Canadian Youth Activist Reports from Cochabamba

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“What I am seeing before me, here in Cochabamba, is a truly global resistance. A resistance to the world’s greatest polluters– polluters who refuse to accept their responsibility for causing this global catastrophe”

by Kimia Ghomeshi
G20 and Climate Organizer for Canadian Youth Climate Coalition,

from It’s Getting Hot in Here April 21, 2010. Kimia Ghomeshi will be one of the speakers at the May 7 Report Back from Cochabamba, in Toronto

The World Peoples Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia, has been a completely new experience for me. With over 10 000 participants, groups from the global north are the minority here, the opposite of my experience in Copenhagen. For the first time, I am amongst community members from developing countries who are first and foremost already affected by the climate crisis.

Indigenous peoples from around the world (but primarily the Americas) are participating alongside government representatives, academics, scientists, trade unionists, activists and NGOs.

The Cochabamba conference is a space for social movements to come together and build alliances, a space to have democratic, inclusive discussions, a space for the world’s poor and disenfranchised who have been effectively silenced by the world’s rich to have a voice and be part of a democratic, inclusive process to find real solutions to the climate crisis.

So why did I decide to come to Cochabamba? What am I hoping to get out of this experience?

In the last year, the climate youth movement exploded in Canada and young people have become far more committed to climate justice both at home and abroad. It was only a year ago that I started to get involved with Rainforest Action Network’s campaign against Royal Bank of Canada, the top financier of the Tarsands, and this was my entry point into the grassroots climate movement. Young people have been mobilizing from coast to coast to coast to hold the Canadian government, fossil fuel & extractive industries, and financial institutions accountable for causing the climate crisis.

While some might argue that Copenhagen was a failure, it instigated a necessary growth and heightened resistance in our youth movement and it’s been truly inspiring to part of this process. For this mobilization to continue, we need to address a real challenge we’ve faced and that is a lack of understanding by Canadians of how climate change has human costs. Because of our disconnection with the land and the mere fact that climate change is something intangible for us, it is difficult for Canadians to make the connection between climate change and issues of survival for millions worldwide.

In order for us to see any mass mobilization in Canada, we need to reframe how we talk about climate change, and we can do this is we use a justice-based or rights-based approach to talking about the impacts of climate change. But there’s one thing I am very cognisant of which has brought me to Cochabamba. And that is the mainstreaming of the term “climate justice.”

What do we mean when we talk about climate justice? Does the youth movement have a deep understanding of how developing countries, indigenous communities and the poor around the world are being affected by the climate crisis? Can our movement distinguish between false solutions and real solutions to climate change as are being proposed in the UNFCCC process? Essentially, there are three things that I am hoping to learn in Cochabamba, to then bring new insights back to our movement in Canada.

First, how is climate change affecting the survival and way of life of people and communities in the global south?

Second, what are the false vs real solutions to combating climate change and how are grassroots movements pushing for real solutions?

And finally, how can the youth movement in Canada be more strategic in our goals in order to support the global grassroots movement for climate justice?

I am now about half way through the 3 day peoples conference and feel a great sense of empowerment and sadness all at once. I feel a deep sadness for our civilization that is so incapable of living in harmony with one another and with mother earth. The developing world are to this day paying the price for colonialism in the form of neoliberal and capitalistic practices that are destroying their air, land, water and food – destroying their way of life. I feel a deep sadness that capital accumulation has taken precedence over human life so that developed countries like Canada can continue to develop, exploit and consume.

But I also feel incredibly empowered because what I am seeing before me, here in Cochabamba, is a truly global resistance. A resistance to the world’s greatest polluters– polluters who refuse to accept their responsibility for causing this global catastrophe. And this movement is building, becoming more tactful, more united, more committed, with a common vision: Systems change, not climate change.

What does systems change look like? Well there is an undeniable common thread in every panel, discussion, and workshop I have participated in. And that is the role of capitalism, globalization and neoliberalism that enable the unfettered resource extraction, industrialization and overconsumption in the global north that has given rise to not only climate change and the energy crisis, but furthered the vast inequality within the human population.

These systems have brought poverty, cultural genocide, disease and death to the majority of the human population, in order to fuel economies in developed countries that account for roughly 20% of the world and 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

So the world’s people are calling for systems change as the only possible way of combating climate change. As Naomi Klein said on a panel today on climate debt, “we can only deal with climate change if we deal with inequality within and between nations.”

There are definitely some key themes that have emerged from the conference and will be central to achieving global climate justice. I’ll go more in depth on each in my next blog, but here’s a taste:

  • Climate Debt – The world’s polluters must pay reparations to the world’s poor and affected communities who are suffering the disproportionate impacts of climate change
  • International Climate Justice Tribunal – Supporting local struggles to hold governments, companies and financiers accountable for the exploitation and privatization of their land
  • Rights of Mother Earth – in today’s legal system, nature has no inherent rights but is rather considered the property of individuals and institutions (except in Ecuador). The worlds people represented here are creating a declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth, because living in harmony with nature is central to solving the climate crisis.
  • False Solutions – there are many “solutions” being proposed in the UNFCCC process that will only exacerbate global inequality and violation of human and indigenous rights, including REDD (Reducing emissions through deforestation and forest degradation) and carbon markets. Not only could these false solutions further impact the world’s poor, but they could essentially provide new opportunities for capital accumulation for the world’s greatest polluters.
  • The UNFCCC process – what was experienced in Copenhagen was business as usual by the world’s richest countries, who continue to sidestep their commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, and continue to alienate countries from the global south who were pushing for ambitious targets and real solutions. While the UNFCCC process is surely flawed, it’s structure (ie. 1 vote per country) has ensured that a weak treaty was not adopted in Copenhagen. So if this is seen as a victory, do we continue to push for a global mass mobilization towards the next UN climate change conference in Cancun, Mexico?

In my next blog, I will be sharing more reflections on these themes, summarize the outcomes of the conference, and what it all means for the climate justice movement in Canada.

And some wise words I’ll leave you with:

Leave the oil in the soil
coal in the hole
and tarsands in the land.