- Created: Monday, 22 August 2011 08:49
- Written by Koni Benson
From being seen as a fringe concern to radicals only, and either dismissed outright or pushed to the margins by politicians and industrialists, over the last 50 years “global warming” has became accepted as a major concern to the welfare of the planet’s future. As acknowledgment of the environmental problems caused by ‘business as usual’ increases, calls to change the rules of the game and the ways we relate to each other and the planet, are vehemently opposed by those with power. The chances of a global agreement to deal with climate change, are on the decline.
The Problem of Green House Gasses
-South Africa is hosting COP 17 in Durban 28 November- 9 December 2011.
-COP: Convention of the Parties- governments who are party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
-they meet every year to ratify and implement a global treaty on one aspect of global warming: climate change, which is caused by emissions of greenhouse gasses.
-by the 1970s they all agreed on the problem: emissions of greenhouse gasses are increasing the earth’s temperature, messing with weather patterns (floods etc), and wrecking havoc on the resources we need to survive- like food, air, ground.
-ie the main cause of global warming is rapidly increasing carbon dioxide emissions – which comes from burning fossil fuels in industrial production.
-they all agree that to save the planet, we need to reduce emissions.
-every year about 6 billion tones of carbon are added to the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, causing greenhouse gas concentrations to soar to levels more than 30 per cent higher than at the beginning of the industrial revolution.
-the problem: no one wants to cut industrial production, which is where the emissions come from.
-Northern capitalists don’t want to cut emissions/production, Southern industrialists don’t want to be told they should not aspire to catching up on economic development and producing in the same way.
-80% of environmental damage happens in the global south but is produced by the global north. Multinational companies produce their goods where raw materials and labour are cheap ie the global south and so they do their polluting there
-South Africa is one of the biggest polluters and attends the meetings asking for money to adapt but will not agree to lower carbon, arguing that to reduce emissions is to promote poverty.
-The air and sun don’t care about national boarders. One shared earth = the need for one shared global solution. How do we resolve the argument on who is responsible?
The First Earth Summit: Rio de Janeiro 1972
-Since 1972 governments have been meeting to debate a global solution/treaty to stabilize emissions and prevent dangerous “anthropogenic” (ie human) interference with the climate system.
-At this Earth Summit where the Convention was established, the parties agreed in general that they would recognize "common but differentiated responsibilities," with greater responsibility for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the near term on the part of developed/industrialized countries
-There is a UN Secretariat to support the Convention and run parallel efforts through inter governmental panels on climate change with the aim of gaining consensus through meetings and discussion of strategies. There are 194 “parties” to the convention. Countries are divided into three categories that determine what is expected of them: a. industrialized countries and economies in transition, b. developed countries which pay for costs of developing countries, c. developing countries.
-These Parties to the Convention have met annually since 1995 to assess progress in dealing with climate change.
-From an agreed problem and agreed solution twenty years ago, the COPs have met annually to negotiate the who and how of implementing- which has degenerated into tactics to gain credit for helping the earth, without slowing down on producing more and more emissions.
-Durban will be the 17th meeting, and by now stabilizing emissions is not even on the agenda.
-How did this happen?
The Kyoto Protocol
-The first two COPS in 1995/6 hashed out issues over scientific research, rejected harmonized politics, and called for legally binding targets.
-In Japan in 1997 COP 3 began the process of creating legal obligations for developed countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions known as the Kyoto Protocol (ie update) which would come into effect/force in 2005 and expire in 2012
-After intensive negotiations in Japan, 37 developed countries signed the Kyoto Protocol
-Most industrialized countries agreed to legally binding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of an average of 6 to 8% below 1990 levels between the years 2008–2012, defined as the first emissions budget period.
-Originally, Kyoto said countries must reduce their emissions by allocating reduced annual allowances to the major operators within their borders.
-These operators can only exceed their allocations if they buy emission allowances, or offset their excesses through a mechanism that is agreed by all the parties to UNFCCC.
-This was the key issue debated, and because of it, the United States Congress did not ratify the treaty after Clinton signed it. The Bush administration explicitly rejected the protocol in March 2001.
-Finding no solution to unresolved issues of Kyoto, the next few years of COP 4 and 5 were spent creating an action plan for implementing the Protocol
-When major political issues were discussed at high-level negotiations at COP 6 at the Hague in 2000, talks collapsed in the final hours.
