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Copenhagen and the environmental credit crunch
The Copenhagen conference, which aimed to provide a global agreement for dealing with climate change, has been widely recognised as a failure. While a bloc of developing countries wanted to see a tough agreement with strong limits on emissions and aid for poorer countries to reduce carbon output, this was too much for the wealthier nations. The USA essentially sabotaged the prospect of a strong and just plan for climate change.
Rather than an agreement and a plan for action, the conference ended with a weak non binding statement- more a press release than a set of agreed policy objectives.
As Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez remarked in his analysis of the conference:
"An accord was not possible in Copenhagen due to the lack of political will of the rich countries: the powerful of this world, the hyper-developed, they do not want to change their patterns of production and consumption which are as senseless as suicide. “The world can go to hell if it dares to threaten my privilege and my lifestyle”, is what they appear to be saying with their conduct: that is the hard truth that they do not want to hear from those who act under the historical and categorical imperative to change course.
"Copenhagen is not the end, I repeat, but a beginning: the doors have been opened for a universal debate on how to save the planet, life on the planet. The battle continues."
The conference was both corporate and chaotic. 'Hopenhagen' logos sponsored by soft drinks companies littered the city. The Independent journalist Johan Hari noted:
Every delegate to the Copenhagen summit is being greeted by the sight of a vast fake planet dominating the city's central square. This swirling globe is covered with corporate logos – the Coke brand is stamped over Africa, while Carlsberg appears to own Asia, and McDonald's announces "I'm loving it!" in great red letters above. "Welcome to Hopenhagen!" it cries. It is kept in the sky by endless blasts of hot air.
Southern delegates walked out at several points, activists on the streets were brutalised and some are likely to be in prison in Denmark over the Christmas holiday. The representatives of the NGO Friends of the Earth were thrown out of the conference for a time. The Danish government introduced new legislation that made it easy to arrest protesters.
In a sense, Copenhagen was dead before it even began. The planet has become so emeshed in market-based economics that climate change is being tackled at a global level mainly via carbon trading. The targets set at an international meetings, of which Copenhagen is the latest, for reducing CO2 emissions are to be achieved almost exclusively by market mechanisms. Sir Nicholas Stern may have described climate change as the greatest market failure in the history of humanity, but the notion of using the market to deal with climate change is absurd. Despite decades of meetings, protocols and agreements, the international framework has failed to reduce CO2 emissions at all.
Carbon trading has created a $100bn market which has enriched bankers but has not helped the environment. Companies are given permits to produce CO2 which are too generous, and there is a lack of proper monitoring; so more CO2 than is permitted is produced. There are also range of get-out mechanisms such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). CDMs allow energy users to offset the cuts they are supposed to make against reductions in developing countries; such cuts are often avoided by fraudulent action or are paid for measures which would have been introduced without the CDMs. So depressingly, even a 'good' settlement at Copenhagen would have involved policies that are close to worthless- what is the point of strict targets that are ignored, or funding for developing countries that goes into the pockets of corporations?
Many critics including the scientist James Hansen argued that failure at Copenhagen was the best option. I am not so sure. Evidence is mounting that climate change needs to be tackled quickly, or a threshold will be passed which will lead to accelerating and dramatic changes. Defeat at Copenhagen does not necessarily give rise to an alternative, and oil-addicted nations especially the USA, despite some warm words from Obama, are in a position to block progress.
One glimmer of hope has been the emergence of a bloc of nations arguing for radical cuts in carbon emissions, for a just settlement that acknowledges the carbon debt of the wealthy nations and real respect for ecological considerations. Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela went to Copenhagen with an ecosocialist agenda, and to a large extent stole the show, providing leadership for other developing nations calling for real change. The demands of countries like Bolivia were echoed in a climate justice movement on the streets of Copenhagen.
Carbon trading is at last coming under scrutiny. Perhaps the most radical demand is simply for policies that work to reduce emissions! NGOs such as Friends of the Earth have now come out firmly against carbon trading; indeed FOE has produced an excellent report arguing that carbon trading could trigger another financial crisis . A viral film looking at the problems with carbon trading has been seen by millions of people.
Demands for a green new deal, whereby financial reform is linked to a programme of renewable energy creation is gaining ground. It has been a main plank of campaigning by the Green Party, and the Campaign against Climate Change has produced a report outlining how a million jobs could be created in renewable energy in Britain alone .
The agenda put forward by the climate justice movement is more radical still. It recognises that capitalism is intrinsically ecologically damaging, a point which has been hammered home by Latin American leaders including Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez.
Traditional socialist demands for planned energy production fit with the agenda of a green new deal but the demands of leaders such as Chavez are more radical. Capitalist economic growth must be questioned, ecological limits must be recognised and alternatives to capitalism must be based on principles of participation.
Indigenous political movements, especially in Latin America, are winning practical battles to protect key carbon sinks such as the Amazon and to halt thoughtless extraction of minerals and metals that create environmental damage. In the UK, the climate camp has managed to use direct action to make it difficult to build polluting coal fired power stations; the camp has linked indigenous and trade union demands to action on the climate. For example, the climate camp worked hard to support Vestas workers on the Isle of Wight who occupied their wind turbine factory which the company was closing.
The threat of climate change comes nearer every day. The mainstream solutions have failed but the work of a militant climate justice movement provides potential for an alternative.
We need to promote the excellent analysis of the Klimaforum, allied to practical solidarity for indigenous and workers movements for climate change. It makes four central demands:
* A complete abandoning of fossil fuels within the next 30 years, which must include specific milestones for every five-year period. We demand an immediate cut in GHG of industrialised countries of at least 40% compared to 1990 levels by 2020.
* Recognition, payment and compensation of climate debt for the overconsumption of atmospheric space and adverse effects of climate change on all affected groups and people.
* Rejection of purely market-oriented and technology-centred false and dangerous solutions such as nuclear energy, agro-fuels, carbon capture and storage, Clean Development Mechanisms, biochar, genetically “climate-readied” crops, geo-engineering and reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), which deepens social and environmental conflicts.
* Real solutions to climate crisis based on safe, clean, renewable and sustainable use of natural resources, as well as transitions to food, energy, land and water sovereignty.
Change will come from the streets not the conference hall, and needs to be organised now. The Canadian ecosocialist Ian Angus's Climate and Capitalism website provides perhaps the best source for documents promoting real solutions to climate change and I recommend that readers of this article look at it on a regular basis. Chavez's speech to Copenhagen is essential, and Morales' Ten commandments for climate action needs to be read and acted upon. As Evo Morales noted:
"If we want to save the planet earth to save life and humanity, we are obliged to end the capitalist system. The grave effects of climate change, of the energy, food and financial crises, are not a product of human beings in general, but rather of the capitalist system at it is, inhuman, with its idea of unlimited industrial development."
Derek Wall is Green Party parliamentary candidate for Windsor. He blogs at Another Green World.