Climate Crisis: A Symptom of the Development Model of the World Capitalist System


Speech to the Panel on Structural Causes of Climate Change, World  Peoples’ Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, Cochabamba, Bolivia, April 20, 2010

Good afternoon, compañero presidente Evo Morales, thank you for this initiative, for this invitation, and for your hospitality.

Thanks to the people of Bolivia and the people of Cochabamba for this welcome.

Thanks to the peoples of the world for being here.

Good afternoon, compañeros, brothers and sisters of Ecuador who came to this conference in Cochabamba.

Long live Ecuador and the indigenous peoples and nationalities of Ecuador!

President Morales, more than 400 men and women from Ecuador have come here to join in this convocation, for which we have made extensive preparations.  We have thought collectively about this conference and we understand its importance.  So I bring you a warm embrace and solidarity of compañero presidente Rafael Correa.

I’m excited to see so many people who are thinking of a better future, thinking about designing a new society, about sumak kausay (living well) for all.

Climate change is no longer in question for scientists and specialists, for people who care about the environment.  Climate change has now become the key issue defining world geopolitics because it dictates new political and economic relations between the countries with the highest emissions and those that are the poorest and most vulnerable.

It is also defining new relationships and points of debate between the major over-consuming elites, north and south.  There are such elites in all countries — in mine, in all of yours — elites who are being challenged by the humiliated, the offended, and the poor, who are in every part of the world.  A country that has an impressive number of poor without access to basic health services is the United States.

Climate change has to do with human security and the survival of men and women.  It has to do with living well, living fully.

Climate change has made us reflect on the things that are at risk now on planet earth — the sovereignty and freedom of the world’s peoples, food sovereignty, technological sovereignty.  Enrique Leb spoke of the dialogue of the various sciences, of the different forms of knowledge, which are also at risk, as are energy sovereignty, political and economic sovereignty, popular sovereignty — ultimately the right to choose how we want to live, produce, and consume.

Climate change has overshadowed other issues on the social, political, and environmental agenda.  But we must not allow climate change to become a smokescreen for other fundamental issues that must also be discussed.

Let’s review some of these topics that might have been forgotten because of the prominence of the climate change debate:

The loss of biodiversity (in the last 40 years, one third of tropical forests and thus 50,000 species per year have been lost).  This is the International Year of Biodiversity.  If biodiversity disappears, so will biological knowledge.  The future of our countries with mega-biodiversity lies in preserving that character and the knowledge that can flow from it.

Another issue that perhaps we have forgotten is the right to water.  The Ecuadoran constitution recognizes water as a fundamental human right.  We must remember that, in Latin America alone, there are about 70 million children without access to water.  We cannot allow this to continue.

And poverty.  The poor and extremely poor of the world total approximately 4 billion people, over 50% of the world’s population.  When it comes to climate change, we must not forget poverty, loss of biodiversity, and the global inequity of income and employment.

War: let us not to forget war.  The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone have cost about $1 trillion.  And spending continues to grow exponentially, while a large number of citizens of the very country that has spent $1 trillion have no access to medical care and are malnourished.

Let us not forget the global financial crisis, that is, the crisis of capitalism, the crisis of speculation — the huge financial-system bailouts without benefit of inventory, without accountability, without explaining why such an incalculable gift had been conferred on the global financial system.  Just in the current crisis, the speculative financial system has received the incredible sum of $1,472,500,000,000, a figure that I can’t even read because it has too many zeros.  Nobody is accountable for those resources, which are the resources of the peoples of the world and are taken from all of us.

The climate crisis is thus a symptom, not a problem in itself but rather a symptom of the development model of the world capitalist system and its logic, and of the destructive, undemocratic, and conflictive relations between society, politics, economy, and nature.  We must change these perverse relations that I believe are all part of the capitalist system.

Tackling climate change is not an issue of economic resources; we do not want to continue being told how much money is needed for adaptation and mitigation in their countries, to deliver those resources.  It is not just a matter of resources, funding and technology transfer.  It is a problem of the model of production and consumption, of planetary ethics, of development.  That is the problem.

Climate change, as I said, should not be used as a smokescreen for an unjust and unequal world.  We cannot let climate change become a new mechanism of blackmail and of further penetration of the northern countries into our countries.

We will not allow a repeat of the famous structural adjustment of the ’80s, which did great harm to our countries, our peoples, and our economies.

