The Climate Space and the Future of the Climate Justice Movement

An Interview With Pablo Solon by William Kramer

The battle to change climate change will be mainly in the daily life of people, in the streets, in the forests, in the fields.  And it’s a battle very much related to concrete struggles to stop extractivist projects, to stop REDD projects, to stop the land grabbing.  And also to develop proposals of a systemic alternative.  The climate movement has a very good slogan that is “System Change, Not Climate Change.”  But what does system change mean?  This is something that has not been very much developed in the climate movement. 

Pablo Solon is the Executive Director of Focus on the Global Southbased in Bangkok.  He was formerly Bolivia’s Ambassador to the United Nations and Bolivia’s chief negotiator on climate issues as part of the UN COP process.  He was also instrumental in organizing the People’s Climate Summit in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

He spoke with William Kramer, a US based climate organizer, at the 2013 World Social Forum in Tunisia, where Focus On the Global South and many other groups organized a series of workshops called the “Climate Space.”  For more information on the Climate Space see <>.

Q: Why was the Climate Space formed?

PS: On one hand, in the World Social Forum the environmental issues, and particularly the climate issues, are more highlighted.  Because it’s impossible to have a social transformation that only addresses the economy and the distribution of wealth.  The revolution for a new society has to address also the relation of humans with nature.  And the issue of climate change is one of them.  Not the only one, but it’s a very urgent issue because we don’t have too much time.  It’s this decade, and the next decade it’s a different scenario.  So that is one of the positive aspects.  And the second one is to bring together a different kind of movement: trade unions, indigenous movements, NGOs, environmentalists, from different continents, to discuss from a different perspective that is not being negotiated in the United Nations.  Because what has happened during the last years is that mainly the discussion on climate change for activists was focused on the negotiations within the UN.  And we’re not saying that that’s not good, but that has consumed all our energy, or most of our energy.  And we need to rethink our strategy because we are not going to be able to have a success in the UN negotiations through a specific campaign of lobby or just putting pressure on the streets during a COP of the UNFCCC.  The battle to change climate change will be mainly in the daily life of people, in the streets, in the forests, in the fields.  And it’s a battle very much related to concrete struggles to stop extractivist projects, to stop REDD projects, to stop the land grabbing.  And also to develop proposals of a systemic alternative.  The climate movement has a very good slogan that is “System Change, Not Climate Change.”  But what does system change mean?  This is something that has not been very much developed in the climate movement.  And I think that this has been one opportunity to really go a little bit further in this discussion.  I think that what we will see as an outcome will be more focused on this.  When it comes to concrete actions, I think that it has been very positive to know the actions that some have taken in relation to land grabbing here, or in relation to coal plants there, in different regions and continents, and how to deal with climate change not only through solidarity but common actions in the future.  I think we still need to make this movement much broader.  This is not at all enough.  This is just a tiny drop in a river that we need to build.  We need now to bring other movements, in other continents, with a logic that clearly shows that when we speak about climate we are not speaking about something abstract, we are not speaking about something that’s going to be decided in the United Nations, but something that we have to fight for, now, in our daily struggles.  We have to show how these are linked to this.

Q: So, it’s almost to raise awareness about climate change.

PS: On one hand, it’s to raise awareness.  On the other hand, it’s to present and develop alternatives.  I mean, if you don’t want that [climate change], then, what do you have to do in order to change it?  Mostly, all the groups here agree that this is not an issue of just going to green technology to stop greenhouse gasses.  Most groups here in the Climate Space agree that we need to change the capitalist system.  This is an issue about overconsumption and overproduction.  And if we don’t change the capitalist system, we are not going to solve the problem of climate change even if we have more solar panels or we have more production of wind energy.  This is a problem that deals with this growth that the capitalist system needs in order to make more and more profit.  So, how to achieve prosperity, taking into account the limits of the planet earth, without trying to pursue growth forever?  So it’s not only an awareness issue, it is also an issue of alternatives.  But it’s also not just about alternatives in our world, it’s also about how we support the struggles that are happening around the world, because now there are struggles around water privatization and coal plants here, but many of the struggles are just done locally.  If we have common actions across continents, across countries, we can increase the impact of this local or national action.

Q: And, in this forum, you talked about particular issues like some environmental crisis in particular regions.  For example. . . .

PS: Each region has presented its reality.  For example, Africa is the center of not only land grabbing but resource grabbing, mainly in extractive industries.  But we are seeing that also in a much broader scale in Asia.

Q: So, what’s next, after this forum?

PS: After this forum, we’re going to have the Assembly of Strategies.  And there is going to be a discussion.  We think that it’s not to build a new network, it’s more to build a process.  A process linking social struggles with environmental struggles.  I am trying to find which are the concrete battles that we can win.  Because, a movement, you don’t build it if it doesn’t achieve some concrete victories.  So if we are going to build a climate movement we have to choose.  There are too many battles — we are not going to be able to solve the climate crisis in one year.  But, if we are able to have concrete victories in the sector of fossil fuels or fracking or water privatization or land grabbing, that will help create and develop the movement.  A movement is built by concentrating the energy on some specific issues at some specific moment in order to achieve a concrete victory that can galvanize the whole movement.

Q: In terms of your perspective on the United States, what opportunities exist in the United States to move things forward on climate justice?

PS: I think that the movement in the United States has moved a little bit backward because of the economical crisis.  When the crisis came in, then the most important thing became to solve that and the environmental issue was put aside.  I see that natural disasters like Sandy have brought back the issue and so I see a new moment, but it’s just at the beginning.  And also there was a lot of hope in relation with what could be done from the government, from Obama.  So everyone was suspecting that he would take the lead.  I think that now it is clear in the majority, that’s what I see from outside, that it’s necessary to do something, but if there is no pressure it’s not going to be done by the administration.  So in that sense I see a positive movement, taking into account how we were two years ago.  Of course if you compare it with five years ago the situation was different because it was before the economic crisis.  So I see a positive development but it’s in its first steps now.  And I see something positive about the movement in the US — now there are concrete campaigns against the Keystone Pipeline that help unify the movement and help concentrate the energies on some concrete target, and that is positive.  Now there is a long way yet to go, to move.  I see also in Europe the problem is that many of the movements think that the main target is to achieve that — to close that coal plant — and when they achieve that they go back to their homes, so the key thing is how we are going to be able to achieve victories at a local level but to go to a second level which is how to continue the struggle because yeah we closed the coal plant but the problem has not been solved.  So I think in that sense it’s very important to build a movement because with only local struggles you can have the false impression that by doing that in your community everything will be solved and it’s not true.

Q: You say you don’t want to create a network, you want to create a process.  Could you elaborate a little bit on what that process would look like?

PS: I think that networks have a structure and organization and sometimes you spend more time in the process of networking than in the real process of bringing the climate issue to the concrete social struggles.  So I think we have to be more open to different initiatives and to stop this fight that has happened in many networks for leadership and so on.  There are many that are not yet here and we cannot say, “Hey, we are the network or campaign that is going to solve it.”  I think we have to meet much more, learn much more, and in that process, of course, it’s necessary to have some kind of coordination, but that has to also come out of the process.  So we did not create the Climate Space with the idea that we are going to come up with a new logo or campaign.  I think that I am very happy because the most important thing is that the organizations that have come — the trade unions, Via Campesina — have not agreed on paper but have agreed during the whole process that has not only been during these days of the World Social Forum but before, and there is a commitment to move this, and that is the most important thing.  Because sometimes we come and we have a declaration and we think that with that we are going to change the world, and we are not going to change the world like that.

William Kramer may be contacted at <>.


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