UN Conference on Climate Change, Copenhagen

ALBA leads anti-imperialist call to save environment

‘If the climate was a bank, they would have saved it already.’ Graffiti in Copenhagen

Days before the UN Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen in December 2009, leading climate scientist James Hansen, of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, stated that no deal would be better than the flawed deal that the talks were heading for. Calling President Obama’s policies ‘half-assed’, he compared Obama on climate change with Abraham Lincoln on slavery: ‘You can’t say let’s reduce slavery, let’s find a compromise and reduce it 50% or reduce it 40%’. In particular, he denounced carbon trading as ‘analogous to the indulgences that the Catholic Church sold in the middle ages. The bishops collected lots of money and the sinners got redemption. Both parties liked that arrangement despite its absurdity’. David Hetfield reports.

In a foretaste of what was to come, following a visit by Hillary Clinton, the Philippine government dropped its lead negotiator, Bernarditas Muller. She is a veteran of the Kyoto talks who argues that climate change is the overwhelming responsibility of the imperialist countries. Sudan, which chairs the G77 nations, invited her to join the G77 negotiating team.

The first week of the conference saw the emergence of the ‘Danish Text’, a secret draft agreement worked on by a few countries including Denmark, Britain and the US. The text undermined UN democracy and was an abandonment of the Kyoto protocol. Delegates from the oppressed nations reacted furiously. British Climate Change Minister Ed Miliband denounced any criticisms as wasting time on procedure rather than substance.

Outside the conference centre, Danish police reacted brutally to any form of protest, using baton charges and water canon and making preventative arrests; over a thousand people were handcuffed and forced to sit on the freezing ground for hours before being bussed to a prepared detention facility, filled with cages. They were not told what they had been arrested for, nor how long they were to be detained, and were denied access to a telephone call or toilet facilities, and attacked with pepper spray if they complained. Most people were held for around 12 hours before being released without charge. Nine protesters were only released in the middle of January 2010, and two are still in jail at the time of going to press. Democratic rights were suspended both inside and outside the conference.

By the second week the poor nations hadn’t bowed down before the imperialist agenda, so off to Copenhagen went Gordon Brown, two days earlier than planned, to shore up the imperialist offensive. He met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Zenawi had sent Ethiopian troops to invade Somalia on behalf of the US. Now he would help in the climate war against the poor. Zenawi proposed to the conference that the developing countries accept $10bn a year to cope with climate change from 2010-2012. This led critics from Africa to say:

‘We don’t yet know what Zenawi got in exchange for so radically changing his tune or how, exactly, you go from a position calling for $400bn a year in financing [the Africa group’s

position] to a mere $10bn’. Labour has since admitted that Britain’s

contribution will be taken from the existing Overseas Development Aid budget, and would not be new money as earlier promised.

When Obama arrived, the Danish hosts helped turn the event into a US summit; over 160 nations were ignored whilst Obama held meetings with a select 25. This group included the leading imperialist countries, plus China, India, Brazil and South Africa, with Ethiopia and Bangladesh as token poor nations. Rather than deal with the pitiful emission cuts offered by the imperialists, well below the 40% cuts by 2020 demanded by science and the poor nations, Obama instead made a stand on verification of emission cuts by the developing countries. China objected, as under Kyoto developing nations are not obliged to reduce emissions, yet it, India and Brazil had all volunteered to do so. China also objected to the proposed cuts for 2050. Scientists call for the developed world to cut emissions by 80% and global emissions to be cut by 50% on 1990 levels. Imperialist countries would still be allowed to emit at least twice the amount of greenhouse gases that developing countries could. Obama had to concede on these points.

After waiting five hours without explanation, the majority of delegates were informed that the deal had been done and were given one hour to read the document and respond to it. The subsequent debate was to be limited to points of order, but even then some countries had to bang their name plates to get noticed. Ed Miliband made sure everyone understood that the paragraphs on financing would only come into operation if countries signed up to the accord. The US reiterated this position. The small island state of Tuvalu likened the financing to ‘30 pieces of silver’. The Sudanese chairman of the G77 nations stated: ‘What has happened today concerns what we have been suspicious of – that a deal will be imposed by the US with the help of the Danish government on all nations of the world ... President Obama, in acting the way he did, definitely eliminated any difference between him and the Bush tradition’. Comparing the accord to the Holocaust, he said it ‘asked Africa to sign a suicide pact, an incineration pact, in order to maintain the economic dominance of a few countries’.

