Cochabamba to Cancún: The Rights of Mother Earth


Back in April 17-19 this year Bolivia organised a World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in a university town on the outskirts of Cochabamba. I bring it up now because it was a radical reaction to Copenhagen in an effort to set a new agenda for Cancún, which will commence on November 29. Bolivia was acting on behalf of the ALBA countries (The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America). ALBA has a membership of six countries with a population a bit larger than three times ours and a combined GDP about half ours.

Some island states react to climate change out of a threat of sea level change and inundation. Naomi Klein points out that Bolivia has it’s own existential crisis because “its glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, threatening the water supply in two major cities.”

The Council of Canadians tells us in their report that some 10,000 of the 34,000 participants came from outside South America. Government representatives from 147 countries were present, and at least 45 were active participants.

It seems clear that the conference outcomes were designed into the structure of the 17 working groups. The main formal outcome was a Peoples agreement. Here are a few extracts to give you the flavour:

The corporations and governments of the so-called “developed” countries, in complicity with a segment of the scientific community, have led us to discuss climate change as a problem limited to the rise in temperature without questioning the cause, which is the capitalist system.

We confront the terminal crisis of a civilizing model that is patriarchal and based on the submission and destruction of human beings and nature that accelerated since the industrial revolution.

The capitalist system has imposed on us a logic of competition, progress and limitless growth. This regime of production and consumption seeks profit without limits, separating human beings from nature and imposing a logic of domination upon nature, transforming everything into commodities: water, earth, the human genome, ancestral cultures, biodiversity, justice, ethics, the rights of peoples, and life itself.

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.

It is imperative that we forge a new system that restores harmony with nature and among human beings. And in order for there to be balance with nature, there must first be equity among human beings.

We propose to the peoples of the world the recovery, revalorization, and strengthening of the knowledge, wisdom, and ancestral practices of Indigenous Peoples, which are affirmed in the thought and practices of “Living Well,” recognizing Mother Earth as a living being with which we have an indivisible, interdependent, complementary and spiritual relationship

The “shared vision for long-term cooperative action” in climate change negotiations should not be reduced to defining the limit on temperature increases and the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but must also incorporate in a balanced and integral manner measures regarding capacity building, production and consumption patterns, and other essential factors such as the acknowledging of the Rights of Mother Earth to establish harmony with nature.

They propose:

  • a Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth
  • 50 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by developed countries in the 2010-2017 period of the Kyoto Protocol
  • that carbon markets or other offset mechanisms that mask the failure of actual reductions in greenhouse gas emissions be excluded
  • an International Tribunal of Conscience be established to denounce, make visible, document, judge and punish violations of the rights of migrants, refugees and displaced persons within countries of origin, transit and destination, clearly identifying the responsibilities of States, companies and other agent
  • the creation of an International Climate and Justice Tribunal
  • developed countries should contribute 6% of GDP to finance climate change actions in developing countries
  • barriers to intellectual property that facilitate technology transfer should be lifted
  • a global referendum on climate change
  • there should be no commodification of forests (they oppose REDDS)
  • a Global People’s Movement for Mother Earth.

Edgardo Lander identified some issues which could be problematic.

Other reports include Countercurrents and Reuters.

The Vancouver Observer published a photographic essay on the conference by Static Photography.

The conference identified 241 partner organisations.

After the conference President Morales went to see Ban Ki-moon, maintained the rage through to the recent conference in Tianjin, still have their main proposals in the negotiating text and are still in their swinging.

I bring this to your notice because there would seem to be intractable differences going into a conference where complete consensus of all countries is required for an outcome. While my socialist heart has some sympathy for their intentions, I can’t see the main centres of capitalist power accommodating their vision.

Anyway the Plurinational State of Bolivia has been given the gig in organising a World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in 2014.

If you were really cynical you might say they are being given a sandpit in which to play.

21 thoughts on “Cochabamba to Cancún: The Rights of Mother Earth”

  1. I became aware of this group several weeks ago. I think their emphasis on the rights of “Mother Earth” is counterproductive. It presents a “spiritual” perspective, and it should instead be presenting itself as scientific.

  2. Well this comes back to an old debate: fundies v realos. Change the system from within or overthrow it?

    My belief is that, no matter the truth of what they say, it’s so far outside the conversation as to be meaningless. Too easy to just simply ignore it – which is precisely what will happen with this. Some good, practical outcomes will get lost in the hopeless wishlist.

