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Cochabamba Moots World Referendum
On Climate Change

By Franz Chávez

23 April, 2010
Inter Press Service

COCHABAMBA, Bolivia - A world people's referendum on climate change will be held in April 2011 for the earth's peoples to decide how to address this global problem.

Although it is hoped that some states will cooperate, the participation of governments will not be essential to the referendum, as civil society organizations are to plan it according to their own lights and the traditions and customs of each local area.

This was one of the final resolutions Thursday at the close of the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, held in the central Bolivian city of Cochabamba.

The definitive wording of the text may be modified, but the questions proposed for the referendum are:

a. Do you agree with re-establishing harmony with nature and recognizing the rights of Mother Earth?

b. Do you agree with changing the model of over-consumption and waste which characterizes the capitalist system?

c. Do you agree that developed countries should reduce and reabsorb their domestic greenhouse gas emissions so that average global temperature does not rise by more than one degree Celsius?

d. Do you agree to shifting all expenditure away from wars and increasing the budget for the defense of Mother Earth?

e. Do you agree with a Climate Justice Tribunal to bring to account those who destroy Mother Earth?

The conference, which formally opened Tuesday Apr. 20, adopted a radical agenda intended to influence the official negotiations on climate change carried out under the aegis of the United Nations.

The planet's average temperature must not be allowed to rise by more than one degree Celsius this century, and therefore industrialized nation must cut their greenhouse gas emissions, which cause global warming, by over 50 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 emissions, the resolutions affirm.

Industrialized countries -- regarded as responsible because of their leading role in industrial development, which has caused climate change -- are called on to pay the debt they owe for polluting the world's atmosphere, on pain of legal action if they fail to honor this obligation.

Among other proposals are the creation of a multilateral organization to manage environmental issues, international recognition of the rights of Mother Earth, a ban on privatizing knowledge, protection for climate migrants and the fullest respect for the rights and freedoms of indigenous peoples.

About 35,000 people attended the conference at Cochabamba at the invitation of Bolivian President Evo Morales, in an attempt to strengthen the voice of global civil society at the forthcoming 16th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 16), to be held in November in Cancún, Mexico.

"May the next meeting in Mexico not be in vain; may decisions be taken for the benefit of all people," Morales said Thursday at the summit, which closed with a mass rally attended by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

The Venezuelan president proposed that the member governments of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) should be the vehicle to convey the Cochabamba resolutions to COP 16 in Cancún.

According to Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuance, the 35,000 participants included 9,254 foreign visitors from 142 countries, and official delegations from 47 states.

Some 5,000 intellectuals and activists participated via online sessions that culminated in the presentation of proposals by 17 working groups on as many topics.

The traditional form of debate at official summits was subverted in Cochabamba, where the focus was on analyzing the causes of the climate crisis. And Morales, completing the vision, blamed capitalism for the debacle.

The model of capitalist society is in crisis, and the alternatives are in the hands of the peoples, he said in his speech.

A sunny afternoon in the Cochabamba "Félix Capriles" football stadium was the setting for the closing celebration and final speeches.

This April 22, designated Mother Earth Day by the U.N., also saw the formation of a movement calling on the United Nations to adopt a universal declaration of the rights of nature.

The Cochabamba resolutions rejected the classic pattern of placing conditions on financial aid to developing countries.

The world is experiencing a "great crisis" in which 75 percent of greenhouse gases are emitted by 25 percent of its countries, the industrialized states, causing direct impacts such as droughts and floods.

The Cochabamba conference also rejected carbon compensation schemes, which are mechanisms to compensate the polluting emissions in rich countries by means of projects that curb emissions in the developing world, as well as carbon trading and other profit-based financial mechanisms, saying these were irrelevant to the problem's real solution.

The damage to nature is likely to be irreversible if the earth's temperature continues to rise, and tens of thousands of people may have to migrate when the glaciers melt and deserts expand, the final declaration said.

The document demands the elimination of all new forms of colonialism, and the adherence of rich countries to a new phase of commitments to real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions within the framework of the Kyoto Protocol.

Participants at Cochabamba expressed their rejection of forest conservation programs to compensate for carbon dioxide emissions, and denounced attempts to expel peasant farmers and indigenous people from land rich in natural resources and water.

"We condemn REDD (the United Nations Program on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries)," for violating the rights of peoples and the sovereignty of states, and undermining the customs and traditions of original peoples, the final document says.

The conference called for the creation of a climate justice tribunal, with powers to prosecute persons or companies responsible for pollution, and for a thorough reform of the U.N. to allow countries that fail to live up to their greenhouse gas reduction commitments to be put on trial.

© 2010 IPS North America