Canadian delegate: Cochabamba shows that another way is possible and necessary

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A talk given at the Cochabamba Report Back Meeting in Toronto, on May 7, by Kimia Ghomeshi of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition

I was one of a handful of young people from Canada who attended the Cochabamba World Peoples Conference in hopes of understanding what real and just solutions to the climate change look like from the perspective of those on the front lines of the crisis, and bringing these new insights home to share with the burgeoning climate youth movement in Canada.

I walked away with much more than I expected. Cochabamba was an important reminder that real change must come from the ground up and from those on the front lines of a struggle.

In Cochabamba, I started to question whether the way we frame the issues and solutions as a movement is only helping to validate existing global systems that have created the climate crisis.

First off, are we talking about climate debt or talking about climate aid?

As explained in the people’s declaration: “Developed countries, in assuming their historical responsibility must recognize and honor their climate debt in all of its dimensions as the basis for a just, effective, and scientific solution to climate change.”

When we talk about climate justice in a global context here in Canada, we talk about providing adequate support to developing countries so they can effectively address the impacts of climate change in their communities. What we haven’t done is framed this as Canada’s debt to climate-affected communities.

Canada is indebted to the global south for not only causing climate change but by wasting precious time since ratifying Kyoto Protocol and as a result increasing our emissions by 34%. Climate financing should not be seen as an altruistic effort on the part of developed countries but their responsibility, their debt that must to paid to developing countries left with limited resources and atmospheric space to develop. Countries should not be begging for what they are owed.

Another take away was around the rights of Mother Earth.

The world’s people represented in Cochabamba, with the leadership of indigenous peoples, created a Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth that outlines the inherent rights of Mother Earth and our obligations as human beings to Mother Earth.

The first line of the Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth reads: “We are all part of Mother Earth, an indivisible, living community of interrelated and interdependent beings with a common destiny; gratefully acknowledging that Mother Earth is the source of life, nourishment and learning and provides everything we need to live well.”

In the industrialized world we have come to view the water, air and land around us as things to be commoditized and owned. How often do we talk about intrinsic value and rights of nature in the environmental movement?

Going into the conference I will admit, I didn’t feel like a discussion of the rights of Mother Earth was relevant for me. Or rather, I didn’t really understand how such a declaration would stop climate change.

But after listening to people who have a close relationship to their land, I came to see things through a different lens. I came to see the incredible danger in how in the industrialized world, we can’t even comprehend the notion that the earth has rights.

In fact, in today’s legal system, nature has no inherent rights but is rather considered the property of individuals and institutions (except in Ecuador). If nature is not seen to have its own rights that must be upheld, then human civilization will continue to exploit it for our own means and just fall further down the rabbit hole of the climate crisis.

If we cannot live in harmony with our Mother, with our life source, how will we ever solve the climate crisis? What was discussed in Cochabamba and the Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth that emerged, is a complete transformation of systems, structures, and understanding of our relationship to the earth.

This is ground-breaking and puts a new frame on how we discuss the impacts and solutions to solving the climate crisis. Reparations are due not only to the affected communities but to Mother Earth itself.

Finally, what about accountability? As a people, we have watched global emissions rise by 11% since 1990, even with the Kyoto Protocol in place. In this same period, we have seen the exacerbated poverty, illness, death and displacement of people around the world losing their from climate change. All this with no penalization for governments, companies, and financial institutions who have continued business as usual with the climate crisis looming.

The ruthless expansion of the tar sands being a great example, and while the scale of this expansion is the largest and most destructive in the world I heard story after story in Cochabamba of people’s local struggles against similarly destructive mining companies.

Affected communities are ready to hold those accountable who have broken their commitments under the Kyoto protocol, violating their human rights and rights of Mother Earth. They want to take matters in their own hands to combat the lack of accountability that we’ve seen so far within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The people want an international climate justice tribunal that as stated in the declaration “has the legal capacity to prevent, judge and penalize States, industries and people that by commission or omission contaminate and provoke climate change.”

With a tribunal in place, Canadians could take their government to court for failing to meet its commitments under Kyoto … imagine that! Again, this is another example of the global south and indigenous peoples seeking real changes to flawed systems that have facilitated unfettered capitalism, globalization and industrialization. They know that if we put our trust in the same systems and ideologies that got us into this mess, then we’ll never get ourselves out.

