Jason Negron-Gonzales Blogs for Movement Generation from Cochabamba

The ABC’s of Climate Negotiations

By Jason Negrón-Gonzales
Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project
April 20, 2010
Cochabamba, Bolivia

Here at the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, I Just took in a panel on the ABC’s of Climate Negotiations featuring the negotiators present in Copenhagen representing Cuba and Bolivia, and an activist and policy expert from the Third World Network. They managed to lay things out clearly on what happened in Copenhagen, the US-led Copenhagen Accord, and their position on the negotiations now.

Some core points: 

1. The key question (aside from decreasing emissions) in negotiations is how to divide up the atmospheric space left for emissions given that the US and other developed countries already used up most of the space that there was for greenhouse gas emissions. This then leads to the obvious follow-up question of whether or not the same countries that overused already should get the overwhelming share of what’s left. The obvious answer that most children would tell you is that no – that isn’t fair, or for that matter, just or equitable. Yet when a country like the US says it can’t or won’t cut emissions to the level it demands of others, that’s what happens.

2. Many countries in the Global South, and certainly the Bolivian government, believe that when developed countries like the US need to decrease their emissions that we should do it domestically, in US industries and the US economy, instead of creating carbon markets that let the US pollute away while paying someone else to decrease for them. This makes sense because history has shown that the projects that are supposed to “offset” emissions in the US or EU are often dubious, or might have happened anyway, or cause other problems for the people who live where they are happening (like with dams).

3. Regardless of the above points, the rich nations pushing the current arena of international negotiations are not seeking to get industrialized countries to decrease their own emissions by their fare share. Right now there are two competing options for a global framework to address climate change– a backroom deal the US is trying to move called the Copenhagen Accord, and the continuation of the international negotiations that have been happening according to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process since the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997. You read that right. The US-backed “Copenhagen Accord” has no relationship to the ongoing global negotiations process. As Angelica Navarro, one of the UN climate negotiators from Bolivia told the story, “It (the Copenhagen Accord) was given to us and we were told we had an hour to decide if we would support it enough. How are we supposed to make a decision about the future of the earth in an hour?”

4. The Kyoto Protocol, adopted through the UNFCCC as the global plan to set targets and mechanisms for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in 1997 has lots of well documented problems: a carbon market has allowed developed countries to avoid making real reductions to their emissions, a “clean development mechanism” which has spurred all kinds of destructive projects in the Global South, and the use of offsets which lead to continued pollution in communities of color in industrialized countries while paying projects elsewhere to cut their real or planned emissions. However, on the positive side Kyoto has: shared legal limits on emissions that are (at least prospectively) based on science; the concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities” meaning that those who have polluted the most should have a different burden than those who haven’t; exceptions for Global South countries with the intent of not restricting their development; and an enforcement mechanism if targets aren’t met.

5. The Copenhagen Accord, on the other hand, has: voluntary limits set by each country, no process to reconcile or pressure countries that offer less regardless of responsibility, no enforcement, continued carbon markets with offsets, etc., and an overall target set not by what science says in necessary, but only representing the total of what all the countries offer up. A study done by the EU estimated that if the Copenhagen Accord was approved with the existing commitments by countries it would optimistically only decrease emissions by 2%, probably locking us into a 3.9 degree Celsius temperature increase globally (this comes from a recent MIT study) – which would be a serious disaster.

The conclusion of the presenters was what you might expect; the countries represented are interested in following through with the official UN track of negotiations to get a better, more effective agreement. It remains to be seen how opposition to the Copenhagen Accord will fit in the package of demands that are coming from Southern social movements, but it certainly looks like it will figure strongly in the inside strategy of negotiators.

Ms. Navarro spoke directly to a US participant in the audience near the end of the panel. “We don’t believe that everything is lost. We have hope. But we have hope in you compañera. We have hope in the civil society. We have hope that together with the civil society of the South and the North, governments can make changes …We also believe that you all have part of the solution and we want to hear from you. What can we do so that the United States makes serious commitments? Not only in front of it’s own country, but in front of the world, those of us who are suffering because of this irrational irresponsible development, not only by the US, but all the developed countries.”

I haven’t touched on some of the other key issues like climate debt and REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries) yet but they are coming soon. Pa’lante Siempre.

Day one – “Either capitalism lives and the earth dies, or capitalism dies and the earth lives.”

By Jason Negrón-Gonzales
Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project
April 19, 2010

The CMPCC (Conferencia Mundial de los Pueblos sobre el Cambio Climático y los Derechos de la Madre Tierra) opened officially today with a mass rally of about 15,000 in a stadium with addresses by movement leaders, government negotiators on climate, and president Evo Morales of Bolivia. The rally opened with music, and an opening ceremony by Indigenous leaders from throughout the Americas. “We are here from the far north to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters of the South” said Faith Gemmill, Executive Director of Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL). “We have a choice as human kind – a path of life, or a path of destruction. The people who can change the world are here!”


The great presentations underscored the challenges of the moment. As president Morales reiterated, by EU estimates, the Copenhagen accord will only decrease CO2 emissions by 2% under 1990 levels by 2020, nowhere near what is needed. Speakers spoke to the political dynamics of the moment and the structural causes of the problem. Willy Meir, a Left deputy from Spain stated, “this conference has been produced from the failure of the Summit in Copenhagen, who’s authors, the most developed countries, have taken us into a dead end alley.” Multiple speakers articulated the impossibility of resolving the climate crisis with the existing neoliberal order in place, and that there can be no enduring equal relationship between humanity and nature if there is not first equality among all people. The presenters, who almost all came from the Global South, also underscored the responsibility and “climate debt” owed by first world nations who have produced the overwhelming majority of the pollution that got us here.