-When failed COP 6 talks resumed in 2001, George W. Bush had become the President of the United States and had rejected the Kyoto Protocol and became an observer at negotiations
-Ironically, the major controversies around previous US proposals, were now agreed upon and included in a very compromised Kyoto Protocol which the US still did not sign.
-What’s in the compromised Kyoto Protocol so far?
a)“Flexible mechanisms” (emissions trading, Joint Implementation, and the Clean Development Mechanism which allow industrialized countries to fund emissions reduction activities in developing countries as an alternative to domestic emission reductions- ie change nothing in their damaging processes).
b)Carbon Sinks (credit for broad activities that absorb carbon from the atmosphere or store it ie commoditize a market based the solution).
c)Outlines on the consequences of non compliance, including a requirement to "make up" shortfalls at 1.3 tons to 1, suspension of the right to sell credits for surplus emissions reductions, and a required compliance action plan for those not meeting their targets.
d)An agreement to establish three new funds to assist in needs associated with climate change.
-Developing countries are not required to reduce emission levels unless developed countries supply enough funding and technology so that they can develop, because emissions are strongly linked to industrial capacity.
-They can sell emissions credits to nations whose operators have difficulty meeting their emissions targets.
-They get money and technologies for low-carbon investments from developed countries.
-Kyoto Protocol was put into force at COP 11 and MOP 1 (Meeting of the Parties who signed the protocol) in Montreal in 2005 with over 10,000 delegates
-It contains nothing on obligations to reduce emissions- instead, countries can trade credits, and buy their way out of making any changes to industrial production causing climate change.
-Not surprisingly then, future COPs have been about engaging Kyoto and establishing funds to use in what has become a market arena.
Y2K: Capitalist Competition over Cooperation
-The Kyoto Protocol's fine print says it can come into force only once it is ratified by 55 countries, including wealthy nations responsible for 55 per cent of the developed world's 1990 carbon dioxide emissions.
-With United States (and its 36.1 per cent slice of developed-world carbon dioxide) as observer only, and Australia refusing ratification, Russia was required to make up the difference, and by 2002 @ COP 8, Russia was hesitating.
-From the 2006 talks onward delegates concerns over economic costs and possible losses of competitiveness, the majority of the discussions avoided any mention of reducing emissions.
-this is not surprising because capitalism is set up as a zero sum game: it requires competition and dictates that one player can only gain at another’s expense. The formula relies on exploitation to make profit
-Since then there has been a clear disconnect between the political process and the scientific imperative.
-a neoliberal solution was brewing: find new markets and privatize for profit making and greater incorporation of the developing south into relations of dependence
-The next five years= instead of reducing, COPs focus on supporting “clean” development mechanisms in the global south
-The meetings have become a place for developing nations to come and ask for money instead of a place to negotiate different kinds of relationships to human and natural resources.
COPing Out: Debates on Replacing Kyoto
-COP 15, Copenhagen: officials from 192 countries met with the purpose of agreeing on a deal to replace Kyoto which expires in 2012.
-The month before the conference, Obama announced that he and other world leaders had decided to put off the difficult task of reaching a climate change agreement, agreeing instead to make it the mission of the Copenhagen conference to reach a less specific “politically binding” agreement that would put off the most difficult issues for some other time in the future.
-Many industrialized countries are now reluctant to fulfill commitments under the Kyoto Protocol.
-Powerful countries feel their ideas for economic growth are more important then their fears about climate change so there is a lot of “green” talk but no agreement on limiting or changing production practices.
-South Africa’s government has pitched its tent with India and China whose position was that the most important thing is that they will not accept any limits to economic growth and development.
-The conference did not achieve a binding agreement for long-term action.
-Instead, a 13-paragraph 'political accord' was negotiated by approximately 25 parties including US and China, but it was only 'noted' by the COP as an external document to the UNFCCC process.
-The accord committed to developed countries putting resources into forestry and investing 30 US billion for 2010-12.
-In short, this COP established that there will be no negotiated global plan for tackling climate change.
Carbon Trading and Pet Projects in Lieu of a Global Reduction Plan
-Carbon trading is the main current international response to climate change and the centerpiece of the Kyoto Protocol.
-Carbon trading has two parts.
-First, each country is allowed to pollute to a certain limit, or cap.
