Global climate pact fails again


Once again, nearly 200 nations came together as the clock ticked to dicker over a global climate agreement in Lima, Peru, last month with little in the way of actual results. Humanity is in the midst of a planetary crisis, yet all negotiators could come up with was a pledge by each nation to devise its own voluntary plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, delaying it to 2020 with no mechanism for assessment or enforcement. What good is any plan if there’s no real pressure to carry it out? As they say, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

The worst of it is that their so-called Intended National Determined Contributions (INDCs) will be too weak to limit global warming to the critical two degrees Celsius that spell ecological catastrophe. In fact, many low-lying island nations already experiencing rising sea levels rightly demand that the limit be kept to one degree Celsius. The one thing this watered-down proposal, with phrasing such as “may” rather than “shall”, will provide is a surefire plan for further global heating and more devastating extreme weather that takes thousands of lives.

During the meeting, Typhoon Hagupit forced one million people into emergency shelters in the Philippines one year after Haiyan took 7000 lives. Being strictly voluntary, there are no penalties for the failure to make a plan by the deadline of March 31—or even year’s end, when the final round of talks takes place in Paris. It is by no means a new deal but merely a 12-month, wishy-washy work plan leading up to COP 21 in Paris, amounting to no more than an exercise in thumb twiddling while the world burns.

At the latest Conference of the Parties (COP 20), 83 NGOs were accredited observers. Climate crisis activists stood by watching in horror as powerful transnationals insinuated themselves to ensure that the conference did not meet environmentalists’ expectations. Corporate representatives did so by playing the jobs-versus-the-environment card and spelling doom for national economies if meaningful measures were adopted.

Every year big polluters are given more and more leeway at these dog-and-pony shows, with industry heads delivering major addresses. Another ludicrous occurrence was a Shell Oil representative’s speech at a main session about the company’s preference for Carbon Capture & Sequestration (CCS), an unproven and highly risky techno-fix to combat CO2 emissions while burning more dirty hydrocarbons.

There is no such thing as “clean oil or coal,” despite the Carbon Barons’ claims. In addition, Chevron was allowed to sponsor side events to push pro-fossil-fuel propaganda among the delegates. This was the case even though 50 corporations, a good many of them Energy Giants, are responsible for 73% of greenhouse gases emitted by the world’s 500 largest companies.

If the recent bilateral agreement between the United States and China is any indication, we can expect some very lackluster emissions reductions plans indeed. The U.S. plans to cut emissions by 28% below 2005 levels by 2030, yet 2005 was the highest year ever for U.S. emissions and also one of the hottest on record. Due to a major economic downturn, emissions have already declined 10% in eight years, and Obama wishfully thinks they’ll drop another 18% over the next 15. He’ll need a very large pocket of fairy dust to accomplish that.

China, on the other hand, has agreed to reach peak emissions by 2030—another 15 years of being the world’s top emitter—thanks to the U.S. and Europe successfully off-shoring their production—with its economic growth running at 10% annually. If that rate continues, emissions will be four times what they are now even with energy-efficiency measures and economic uncertainties.

China plans to increase clean-energy use by 20% by 2030. Part of its renewable portfolio includes more dangerous nuclear reactors, which are neither green nor carbon neutral. Between them, the U.S. and China produce nearly half the world’s carbon dioxide emissions (45%). If they stick to their goals, their combined emissions will increase by over one third, with atmospheric CO2 concentrations and temperatures rising to cataclysmic levels. When you consider that China’s growing market economy now for the first time emits more than the EU on a per capita basis, the prognosis does not bode well for Earth’s climate.

The EU’s proposal is not impressive either. It plans to cut emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, with legally binding requirements for each member nation based on its individual economic capacity. The continent’s power from renewables is projected at 27% by 2030 with voluntary commitments to increase energy efficiency the same percentage. East Europeans have balked at this, citing less advanced economies with a greater dependence on coal. Australia and Canada are even less ambitious as they insanely ratchet up their production and export of filthy coal and tar-sands crude.

To protest the grotesque state of affairs going on in Lima, 15,000 Indigenous People, campesinos, students, and environmentalists marched on Dec. 10, demanding “System Change, Not Climate Change!” The procession stretched for three kilometers through the streets of the city. An alternative Peoples Summit on Climate Change was held simultaneously during the UN meeting, with thousands of environmental activists present from around the world. The summit issued a strong statement on Dec. 11 with a clear anti-capitalist thrust.

