Five to ten thousand people are expected to gather in Bolivia this April for a climate conference billed as an alternative to the failed COP15 summit, which ended without any meaningful agreement last December. Bolivian journalist Franz Chávez announced, “a different way of fighting global warming will be tried out in the central Bolivian city of Cochabamba when government representatives and thousands of activists gather for the World People’s Conference on Climate Change.” [1]

At COP15 in Copenhagen, world leaders prioritised economic self interest ahead of making any binding commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Organisers say things will be different in Cochabamba. Pablo Solón Romero, Bolivia’s ambassador to the United Nations claims, “Unlike Copenhagen, there will be no secret discussions behind closed doors” [2] He promised instead, “debate and proposals will be led by communities on the front lines of climate change and by organisations and individuals dedicated to tackling the climate crisis.” This time, world governments role is to “listen to the voices of civil society and together develop common proposals” says Solón. “We hope that this unique format will help shift power back to the people, which is where it needs to be on this critical issue for all humanity.”

Sarah van Gelder, in her article ‘Climate Game Changer ‘ [3] writes, “organizers draw on a strong indigenous tradition that emphasizes living well over having more.” She continues “the Cochabamba summit will explore alternatives that ‘challenge the current system based on consumption, waste, and the marketing of all aspects of life and nature.'” This reflects growing recognition of both an ecological and social crisis attributed to capitalism – shared by conference organizers and the host government.

Bolivian vice president Garcia Linare has spoken about how indigenous community structures have survived in Bolivia and resisted capitalist subjugation. He says this gives Bolivia a head start towards building solutions. However, Roger Burbachsome in his article ‘Communitarian Socialism in Bolivia’ [4] expresses scepticism of the governments commitment and contends it has continued with an ecologically damaging industrial model driven by transnational capital.

Bolivian economist Stanislaw Czaplicki insists that, “theory and practice must come together.” With deforestation in Bolivia occurring at a rate of 300,000 hectares every year, Czaplicki asserts that the model of resource extraction currently practised by Bolivian government, is inconsistent with their rhetoric of opposing destructive industrialisation and capitalism.

However, Czaplicki also questions the consistency of political movements in Europe, stating that they are “against models of development that harm the environment, but they do not express anti-capitalist thinking, and neither do they distance themselves from the international financial institutions.” Refuting his generalisation, a small group of climate justice activists based in Europe (and who will be attending the conference) wrote to say that there is a growing movement within Europe that “believes the solutions to the ecological crisis are intrinsically linked to the struggle for social justice, in particular understanding climate change as a symptom of a crisis within our political and economic systems.”

With a diverse political history which includes participation in the Climate Justice Action network (which mobilized around the COP15 in Copenhagen), the Camp for Climate Action and the UK No Borders network – the group explain that they, “adopt broadly anti-capitalist positions, understand climate change as deriving from capitalist modes of production, and hold significant concerns over the role of government in society”. They have produced an open letter addressed to conference participants, and have organised a workshop in Cochabamba called “Building Bridges Across Continents with Grassroots Climate Justice Movements” based on a discussion paper relating to Climate Justice in the context of Europe.[5]

The building of ‘bridges’ between social movements of the North and South is perhaps on of the greatest opportunities offered by the conference. Carmen Capriles, of the campaign in Bolivia says that it is essential that new movements are formed capable of generating alternative proposals. She also affirmed the need for political will on the part of developed countries to make “structural changes in their economies”.

For ongoing reports relating to the World People’s Conference on Climate Change, follow