(IPS) - Through their ancestral knowledge and traditions, indigenous peoples will make a unique and invaluable contribution to the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, which begins Monday, Apr. 19 in the central Bolivian city of Cochabamba.
Julio Quette of the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Eastern Bolivia (CIDOB) told IPS that the 74 different indigenous groups who inhabit South America’s Amazon region "have traditionally coexisted with nature and the forests," and that it is up to the industrialised countries to halt the pollution and destruction of the planet.
For her part, Jenny Gruenberger, executive director of the Environmental Defence League (LIDEMA), commented to IPS that "Bolivia could make an enormous contribution based on the traditional knowledge of the indigenous and aboriginal nations that make up this plurinational state."
The country is officially known as the Plurinational State of Bolivia, in recognition of the fact that over 60 percent of Bolivians belong to one of its numerous indigenous ethnic groups.
A total of 17 working groups have been organised as part of the World People’s Conference, to address issues such as the structural causes of climate change, living in harmony with nature, and the rights of Mother Earth, or Pachamama.
The other working groups will focus on a proposed global referendum on climate change; another proposal to establish a Climate Justice Tribunal or International Environmental Court; climate migrants; indigenous peoples; the climate debt; a "shared vision" for action (a concept introduced by developed countries under the Bali Action Plan adopted at the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference); the Kyoto Protocol; climate change adaptation; financing; technology transfer; forests; the dangers of the carbon market; action strategies; and agriculture and food sovereignty.
Bolivian President Evo Morales, who is an Aymara Indian himself, announced that the conference will be attended by fellow presidents Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, and Fernando Lugo of Paraguay.
More than 15,000 people from 126 countries around the world have registered to attend.
Among the prominent figures whose participation has been confirmed by the Bolivian Foreign Ministry are Alberto Acosta, president of the Constituent Assembly of Ecuador; Miguel D’Escoto, Nicaraguan diplomat and former president of the United Nations General Assembly; and Edigio Brunetto, a leader of Brazil’s Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST).
In addition, more than 50 scientists, social movement leaders, researchers, academics and artists from around the globe have agreed to speak on 14 panels, including Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva, best-selling Canadian author Naomi Klein, and Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano.
"Latin American organisations and governments could acquire all the capacity they need to confront the influence of the industrialised nations and become a centre of resistance against the current development model, but first they need to agree upon a unified stance," LIDEMA research coordinator Marco Ribera commented to IPS.
Ribera said that it is time for the region’s countries to put aside the "different interests" they each pursue and to use the Cochabamba conference as a forum to build "strong technical and political proposals with a high degree of legitimacy to negotiate at the 16th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change."
Ribera believes the upcoming conference could become a new forum for the struggle in defence of the planet, given the opportunity it will provide for the world’s people to express their views and proposals, "an opportunity they are not offered in official forums for international negotiations."
Justo Zapata, a Bolivian energy expert, spoke to IPS about one of the issues that will be addressed at the conference: the campaign for the use of "clean" fuels.
Bolivia has the second largest reserves of natural gas in the Americas, with proven and probable reserves of 49 trillion cubic feet. Yet the population continues to consume large quantities of gasoline, liquefied gas and diesel fuel, for which the government spends 500 million dollars annually to subsidise low prices, said Zapata.
Venezuela provides the country with gasoline and gas oil, both highly polluting fuels, while the population of the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo enjoys the clean natural gas exported by Bolivia, he noted.
Rectifying this situation is a matter of both economic and environmental defence, stressed Zapata, who called for large-scale initiatives such as the construction of domestic natural gas pipelines to benefit the population, as well as an end to neoliberal-inspired trade policies that prioritise exports over the domestic market.