Paris Climate Conference: World leaders commit to crimes against humanity

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On 13 December 2015 world leaders claimed to have reached a vital and historic deal at the Paris Climate Conference after 195 countries agreed to on-paper commitments to limit potentially catastrophic global warming. In reality, their vainglorious self-congratulation masks a fraud amounting to world-historic crimes against humanity, with the indigenous peoples of the world once again suffering the most from capital’s predatory self-interest. The unexpected headline aim to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade is absurdist hype of the highest order, designed only to burnish the legacies of French and US Presidents François Hollande and Barack Obama. Not only has the first degree already been exceeded, the deal is only legally binding in part and does not kick in until 2020. Vague commitments by rich countries to reach peak emissions by 2030 expose this fantasy figure entirely. The UN’s own research suggests we are on course to emit enough carbon to make a 1.5C rise certain in as little as six years and the dreaded 2C in the next 17-33 years. Even if the pledges made in Paris are fulfilled against all odds, they would only limit global warming to a still disastrous 2.7 degrees. But even that is starting to sound like an outlandish best-case scenario. While claims about the ‘end of the fossil fuel era’ come from the mouths of media pundits who are at best self-deluded, the deal’s final draft does not even mention the words ‘fossil fuel’, ‘oil’ or ‘coal’ – thanks to successful lobbying from private industry which leading governments refuse to tame. On day one of the talks, Australia, one of the world's biggest polluters, refused to commit to reducing fossil fuel subsidies. At least they were honest.

 Hollande hailed the Paris accord as ‘a leap for mankind’ while Obama called it the ‘the best chance we have to save the one planet we have’ and ‘a tribute to American leadership’.

 At face-value, the measures in the agreement include:

  • to peak greenhouse gas emissions ‘as soon as possible’ and achieve a balance between sources and sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of the century;
  • to keep the global temperature increase ‘well below’ 2C (3.6F) and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5C;
  • to review progress every five years;
  • $100bn a year in climate finance for developing countries from 2020, with a commitment to further finance in the future

David Cameron, whose self-acclaimed ‘greenest ever’ government has recently slashed investment in solar power and other renewable forms of energy, said: ‘We’ve secured our planet for many, many generations to come – and there is nothing more important than that.’

But Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, said: ‘It's outrageous that the deal is being spun as a success when it undermines the rights of the world's most vulnerable communities and has almost nothing binding to ensure a safe and liveable climate for future generations.’

Cindy Weisner, national coordinator for Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, was equally damning: ‘What they have done really is signed what we are calling a death warrant for the planet. I think for people they have prescribed a slow death.’

Alberto Saldamando, a lawyer involved with the Indigenous Environmental Network, laid the deal bare: ‘The Paris accord is a trade agreement, nothing more. It promises to privatise, commodify and sell forested lands as carbon offsets in fraudulent schemes. These offset schemes provide a financial laundering mechanism for developed countries to launder their carbon pollution on the backs of the global south. For example, the United States’ climate change plan includes 250 million megatons to be absorbed by oceans and forest offset markets. Essentially, those responsible for the climate crisis not only get to buy their way out of compliance but they also get to profit from it.’

The Indigenous Environmental Network protested courageously in Paris in the face of police repression. Dallas Goldtooth, from Dakota, said: ‘Our communities are facing the reality that we may have to move, that we have winter wildfires happening in the Arctic. We are out of time. Any solutions that do not talk about cutting emissions at the source, or keeping fossil fuels in the ground, are false solutions. We don’t have time to talk about carbon markets, carbon trading, and [fraudulent] REDD+ [reforestation] projects. We must act now.’

James Hansen, the NASA scientist who first brought climate change to the world’s attention in 1988, said: ‘The Paris deal is a fraud really, a fake. It’s just bullshit for them to say: “We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.” It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will continue to be burned.’

But even this misses the point. Energy companies see investment in the renewables market as an insufficiently profitable prospect, and moves away from fossil fuels – which still supply 86% of the world’s energy – would threaten the solvency of banks and pension funds. With its infinite need to increase productivity, its predatory need to consume territory and natural resources, and its necessary tendency to overaccumulate, capitalism is a runaway train approaching a cliff edge.

In FRFI 248, we said: ‘Without the radical spread of an ecosocialism being fought for by the peoples of Latin American countries, the world will eventually plummet headlong into barbarism. It is clear that the only system capable of marshalling the level of organisation necessary for a sustainable future is a planned socialist economy.’

Bolivian President Evo Morales was one of the few voices to address this reality in Paris. Delivering a manifesto ‘to save Mother Earth and life’, he said: ‘Capitalism has fostered, introduced and driven the most savage and destructive formula against our species’.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa championed an international court for transnational crimes against the environment, but this too was left out of the agreement. Furthermore, the ‘loss and damage’ component, designed to finance the infrastructure that vulnerable countries need to survive a crisis they did not create, fell well short of what is necessary.

ActionAid chief executive Adriano Campolina explained: ‘Developing countries called for a deal which would offer support to people suffering the catastrophic consequences of rising sea levels and soaring temperatures. The US and several other rich countries instead took the opportunity of the Paris talks to deny people this right, putting them at their mercy for dealing with the impacts of climate change.’

He continued: ‘Rich countries must not interpret the long-term goal as a licence to continue polluting, while crossing their fingers that the problem can be solved through false solutions such as Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage, which leads to massive land grabs. That would lead to the world’s most vulnerable people being kicked off their land, infringing their rights and putting food security at risk.’

But it is obvious that the imperialist powers – who industrialised off the backs of their colonies, and now expect the very same former colonies to pay for their emissions – are using climate change as a pretext to justify such attacks on the world’s poorest people. Climate apartheid beckons.

Campolina added: ‘Despite the disappointment, the Paris agreement provides an important hook on which people can hang their demands. As climate change continues to worsen and affect millions more, people are beginning to demand more from their governments and ask for the transformative change to secure homes, jobs and futures. We already have the practical solutions to climate change, we now just need them to be scaled up with adequate support. Paris is only the beginning of the journey.’

Despite the best of intentions this again misses the point. The talks in Paris may have been far more co-operative than previous attempts and the deal may give activists some sliver of legal recourse to challenge broken promises. But against the impending chokehold of the TTIP deal, even this amounts to nothing but more wishful thinking. Even the most charitable perspective can surely no longer maintain any faith in a ruling class thick on hot air and thin on concrete measures. Global warming cannot be prevented without eradicating poverty, and poverty cannot be eradicated without socialism. What is needed is revolution, proletarian rule and central planning. Time really is of the essence.

Barny Phillips