Tag: Naomi klein.

COP21 resolves nothing

By Daniel Margrain

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Academic research supports the hypothesis that environmental degradation is linked to economic growth. As economies grow the countries’ in which the growth rates occur pump out correspondingly higher rates of the gas responsible for the greatest single cause of human induced climate change into the earth’s atmosphere. The tendency among humans to consume more and more of the finite resources of our planet, is predicated on capitalism’s inherent drive for growth upon which the maximization of profits is dependent. This is what Naomi Klein talks about when she refers to the capitalist system as one in which the ruthless drive for expansion is kept going by “consumption for consumption’s sake”.

If one accepts this line of reasoning then it follows that in order to ameliorate the affects of climate change by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it’s necessary to challenge the growth based profit seeking logic of capitalism that gives rise to it.

Here we are faced with a major contradiction. The economic growth that is generated by capitalism creates employment opportunities. But in so doing, it also creates an insurmountable environmental and ecological crisis which, taken to its logical conclusion, negates the need for economy and hence employment. It’s this fundamental contradiction that undermines the COP21 in Paris and all of the other UN Climate Summit’s that preceded it.

This rather depressing reality, is underscored by the fact that these summits are primarily concerned with satisfying the demands set by capitalist growth, as opposed to creating the necessary conditions for environmentally sustainable societies’. Although this truism is rarely openly and unambiguously stated, any cursory analysis of the situation reveals that job creation and the “need” to maximize economic growth, overrides environmental sustainability considerations.

The insatiable demands of investors on the one hand, and the urgent need to cut down on global carbon emissions, on the other, are necessarily incongruous concepts. The failure of successive summits, most notably, in Copenhagen, in addressing the incompatibility between economic growth – a factor intrinsic to capitalism – and environmental sustainability that limits it, is a recipe for disaster because it perpetuates the conditions in which further environmental degradation of the planet will occur.

It’s precisely this logic that explains why it is that one of the key players at the COP21 discussions in Paris, Saudi Arabia, attempted to undermine them, even though climate change forecasts suggest that the Gulf region will become uninhabitable as a consequence of the failure of the Arab state agreeing to a radical shift in its negotiating position at the summit.

The rationale for the world’s largest producer of oil in its derailing of negotiations, is based on narrow short-term economic self interest. Saudi Arabia are among the most powerful of the 195 nations who attended the conference in Paris who, alongside their powerful allies, are empowered to block any meaningful negotiations in terms of emissions through a process of informal consensus.

Conversely, the poorer nations, were effectively not in a position to wield sufficient enough power to be able to offset the decision-making processes of the most powerful – the negative impacts of which, as Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, noted – they will disproportionately be on the end of.

For example, the numerous islands that comprise the small Pacific states’ who are among most likely to be adversely impacted by the worst consequences of climate change, had emphasized the need to act on limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, while their powerful counterparts adamantly arrived at a higher “consensual” non-binding figure reviewed once every five years.

All this, and the fact that Saudi Arabia introduced a set of unreasonable negotiating pre-conditions against the emerging economies, are the main factors that arguably, in part, prompted the former Nasa scientist, James Hansen, to comment that the discussions in Paris were “a…fraud… a fake,”. He added: “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….”.

Meanwhile, the United States used the fact that it has not ratified any human rights statute internationally as a poison ‘divide and rule’ pill against the developing countries with the aim of picking off the most vulnerable as their justification for shifting blame for the crisis on to the smaller nations.

This underhand tactic serves a dual purpose in as much as the source of the problem – the rich elites’ pattern of consumption and their lifestyle – is conveniently admonished. That the ‘1 percent versus the 99 percent’ narrative remained a feature of Paris, is to my mind, the most depressing aspect of the summit. Kenyan political ecologist, Ruth Nyambura summed up the impasse well when she said: “We want to get out of this sinking ship, but countries like U.S. are holding the lifeboats.”

The reality is the settlement that emerged in Paris is an extremely weak one due largely to the negotiated consensual interplay between the most powerful players. This meant they were able to use each other to take things off the table they didn’t want. This interplay, to a great extent, is determined by the influence the oil, coal and gas companies had on proceedings as well as the banks, hedge funds and other financial institutions who fund them.

The giant corporations garner an enormous amount of power in terms of their ability to be able to influence the decision making processes of the most powerful governments’. This often takes the form of the lobbying of leading politician’s of these governments by the giant corporations. Paris was no exception. The issues to do with conflicts of interest remain.

Thus, the potential for corruption is as strong as ever, aided ostensibly by credible figures who misrepresent consensus research. The misrepresentations in Paris included climate change professors who Greenpeace exposed as figures who were willing to produce pro-fossil fuel industry research by concealing the source of their funding.

The denialism also invariably extends to apparently skeptical mainstream journalists like Christopher Booker and James Delingpole whose roles are little more than conduits for the kinds of power they are supposed to hold to account. The reality is that the relationship between fossil fuel emissions and climate change is scientifically indisputable. To quote George Monbiot in his book ‘Heat’: “To doubt today, that manmade climate change is happening, you must abandon science and revert to some other means of understanding the world: alchemy perhaps, or magic.”

Nevertheless, the influence that journalists, powerful corporate lobbyists, former politicians and others within the denial industry are able to exert in order to deceive and mislead the public regarding the science can not be underestimated. One such figure is journalist, Peter Hitchens, who ought to know better.

The writer, who has many credible and sensible things to say about the decision of the UK government to go to war in Syria, apparently bases his authority to deny the reality of climate change on misleading glacier figures published online by the ‘Science and Environmental Policy Project’ (SEPP) run by a discredited environmental scientist called Dr S. Fred Singer.

The data has been reproduced by several other groups and had also found its way into The Washington Post. According to George Monbiot, the figures which were published by these groups, were subsequently used by Hitchens as well as other notable denialists like Melanie Phillips and David Bellamy to support their respective positions. However, the groups have one thing in common: they have all been funded by Exxon.

But this fact hasn’t initiated any retractions. On the contrary, it has resulted in the ‘digging in of heels’. The intention is to create confusion and the impression of uncertainty within the scientific community, when in reality none exists. The science is settled. Even Exxon’s own research conducted decades ago, that was until recently covered up, confirmed the role of fossil fuel in global warming.

Despite this, the damage has arguably already been done. Governments’ can only ameliorate the worst affects of runaway climate change. It’s too late to stop it in it’s tracks. As the consequences of climate change feedback begin to take their toll, we will soon be reaching the tipping point.

If in the year 2030, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere remain as high as they are today then ecosystems will begin to release carbon dioxide as opposed to absorbing it. At this point climate change will not only be out of our hands, but it will accelerate without our help. If this does indeed come to pass, then the world will be taking to task the complicit role the denialism industry played in it.

Katrina, Ethnic Cleansing And The Rise Of Disaster Capitalism

Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in American history, hit the Gulf Coast just as America prepared to mark the fourth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. This is deeply symbolic since what the aftermath of the disaster highlighted was the extent to which the one dovetailed neatly into the other. The American government’s quest to bring American-style freedom and democracy to other nations exposed their inadequacy in resolving fundamental domestic disparities and inequities closer to home.

Katrina did not create these disparities and inequities, it simply added an important reminder that they are deeply embedded and constitutive of American political, economic, and social life. One of the major legacies of Katrina is that the disaster laid bare the inequalities, not just within New Orleans, but America itself.

It is perhaps naive to think that the catastrophe will provide a longer-term wake-up call to the political establishment in America to set about actively building a more fair and meaningful democracy in the country. Subsequent inaction would indeed appear to indicate that there is some justification for this naivety.

There is little indication a decade down the line that any attention has been paid to the role of American political institutions in addressing contemporary racial, economic, regional, and gendered inequities.The tenth anniversary visit of George Bush to New Orleans recently was emblematic of his administration’s incompetence rather than any cause for gratitude from the people affected by the tragedy.

The visit of Obama was no less irrelevant. In emphasising his apparent commitment to the recovery process, the president said“Part of our goal has always been to make sure not just that we recovered from the storm but also to make sure we dealt with some of the structural inequities that existed long before the storm happened.

It’s strange then that when Harry Shearer took out a full page ad in the local newspaper suggesting that Obama as the commander and chief of the US Army Corp of Engineers acknowledge this agencies’ responsibility for the deaths of 1,800 people, he was met with silence from the president. As usual, Obama offered nothing other than empty rhetorical platitudes as a substitute for tackling real problems.

Shearer, who made a documentary film about Katrina that focused on why the disaster happened, argued on Channel 4 News that Katrina was a man made catastrophe. Quoting one of the co-authors of a Berkeley report, he said that this was the greatest man made engineering catastrophe since Chernobyl.

Are these failed systems still in place a decade later? And if so, what is to prevent a similar catastrophe happening again?

Shearer says that the new improved system that cost the US taxpayer £14 billion has been built to a substantially lower standard than the system that failed. Last week, one of the members of the Levee Authority told Shearer that his advice to the citizens of New Orleans regarding whether they should feel more safe or not, was to maintain a constant skepticism.

None of this would be a surprise to author and activist Naomi Klein who, in her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, views the social breakdown of societies and communities as being a feature of neoliberal economic policies of governments’. This breakdown is not the result of incompetence or mismanagement, therefore, but is integral to the free-market project, which can only advance against a background of disasters.

Disaster is part of the normal functioning of the type of capitalism we have today: “An economic system that requires constant growth, while bucking almost all serious attempts at environmental regulation, generates a steady stream of disasters all on its own, whether military, ecological or financial.”

Media reports in the immediate aftermath of Katrina – for example, hereherehereherehere and here – would tend to support Klein’s thesis. Unnatural disasters such as wars as well as natural ones like tsunamis and Hurricanes, allow governments and multinationals to take advantage of citizen shock and swiftly impose corporate-friendly policies.The result: a wealthier elite and more-beleaguered middle and lower classes. Sri Lankan fishing villages become luxury resorts and public schools along the Gulf Coast become corporate-run “charter” schools.

Three weeks after Katrina, the state sacked all the unionized teachers, disbanded the school board and turned the schools over to a state receiver in Baton Rouge resulting in the loss of community accountability. Margaret Spelling, the secretary of education, dumped $24 million into New Orleans, but it wasn’t allowed to go into public schools. It went to the charter schools thereby resulting in the shifting of power away from people towards the creation of a three-tier privatized system.

The destruction of New Orleans resulting from Katrina, also paves the way for its potential gentrification and social and ethnic cleansing where the city’s working class Black population – the people who are the very soul of the city, and who created its culture and made it famous – are seen as the major obstacle to the city’s economic recovery. A minority of them are necessary to be service workers in casinos and hotels. But the bigger idea has been to shrink the Black population and push the poor out of the city.

This kind of ruthless attitude toward the poor is symptomatic of the statement made by Republican congressman Richard Baker when he was overheard telling lobbyists “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.” It’s difficult to believe that the comment could be construed as anything other than informing some of the planning for a disaster in New Orleans. Flood becomes part of an ethnic cleansing process. City politics has been aiming at that for the last 20 or 25 years.

Copenhagen: The Great Global Warming Deal Swindle?

From today (December 7), some of the most powerful people on the planet will meet in the city of Copenhagen, Denmark, for the 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15), the stated aim of which is for the government’s of the world to agree to a new climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol which was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997.

For many, the fate of humanity rests on the outcome of the conference. Will any agreed global climate deal at Copenhagen, of which Kyoto is the template, be sufficient in curbing runaway climate change and who will bare the brunt of the costs involved?

Previous conferences have widely been regarded as having been fudged and have failed to address the underlying issues in respect to the climate change and its effects (1).

Many see Copenhagen as a turning point. But is there any justification for this optimism?

For Connie Hedegaard, Danish Minister for Climate and Energy and incoming COP 15 president (pictured below), failure is not an option: “If the world fails to deliver a political agreement at the UN climate conference … it will be the whole democratic system not being able to deliver results in one of the defining challenges of our century. And that is, and should not be a possibility. It’s not an option.” She calls Copenhagen a “window of opportunity” which should not be missed, arguing that it may take years to rebuild the momentum (2).

Ivo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), while apparently optimistic of a “successful” agreement, expressess what he considers to be the reservations from the business community:

“I get the impression talking to business people that they still want clarity from Copenhagen. If you’re making investments now, for example in the energy sector, in power plants that are going to be around for the next 30 to 50 years, you can’t really afford to keep waiting and waiting and waiting for governments to say where they’re going to go on this issue (3).

What do the official pronouncements of Hedegaar and de Boer and the the pro-business solutions implied by the comment of the latter, tell us about the current state of play in respect to global warming?

For the answer to the question, we need to examine the issues that underpin Copenhagen.

Undoubtably, one of the main reasons why previous conferences have failed to deliver is due to any effective political pressure from mainstream society. Although grass-roots activism has been a constant feature of successive conferences, awareness of the underlying issues amongst the general public in respect to global warming appears to a large extent to be lacking, characterized in no small part by a general feeling of apathy.

Arguably, the basis for much of this apathy is the misguided belief amongst a significant minority that global warming is a myth. Many of the sceptics appear to have been taken in by either the mis-information and propaganda emenating from certain individuals, most of whom are the paid hirelings of the fossil fuel corporations or their front organizations which have a vested interest in propagating climate change denial (4).

Further, documentaries such as The Greenhouse Conspiracy and The Great Global Warming Swindle, have played a significant part in fuelling public cynicism. Indeed, the latter had a huge impact, persuading many people that manmade climate change is not taking place. Both films used misrepresentation, distortion or fabrication to sustain claims that environmental problems do not exist and are the fantasies of a self-serving group of mendacious and fanatical scientists (5).

A spokeswoman for pollster Ipsos Mori, showed that there had been a decline in the number of people who believed that global warming was a real phenomenon – primarily, she said, as a result of The Great Global Warming Swindle (6).

Another major factor adding to growing public scepticism, was the recent Climate Research Unit e-mail hacking incident, also known as Climategate, that involved the hacking of a server used by the UK’s Climate Research Unit (CRU) in which sceptics have selectively quoted words and phrases out of context in an attempt, it has been argued, to sabotage the Copenhagen summit (7).

Global warming denial has undoubtably become a growing industry against a background of consensus within the scientific, political and environmental fields, affirming that global warming is a reality. This is underlined by the authoratative Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report which states that there is a 90 per cent certainty that the causes of global warming are man-made (8).

The “very high confidence” the IPCC expresses in the global warming thesis, is the strongest statement any reputable scientist would make about his area of study. The thesis that an increase in global temperature (which has been increasing over the past 50 years) is primarily human induced, is unequivocal (9).

The consensus stretches to heads of government and even heads of (some) of the very corporations most responsible for global warming.

A useful summary of this consensus came in a speech made in September 2004:

The emission of greenhouse gases [principally carbon dioxide]…is causing global warming at a rate that began as significant, has become alarming and is simply unsustainable in the long term. And by long term I do not mean centuries ahead. I mean within the lifetime of my children certainly; and possibly within my own. And by unsustainable, I do not mean a phenomenon causing problems of adjustment. I mean a challenge so far-reaching in its impact and irreversible in its destructive power, that it alters radically human existence…
Let me summarise the evidence: the ten warmest years on record have all been since 1990. Over the last century average global temperatures have risen by 0.6 degrees Celsius: the most drastic temperature rise for over 1,000 years in the northern hemisphere.
Extreme events are becoming more frequent. Glaciers are melting. Sea ice and snow cover is declining. Animals and plants are responding to an earlier spring. Sea levels are rising and are forecast to rise another 88cm by 2100 threatening 100 million people globally who currently live below this level.
The number of people affected by floods worldwide has already risen from 7 million in the 1960s to 150 million today… By the middle of this century, temperatures could have risen enough to trigger irreversible melting of the Greenland icecap – eventually increasing sea levels by around 7 metres.

The man delivering the speech was Britain’s former New Labour prime minister Tony Blair (10).

News headlines about severe storms, cold snaps, heatwaves, floods or hurricanes certainly focus debate and attention on climate change. It is impossible to link individual short term weather events with global warming. The earth’s climate system is far too complicated for such a simple mode of causation and prediction. But when such events coalesce into a general pattern, as seems to be happening today, the causal link with global warming is much clearer.

Global warming is caused by the growing concentration in the atmosphere of a series of gases which act as a blanket, trapping the sun’s heat. By far the most important of these greenhouse gases is carbon dioxide, and the main source of the extra carbon dioxide is the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas in power stations and in internal combustion engines.

The concentration of greenhouse gas in the earth’s atmosphere, especially carbon dioxide, has increased at an unprecedented rate as measured by air samples taken year on year in Hawaii over recent decades, and further back from ice core samples taken in polar regions. This growing concentration of carbon dioxide is directly correlated with a systematic rise in global mean surface temperatures over the last century, and especially over the last few decades. Beyond question the general effect of heating up a system like the earth’s climate will be an increase in extreme weather events across the globe (11).

The consequences of global warming are already evident. The science informs us that even if all greenhouse gas emissions were halted immedietly, global temperatures are likely to rise by another half a degree Celcius and sea levels could be two or three times as great as the IPPC has predicted by the end of the century. This equates to between approximately 20-30 centimetres (12).

As Gerald Meeh, a lead scientist on the definitive Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, argues:

“Many people don’t realise that we are committed right now to a significant amount of global warming and sea level rise because of the greenhouse gases we have already put into the atmosphere” (13).

