BY DERRICK O’KEEFE (JUNE 30, 2011)
Today, Pablo Solón completes his term as Ambassador for the Plurinational State of Bolivia to the United Nations. As representative of a small and poor country, Solón has played a key role in perhaps the decisive political struggle of this century: the fight against climate change and the unjust economic system causing environmental and social crisis.
On behalf of the Bolivian government led by indigenous president Evo Morales, Solón has pushed for the UN to enshrine the right to water as a human right, and led effortsto implement a Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.
Most importantly of all, Pablo Solón has been at the forefront of the battle for climate justice — the effort to address the climate crisis in an urgent and equitable manner.
I first met Solón in early 2010. He was in Vancouver to speak at an inter-faith social justice conference, and he was kind enough to also address a forum called ‘Change the System, Not the Climate’ that several groups, including the Canada-Bolivia Solidarity Committee, had put together at the local Unitarian Church. Solón’s speech was an eye-opener, sobering yet energizing. He calmly outlined the audacious course of action Bolivia was proposing towards building a global movement for climate justice.
The Vancouver forum was held only a couple of months after the disastrous Copenhagen UN Climate Summit in late 2009, which had left climate activists dejected. In concluding his remarks, Solon invited our Vancouver audience to participate in the Cochabamba People’s World Conference on Climate Change. In April 2010, more than 20,000 indigenous people, Latin American activists and delegates from around the world converged on Cochabamba, Bolivia. The summit was a space for discussion and cross-pollination, but it also set out concrete plans and proposals for achieving climate justice.
Little Bolivia helped present a big vision when it was needed most.
The ‘Cochabamba Protocals’ were part of a new, more combative and less patient mood, with less tolerance for Titanic-deckchair-shuffling by politicians or cynical “greenwashing” by corporations. Where governments failed, people’s movements had to step it up and take matters into their own hands.
In Vancouver we were inspired to organize meetings promoting the Cochabamba agenda, including a report back from the conference featuring Ardoch Algonquin activist Robert Lovelace. Plans for a local People’s Assembly for Climate Justice soon followed.
Unfortunately, over the course of 2010, many governments that had shared Bolivia’s disgust with the ‘Copenhagen Accord’ were cajoled, bought off or just plain threatened and bullied into coming on board. By the time the Cancun UN Climate Summit came around in late 2010, Bolivia’s position had become more isolated within the official negotiations.
So it was that, late one night in December 2010, Pablo Solón was a lone voice loudly objecting to the Summit chair’s attempt to push through “consensus”. He spoke at some length, enumerating the many problems with the Cancun agreement. It was a sort of filibuster on behalf of Mother Earth.
There are times when you must stand alone in order to stand on the right side of history. Inside the Summit halls in Cancun, Solón no doubt endured scorn and abuse from other delegations. But outside the Summit his stoic effort was noticed and appreciated.
If as a species we can still unite to salvage a decent, sustainable future, Bolivia’s Cochabamba Summit and Solón’s stand at Cancun will no doubt be recorded in the story of how we managed to begin to pull the emergency brake on climate chaos.
All this simply to say: thank you, Pablo Solón. And thanks to the people of Bolivia whose inspiring revolutionary process made it possible to have a diplomat/social activist like him at the UN during these crucial years.
La lucha continúa. The struggle continues.