  3. Mother Earth is a human concept and not a self aware person. It is incoherent to talk about giving it rights.

  4. Funnily enough, in saying that we should keep temperature rises to 1 to 1.5C, in insisting on sustaining forest ecologies and in suggesting that the Developing countries should reduce emissions by 50% by 2017, their science may be more in keeping with what is needed for a liveable planet than the implied science of mainstream positions.

    The bottom line, though, is that their demands won’t be met and it’s unlikely they will compromise on their demands.

    So they are not irrelevant.

  5. Sigh. Let’s go through it one more time. Rights are not conferred on non humans.

    (Except corporations because they create money unlike ‘Mother Earth.’ What do we get from her anyway? Water, air and things from the ground. That’s all.)

  6. Well any rights that we humans do have will be rendered redundant or entirely hypothetical if some sort of radical action along these lines is not taken.

    Elswhere on LP, people are maintaining their right to air-condition their homes as they see fit. Sigh…

  7. Moz @ 6, not irrelevant, that is you can’t ignore them. They have votes and all votes are needed for a new agreement, unless they abstain, which I don’t expect they will.

  8. The flavour , as you term it, is demented afro tinged with melted plastic and an aftertaste of resentment finely honed by years of personal failure.
    The proposals read like a fascist’s wish list.
    What is it with these noble crusaders for the down trodden and their insatiable need for tribunals, shamings , denunciations and the like?
    Executions without appeal are sure to be next!
    The rest of their proposals really indicate they are just jockeying for prominence within their own organisation – ha, where have we seen that before?
    Unelectable, ignorantly ranting mumbojumbo they should all band together and start working on a space ship to fly them to their own celestial Eden.
    I’ll won’t be there to wave goodbye.

  9. The proposals read like a fascist’s wish list.

    What is it with these noble crusaders for the down trodden and their insatiable need for tribunals, shamings, denunciations and the like?

    Executions without appeal are sure to be next!

    The rest of their proposals really indicate they are just jockeying for prominence within their own organisation – ha, where have we seen that before?

    Unelectable, ignorantly ranting mumbojumbo they should all band together and start working on a space ship to fly them to their own celestial Eden.

    I’ll won’t be there to wave goodbye.

    Troll.

  10. Passing over the appeal to metaphysics, much of it, at least in its broad sweep seems supportable — especially the commitment to a proportion of GDP from the advanced countries to climate change relief measures.

    The stuff on human displacement sounds admirable, but impracticable. It’s hard to imagine any state deciding its own nationals should be arraigned for being horrible to displaced persons. The US wouldn’;t even go before the ICC when it mined Managua Harbour.

  11. 1. i don’t think it’s necessarily true that ALBA countries will hold out until all of their demands are met. i think they are playing a strategic game, seeing the importance of starting with a big ask – who knows what their actual redlines are.

    2. at #1 the rights of mother earth is not necessarily spiritual. if we think of ‘civilisation’ as the movement of ethical concern into ever increasing circles of beings which we recognise by conveying ‘rights’ and which we have already granted to pets and other animals – why not be consistent and think of the entire global ecosystem as something deserving of our ethical concern? there’s a great article called ‘should trees have standing’ that’s about 40 yrs old now but well worth reading for those interested – http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/Law/EnvironmentalLaw/?view=usa&ci=9780199736072

  12. alexincancun, thanks for those perceptions.

    if we think of ‘civilisation’ as the movement of ethical concern into ever increasing circles of beings which we recognise by conveying ‘rights’ and which we have already granted to pets and other animals – why not be consistent and think of the entire global ecosystem as something deserving of our ethical concern?

    Exactly.

  13. Usual woozy mix of environmentalism, spiritualism and marxism. Followed by the usual demands for money.

    Even most people on LP struggle to take that seriously

  14. You guys are missing the point if you think Rights for Nature is non-scientific, flakey, fringe or not serious. It is about adapting governance systems to reflect the scientific reality that the needs of humans need to be balanced against those of the whole (Earth) of which we form part and of other members of the Earth community. The law uses rights to balance relations between humans but is pathetically bad at striking appropriate human/ nature balances because humans have rights and all other aspects of Nature have none (i.e. are property and right-less like slaves). What you are seeing is the tip of a huge global social movement emerging based on the recognition that human rights are meaningless without a livable planet and ensuring that requires balancing human rights with the rights of the planet.

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