Another key takeaway from Cochabamba has been the distinction between false and real solutions for climate justice.

False solutions are those that encourage business as usual where maximizing profit is the bottom-line, even in solving climate change – while real solutions focus on systems change, a complete transformation in the way we work, we live, produce and consume, and how we interact with one another and nature.

False solutions ensure continued growth for big business while real solutions seek to change the global power dynamics that have colonized people, the earth, and now our atmosphere.

False solutions are voluntary while real solutions are legally-binding.

False solutions tackle climate change as a one dimensional problem – a rise in temperature, while real solutions seek to fix the root of the problem, what caused climate change in the first place. And that is the cumulative affect of the inherently flawed capitalist system.

I recognize that here in the global north, we don’t often talk about ending capitalism as we know it. In fact, maybe you’re considered radical or crazy to bother thinking about changing a system for entrenched in our lives and so powerful. People want a goal they think they can achieve. I get that.

But in Cochabamba, every single person was talking about it. Capitalism is in their backyards, it’s their sick family members, it’s their contaminated lands, it’s their displacement, it is their privatized waters, it is hunger, it’s there precarious jobs, it’s their poverty. This is why for the global south and indigenous peoples, they understand that climate change and global injustice go hand and hand, and they can only solved through systems change.

When we speak of the urgency of climate change, the reality is that the climate crisis is still a future threat for the majority of Canadians but it is a present crisis for millions of people around the world who are being disproportionately affected for a problem our pollution and unsustainable development has caused. So any “solutions” that would further this human inequality and ecological destruction are false.

Before Cochabamba, the idea of fighting capitalism did leave me feeling hopeless. But after going to Cochabamba I know that another way is possible and necessary.

The capitalist system is based on limitless growth, profits without limits, on economies of scale, on the commodification of people and resources, an abuse and exploitation of the world’s people and Mother Earth. Making the vast changes that are necessary to combat climate change before its too late is impossible under a system that seeks to remove any restrictions that would limit growth.

The world’s people are calling for system change, they are calling for the end to a long and devastating history of capitalism and the start of a new path towards harmony, dignity, and human and ecological wellbeing. What I saw in Cochabamba was a strong and confident global resistance that is quickly growing, 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 tactically effective, more united, and more committed.

So what does this all mean for the climate justice movement in Canada? How can we align ourselves with the global movement for climate justice that was further strengthened in Cochabamba?

On this past Wednesday, the Climate Change Accountability Act passed its third reading which was an amazing victory. But the hard work comes in how Canada will achieve these targets.

A friend told me last week that each small victory we have within our movement should be one step closer to transforming the overarching systems we wish to change. Each victory should be one step closer to the paradigm shift that we envision as a movement.

So if we are committed to climate justice, then we are committed ourselves to challenging current global systems that continue to exploit, to oppress, and to kill. If we are committed to climate justice, then we are committed to standing in solidarity with communities on the front lines of this struggle. We are committed to spreading the real solutions articulated in the people’s declaration with our families, our peers, our communities, and our politicians.

Climate justice will never come if we nip and tuck at our current global capitalist system. Moving forward, we have to question how each of our actions and strategies as a movement are part of a bigger aim of restructuring our relationships, our jobs, our economy, and our production and consumption of goods. The world has spoken in Cochabamba and it’s up to us if we heed the call.

The declaration says: “Humanity confronts a great dilemma: to continue on the path of capitalism, depredation, and death, or to choose the path of harmony with nature and respect for life.”

I think we are all here because we are ready for a new path. But are we willing and ready to fight for it?

Kimia Ghomeshi is G20 Campaign Coordinator for the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition. An Iranian-Canadian currently based in Toronto, Ontario, her passion and commitment to environmental and climate justice was sparked after her participation in a Community Environmental Leadership Program in high school, and further ignited through her volunteer experiences in Costa Rica and Panama. She graduated from McGill University in 2005 with an Honours degree in International Development Studies.

Many thanks to Kimia for sharing her talk with Climate & Capitalism.