TIQUIPAYA, Bolivia — This small town outside Cochabamba, Bolivia — where cows roam freely and campesinos grow fruit, vegetables, and flowers to sell at the local market — is a far cry from Copenhagen.  But it’s the latest gathering place in the ongoing effort to shape an effective global response to climate change. 

Here, Bolivian President Evo Morales is convening the People’s World Conference on Climate Change this week, an alternative to the unwieldy and thus far unsuccessful U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.  NGOs, scientists, activists, indigenous leaders, and representatives of 60 to 70 national governments are coming together for the event — in all, about 7,500 attendees from 110 countries. 

The poor nations and poor people of the world were left out of dealings at Copenhagen, conference organizers argue.  “The only way to get negotiations back on track not just for Bolivia or other countries, but for all of life, biodiversity, our Mother Earth, is to put civil society back into the process,” said Pablo Solón, Bolivia’s delegate to the U.N.  That’s exactly what this week’s conference is intended to do. 

Speakers from all walks of life will talk about climate justice: NASA climate scientist James Hansen; actor, director, and activist Danny Glover; journalist and activist Naomi Klein; Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva; Egidio Brunetto, a leader of Brazil’s Movement of Landless Rural Workers; Lumumba Di-Aping, who served as chief negotiator for the G77 group of developing nations at Copenhagen.

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Plenary sessions and working groups — the usual stuff of conferences — will be accompanied by lively cultural events and dinners.  The gathering is intended to be truly open and inclusive — in marked contrast to the behind-closed-doors negotiating that brought about the Copenhagen Accord.  The hope is that the outcomes of this conference can influence the next U.N. climate conference in Mexico in December, making it more open and fair too. 

Morales will kick it all off with a speech on Tuesday morning; you might be able to catch it on a live stream.   

What Evo Morales wants

Morales was one of five heads of state to formally oppose the Copenhagen Accord. In what many are interpreting as a direct response to that intransigence, the U.S. recently denied Bolivia climate aid.

To address climate change on a global level, Morales has put forward four suggestions:

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1.  Climate reparations from developed nations for developing nations

While developed or rich nations are historically responsible for causing climate change through their greenhouse-gas emissions, poorer nations are more likely to feel the effects and are less able to fund and undertake changes to adapt to climate change. The idea of reparations was widely discussed in Copenhagen and endorsed by well-known figures like Naomi Klein as well as organizations like Jubilee South and Focus on the Global South. Here in Bolivia, villagers are demanding compensation for their glaciers melting.

2.  An international court to prosecute transgressions against the environment

The goal is to establish an International Climate Justice Tribunal or International Environmental Court within the U.N. framework, modeled on the International Court of Justice, that will seek to enforce nations’ commitments to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Last week, international environmental lawyer Polly Higgins put forward a related proposal to include “ecocide” in the list of crimes against peace, so that cases could be tried at the International Criminal Court.  

3.  A Universal Declaration for the Rights of Mother Earth

On Earth Day 2009, Morales called on the U.N. General Assembly to develop such a declaration, modeled on the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.  “One of the most important implications is that it would enable legal systems to maintain vital ecological balances by balancing human rights against the rights of other members of the Earth community,” write Solón and environmental lawyer Cormac Cullinan.

4.  Development and transfer of clean technology

The UNFCCC has been discussing technology transfer, and Morales wants to make sure it stays on the agenda, so that developed countries provide developing countries with the technology necessary to adapt to climate change and produce and use energy sustainably and efficiently.

All this and more will get an airing at the People’s Conference.  Tune in later this week to learn how it all shakes out. 

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