By CHRISTINE FRANK
The following article will appear in the January 2010 issue of Socialist Action newspaper.
Given the greatly lowered expectations thrust upon us by world leaders in advance, it came as no surprise that the outcome of the UN Climate Change Conference held in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December did not include mandatory, binding, and enforceable greenhouse gas emission reductions. Thus, action was delayed once again.
With the U.S. yet to enact climate legislation in any form, Washington sent two top leaders at the last minute to orchestrate things in favor of globalized capital, which is bent upon maintaining its hydrocarbon-based economy. Secretary of State Clinton made an appearance to announce that rich nations would provide financial aid to poor ones to help them adapt to what is quickly becoming runaway climate change. This was despite the fact that leaders of the Global South, who have been demanding that the industrial North pay its climate debt, have made it clear they do not want charity but reparations for the damage done to their ecosystems, coastlines, islands, agriculture, water supplies, and human health caused by global warming.
President Obama, who managed to tear himself away from the escalation of the war in Afghanistan and Nobel Peace Prize festivities, finally appeared on the last day of deliberations. He announced that the U.S. would cut greenhouse gas emissions by a mere 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. This amounts to only a four percent reduction by the 1990 standards set by the rest of the world and shapes up poorly indeed next to the 40 percent called for by island nations, currently being inundated by rising sea levels and countries that are losing their alpine glaciers and fresh water supplies. He pretended to crack the whip to get delegates to act, but the effect was akin to 40 lashes with a wet noodle since little was accomplished in the way of solid climate mitigation or adaptation measures.
After Obama and Clinton arrived, the situation in Copenhagen became increasingly more repressive and undemocratic. Accredited delegates from major NGOs were officially banned from the conference. With the exclusion of the vast majority of nations, a small group of about two dozen world leaders and their negotiators met behind closed doors on the final day of the two-week summit to cut a secret deal. Among the chosen were the representatives of China, India, South Africa, Brazil and Mexico, whose economies are on the rampage.
The measures they already had on the table were basically accepted, but are not impressive. China had pledged a 40 percent reduction by 2020 in the “energy intensity” of its economy, and India had aimed to reduce carbon emissions per unit of gross domestic product by 25 percent. These are only energy-efficiency measures, which will ultimately lead to greater energy use in the long run as these economies expand and grow.
South Africa had promised to slow the growth of its emissions to 34 percent below the current annual rate. Little real progress is expected there since powerful transnational mining interests use most of the energy and release most of the pollution in that country.
In the meantime, the wealthy nations of the northern hemisphere will continue with various frauds and market-based solutions such as carbon trading and offsets that will merely create more fictitious capital for Goldman & Sachs and offer the illusion of cutting greenhouse gases. As the planet continues to melt down, they will proliferate more so-called clean-development mechanisms such as destructive mega-dams and nuclear reactors that are dirty through and through, and phony efforts to save the rainforests that will lead to their decimation with sterile tree plantations. The ruling rich will try to get away with it, as the climate crisis deepens and the world’s poor and oppressed bear the brunt of intensifying natural disasters.
The conference got off to a bad start when negotiations were suspended on the very first day after the delegates from the poorer G77 nations, led by Sudan, complained—and rightly so—that the richer ones would be wriggling out of their obligations to make drastic cuts in their carbon-dioxide emissions. The G77 and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), led by Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, denounced the COP 15 deal as a cop-out.
Evo Morales, indigenous president of Bolivia, placed the blame for the global ecological crisis squarely on the capitalist system—where it belongs. In an interview on “Democracy Now,” he called for limiting global temperature rise to one degree Celsius, and he was absolutely right to do so. We can cool down the planet if we draw down carbon by leaving all fossil fuels in the ground and by establishing a zero-growth, zero-waste, steady-state, green, sustainable democratically-planned socialist economy powered by genuinely clean energy.
The Danish government faithfully proved its subservience to the fossil-fuel industry, whose lobbyists were working overtime and calling the shots at the conference. The mass movement of thousands demanding climate action and justice in the streets of Copenhagen was met with brutal force by the Danish politi, who pepper sprayed, beat, and arrested protesters. Even accredited delegates were clubbed as they tried to leave the Bella Center. Climate crisis activists are currently being held in jail, and there is an international campaign to win their release.
To their shame, reformist Greens and liberal think tanks, who are always willing to compromise and settle for the bare minimum, have hailed the Copenhagen climate accord as a step forward even though they admit it falls short of their expectations. It is clear that despite the numerous actions that occurred around the world, the movement must involve the vast majority of toilers in each society on the planet who are committed to mobilizing ceaselessly if we are to wrest the productive forces away from the capitalist class and expropriate them for eco-friendly purposes. That is the only we way we can possibly save Mother Earth from ecological collapse.