In addition, leaders of the Bolivarian Alliance for Peoples of Our America (ALBA) met in Havana, Cuba, in mid-December and endorsed a Bolivian proposal to host an international assembly of social movements in 2015 to discuss and adopt a united strategy to fight climate change and save life and humanity.

Bolivia’s president Evo Morales played a major role at the COP 20, urging adoption of an agreement that reflects the basic principles of South America’s Indigenous People, who practice sustainable use of the natural resources on their ancestral lands and are in the forefront of defending the Amazon Rainforest from logging, mining, energy extraction, grazing, and industrial agriculture—putting their lives on the line to do it. Fifty-seven Indigenous activists have been murdered in 12 years in their struggle against the “Great Amazonian Sell-Off.” An Ecuadorian Indigenous-rights and anti-mining leader, who had planned to attend the conference in Lima, was recently found dead near his village, his body bound, beaten, and showing signs of torture.

Scientist Wayne Walker has shown in a recent study that rainforests under the stewardship of Amazonian Natives store 28,000 megatons of carbon. It is evidence that Indigenous tropical forest dwellers are the best protectors of the ecosystem since their survival and traditional way of life depend upon its biological integrity. They have played an active role in UN climate conferences from the beginning and are veteran fighters in defending their livelihoods.

However, capitalist governments have failed to protect the globe’s rainforests from exploitation, and 40% of these tribal lands are under threat. If the industrial onslaught continues and temperatures go up, deforestation, heat stress, drought, and wildfire will wither and burn the vegetation in an unstoppable dieback, releasing massive amounts of carbon and setting into motion a positive feedback loop. Dying and dead rainforests will lead to a drastically altered global hydrological cycle and the desertification of equatorial regions. Therefore, Walker points out how important it is that Indigenous territories continue to act as barriers to further deforestation, and why we must defend their sovereignty.

For some years, activists have been fighting phony UN schemes such as REDD+—Reduction of Emissions for Deforestation and Degradation of Forests—which allows big polluters to continue befouling the atmosphere as long as they purchase carbon credits from developing countries in exchange for “offsets.” Unfortunately, under these pay now, sin later plans, it is poor nations that end up paying when their natural forests are destroyed and replaced by monocultural tree plantations of eucalyptus and oil palms that are nothing more than “green deserts.” Destructive biofuels, nuclear reactors, and megadams often pass as carbon offsets as well.

This is in contrast to Bolivia’s joint mitigation and adaptation approach (JMA), which promotes the integral and sustainable management of forests with funding and technological support that satisfies the needs of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. It also ensures gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, who play vital roles in farming and hunter/gatherer economies and often suffer the worst when ecosystems are degraded.

Bolivia’s Aymara president, who campaigned as an “eco-socialist” in his latest successful bid for re-election, pointed out that the environment is the common heritage of all the peoples of the world and must be protected from the ravages of commodity production. He juxtaposed the holistic practices of communal societies to the unlimited growth of a predatory, insatiable, consumerist capitalism that accumulates and concentrates wealth in the hands of a few while reducing the rest of the world’s population to grinding poverty and marginalization.

Morales characterized climate change as the crystallization of the capitalist crisis and stated that we have two choices—to change global society fundamentally or to allow capitalism, which has commodified even life itself, to annihilate the world’s people and all of nature. Along with thousands of other climate crisis activists, he denounced the two decades of pretentious blather and do-nothingism of past UN meetings, and condemned the liars who promise to take action with no intention of ever doing so.

It is clear that after 20 years of melting ice masses, rising sea levels, intense heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and ferocious storms, Earth’s climate is not going to be restored by capitalist governments’ exerting “peer pressure” upon one another in a “name and shame” operation, as The New York Times describes the Lima accord. If we are to achieve an anti-capitalist overturn in time to save the planet for human habitation, it will require powerful mass movements representing many different social layers in each country to challenge and bring down the ruling classes and to culminate in a worldwide eco-socialist revolution.

Photo: Tony Savino / Socialist Action

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[Editor’s note: We reprint this article by the Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt (CADTM). In 1989, the Bastille Appeal was launched, inviting popular movements throughout the world to unite in demanding the immediate and unconditional cancellation of the debt of the so-called developing countries. This crushing debt, along with neo-liberal macro-economic reforms imposed on the global South, has led to an explosion of worldwide inequality, mass poverty, flagrant injustice and the destruction of the environment.