-Governments hand out free tradable rights to emit carbon dioxide to big industrial polluters, allowing them to make money from business as usual.
-Second, companies buy additional pollution credits from projects in the South that claim to emit less greenhouse gas than they would have without the investment.
-Emission trading means that developing countries can sell their rights to pollute to a developing country who has polluted too much.
-Most of the carbon credits being sold to industrialized countries come from polluting projects, such as schemes that burn methane from coal mines or waste dumps, which do little to wean the world off burning fossil fuels that cause global warming by emitting carbon dioxide into the air.
-It is a market based approach that turns pollution and the “right” to pollute, into a commodity . It gives value to a credit, and has little to do with reducing emission.
-In theory, those who can reduce emissions most cheaply will do so, achieving the pollution reduction at the lowest cost to society.
-Since the introduction of carbon trading, carbon emissions have dramatically increased rather than decreased.
-The carbon trade market is now worth trillions of
-Those in favor say that using the market (carbon trading) to address the environmental crisis allows reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the most economical manner.
-But the creation of a new commodity and private property rights to the atmosphere has already led to billions of dollars being handed to large emitters in industrialized countries free of charge.
-Turning carbon into a tradable commodity is equal to passing control for the climate into the same hands that are destroying the climate. This has so far led to increased carbon in the atmosphere rather than reductions and a magnification of social equalities.
-Similarly, if used to offset fossil fuel emissions, carbon sinks justify an emission that would not otherwise have happened as it would have put the fossil fuel user over its emissions allowance under the Kyoto Protocol.
-Kyoto in effect created a new market: countries can trade credits, and buy their way out of making any changes to industrial production causing climate change.
-Building a single, liquid global carbon market worth trillions of dollars is the main official approach to the climate crisis world wide.
-the largest firms in the world have set up desks to speculate on the carbon market.
-as with derivatives, a host of specialized new institutions have been set up that deal in the new pollution commodities.
-Carbon markets trade abstract commodities characterized by suppression of unknowns, contested quantifications, and lack of transparency
-As a result of agreeing to this kind of “solution,” the highlight of the Cancun Agreement at COP 16 in 2010 was a deal on forests adaptation and protection where countries will get paid from a 30 billion dollar fund for reducing destruction or for building forests up.
-Africa requested 67 billion to begin this project, so 30 billion for the entire planet will not create the carbon needed to clean the air to stabilize the earth’s temperature.
-Basing carbon storage on market price for the amount of carbon stored will cause more harm than good.
-Firstly, it requires knowing how many trees, the thickness, etc to calculate how much carbon is being stored
-yet there is no transparent forest governance or info available for any of the countries affected, like the DRC, which means the money is being paid to who for what?
-Second, there was a push in the negotiations to include monocropping in what counts
-this encourages tree plantations of a single tree to maximize building up forestry, which destroys biodiversity needed for saving the earth, and encourages evicting people off their land to plant tree plantations for money, without resulting in progress toward alternative energy systems.
Green Capitalism: COP 17, Durban- November 2011
-In the run up to COP 17, there is less pretending than ever that there will be a globally binding deal.
-Even top UN officials are suggesting abandoning attempts and rather get the best info possible and let countries/regions do what they will with it.
-All important meetings happening outside of the COPs
-Japan, Canada, Russia already said they would not sign on to a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, which ends in 2012
-Even when countries agree to lower emissions, like EU countries who are currently alone in remaining mostly in favor of a second commitment period to Kyoto and who are debating attempts to reduce emissions at home by 25% by 2020, the pollution is really just being taken off-shore as more and more EU goods are being produced in China, so the pollution is relocated, rather than reduced.
-China is the US’s number one competitor, but classed as a developing nation and the world’s largest emitter, China is not obliged under the COPs to reduce emissions
-This leaves little hope of power players changing their environmental practices
-Instead, on the table for Durban then are designing a Green Climate Fund and identifying long term funding sources and operational mechanisms.
-Trevor Manuel has been chosen as one of the co chairs of the committee to establish the Green Climate Fund
-He says the task is challenging: “the headaches just pile up as we deal with more of the issues.” He says there is no mechanism to set up or manage the fund, let alone get the promised 100 billion dollars a year into the kitty. The G20 consistently fails to agree to any serious financing options for climate support.
