of production and consumption seeks profit without limits, separating human beings from nature and imposing a logic of domination upon nature, transforming everything into commodities: water, earth, the human genome, ancestral cultures, biodiversity, justice, ethics, the rights of peoples, and life itself.”
The declaration calls for a movement away from the traditional capitalist model to one where equality is sought between human beings and harmony with Mother Earth. A draft proposal for a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth was also submitted to the UN for consideration, and asserts that the planet is not property to be owned and exploited by human beings but rather a living being in its own right that human beings have a responsibility to protect if we wish to survive.
So what does this all mean for the climate justice movement in Canada? As young people in Canada, it is true that our futures are being threatened, so we have a stake in pressuring government, companies, and financial institutions to take meaningful action. But while we seek to safeguard our futures, we also have a responsibility to safeguard the present for the women, children, indigenous peoples, and poor communities in the global south who are being directly affected by the climate crisis today. We have a responsibility to challenge inaction on the part of the Canadian government, to challenge false solutions like carbon trading that will only further human inequality and ecological destruction, and to spread the real solutions articulated in the people’s declaration with our families, our peers, our communities, and our politicians.
My experience in Cochabamba has left me feeling newly inspired, knowing that millions of people are mobilizing worldwide in response to the climate crisis, and that we are united through our shared vision for a just world. Now as we mobilize toward the Toronto G20 this June followed by the UN climate conference in Cancun, Mexico, this November, we will see if the voices of global civil society, so beautifully articulated in the people’s declaration, will be heard by the world’s biggest powers and polluters.
Kimia Ghomeshi is the G20 and climate organizer for the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition.