World’s poor battle for climate justice at Copenhagen

Climate activists at the Copenhagen summit. Photo by Lauren Carroll Harris

Climate activists at the Copenhagen summit. Photo by Lauren Carroll Harris

Published in An Phoblacht on 10 December 2009

THE enormous rift between rich and poor countries on solutions to climate change has, unsurprisingly, immediately come to the fore at the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen which began on 7 December and is to conclude on 18 December, reports An Phoblacht’s Emma Clancy from Copenhagen.

A secret draft agreement believed to have been worked on by the US and Denmark among other states, which was leaked to the British ‘Guardian’ newspaper on Tuesday 8 December, outlined rich countries’ plans to sideline the UN in all future climate change negotiations.

It also sets grossly unequal per capita emissions limits for 2050 that would mean people in rich countries could emit almost twice as much as those in the developing world, and plans to hand climate finance control over from the UN to the unaccountable World Bank.

The leaked draft proposals fall dismally short of the action required to tackle climate change and it follows several months of efforts by leading politicians, who represent powerful industrialised states, trying to lower expectations as to what can be achieved at the Copenhagen summit.

The industrialised countries are responsible for three quarters of emissions historically while they represent only 15% of the world’s population.

The text – a draft of the final agreement – clearly abandons the Kyoto Protocol’s principle that rich and poor countries have differing obligations based on their historical contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and their differing capabilities in terms of making the transition to clean energy.

Antonio Hill, climate policy adviser for Oxfam International, said the draft text also “does not suggest anything like the 40% [by 2020] cuts that science is saying is needed”.

Binding treaty

Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún, who is participating in the summit as part of the European Parliament’s 15-person official delegation, has reiterated her call for a legally binding treaty to be reached at Copenhagen that sets emissions targets that can limit global warming to no more than 2C.

Emissions must peak by 2015 and then be quickly reduced if a safe climate is to be maintained.

“Industrialised countries must commit to at least a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and an 80 to 95% reduction by 2050 compared to 1990 levels in order to prevent warming reaching more than 2C,” the MEP said.

However, at this stage the EU says it will reduce emissions by just 20% by 2020 (which it will raise to 30% if other states make similar commitments) and by 50% to 80% by 2050. The US pledges to cut emission by only 17% to 20% by 2020.

Bairbre de Brún said that in addition to ambitious, science-based targets by industrialised countries, a key element of a just agreement must be the provision of financial and technical aid to developing countries to enable them to put their industries and economies on a sustainable path and to adapt to the impact of climate change.

“It has been estimated that the developing world will need €120 billion per year by 2020 to cope with these problems and the EU must commit to at least €30 billion per year in climate funding to developing countries by 2020 in addition to overseas development aid,” de Brún said.

The consequence of failure to make the urgent and necessary changes to our societies – to break our fossil fuel addiction and make the transition to sustainable economies powered by renewable energy – is catastrophic climate change.

The devastating human cost of climate change that has occurred as a result of the 0.75C warming since pre-industrial temperatures is already being felt in developing countries through drought, floods and other disruptive weather patterns. The Global Humanitarian Fund estimates that 300,000 deaths in the global South are being caused each year by climate change.

If warming continues based on current emission rates, the UN estimates that nine out of ten farmers in Africa will be unable to grow food. More than 1.3 billion people in Asia are dependent on water from the rapidly melting Himalayan glaciers to survive; current levels of warming mean the glaciers may have melted entirely by the end of the century.

A shadow of doubt?

An alliance between the developing countries, progressive forces in the industrialised states and the growing global climate justice movement is facing hugely powerful governments and business interests at the Copenhagen summit that are determined to prioritise short-term profit over the survival of the planet. Public opinion, pressure and mobilisation is the key to changing this balance of forces and ensuring action is taken.

The release of hacked email correspondence between climate scientists at the University of East Anglia in mid-November was timed to coincide with the Copenhagen summit and aims to sow seeds of doubt among the public about climate science which proves global warming is occurring and is a result of human activity.

The emails are damaging to the climate movement in that they damage the credibility of three or four scientists and show that the highest standards of scientific integrity were not being adhered to in the UAE’s Climate Research Unit.

But, as a spokesperson for the British Met office said: “If you look at the emails, there isn’t any evidence that the data was falsified and there’s no evidence that climate change is a hoax”.

South African-based author and activist Patrick Bond believes “the real danger comes from fossil fuel firms – especially BP, Shell, Chevron and ExxonMobil – that, like big tobacco corporations decades ago, know full well the lethal potential of their products. Their objective is to place a grain of doubt in our minds, and for that climate denialists are useful,” he said.

This denialist campaign is having a disturbing impact, and in the US a poll by Pew Research Center poll in October found that only 35% of respondents believed that human activities lay behind global warming – down from 47% in 2006.

The release of the emails has also overshadowed the findings of several highly significant reports that have been released in the past month.

Market failure

In addition to several scientific reports that reaffirm the existing climate science and show that climate change, and specifically the melting of the arctic sea ice, is occurring much faster than believed only two years ago, Friends of the Earth has also released a report outlining the major flaws in the carbon trading system championed by big business and rich governments as a mechanism to reduce emissions.

The FoE report – ‘A Dangerous Obsession: The Evidence Against Carbon Trading’ – found that carbon trading is “not delivering the urgent cuts in emissions needed to prevent catastrophic climate change, is failing to realise promised incentives for investment in new low-carbon technology, and is a dangerously unstrategic approach to making the transition to a low-carbon economy”.

The report said carbon trading schemes rely on so-called offsetting – “a controversial, ineffective and increasingly discredited mechanism”.

The speculative carbon market bubble “risked a repetition of the subprime mortgage crisis, and provide a smokescreen for rich developed countries’ failure to provide developing countries with adequate support to tackle climate change” it said.

“A completely different, faster and more strategic approach is needed – one that relies on simple, direct and proven policy tools such as taxation, regulation and public investment,” the report concluded.

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world are expected to participate in demonstrations for climate action during the climate change summit, with a global day of action scheduled for 12 December, when a major protest will take place outside the summit in Copenhagen.

Last weekend, tens of thousands joined protests in Dublin, Belfast, London, Glasgow, Brussels and Paris to demand an effective treaty that can guarantee a safe climate.

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