Dueling Climate Talks in DC and Bolivia

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With one set of climate talks winding down in Washington and another kicking off in Bolivia, the global climate debate is developing an "us vs. them" tone.

The U.S. State Department just finished hosting the Major Economies Forum, a group that includes North American and European countries as well as China, India, and Brazil. Participants discussed what could be achieved at the next set of U.N. climate negotiations in Cancun, Mexico this November, focusing on how to help poorer countries adapt to climate change.

Meanwhile, in a small Bolivian village, Evo Morales has convened representatives from over one hundred poorer countries as well as activists and NGOs for a "people's conference" on climate change. The message is clear: We weren't invited to your party, so we're throwing our own.

The attendees -- who include everyone from NASA climate rock star James Hansen to Hugo Chavez to James Cameron -- are demanding "climate reparations," or funding to help mitigate the ecological disasters brought on by years of greenhouse gas emissions by the developed world. This idea was widely discussed at Copenhagen. If key players ever sign on to a global climate agreement, it will almost surely include funding to help developing nations adapt to climate change.  

Discussion wasn't enough for Morales, though, who put up such a fuss at Copenhagen that the U.S. recently snubbed Bolivia when distributing USAID funding for climate change assistance. Morales opposed the agreement because it didn't establish an international environmental court to hold nations to emissions reduction pledges or issue a "universal declaration for the rights of Mother Earth."

To be fair, the agreement didn't do much of anything. Todd Stern, the State Department climate liaison who hosted the Washington talks, said that one of the reasons Copenhagen was considered a flop is because expectations were too high. To that effect, he also attempted to rein in expectations for what Cancun could accomplish.

"There is still considerable support for the notion of a legal agreement [to control emissions]," Stern said, as reported by Mother Jones. "I think people would be delighted if that happened this year, but are also cognizant of the notion that might or might not happen."

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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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