In 2010, Bolivia hosted the first “People's Summit on Climate Change” following U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen that failed to lead to any meaningful international action. With the country set to host a second round of people-centered talks this month, it’s worth looking back at what the previous conference achieved.
Attended by over 30,000 people from around the world – activists and Indigenous peoples, as opposed to just diplomats and heads of state – the 2010 summit focused on the root causes of climate change and led to a series of proposals that stressed the inherent rights of nature itself, among them: a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth and the establishment of a Climate Justice Tribunal that sought to hold accountable those who violated those rights.
During the conference, participants concluded that all countries must and should adhere to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
A key topic of discussion at the last summit was the notion of “climate debt”: that the world’s most developed nations, as the globe’s leading polluters, owe reparations to the developing nations that are likely to be most affected by climate change. That’s where the tribunal comes in. According to a proposal passed at the summit, that tribunal would have “the authority to judge, civilly and criminally, states, multilateral organizations, transnational corporations, and any legal persons responsible for aggravating the causes and impacts of climate change.”
During the two-day event, participants also drafted a People’s Agreement document, which declared that “Mother Earth is an indivisible, living community of interrelated and interdependent beings with a common destiny.”
That discourse on the rights of Mother Earth soon caught the attention of world leaders and international policy makers.
In 2012, the Bolivian Congress enshrined the values expressed at the conference in a “Law of Mother Earth,” which incorporates several key points from the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth such as: living in harmony with nature, climate justice and the principle of non-commercialization of natural resources.
On an international level, the United Nations General Assembly held several subsequent discussions on “living in harmony with Nature,” and now references to the rights of the Earth can be found not only in documents from the People’s Summit, but in the U.N.’s official declaration from the 2012 World Summit on Sustainable Development (“Rio + 20”).
Proposals put forward at the upcoming 2015 summit will be presented at a U.N. climate conference to be held in Paris later this year. There governments will once again attempt to reach an agreement on a new international protocol to address climate change.