I want to tell you something.  Last week the United States suspended $2.5 million of aid for Ecuador’s climate change agenda as punishment for Ecuador’s not subscribing to the Copenhagen agreement — a spurious document made by a select few, without consulting all the governments and peoples of the world.  Ecuador will not accept these forms of blackmail.  In response, the President of Ecuador and the Ecuadoran people have told the United States, in all seriousness, that Ecuador offers $2.5 million to the U.S. if the U.S. will sign the Kyoto protocol.  And we mean it: if the U.S. signs the Kyoto protocol, we will provide $2.5 million in cooperation for its technological reconstruction process which would do so much good for the planet.

We subscribe to several of the ideas that have brought us here to this great peoples’ forum.  We support the recognition of climate debt, and we endorse and applaud the initiative of having an international court of climate justice.  We support all those ideas of President Evo Morales and Bolivia.

The Ecuadoran constitution is the first constitution in the world to recognize constitutional rights for nature.  We hope that this example will be followed by most countries, because we must recognize the rights of the earth, constitutional rights.

This should be a platform for the countries of the global South and for all progressive and sovereign governments of the world.

We the people of Ecuador — our delegation which includes more than 30 ministers of state and other officials — have come here with some proposals:

We want to propose something that was already proposed by President Correa within OPEC in 2007: the Daly-Correa tax on exports of oil.  We must begin to generate taxes on oil which make it cost what it ought to cost, with all the impacts it has.

We must adopt the ecological footprint index as an instrument for assessment and decision-making worldwide.  That is, countries and their levels of development should be measured and ranked — from 1 to 192 — in terms of the ecological footprint they are leaving.  Let us then see which are the more developed and less developed.  I’m sure everything would change and of course countries like Bolivia would be in the first rank and perhaps countries such as Ecuador would be number 2 or 3.  This is not a contest; it is a new global ethic to judge ourselves and others, recognizing the importance of the ecological footprint.

It is also essential that we make an appeal to the economies of the north to support the ITT Yasuni initiative of the Ecuadoran government that seeks to leave 20% of the total reserves of untapped oil in Ecuador beneath the ground forever.  We take this step for several reasons:

1. To protect one of the regions with the highest rates of biodiversity.  Several scientists have said that the Yasuni National Park is one of the world’s sites with the greatest biodiversity.  It is a Pleistocene refuge, a biosphere reserve.

2. To protect the habitat of free indigenous peoples who have chosen voluntary isolation and who live within the Yasuni National Park.

3. To prevent release of over 400 million metric tons of CO2 — corresponding to the annual emissions of a country like France.

This is the Ecuadoran government’s commitment to the planet, but we need it to be matched by a corresponding commitment from others.  We need the support and contribution of the powerful economies of the world, so that they can show that their true interest and their true ethic lies in the well-being of all the world’s people.

Another point that we have brought forcefully to this conference is the urgent need to restore the institutional strength of the United Nations, in order to bring transparency and democracy to the deliberations and decisions in connection with the framework convention on climate change.  Let us not undermine the UN system because of the interests of a few.

Let us take back the multilateral system, which proclaims the sovereign freedom of states and peoples.

Let us go forward with our presence, our ideas, and our contributions in the context of climate change.  Let us not allow them to take that space away from us, please.  The process of negotiation must be reactivated in a democratic, inclusive, and transparent manner.

Let us also bring, brothers and sisters of the world, the commitment to adopt living well [as opposed to living better] as an alternative paradigm to the spent and limiting concept of development.  Those who destroy biodiversity and provoke other environmental problems are the same ones who inflict poverty, war, and the vicious circle of financial speculation, and who affect our sovereignty and our security, and who impose new forms of colonialism, racism and xenophobia, discrimination and exclusion.

We must no longer grow and accumulate.  We must found a new way of building the economy and of interacting with nature.

The structural causes of climate change and of all the world’s problems are of the same order, and so also must be the responses.  They must be structural, revolutionary, and deep.  This is what this conference of the world’s peoples is trying to build, and Ecuador is committed to this process!

A platform to combat climate change cannot be effective if it is not aimed at building a new economy, a new society.  This can only be done through a collective process, an insurgent process of decolonization of thought, a process of creativity and liberation.  That is why we came here.

Thank you again, compañero presidente Evo Morales, for inviting us.

Thank you, brothers and sisters.

María Fernanda Espinosa is the Minister of Cultural Patrimony, Ecuador.  Translation by Fred Magdoff and Victor Wallis.

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