Pablo Solón: the Outcome of the Climate Change Conference in Durban will be Worse than in Cancun

By Alfredo Acedo

When Solón attended the COP16 last year in Cancun, Mexico, he still served as Bolivia’s ambassador to the UN and led his country’s delegation at the talks on global warming with a strong position based on the Peoples’ Agreement of Cochabamba.

The Cochabamba Agreement firmly identified the underlying cause of the climate crisis produced by rising emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) as the capitalist model of production and consumption that seeks profit above all, imposes a logic of competition and turns everything into merchandise: water, land, seeds, the human genome, ancestral culture, biodiversity, justice, the rights of people, and life itself.

The Agreement demands climate justice in the sense that industrialized countries recognize their ecological debt with the rest of the world and cut emissions by half by the end of this decade. It also rejects false solutions such as carbon markets and biofuels.

Today, Solón came to Durban invited by several universities and organizations in South Africa to give talks and participate in various civil society activities surrounding the COP17. He no longer forms part of the Bolivian government delegation that stood alone in opposition to the Cancun deal and carbon markets last year.

“What’s coming out here is worse than the Cancun result because the level of emission reductions will be locked in for the rest of the decade. When we were in Cancun, the Bolivian delegation was told, ‘don’t worry, here we’re going to save the negotiation process, and in Durban we’ll save the climate’. Now we are in Durban and instead of saving the climate, they’ll lock in promises of miserable emissions reductions–the United States and Canada will reduce their emissions only 3% from 1990 during this decade until 2020, which means they are going to continue polluting unbelievably. In this area, what is done now, cannot be undone tomorrow quickly; the GHG emissions remain in the atmosphere for about 100 years.

“Last year 350,000 people died as a result of disasters caused by global warming according the Institute of Global Vulnerability led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. It is genocide, and is happening when the increase of the global temperature has not even reached one degree Celsius. Can we imagine what it would mean an increase of 3 or 4 degrees?” Solón asks.

He calls on the delegations that follow in the steps of Cochabamba “to get out of this COP and not to be part of this genocide. Many of the Cochabamba proposals are in the framework of the COP17 in Durban, in the unified text, but that does not mean that have been agreed, they are just alternatives. Most likely those who are negotiating in the hallways, dinners and reserved lunches, where most delegates do not have access, are cooking up a document that will omit the proposals of Cochabamba in the same way they did in Cancun,” Solon explains.

The former ambassador sees on positive aspect—debate has been opened up. “We proposed that the rights of the Mother Earth be on the agenda at the meeting in June this year in Germany, and that generated dissemination and discussion. But governments of developed countries figured ‘if we recognize rights of the Mother Earth, it will conflict with the interests of large corporations seeking to profit from natural resources, and with the green economy that seeks new market mechanisms in relation to environmental services.’”

Solón has no illusions but is optimistic in the long term: ”Within the COP–basically a structure that represents governments, not people–, there is no way to believe that through these processes we will achieve in the short term a statement to change the paradigm of all western civilization that has placed man at the center of the development model, and what we are saying is to put nature there too. It is a change in vision. It is now possible to change the debate, but it will take more time. In national states we have cases such as Ecuador and Bolivia that are taking steps forward, and the position of others that is interesting. But this opened a process; it is going to be one of the greatest challenges – and hopefully results— of this century. But it is already a process supported by grassroots, rural and indigenous movements, and even among scientists.

Solón promoted the proposal to establish the International Day of Mother Earth at the UN. He said opponents argued that it was a mystical idea of Andean groups that believe in the “Pachamama”. Solón says it’s not a belief or religion, but a scientific idea, because human beings are part of a living system with the Earth. And he brought positions, studies and statements from scientists from NASA and Europe who now conclude that the earth must be considered and addressed as a living organism because all its components are interrelated.

“When we talk about Mother Earth we mean we have with the planet not a relationship of ownership, but of belonging, we are not owners–we belong to the earth. After a long discussion, the approval of April 22 as the International Day of Mother Earth was achieved. It is a very important step, but from this point to the rights of the Mother Earth there is still a long way, because recognition involves establishing a balance in the system, because not only human beings have rights but also nature. We are obliged then to respect all life cycles.”

Solón says that climate change is the result of not having respected the natural laws that govern the carbon cycle by issuing a third more CO2 than normally is in the atmosphere emission could double in the next 40 years. This disrupts the natural balance with disastrous consequences at various levels, with impacts on the salinity of waters, the melting of poles and glaciers, in other words, generating a chain reaction.

In the tangle of confusing information about the Conference of Parties on climate change, the Kyoto Protocol– the binding multilateral framework whose term ends next year—has been scarcely addressed. Solón is convinced that the Kyoto Protocol must be preserved, even with all of its faults and shortcomings.” The problem is that they want to replace it for another agreement with more flexible mechanisms of voluntary pledges, which is going backwards. If there isn’t something better to replace it, it should be kept at least.”

“The point is that the Kyoto Protocol is a form, and what matters is the substance, the content, that is, the figure of emissions reductions to be established for the 2013-2020 period. If it is too low, even if the protocol remains, it would lead to tragedy.

“The United States is in a really imperial position. Not only it does not want to adhere to the Protocol, but also it has said, ‘I am going to reduce the 3 percent, and I have said it in Cancun and I am not even going to repeat it here. That is a fact, and it will be because my economy does not allow me to do more.’ And, what about the economy of the rest of the world that would by affected? ‘That’s the rest of the world’s problem.’

“This isn’t the position of U.S. civil society, but it is essential that the Occupy Wall Street movement take on the battle for climate justice, which is also part of the battle against that 1 per cent of the population that is not only taking our jobs and appropriating wealth, but condemning the rest of the humanity to its extermination as a result of natural disasters caused by its development model.

Alfredo Acedo is in Durban, South Africa covering the COP17 for the ALAI information agency He is communications director for UNORCA Mexico and collaborator of the Americas Program

Translation: Carlos Leon