New technologies and the threat to sovereignty in Africa

Voices of resistance and hope from the World People’s Conference on Climate Change

, by Pambazuka , RIBEIRO Silvia

Silvia Ribeiro summarises the outcomes of the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, held in Bolivia this past April. The Accord of the Peoples, the product of the meeting, highlights the destructive nature of industrial agriculture, agrofuels and new technologies such as transgenics, ‘terminator technologies’ and nanotechnology.

TIQUIPAYA, BOLIVIA – More than 35,000 people responded to Bolivia’s call for the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth (PWCC) in Cochabamba this past 19-22 April. Participants hailed from 142 countries on five continents, and represented social movements, peasants, indigenous groups, environmentalists, fishers, and women’s groups. In addition to government representation from 47 countries, the conference brought together academics, intellectuals, activists, artists, and musicians. Throughout the conference, participants focused their energy on the 17 working groups set up by the conference organisers and 127 self-organised workshops. One of the biggest indigenous federations in Bolivia, the National Counsel of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu (CONAMAQ), along with other groups, set up the ‘Working Group 18’ to discuss issues they felt were not reflected in the conference schedule, such as critical dialogue on mining, gas and petroleum projects.

Summit participation exceeded expectations both in terms of numbers and content, becoming a historic achievement in the international climate crisis debate. While the powerful governments maneuvered in Copenhagen, Bolivia provided a platform for social movements and local communities from around the world to express their positions and demand that governments take heed. The conference also affirmed the networks and interactions between social movements, with an outlook of creating new global networks to tackle the climate crisis. The majority of participants felt that what is most needed is not a new international structure but rather more interaction and complementarity among existing movements.

The conference created a common base for the critical analysis and strategies to address the climate crisis, enriched by diverse perspectives from many cultures, peoples, and organisations from the continent and the rest of the world. The People’s Agreement on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth.

There was an energetic and repeated rejection of the Copenhagen Accord, the agreement developed by the countries most responsible for the climate crisis and presented last December by the UN Climate Change Conference (COP15) to the United Nations Convention Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The cynical ‘commitments’ that were agreed to in Copenhagen will mean a rise in average temperatures by up to 4 degrees Celsius, a catastrophe in the eyes of the people of the global South.

The PWCC, in contrast, is pushing for a halt to global climate change, or ‘decolonising the atmosphere’, calling on industrialised countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent. The PWCC rejects carbon market mechanisms in all their forms as a climate change solution. The PWCC also rejects REDD mechanisms on the grounds that they lead to the alienation of community forest management and promote tree monocultures.

At the heart of the PWCC critique is an impeachment of the real causes of the climate crisis. In the words of the Accord of the Peoples: ‘We are confronting the terminal crisis of the model of patriarchal civilisation based on submission and destruction of human beings and nature that was accelerated with the industrial revolution. The capitalist system has imposed a logic of competition, progress and unlimited growth. This regimen of production and consumption seeks infinite profit, separating human beings from nature, establishing a logic of domination over nature, and converting everything into commodities: water, earth, human genes, ancestral cultures, biodiversity, justice, ethics, the rights of peoples, death, and life.’

The People’s Accord condemns industrial agriculture and agribusiness corporations – directly responsible for half the emissions causing the climate crisis – as well as the mechanisms and proposals that support the advancement of transnational corporations and the devastation of Mother Earth. In particular, the Accord cites free trade agreements, the introduction of new and risky technologies such as transgenics, ‘terminator technology’, nanotechnology, geoengineering (climate manipulation) and agrofuels.

‘We denounce the way that the capitalist model imposes infrastructure mega-projects, invades territories with extractive projects, privatises and commodifies water, and militarises territory, driving out indigenous peoples and peasants from their territory, impeding food sovereignty and deepening the social/environmental crises,’ the Accord reads.

The declaration of ‘Working Group 18’ emphasises similar issues, criticising the Bolivian government’s policies and projects of extraction and exploitation of hydrocarbons and mining. The declaration clarifies that the initiative was not meant to be ‘a tribune to discredit the government nor to undermine the legitimacy of a conclave that we feel a part of… it is about formulating proposals that help to right the course of change, taking on the responsibility to defend it and protect it, as conceived by the popular Bolivian social movement over many years of struggle.’

The PWCC also put forth strategies and proposals like reclaiming climate debt, the creation of the International Tribunal of Climate Justice, and the Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth. The greatest challenge continues to be putting food sovereignty – based on peasant, indigenous and local ways of life and production – into action. Ultimately, promoting social justice and biodiversity and bringing the planet back to equilibrium depend on making food sovereignty a reality.

All this and more will be brought to the COP16 of the UNFCCC in Cancun, Mexico, from 29 November to 16 December this year, where the official climate negotiations will take place. Cochabamba has definitively become a building block in the climate crisis campaign and for civil society and social movement action around the world.


For more on Bolivia’s emerging global climate movement, watch Avi Lewis, host of Al Jazeera’s program ‘Fault Lines’, as he travels to Bolivia and explores the country’s climate crusade from the inside in the episode ‘The other debt crisis: Climate debt’.

This article is also available in French.