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World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth Kicks Off in Bolivia

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International climate change negotiations will take a significant turn this week when environmental justice and indigenous rights organizations from 150 nations join government representatives and several heads of state for the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, who proposed hosting the conference in early January following the failure of UN climate talks in Copenhagen to produce a sufficient comprehensive climate agreement, will open the conference on Tuesday. Panel discussions will follow, continuing through to the close of the conference on Thursday, with participants including Bill McKibben, NASA scientist Jim Hansen, Martin Khor, G77 + China negotiator Lumumba Di Aping, and Vandana Shiva. Throughout the conference, seventeen working groups will convene to discuss issues ranging from deforestation and climate migrants to the rights of indigenous peoples and developing technologies for poor and low-lying nations to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

The goal of the conference, taking place just outside of Cochabamba, Bolivia, is multi-faceted: to analyze the structural causes of climate change, propose alternative models for living more harmoniously within the ecosystem, discuss the Bolivian Government's proposal for a Universal Declaration for the Rights of Mother Earth, build a mechanism on an international referendum on climate change, and develop a proposal for an international Climate Justice Court.

The Guardian's dependable environment correspondent John Vidal, along with Andres Schipani, take stock of what lies ahead during the conference and its potential impact on international climate negotiations. They quote Bolivia's ambassador to the U.N. Pablo Salon:

The only way to get climate negotiations back on track, not just for Bolivia or other countries, but for all of life, biodiversity, our Mother Earth, is to put civil society back into the process. The only thing that can save mankind from a [climate] tragedy is the exercise of global democracy.

The Bolivian climate conference occurs at a pivotal moment in international climate change negotiations. The UNFCCC process has come under attack, particularly by the United States and several European countries, which have criticized its consensus-based decision making process, calling it unwieldy and empowering small nations such as the Sudan or Bolivia to hold-up implementation of the Copenhagen Accord.

As the Bolivian conference gets underway, another conference is coming to a close. The U.S. State Department, this week convened a two-day meeting of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, a group comprised of the 17 leading global economies. The U.S. is seeking to link any commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to other leading economies' commitments to do the same, particularly China, India, and Brazil. This is a significant departure from the historic burden placed upon rich nations under the Kyoto Protocol to limit their greenhouse gas emissions, while developing nations need only reduce the carbon intensity of their economies.

Writing in the Miami Herald, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Energy Secretary Steven Chu discuss the role of the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas in addressing climate change.

While the U.S. will use the MEF and the ECPA to spotlight how small group and bilateral discussions among leading economies, rather than the 192-nation U.N. process, is the best way forward on climate negotiations, participants at the Bolivian conference argue that the conversation about, and the process for, developing strategies to address climate change needs to be expanded, not narrowed, bringing more voices into the debate around climate change.

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