UN climate talks stall on taking action

By CHRISTINE FRANK

 Another two weeks of international climate talks were held last month, and it’s the same old story. The United Nations’ 19th Conference of the Parties (COP 19) failed to take concrete action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to prevent catastrophic climate change. After nearly 20 years of pointless deliberations, the world is no closer to a solution to the global warming caused by fossil-fuel combustion.

The Polish government hosted the event at Warsaw’s national sports stadium, terming it a “Coal and Climate Summit” at which the coal industry played a prominent role, promoting the myth of “clean coal” and continued subsidies for the filthiest of fossil fuels.

Poland has significant coal deposits and is committed to not only mining and burning it well into the future but fracking extreme shale gas as well, making it clear that it’s going to be business as usual and to hell with the fate of the planet. This is the case even though 89% of the Polish people favor increasing renewable energy, according to a Greenpeace poll. The presence of the coal industry angered the NGOs, which staged a walkout of 800 delegates in protest as thousands demonstrated outside the stadium.

This ludicrous farce was played out in the wake of the strongest and deadliest storm on record in the Pacific, Super Typhoon Haiyan, which had struck the Philippines. Yeb Sano, that devastated country’s chief climate negotiator, launched a hunger strike, pledging not to eat until a meaningful outcome was reached in Warsaw. He did not have much luck. Despite the wake-up call Haiyan presented to the delegates, they were still asleep at the wheel even though carbon emissions continue to climb at a record pace.

Recently, big polluters such as Australia, Canada, Japan, and the United States have scrapped their pledges to reduce emissions. In addition, no one has put money in the kitty for the Green Climate Fund, for which $100 billion was to be raised by 2020 to aid poor countries in coping with the effects of extreme weather and adapting to climate change with clean technologies. This justifiably raises the crucial issue of climate justice for those parts of the world most heavily suffering from the effects of the accumulated emissions of countries that launched the Industrial Revolution.

On the other hand, the five large developing nations with raging economies—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (members of the BRICS grouping)—produce carbon emissions on a par with industrialized nations; yet, they demand to be left off the hook in reducing emissions. And several oil-rich and coal-rich nations in the Global South are of a like mind, maintaining that the historical responsibility lies with those lands first to industrialize.

The major issue, however, is that the world needs to leave all hydrocarbons in the ground across the board and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero from all sources as soon as possible through crash programs of renewable energy if there is to be any chance of averting an ecological cataclysm. These great undertakings can be funded by re-utilizing the war budgets of the rich nations.

Going into overtime, conference participants finally agreed to a faint-hearted system of pledging emissions cuts. The U.S. chief negotiator, Todd Stern, placed his greatest hope in “peer pressure.” In other words, the pledges are to be voluntary, with no binding commitments, as usual. With the Obama administration held firmly in the back pocket of the Energy Giants, this comes as no surprise.

There was also general support for a new treaty mechanism to deal with the human costs of extreme weather, but nothing definite was decided upon. There are other meetings scheduled in Lima, Peru, next year and in Paris in 2015, where representatives are expected to replace the now defunct Kyoto Protocol, but they will very likely only continue to stall on taking significant action.

One should not hold one’s breath in anticipation of real results. Instead, the world needs a powerful mass movement that demands “System Change, Not Climate Change” to bring down the fossil-fuel based capitalist economy and the rotten ruling class, which profits from environmental destruction.

Photo: Climate justice activists from around the world march through Warsaw on Nov. 16, at start of UN conference. By Alik Kepliez / AP.