(Monthly Review) Pablo Solón is the Executive Director of Focus on the Global South based 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”.
Q: Why was the Climate Space formed?
PS: On one hand, to highlight in the World Social Forum the environmental issues, and particularly the climate issues. It’s impossible to have a social transformation that only addresses the economy and the distribution of wealth. 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 key issue because we don’t have too much time. If we don’t do nothing this decade the next decade will be a very different scenario.
The second goal is to bring together a different kind of movements: trade unions, indigenous people, NGOs, environmentalists and others from different continents to discuss the climate crisis from a different perspective that is not focused on the negotiations in United Nations.
We need to rethink our strategies. We are not going to be able to have a success in the UN negotiations through traditional forms of campaigns, or lobby, or just putting pressure during the meetings of the UNFCCC. The battle to stop the climate chaos has to be rooted in the daily life of people. It’s mainly in the mobilizations in the streets, in the forests, in the fields that the future of the climate and humanity will be decided. This battle is very much related to concrete struggles to stop extractivist projects, to stop REDD projects, to stop land grabbing…
The other objective of the Climate Space is to develop proposals for systemic alternatives. 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. The Climate Space process has been an opportunity to really go a little bit further in this discussion.
We need to build a much broader climate movement. What we have is just a tiny drop. In order to succeed we need to link the different struggle of social movements all over the world with the climate urgency.
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. All groups in the Climate Space in the World Social Forum agree that the climate crisis will not be solved trough technologies. This is an issue about overconsumption and overproduction, markets and profits. 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 the 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, and stop pursuing growth forever? In this sense it’s not only an awareness issue, it is also an issue of alternatives.
But it’s not only about alternatives, it’s also about how we support and link the current struggles that are happening around the world. Now there are struggles against water privatization and coal plants here and there, but many of the struggles are just done locally. If we have common action across continents, across countries, we can increase the impact of this local and national action.
Q: So, what’s next, after this forum?
PS: In the Climate Space we don’t want to build a new network, we want to build a process that links social struggles with environmental struggles. We are trying to identify concrete battles to win. You don’t build a movement without small victories. 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 economic and financial crisis began the environmental issue was put aside. Now, natural disasters like Sandy have brought back the climate issue and I see a new moment, but it’s just at the beginning.
Also there was a lot of hope in relation with the Obama administration. Many were expecting that he would take the lead. I think that now is clear that the lead has to come from the grassroots movements. In this sense I see a positive movement taking into account how we were two years ago.
Campaigns against the Keystone Pipeline are very positive because they help unify the movement and help concentrate the energies on some concrete targets. Now there is a long way to go. In many parts of the world grassroots movements are able to close coal plants but when they achieve that victory at a local level they don’t continue their struggle against for example the national energy plans of their governments and even less against global policies related for example to free trade agreements that create more green house gas emissions. In this sense it is very important to build a global movement because only with local struggles we will not solve the climate crisis.
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: 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. We have to be more open to different initiatives and to stop the fight that has happened in many networks for leadership.
Many are not yet here in the Climate Space so we cannot say: “hey, we are the network or campaign that is going to solve it”. We need more meetings like this, we need to learn more, work together with others. Of course it is necessary to have some kind of coordination but this will come out of the process. We did not create the Climate Space with the idea to come up with a new logo or campaign. The most important thing is that organizations that have come to the Climate Space have not agreed only on a text or discussions during a meeting, but that there is now enough trust and good energy to continue. 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.