Eco-socialism to fight climate change

With Lima failing to tackle critical issues on global warming, Bolivia outlines socialist project to save the planet

By Latha Jishnu
Published: Wednesday 31 December 2014

With Lima failing to tackle critical issues on global warming, Bolivia outlines socialist project to save the planet

imageThe enduring images from Peru are the melting glaciers. In the run-up to the 20th Conference of Parties (COP20) on climate change in Lima, TV channels had sent reporters to capture the most drastic impacts of climate change on the host country which is a biodiversity hotspot. Some had focused on the melting of glacial ice high up in the Peruvian Andes and its fallout.

The pictures were stark. The ice cap on Quelccaya, a volcanic plain some 5,500 metres above sea level, had receded dramatically, showing jagged swathes of the dark rock in the frozen landscape. In just 35 years, the glacial ice that was formed around 1,800 years ago to make the world’s largest concentration of tropical glaciers had retreated as much as 20 per cent due to a 0.7° C rise in temperature in the Andes between 1939 and 2009.

But even more worrying were other reports of the Peruvian government’s regressive policies on protecting its environment under President Ollanta Humala. This is a concern that has resonance in India where the new BJP regime of Narendra Modi is rapidly dismantling environmental safeguards.

In Peru, there have been violent clashes between the indigenous people resisting land grab by oil and logging companies. There have been many deaths. In India, land is being given away for industry and development at an alarming rate. At about the time Lima was seeking an elusive agreement, a minister in the Modi Cabinet disclosed that as much as 1,35,000 hectares of land had been given away for various projects in the last three months alone. Speaking at a symposium on the significance of forest foods for adivasis, Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi dismayed the gathering by saying that issues related to forests were never discussed in the Cabinet. She also feared that it would be difficult to let the forests be.

The justification in Lima as in Delhi is the same: environmental laws have to be whittled down to attract investment. It is against this backdrop that we have to view the inability of COP20 to fix binding commitments on emissions, leaving each nation free to decide what it wants to do to reduce emissions—if at all.

What can be done to save the planet? Perhaps, Bolivia has an answer. Its extraordinary President Evo Morales, who believes that eco-socialism is the only way out of the mess created by the greed and plunder of the current economic system, has an alternative to fight the climate crisis. He has proposed a joint mitigation and adaptation (JMA) approach for “the integral and sustainable management of forests that would take into account the holistic views of indigenous peoples, local communities and local resource users about the environment and Mother Earth.” Women will be the keystone of this project since the aim was to achieve “gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls”.

Most governments and economists are likely to dismiss this out of hand as utopian or mere socialist twaddle. Terms such as eco-socialism, Mother Earth and indigenous people tend to have this effect on conventional thinking.

Even if the Bolivian plan “to save life and humanity” sounds romantic, can we afford to be dismissive? Some, fortunately, are taking Morales seriously. A summit of ALBA leaders meeting in Havana on December 14 endorsed his proposal to host a global assembly of social movements in 2015 with the aim of adopting a united strategy to fight climate change. ALBA is a group of just nine Latin American and Caribbean countries. It’s a small beginning. But after the failure of Lima, the world needs to look for hope—and solutions—in unlikely places.

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