More than 20,000 indigenous, environmental and civil society delegates from 129 countries were in attendance as President Morales welcomed them to the conference at a soccer stadium in the village of Tiquipaya on the outskirts of the city of Cochabamba.
Ceremonial sounds welcome delegates to the Cochabamba climate conference. April 20, 2010. (Photo courtesy ABI)
"The main cause of the destruction of the planet Earth is capitalism and in the towns where we have lived, where we respected this Mother Earth, we all have the ethics and the moral right to say here that the central enemy of Mother Earth is capitalism," said Morales, who is Bolivia's first fully indigenous head of state in the 470 years since the Spanish invasion.
Morales is the leader of a political party called Movimiento al Socialismo, the Movement for Socialism, which aims to give more power to the country's indigenous and poor communities by means of land reforms and redistribution of wealth from natural resources such as gas.
"The capitalist system looks to obtain the maximum possible gain, promoting unlimited growth on a finite planet," said Morales. "Capitalism is the source of asymmetries and imbalance in the world."
The Bolivian president called this conference in the wake of what he considered to be failed United Nations climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December.
Those talks produced a weak political agreement, the Copenhagen Accord, instead of a strong, legally-binding set of limits on greenhouse gas emissions to take effect at the end of 2012, as Bolivia and many other countries had hoped.
Bolivian President Evo Morales addresses indigenous, environmental and civil society delegates. (Photo courtesy ABI)
Named "World Hero of Mother Earth" by the United Nations General Assembly last October, today, President Morales warned of dire consequences if a strong legally-binding agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions is not reached.
A new agreement is needed to govern greenhouse gas emissions after the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires at the end of 2012. This year's round of international negotiations towards an agreement began earlier this month in Bonn, Germany, and the next annual United Nations climate conference is scheduled for Cancun, Mexico from November 29.
"Global food production will be reduced by approximately 40 percent and that will increase the number of hungry people in the world, which already exceeds a billion people," Morales warned. "Between 20 and 30 percent of all animal and plant species could disappear."
Global warming will cause the melting of the polar ice caps and the glaciers of the Andes and the Himalayas, and several islands will disappear under the ocean," he warned.
An indigenous dignitary is interviewed at the climate conference at Cochabamba. (Photo courtesy Indigenous Environmental Network)
The convocation this morning included a multi-cultural blessing ceremony by indigenous peoples from across the Americas. Speeches by representatives of social movements from five continents focused on the urgency of the climate crisis and the need for bold action that protects both human rights and the environment.
The delegates are meeting in working group sessions this week to develop strategies and make policy proposals on issues such as forests, water, climate debt, and finance.
President Morales has pledged to bring these strategies and proposals to the UN climate conference in Cancun.
"We have traveled to Bolivia because President Morales has committed to bring our voices to the global stage at the next round of talks in Cancun," said Jihan Gearon of the Navajo Nation in Arizona, who is a native energy organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network.
"Indigenous rights and knowledge are crucial to addressing climate change, but the United States and Canada have not signed on to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and are pushing corporate climate policy agendas that threaten our homelands and livelihoods," Gearon said.
"President Morales has asked our recommendations on issues such as REDDs [Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation]," said Alberto Saldamando, legal counsel for the International Indian Treaty Council.
"REDD is branded as a friendly forest conservation program, yet it is backed by big polluters," Saldamando said. "REDD is a dangerous distraction from the root issue of fossil fuel pollution, and could mean disaster for forest-dependent indigenous peoples the world over."
"We are here from the far north to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters of the South," said Faith Gemmill, executive director of Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL), who spoke from the stage at the invitation of President Morales. "We have a choice as human kind - a path of life, or a path of destruction. The people who can change the world are here!"
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