Bolivia and the United Nations Climate Change Negotiations

BIF Special Briefing, November 2010

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations

The UNFCCC negotiations started in 1992 to find ways to deal with global warming. Since then there has been progress with the creation of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol which is the only legally binding agreement that commits the majority of richer nations to reduce their emissions. The Protocol stipulates a reduction by 5% of emissions compared to 1990 levels by the year 2012. Crucially, the USA did not sign. In recent years the pressure has been increasing on the UNFCCC negotiations to reach a new legally binding global agreement to be in place from 2012. This was most visible at the notorious Copenhagen meeting in December 2009.

World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth

Following the failure of the negotiations in Copenhagen the Bolivian government held the April 2010 conference in Cochabamba to give governments and civil society the opportunity to find solutions to deal with climate change together. Over 35,000 people from 147 countries attended including 47 government delegations. The key elements of the “People’s Agreement” resulting from the conference are:
  • Climate justice: the rich nations in Europe and North America are historically responsible for causing climate change and so must reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases. They have the moral obligation, due to the ‘climate debt’ they have accumulated, to assist poorer nations in adapting to the impacts of climate change and helping them to develop low carbon economies based on renewable energy. To do this they should use 6% of their GDP to provide funding without conditionality. Intellectual property rights should be bypassed to enable the free exchange of green technology.
  • Free market capitalism is the root cause of climate change because its focus on limitless growth has failed to take account of the impact this has on the environment. A new model is needed whereby humans live in harmony with the natural world – the concept of living well rather than living better at the expense of others and the environment.
  • Rejection of the Copenhagen Accord. An agreement that was not ambitious, fair or legally binding which was imposed by a select 26 countries at the end of the Copenhagen conference outside of the UN process.
  • Carbon markets and carbon offsetting are rejected because they are a means for rich nations to pay poorer nations to, for example, protect forests while they do not reduce their overall carbon emissions.
  • Rejection of agro-fuels and the privatisation of water.
  • Increase in global temperature not to exceed 1° C above pre-industrial levels.
  • 50% reduction in emissions by rich countries, compared to 1990 levels, by 2017.
  • Nature should be protected through a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth including its right to regenerate itself and not be polluted.
  • Support for an International Climate Justice Tribunal. The court would judge cases of damage to the environment committed by multi-national companies, governments or other individuals.
  • Defend human rights including those of indigenous peoples and climate migrants.
  • Global referendum in 2011 on action to be taken by companies and rich countries.
  • Creation of the World People’s Movement to defend the Rights of Mother Earth to take forward the People’s Agreement of Cochabamba and to hold a second World People’s Conference in April 2011.

Further information is on the conference website.

Taking the People’s Agreement to the United Nations

Although the conference was held outside of the official UNFCCC process its final People’s Agreement was presented by Bolivia as an official submission to the negotiations in August. The Bolivian delegation has successfully ensured some of the proposals have been included in the official negotiating texts for the next annual meeting in Mexico at the end of 2010. However, this does not mean they will necessarily become part of the final global agreement. The People’s Agreement calls for rich nations to reduce their emissions by 50% by 2017 compared to 1990 levels while rich nations have put forward a target of 40% by 2020. The People’s Agreement states that temperatures should not be allowed to increase above 1° C whilst developed countries are pushing for limits of 1.5° C and 2° C.

Bolivia’s role in the negotiations

The UNFCCC negotiations are dominated by geo-political relations. The United States and China, at loggerheads, together are in fact responsible for 40% of global carbon emissions. Rich countries in North America and Europe, whose industrial development led to the high carbon emissions causing climate change, refuse to commit to reducing their emissions, unless fast developing countries such as China, India, Brazil and South Africa agree to reduce theirs. The poorer nations urgently demand immediate action as they are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. In this context Bolivia is trying to push the boundaries of negotiations in an attempt to make the final agreement more ambitious and consistent with the principles of climate justice.

The People’s Agreement provides a landmark in the process of climate change negotiations. Bolivia has played a key role in promoting the rights of indigenous peoples and along with others has defended the Kyoto Protocol, trying to ensure approval of an agreement which will seriously tackle the question of emissions and take on the costs of adaptation to climate change.

The possibility of Bolivia and other countries influencing the negotiations depends in part on the one country-one vote rule remaining in place. This allowed Bolivia (along with Tuvalu, Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, amongst others) to prevent the Copenhagen Accord from being approved as an official UNFCCC agreement. There has been pressure put on some nations who did not sign up to the Copenhagen Accord, and in July 2010 some rich countries were talking of scrapping the one country-one vote system.

Bolivian civil society

Bolivia’s social and indigenous movements are taking an active role in pushing the Bolivian government to defend the environment at home. At the international level they are pushing for climate justice and promoting proposals for recognition of the Rights of Mother Earth and setting up of the Climate Justice Tribunal. Bolivia is already suffering the effects of climate change: rapid melting of glaciers in the Andes threatens water and electricity supplies; changing weather is jeopardising rural livelihoods and extreme conditions such as regional flooding and droughts are on the increase. Representatives of social and indigenous movements are attending the UNFCCC meetings to share their experiences of these impacts, showing the urgent need for us to live in harmony with the environment.

Bolivia Information Forum, Unit F5 89-93 Fonthill Road,

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