Bolivia blog 5: Climate debt, we're not all in this together | World Development Movement

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Bolivia blog 5: Climate debt, we're not all in this together

By Kirsty Wright, 23 April 2010

To the 'people of the world' gathered in Cochabamba, its becoming increasingly clear that climate change is not just an environmental issue but a matter of justice. This week, hearing the testimonies of people from across the world where the impacts of climate change are already pervading into daily reality, has been incredibly powerful. But climate justice is not just about the impacts of climate change, but also impacts from the causes of climate change; the deforestation that destroys the way of life for forest peoples, extraction of fossil fuels, all too often being pushed through the neo-liberal policies of institutions like the World Bank, and mined by transnational corporations, with no concern for the impacts of local people. Even many of the solutions being proposed and implemented are pushing people into displacement and deeper poverty. As I heard one African speaker said today, “As long as they keep pushing false solutions, the climate debt continues to increase.”

Namoi Klein talking on panel

This morning I saw Naomi Klein speak about climate debt. She referred to what she called the ‘Kumbaya effect’, “the kind of environmentalism that erases difference and claims that everyone will be effected by climate change in the same way, ‘We’re all in this together. We all have grandchildren, we all have to just hold hands and save this fragile blue planet’” she mimicked. “On one level it’s absolutely true…we are all effected by climate change. But we’re not all affected in the same way or on the same timeframe.” in Bolivia she pointed out, climate change is not perceived as something happening in the future in the same way that its perceived in the north, but something that’s happening now, in real time as crops fail and glaciers that provide much of the countries drinking water irreversibly melts away before their eyes.

Governments from the rich world, with the resources to be able to do so, are already putting in place measures to secure resources for the future. Competing for energy and water security, fortressing their continents, patenting GMO seeds supposedly able to cope with more extreme weather. These are not being fought over so fiercely by coincidence. These same issues have been under discussion in Cochambamba over the past few days, in self organised workshops and panel discussions, as well as being thrashed out in detail by working groups made up of representatives of civil society, to create texts that the Bolivian governments will be submitting into the UN process on climate change later this year.

It is clear that rich governments are not concerned by climate change in the same way as people in the global south. Not only do they have the resources to cope, but neither have they had to undergo the same structural adjustment programmes that have reduced capacity to ensure people’s basic needs can be maintained as has happened in the global south. “We need to bring the reality home”, Naomi Klein called to people from the north. “At its most basic level, climate change is about reframing environmentalism as not just being about polar bears but about being the most pressing human rights issue of our time and, fundamentally, being about inequality. We have to find a way to tackle climate change that does not exacerbate inequality” This is where climate debt comes in. As a speaker from Nigeria said today, “Climate debt is not just a financial matter. We are talking about righting historical wrongs.”

Climate Debt

Kirsty has highlighted one or two climate issues facing Bolivia directly - one of the main ones that has has been overlooked is deforestation. In the rural areas of the Cochabamba department - and indeed all along the foothills of the Andes, deforestation has been continuing at an alarming rate, caused by slash and burn farming amongst the communities resettled from the highlands over half a century.

Project ArBolivia ( is a ground-breaking project involving over 1400 smallholders who are each establishing a sustainable forestry enterprise for their families. To help fund the project a pioneering investment vehicle has been established in the UK.

The Cochabamba Project Ltd ( is an Industrial and Provident Society for the benefit of the community - and the first of its kind to divorce the community where funds are raised (in the UK)from the community that is to benefit, in this case Bolivia. As such it is paving the way for similar societies to be set up in support of social enterprise in developing countries. The society is an equal partner with the smallholders who match the cash provided by the society with a contribution in kind - the use of their land and labour.

Members are awarded interest on the value of their shares but the society will distribute any profit after interest to the communities in Bolivia. The society is also working on a plan to allow smallholders to use their trees as security to enable them to borrow funds to buy out the society's share at some stage in the future.

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Written by

Kirsty Wright

Kirsty is senior campaigns officer at WDM. She campaigns to keep the World Bank out of climate finance and against loans for climate change.

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