Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Environment: Durban Climate Talks Exposed the Need for System Change

By Nnimmo Bassey*
Courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsViewpoint

AMSTERDAM (IDN) - Somebody must be mistaken: leaders of rich, industrialised countries congratulate themselves on reaching an agreement to tackle climate change, but civil society calls the ‘Durban Package’ a disaster for the planet and the world’s poor.

After two weeks of intense negotiations over the future of the climate regime, who was right? What do we have to show for it? Let’s make no mistake, the Durban package is a disaster: now more than ever, we are on course for 4 to 6 degrees of global warming, a future that would condemn Africa, small island states and the most vulnerable countries to climate catastrophe.

Despite this, the European Union trumpets the success of their strategy in getting the whole world on board through divide and rule. However, their short-sighted focus on forcing passengers aboard the bus meant they forgot to check where it was headed.

So what is this deal the European governments are so proud of?

No legally binding second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol – just a promise from rich countries that a second commitment period will be begin from 2013. This new agreement will have no emissions targets proportional to the role of developed countries in causing the climate crisis and of the magnitude of actions necessary to tackle climate change.

In other words, the Durban outcome shows no sense of urgent action in the face of the planetary emergency – just a promise to start a whole new round of negotiations on a whole new treaty, when we already have a treaty, delaying action until 2020 if we’re lucky, by which time it will be too late.

The Durban outcome erases notions of equity, fairness or common but differentiated responsibility – despite the fact that the rich industrialised countries are responsible for three quarters of all emissions historically whilst hosting only 15% of the world’s population.

The European Union pushed through an empty Green Climate Fund with no money to help countries least responsible for climate change adapt and pursue low-carbon development. The package, however, ensures the possibility that multinational corporations and international financial actors might be able to access any funds that might eventually materialise.

The entire foundations of the climate regime are being pulled apart, and the people to blame for this destruction are the governments of United States, Canada, Japan, Australia and the other rich industrialised nations who are trying to avoid their legal and moral obligation to make deep and urgent emissions reductions to help the world avoid the onset of runaway climate change.

By forcing the so-called Durban Platform through the UN process, the United States and the EU have led the charge in shifting the burden of tackling climate change squarely onto the shoulders of countries in the global South.

In the final plenary, Venezuela and India both decried the pressure they had experienced in the corridors and back rooms: they have been bullied into agreeing the Durban package. Yet many developing countries like these are already making emissions cuts, despite a lack of promised financial and technical assistance and the additional burden they face of development and poverty alleviation.

Analysis by the Stockholm Environment Institute shows developing countries already account for 65% of total emissions reduction pledges, while carbon accounting loopholes and weak pledges for emissions cuts could mean developed countries may actually increase their emissions by 2020.

These loopholes were not been closed in Durban, and instead the door has been opened to yet more carbon trading, a false solution to cutting emissions – especially when the price of carbon is at an all-time low. Carbon markets are not providing finance or real emissions cuts – all they succeed in doing is transferring wealth into the hands of institutions and individuals who are seeking to profit from the climate crisis.

As an African, watching this unfold on African soil, with the South African government complicit in the act, has been a hard pill to swallow. It was sad to see vulnerable and weaker nations forced into accepting an agreement that could prove a suicide pill for the world.

But why was such a deal acceptable – why did no one stand-up and refuse to sign it, like Bolivia did last year in Cancun? Those who objected were silenced: India – who made an impassioned plea for equity to be included – was rebuffed by the US. The imbalance of power remains entirely skewed, and ramifications beyond the UNFCCC around trade and aid are never far from the surface.

The interests of the 99% of the world’s population were not served in Durban. Ordinary people have been let down by their governments while the huge influence of corporate polluters and other corporate and financial vested interests has been wielded over government positions.

There is a lack of accountability – a democratic deficit – when our officials act in our name but not in our interest. It is clear that right now our governments cannot be relied on to do the jobs they swore to. We must turn instead to our streets, our workplaces, our universities, to build and strengthen the vibrant peoples’ movements which are coming together around real solutions to the climate crisis and alternatives to the rampant corporate-captured, fossil fuel-based economic model that is driving it.

Climate change is but one symptom of the crisis we are facing, while the only cure is system change: we need to radically reorganise our global economy to create a more just and sustainable world. The climate crisis must be addressed with equity and justice: years of inaction and inequity will ultimately serve no nation’s interest.

* Nnimmo Bassey is Chair of Friends of the Earth International and one of Africa's leading advocates and campaigners for the environment and human rights. In 2010, he was named co-winner of the Right Livelihood Award, the Alternative Nobel Prize. [IDN-InDepthNews – December 20, 2011]