The ALBA nations were united in their condemnation of the accord. Delegates from Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua all condemned it. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez criticised the lack of democracy: ‘Mr Chairman ... the document [the leaked ‘Danish Text’] that you repeatedly claimed did not exist is showing up now. We have all seen drafts surreptitiously circulated and discussed in secret meetings, outside the rooms where the international community has been transparently negotiating through its representatives’. Further, he pointed out, ‘this document does not guarantee, in any way, the adoption of minimal measures conducive to the prevention of an extremely grave catastrophe for the planet and for human beings’.

Bolivian President Evo Morales and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had already denounced the hijacking of the conference and pointed out that capitalism is to blame for climate change. Evo Morales contrasted the two cultures offered, the culture of death ‘which is capitalism ... exploiting others, plundering their natural resources, assaulting Mother Earth, privatising basic services’ and the culture of life – ‘living in solidarity, in equality’. He ridiculed the paltry sums of money offered for adaptation to climate change: ‘The budget of the US is $687bn for defence. And for climate change, to save life, to save humanity, they only put up $10bn. This is shameful. The budget for the IraqIraq. But directed towards paying the climate debt, $10bn’. Morales pointed out how the imperialists had taken over the atmospheric space with their greenhouse gases, not leaving any space for others to use on their path to development. He condemned them for expelling immigrants who go to imperialist countries to improve their economic situation, and demanded that ‘the rich countries should take in all of the migrants who will be generated by climate change or affected by climate change’. Proposing an International Environmental Justice Court to provide sanctions against nations not meeting targets, he stated ‘Our objective is to save humanity and not just half of humanity’. He suggested a worldwide referendum on climate change to include the questions: war is $2.6trn, to go kill in

? Do you agree to re-establish a harmonious relationship with Nature, recognising the rights of Mother Earth?

? Are you in agreement with changing this system of excessive consumerism and waste, that is, the capitalist system?

? Do you agree that the developed countries should reduce and reabsorb their greenhouse gas emissions?

? Do you agree on transferring everything that is spent on wars to create a budget higher than the defence budget to tackle the problem of climate change?

Hugo Chavez also spoke on the undemocratic nature of the conference: ‘Can we hope for something democratic, inclusive from the current world system? What we are experiencing on this planet is an imperial dictatorship ... Down with the imperial dictatorship and long live people’s democracy and equality on this planet!’ He went on to expose the reality of this imperial dictatorship, ‘The 500 million richest people, 7% of the world population, are responsible for 50% of contaminating emissions, while the poorest 50% are responsible for just 7% of contaminating emissions ... The total income of the 500 richest individuals on the planet is greater than the income of the 416 million poorest people. The 2.8 billion people who live in poverty, earning less than one dollar a day, and who represent 40% of the global population, receive just 5% of the global income ... there are 1.1 billion people who do not have access to clean potable water; 2.6 billion without health services; more than 800 million illiterate individuals and 1.02 billion starving people. This is the global scenario’. Chavez ended by showing the way forward: ‘Stop the aggression and the wars. No more imperial military bases or coup d’états. Let us build a more just and equitable social and economic order. Let us eradicate poverty. Let us bring an immediate end to high levels of emissions; let us halt environmental destruction and prevent climate change catastrophe. Let us join together in the noble objective of being more free and driven by solidarity! ... History is calling us to unite and fight. If capitalism resists, we are forced to fight a battle against capitalism and open the way for the salvation of the human species.’

The conference ended with the delegates noting, rather than accepting, the ‘Copenhagen Accord’. Immediately the imperialists, led by Ed Miliband, started blaming China, Sudan and the nations of ALBA for a deal not being agreed, and called for ‘major reform’ of the UN Framework Convention on Climate change and the way negotiations are conducted. Then they carried on as if the accord was a deal, giving the deadline of 31 January for nations to sign up.

The accord itself states that increases in temperature should be kept below 2°C, but the pledges of emission cuts are estimated to set the world on track to warming between 3 and 3.5°C. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the rich world promises to make cuts of 15-19% in collective emissions by 2020 on 1990 levels, however, once the loopholes are taken into account this could result in an actual increase of 4-10%. Loopholes include carbon trading, carbon offsetting, that airlines and shipping fuel aren’t included in any nation’s emissions and flaws in the forestry management plan.

In January, a group of 450 investors controlling $13trn of assets met at the UN in New York to urge governments to reset their domestic agendas to lay the foundation of a Carbon Market. The Carbon Market is forecast to be worth up to $4.5trn, 45 times the $100bn promised for adapting to climate change by 2020.

Leading the alternative, Evo Morales announced the First World Conference of the People on Climate Change will take place in April in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba, famous for the people’s victorious struggle against multinational companies’ attempts to privatise its water.  Copenhagen showed that on the issue of climate change, you are either on the side of Labour and the imperialists or on the side of the majority of the world’s people, the culture of death versus the culture of life. Join the anti-imperialist fight led by ALBA!

FRFI 213 February / March 2010


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