Climate talks: We must not allow Cancún to turn into Can’tCun

Climate talks: We must not allow Cancún to turn into Can’tCun

Rich, industrialised countries have warned us to keep our expectations low, but we will insist that they aim higher, says Bolivia’s UN ambassador Pablo Solon

As climate talks start this week in Cancún, the common refrain that pervades the media and some negotiators is of "low expectations." I wonder whose expectations they are talking about. Do they think the one million people in the Bolivian city El Alto, who face increasingly chronic water shortages from the disappearance of glaciers, have low expectations? Do they think Pacific islanders whose homelands will soon disappear beneath the rising sea have low expectations? I believe that the majority of humanity demands and has high expectations that our political leaders should act to stop runaway climate change.

The reality is that the talk of "low expectations" is a ploy by a small group of industrialised countries to obscure their obligations to act. They are playing politics with the planet’s future. If the Cancún talks set sail with no wind, then no-one will be angered when they stall. Sadly, rather than express moral outrage, much of the media and even some environmental organisations have subscribed to this cynicism of the powerful. Last year we had Hopenhagen and worldwide public outrage when the richest nations failed to act. This year will it be Can’tCun and a whimper?

Visible evidence of climate change is all around us.It can be found almost daily on the TV screens of people in rich countries – Pakistan’s floods, Russia’s heatwave, the unprecedented Arctic snow melt – in Bolivia, we are struggling to cope everyday with limited resources and ever more unstable weather. This year a drought throughout Bolivia meant we had to provide emergency food aid to hundreds of thousands of people. As we see our high Andean mountains, revered as apus or spirits by our indigenous peoples, lose their white peaks, we feel a visceral loss of our culture and our history.

Every year we fail to act will only worsen an already serious crisis – and mean any measures we have to take must be even more radical. Yet in looking at how to break the logjam in Cancún, one constantly comes up against the US. Not only does the US have the largest historical responsibility for carbon emissions, its political leaders are also the least prepared to act. While developing countries like China are imposing electricity blackouts to meet climate targets, many in the US are still debating whether climate change exists.

Unfortunately the US responsibility goes further than just inaction; it effectively sabotaged international progress on climate change. At Copenhagen and in the year since, the US has been the prime instigator behind attempts to end the Kyoto protocol, the only binding mechanism on climate change. Instead they harangue, bully, and insist that any climate negotiations must be based on the non-binding Copenhagen accord which would take us backwards in the fight against climate change. Analysis by the UN of the pledges made so far under the Copenhagen accord show that temperatures would rise by four degrees – a level that many scientists consider disastrous for human life and our ecosystems. Countries like mine that have refused to accept this death wish have had our climate funding withdrawn by the US.

It is important to remember that we have been in a similar situation before. In the negotiations for the Kyoto protocol in the 1990s, the EU proposed relatively ambitious targets of 15% emissions reductions by 2010, and argued rightly then that domestic action should be the main means of achieving emissions targets. The US at first opposed any targets or timetables, then pushed for lowering overall targets for developed countries to 5% cuts by 2012, and insisted on allowing fraudulent carbon trading mechanisms to meet the targets. Their bullying prevailed, but it was all for nought, as the US Senate failed to ratify the protocol and in 2001 President Bush formally withdrew. The rest of the world bent over backwards to involve the US, and even then they failed to act.

We can’t allow this to happen again. It is wrong for a small handful of US senators to hold the rest of humanity hostage. If the US cannot do what is right, it must step aside. Meanwhile, developed country blocks, such as the EU, must stop hiding behind US intransigence. They must commit urgently to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% before 2017.

Earlier this year, Bolivia held a Peoples’ Summit on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, which brought together more than 30,000 people from 140 countries to advance effective proposals on climate change in the wake of the Copenhagen fiasco. It was inspiring because of the passion and commitment of the delegates, and because it was completely focused on tackling climate change and its root causes. Too often, subjected to intense lobbying by big corporations, the UN conferences on climate change are more preoccupied with inventing new market mechanisms to make money rather than stopping climate change. Against these powerful interests, Bolivia believes the only way forward for saving the Earth and its people is mass popular pressure. We must insist to our political leaders that we have the highest expectations from Cancún, because nothing less than the future of our grandchildren and our planet depends on it.

• Pablo Solon is the Bolivian ambassador to the UN

Which way for Cancun? From the Copenhagen Discord to the Cochabamba Accord


Cancun should be about those responsible for climate change committing to reduce greenhouse gases. It sounds like a strange thing to say. Unfortunately our experience in past climate talks is that emission reductions is often the last thing discussed. Instead valuable time is spent trying to shift responsibility from those..

Who have caused climate change to those suffering the effects, and looking for ever more creative financial mechanisms for multinational corporations to make profits from climate change.

These constant attempts to deviate from our critical task of preventing runaway climate change were most starkly exposed at the COP15 climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009. After days of blocking any progress on the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding agreement on climate change; the US, EU and a small handful of hand-picked countries met in a secretive location to draw up a voluntary agreement, misnamed the Copenhagen Accord. Bolivia and many other nations opposed the Accord, because it ignored the views of more than 160 countries and because it would move us backwards rather than forward.

The UN’s own research has shown that the Copenhagen Accord’s voluntary pledges would lead to temperature increases of 4 degrees Celsius – a level that many scientists consider disastrous for human life and our ecosystems. An internal report by the EU of its own commitments suggested that, thanks to various loopholes, the EU could actually increase its emissions by 2.6% by 2020. This is hardly a step forward and is why the Accord was rightly denounced by millions of people worldwide.

During the Copenhagen climate talks, President Evo Morales of Bolivia observed that the best way to put climate change solutions at the heart of the talks was to involve the people. In contrast to much of the official talks, the hundreds of civil society organisations, communities, scientists and faith leaders present in Copenhagen clearly prioritised the search for effective, just solutions to climate change against narrow economic interests.

So Bolivia decided to put its words into action, and host a Peoples Summit on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in April 2010. The summit in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba was open to everyone, and was attended by more than 35,000 people from more than 70 countries including representatives of 40 governments. More than 17 working groups developed innovative and effective proposals to both reduce greenhouse gas reductions and tackle the root causes of climate change. The Bolivian government then agreed to formally present these demands within the UNFCCC negotiations.

The Cochabamba Accord includes the following key demands:

1. 50 % reduction of greenhouse gas emission by 2017.

2. Stabilising temperature rises to 1C and 300 PPM

3. Acknowledging the climate debt owed by developed countries

4. Full respect for Human Rights and the inherent rights of indigenous people

5. Universal declaration of rights of Mother Earth to ensure harmony with nature

6. Establishment of an International Court of Climate Justice

7. Rejection of carbon markets and commodification of nature and forests through the REDD programme

8. Promotion of measures that change the consumption patterns of developed countries.

9. End of intellectual property rights for technologies useful for mitigating climate change.

10. Allocation of 6% of developed countries’ national gross product to actions related to addressing climate change

The Cochabamba conference was inspiring in contrast to Copenhagen, because no-one was excluded and because it put the interests of stabilising the climate before the interests of business and profit. As the Cancun talks start, there is a long uphill road to climb if the UN is to re-emerge with its credibility in responding to the most critical crisis humanity has faced. The first step it could take is to stop listening to the interests of powerful corporations and instead listen to the demands of the peoples in Cochabamba.


~ by Cory Morningstar on December 3, 2010.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: