At the alternative climate summit currently underway in Cochabamba, Bolivia, criticism is sharp and unrelenting about false climate change solutions. Rightly so. Most of the solutions proposed through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) process are based on poor science, lucrative carbon markets and only measly changes in the production and consumption practices that got us into this greedy and perilous situation in the first place.
There is broad agreement that official climate negotiations are controlled by the large CO2 emitters and that they will not lead us out of this mess. Hats off to Bolivian President Evo Morales and the thousands of people gathered in Cochabamba for being serious about solving climate change. The challenges we face beg for unprecedented solutions. To get to 350 parts per million (or less), our compromised economic and political systems must be turned on their heads.
So what’s the plan? We seem to have a long term idea – build a citizen’s led sustainable economy based on ecological, human rights and commons principles. But what’s the short and medium-term roadmap?
It’s going to require one hell of a big global public works program. Where is the money going to coming from and who is going to spend it where? I hope that the Cochabamba conversations answer some of these practical questions.
I hate the dirty money. There is overwhelming evidence that all the so-called international development organizations out there – the World Bank, regional development banks, USAID, etc. – have been giant contributors to climate change through financing and technical support to agro-industry, extractive industries and more. Governments – even Evo Morales’ – are inextricably tied into the extractive industry development model. It’s more than a little ironic that such a fossil fuel dependent country should be hosting this alternative climate summit.
So I’m more than a little confused about how we can move out of this mess. Climate change programs such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD) are rife with pitfalls. A slippery slope to be sure. But is there room within deeply flawed programs to finance massive watershed restoration and support community and indigenous-led models of agro-forestry and agro-ecology? Climate repair will likely be more incremental and messier than any of us would like.
These are age-old debates about how change happens – but perhaps the fire breathing down on our communities adds new urgency to their resolution. Do civil society organizations and popular governments have the grassroots power to oblige large financial institutions to start repaying the climate debt? Are these institutions so fundamentally toxic that we engage with them at our peril? Is it delusory to think that we can hold these rotten institutions accountable? I’m not sure we can simply sidestep them.
Similarly, how can we use national and international laws and regulations to curb destructive state and corporate behavior? The truth of the matter is that so much climate damage could be reversed by simply enforcing existing environmental and human rights laws and regulations. We must make best use of compromised legal frameworks and build them stronger.
My desire for the Cochabamba deliberations is that in the process of forging alternative paths to climate and water justice, we go toe to toe with the perverse programs set up within the UNFCC. My desire is that we fight over climate change monies even within the arenas we abhor. My desire is that we wade into the warming swamp we inhabit and come out muddy with some practical ways forward.