-Manuel suggests that Africa work on a package of bankable projects for which the fund could be applied when it become available, but there is great skepticism on whether these projects can translate into development, let alone save the planet.
-There is a high chance the World Bank will manage the fund and further entrench market based solutions that are keeping the rich rich and the poor poor.
-There is a higher return to the global north on every dollar “donated” in aid spending for World Bank style “development”, than all the money that goes to the global south.
-In other words these “funds” are not donations to help the south catch up, but rather another way for the north to get rich, thereby increasing global inequality
-NGOs who are engaging COP, have no unified voice on the future of Kyoto, the question of sources of funding, or how to deal with the non-action of the US.
-The NGOs invited to represent civil society at COP, are not anti-capitalist. They are split on the myths of green capitalism.
-Without powerful movements to hold governments accountable and to contest state power, the climate negotiations will be stacked in favor of capital. The South African NGOs focused on COP 17 have few links with working class movements and concerns, which makes mass mobilization and seizing and democratizing resources and decisions about their distribution and uses, impossible.
The 20 Year Anniversary of the Earth Summit: Rio 2012
-20 years later- at the Rio +20 Earth Summit to be held in 2012 high level negotiation platforms are a hot bed of arguments over “unfair advantages” that challenge business as usual.
-Over a 20 year period, the arguments have shifted away from reducing carbon emissions to buying credits or forests to counter balance the damage so that business as usual can continue.
-Kyoto has been turned into a global pollution trading instrument worth trillions of dollars to the world’s richest companies hungry to exploit anything for new markets/profits.
-Agreements no longer discuss how to get “major operators” ie businesses within countries, to reduce emissions, but how governments can find funds to purchase carbon credits to make up for the damage caused by capitalist development.
-Most likely that will mean that governments must now get the money from businesses who they will then owe further favor to, and the cycle of governments being run by corporate interest, will continue.
-The master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house, said Audre Lorde, and in the case of climate change the solution cannot be to extend the capitalist competition (green capitalism) which have no respect for life in the first place.
-After 20 years of negotiations, we have a negotiated treaty unsigned by the largest polluter (US) and which exempt many large polluters like China, India, and also SA from being held accountable because they are considered “developing”.
-Much like the SA constitution, Kyoto compromised on the core issues (private property and protecting capital interest), and yet is held up as a beacon and best possible “realistic” option.
-Much like the constitution, Kyoto Protocol is not implemented.
-What happened to benchmarking, ie aiming to get industrialized countries to stabilize emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000 as was outlined by the First Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 where the UNFCC was established?
-Kyoto now contains nothing on obligations to reduce emissions
-The only two parts of the agreement that are in practice are carbon trading (for the north), and funds for clean development mechanisms (for the south).
-Both of which are “solutions” that give the cause of the problem more scope, and don’t even pretend to lower emissions.
-The logic that justifies this says that to save the earth by lowering emissions is to become poor.
-Yet, for the world’s poor, capitalist production is the same thing as environmental degradation. The history of capitalism is one of dislocation, of people, land etc…It is the cause of flooding, hunger, drought, asthma, slums, unemployment, etc.
-For the poor, there is no tension between lowering emissions and improving life, because the way industrial development has incorporated the majority at the expense of the minority, is not good for the working class.
-Their role in production as workers, the role of their land and resources as undervalued raw material is the stuff that capitalist development is made of. To challenge and change how production happens might threaten the rich, but it is a good thing for the poor.
-The Bolivia Alternative suggests that there is an option for combating climate change that can be good for everyone.
The Bolivia Alternative, 2010
-Bolivia hosted The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth with more than 15,000 participants aiming at an alternative to the “failed” negotiations in Copenhagen.
-Bolivia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Nicaragua, the Tuvalu Islands and Venezuela rejected the final declaration — the Copenhagen Climate Accord saying it was a superficial agreement made without the consensus of the developing countries. As a result, Britain and the US withdrew $3.5m of climate aid from Bolivia
-Part of the alternative suggestions included: the world's largest referendum, with up to 2 billion people being asked to vote on ways out of the climate crisis; the creation of a UN charter of Earth rights; and an action plan to set up an international climate justice tribunal.
-Similar to refusing to join ALBA, a Venezuelan initiative to counter the social cutbacks insisted upon by the World Bank, the South Africa government shows no signs of interest in participating or aligning with the Bolivia Alternative.