President Morales arrived with a welcome from a military honor guard, and gave a long presentation that was both politically sharp, radical, and at times humorous. In the end, he underscored that this crisis is a result of capitalism. And, capitalism and capitalist growth are incompatible with saving humanity (humanity because nature will endure regardless). Towards the end of his speech he concluded, “Either capitalism lives and the earth dies, or capitalism dies and the earth lives.”

President Morales is supporting calls for the continuation of negotiations to:
1. Include not only human rights but also “Mother Earth Rights” in the form of a UN resolution that would be binding and offer a legal basis for the defense of nature;
2. An International Climate Justice Tribunal to prosecute those who commit violations against nature and communities; and
3. A 2 billion person global referendum on solutions to climate to give all affected people throughout the world a direct voice in the path we choose.

In an interesting moment, a representative speaking on behalf of UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon was booed and heckled by listeners, still angry at the UN’s inaction, and it’s role in Copenhagen and the continuing negotiations. Over the coming days, the 17 working groups of the conference, which have been working intensively for the past couple days, will present proposals that will be integrated into a proposal for demands and actions. The UNFCCC process has been a failure at stopping emissions or bringing about a just climate policy, but it remains to be seen if the collective creation of the working groups will reflect a coherent alternative vision that can guide our work in coming years. Stay tuned!

Next episode – key issues and themes.


Dispatch 1: Rumbo a Cochabamba

By Jason Negrón-Gonzales, en route to Cochabamba

I’m writing from the plane in route to Cochabamba for the People’s World Conference on Climate Change and Rights of the Mother Earth.  For those who aren’t familiar with the conference, it was proposed by Bolivian president Evo Morales in the aftermath of the COP15 conference in Copenhagen last December.  While that conference was billed early as “Hopenhagen”, this week’s meetings in Cochabamba, Bolivia hold the real seeds of hope for a global response to climate chaos that is rooted in justice, equity, and historical accountability, and led by global social movements of workers, farmers, and the poor. 

What’s at stake?

While the world needed and hoped for a responsible and sufficient (if not radical) response to climate change, or at least a solid step in that direction, instead what we got in Copenhagen was more of the same: corporations and developed countries trying to extend their advantage and wealth.  The class character of the debate was striking.  One the one hand, delegates from Global South and Indigenous communities who are least to blame for emissions and are facing the loss of the livelihoods and homelands were demanding strong action now.  On the other, economic powerhouses like the US, which consumes about a quarter of the global energy supply, refused to be accountable for the environmental impacts of their economies and way of life.

Turning to the US situation for a second, as we’ve seen with healthcare, the Democratic Party has been extremely ineffective in capitalizing on their majority to push strong progressive legislation through Congress.  Why?  Because as a party they aren’t progressive, and they are just as beholden to corporate interests as the Republicans.  The US attempt to pass domestic climate legislation, called ACES, started too weak and quickly became weaker under the attacks of Republicans (and Democrats) in Congress from big agriculture, coal and oil industry states.

So, given this difficult situation at home, the US delegation decided not to lead but also not to get out of the way.  President Obama couldn’t (or wouldn’t attempt to) pass the strong climate legislation needed at home.  He might then have said, “You know guys, I can’t make it happen at home.  I’m doing the best I can, but in the mean time we want to support the strongest international plan that we can.”

But he didn’t do that.  Instead the US tried to turn back the clock, scrapping the progress made with the Kyoto Protocol and fighting for a new accord, the Copenhagen Accord, that it pulled together in a back room deal.  (Even with it’s flaws, the Kyoto Protocol contained some language and mechanisms that Global South nations wanted to move forward on rather than starting from scratch.)  The Copenhagen Accord offers no shared targets for emissions reductions but rather takes whatever each country wants to offer up and aggregates these commitments as a plan. Then, if the bad back-room plan wasn’t enough, the US showed up waving money to buy delegates just like congress people get bought and sold at home.  In response to this crass display, a delegate from Africa replied that the money offered wouldn’t be enough to pay for their coffins.

The Road to Cancun

Today negotiations continue but the US has taken the hard-line strategy of pushing its back room Copenhagen Accord like it’s the new basis of negotiations.  In the last week: 1. The US announced that it won’t provide climate aid to any country that doesn’t support the Copenhagen Accord, 2. The game plan from the Obama administration was leaked, revealing a plan to ram the accords through in their entirety and to do small “intimate” meetings with Big Green NGO’s to get them on board, and 3. At a follow up meeting to Copenhagen in Bonn, the Mexican delegation which will host the next COP announced that they there was no plan to continue the main tracks of negotiation in Mexico, another nod towards the US attempt to suspend open debate by all nations and ram the Copenhagen Accord through.  Scandalous!

All of which brings us to Cochabamba.  The Obama administration stated explicitly that they would give no money to Bolivia based on their opposition to the Copenhagen Accord.  Now Bolivia is hosting governments, NGO’s, and social movements from all over the world to build something better.  A head to head battle is shaping up – democracy vs. the back room, accountability vs. impunity, an uncompromising assertion of the dignity and value of all life vs. crass attempts to buy countries’ support.  I know what team I want to be on.

For those of us in the US who care about these issues, president Obama’s behavior is a bitter disappointment. The transition we have to make is a transition we want– not one that is forced on us by history.  We want a transition from a fossil-fueled economy.  We want sustainable communities built on principles of justice, equity, and democracy.  We want a world of good work, and good housing, where families, children, and communities count.  We want to meet our global obligations and to ensure that our sisters and brothers everywhere have what they need too.  That’s where I want my children to live.  And it’s why I’m in Bolivia with the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, the Indigenous Environmental Network and other forces from across the globe who are working to build social movements with a strategy to win that world.