21 december 2010

Why Bolivia stood alone in opposing the Cancún climate agreement

We were accused of being obstructionist, obstinate and unrealistic. But we feel an enormous obligation to set aside diplomacy and tell the

Pablo Solon, The Guardian, Tuesday 21 December 2010 15.54 GMT

Diplomacy is traditionally a game of alliance and compromise. Yet in
the early hours of Saturday 11 December, Bolivia found itself alone
against the world: the only nation to oppose the outcome of the United
Nations climate change summit in Cancún. We were accused of being
obstructionist, obstinate and unrealistic. Yet in truth we did not feel
alone, nor are we offended by the attacks. Instead, we feel an enormous
obligation to set aside diplomacy and tell the truth.

The "Cancún accord" was presented late Friday afternoon, and we were
given two hours to read it. Despite pressure to sign something ­
anything ­ immediately, Bolivia requested further deliberations. This
text, we said, would be a sad conclusion to the negotiations. After we
were denied any opportunity to discuss the text, despite a lack of
consensus, the president banged her gavel to approve the document.

Many commentators have called the Cancún accord a "step in the right
direction." We disagree: it is a giant step backward. The text replaces
binding mechanisms for reducing greenhouse gas emissions with voluntary
pledges that are wholly insufficient. These pledges contradict the
stated goal of capping the rise in temperature at 2C, instead guiding
us to 4C or more. The text is full of loopholes for polluters,
opportunities for expanding carbon markets and similar mechanisms ­
like the forestry scheme Redd ­ that reduce the obligation of developed
countries to act.

Bolivia may have been the only country to speak out against these
failures, but several negotiators told us privately that they support
us. Anyone who has seen the science on climate change knows that the
Cancún agreement was irresponsible.

In addition to having science on our side, another reason we did not
feel alone in opposing an unbalanced text at Cancún is that we received
thousands of messages of support from the women, men, and young people
of the social movements that have stood by us and have helped inform
our position. It is out of respect for them, and humanity as a whole,
that we feel a deep responsibility not to sign off on any paper that
threatens millions of lives.

Some claim the best thing is to be realistic and recognise that at the
very least the agreement saved the UN process from collapse.

Unfortunately, a convenient realism has become all that powerful
nations are willing to offer, while they ignore scientists'
exhortations to act radically now. The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change has found that in order to have a 50% chance of keeping
the rise in temperature below 1.5C, emissions must peak by 2015. The
attempt in Cancún to delay critical decisions until next year could
have catastrophic consequences.

Bolivia is a small country. This means we are among the nations most
vulnerable to climate change, but with the least responsibility for
causing the problem. Studies indicate that our capital city of La Paz
could become a desert within 30 years. What we do have is the privilege
of being able to stand by our ideals, of not letting partisan agendas
obscure our principal aim: defending life and Earth. We are not
desperate for money. Last year, after we rejected the Copenhagen
accord, the US cut our climate funding. We are not beholden to the
World Bank, as so many of us in the south once were. We can act freely
and do what is right.

Bolivia may have acted unusually by upsetting the established way of
dealing with things. But we face an unprecedented crisis, and false
victories won't save the planet. False agreements will not guarantee a
future for our children. We all must stand up and demand a climate
agreement strong enough to match the crisis we confront.

• Pablo Solon is the ambassador of the Plurinational State of Bolivia
to the United Nations.

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