“We came to Cancún to save nature, forests, planet Earth. We are not here to convert nature into a commodity. We have not come here to revitalise capitalism with carbon markets.”
by John Vidal
(Published as Bolivia’s defiant leader sets radical tone at Cancún climate talks in the Guardian, December 11, 2010)
Of all the ministers and politicians parading the world stage in Cancún last week, President Evo Morales of Bolivia knows best the impact of a theatrical entrance. His entourage includes 15 colourfully dressed, bowler-hatted indigenous Aymara, an admiral in gold braid, teams of advisers and white-coated bodyguards, Mayan priests and ambassadors.
When the mop-haired, chubby-faced poster boy of Latin American socialist politics speaks, they stand around him, filling the stage with the physical embodiment of what is now called the “plurinational” state of Bolivia.
But then Morales is a true individual, the only head of state in Cancún who dared to insist that the world should hold global temperature rises to just 1C. As he argues, nature has rights.
Yestarday Bolivia was diplomatically isolated at the end of the UN talks but remained unrepentant, accusing other governments of a disastrous lack of ambition. Some groups have pressed him to tone down his demands to ensure that a political deal could be done at Cancún.
“Some powers are happy to put forward measures that would lead to an increase of 2C, and some think even of increases to four degrees. Imagine what our planet would look like with an increase in temperature of two degrees or four degrees, given that at 0.8 degrees we already have serious problems in the world…
“It’s easy for people in an air-conditioned room to continue with the policies of destruction of Mother Earth. We need instead to put ourselves in the shoes of families in Bolivia and worldwide that lack water and food and suffer misery and hunger. People here in Cancún have no idea what it is like to be a victim of climate change.”
Despite the claims of deniers who say global warming is a myth, the climate is changing dramatically in Bolivia and other Andean countries, Morales insists. “The lakes are drying. There is drought. Millions of fish are dying in the Amazon basin of frost.”
Morales was one of a group of radical leaders accused by Gordon Brown of “holding the world to ransom” at last year’s political debacle at Copenhagen. His heady mix of traditional socialism and an indigenous vision of nature rejects the western approach of offsetting emissions and carbon markets to reduce temperatures. “We came to Cancún to save nature, forests, planet Earth. We are not here to convert nature into a commodity. We have not come here to revitalise capitalism with carbon markets,” he says.
This year Bolivia hosted a “people’s summit” for climate change that attracted 45,000 people and proposed radical measures to cut emissions. Last week he repeated calls for a global referendum on what should be done.
“If governments don’t act, people will force them to. Sooner or later, we will have to recognise that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans.”