A recent paper shows that “climate change … is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop” (14).

Climate-related changes are already observed, for example, in the United States and its coastal waters. These include increases in heavy downpours, rising temperature and sea level, rapidly retreating glaciers, thawing permafrost, lengthening growing seasons, lengthening ice-free seasons in the ocean and on lakes and rivers, earlier snowmelt, and alterations in river flows. These changes are projected to grow. Climate changes are already affecting water, energy, transportation, agriculture, ecosystems, and health. These impacts are different from region to region and will grow under projected climate change.

Floods and water quality problems are likely to be amplified by climate change in most regions of the US. Declines in mountain snowpack are important in the West and Alaska where snowpack provides vital natural water storage (15).

The threat posed by global warming is not restricted to the US but is global, and many of the unusual weather patterns which have marked the last decade may be linked to the rise in global temperatures.The result will be a major increase in storms, heatwaves, droughts, floods and hurricanes across the planet, with all the human and social consequences that brings. Dealing with this will be among the major challenges facing humanity in the coming decades (16).

But far from halting all carbon dioxide emissions, the world’s major states and corporations are pumping out ever-increasing amounts with little sign of any meaningful cuts. The potential consequences are that extra heat in the earth’s atmosphere will melt glaciers and polar ice caps at some point (possibly rapidly, on a timescale of years and decades). Significantly raised sea levels could submerge whole areas that are now land, wiping out whole states from Bangladesh to the Netherlands, and destroying major world cities, including New York and London (17).

Continued global warming will at some point have large-scale, relatively sudden and unpredictable impacts on global rainfall, wind and temperature patterns and on the related ocean water and heat circulation patterns. The details of these shifts are inherently unpredictable, but that they will occur with dramatic impact on global and local climate, agriculture and much else is beyond doubt.

Changing climate will also see shifts in the global distribution of disease-carrying insects, with potentially huge impacts on human health. The consequences of all of these effects would be catastrophic causing untold misery and immense social upheaval if the growth of emissions of greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide, due to human activity, is not halted and reversed. Arguably, such a scenario represents a threat to the future viability of civilization on the planet (18).

So, these are the realities and potential consequences posed by runaway climate change. The science is clear. But what does the science indicate needs to be done to curb and reverse the situation, and why is the current negotiating process apparently unable to translate the science into affirmative action?

The Blair quote that I cited above – although specific to the UK, is supported by the science and gives an indication of what is required on a global scale – the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent by 2050 (19).

The international framework by which countries are legally bound to cut C02 emissions is the Kyoto protocol which came into effect in February, 2005. As of November 2009, 187 states have signed and ratified the protocol. Kyoto is a complex deal, but its centrepiece is a general commitment by signatories to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 5.2 percent from their 1990 levels by 2012. Some countries went further, with Britain for example pledging a 12.5 percent cut by 2012.

A major problem is that the state responsible for more carbon dioxide emissions than any other, the US, with a quarter of all global emissions, refuses to sign the Kyoto agreement or any other international agreement on climate change.

But that is not the only thing wrong with Kyoto. All the fanfare around the deal is reminiscent of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes. It is utterly worthless. The cuts in carbon dioxide emissions envisaged under Kyoto will do nothing significant to halt global warming and climate change even if fully implemented.

The European Union claims to be leading the rest of the world on climate change, yet when its governments met during the time of Kyoto’s implementation in 2005, they too refused to set any post-2012 targets for emissions cuts at all (20).

Business and many governments argue that there is nevertheless a key feature of Kyoto which will deliver real emissions cuts – ‘emissions trading’, a market where companies and countries buy and sell the right to pump out quotas of carbon dioxide. And some NGOs which have a good record of campaigning on climate change have accepted this as part of the solution. It is not.

One of the most important emissions trading schemes was formally launched by the European Union in January, 2005. The theory is that the market will set a price on the right to emit one tonne of carbon dioxide (or the equivalent amount of five other greenhouse gases). Companies will then have to buy a permit for the amount they pump out. The idea is that if the price is high enough market pressure will cause companies to find ways to cut emissions.

The idea at first glance can have an easy appeal, as is often the case with theories based on the market – but in reality is an illusion. When the scheme was piloted in January 2004 the price of the right to emit one tonne of carbon dioxide was around 12 euros. By the time the scheme came into full operation in January 2005 it had fallen to around 7 euros.

Currently there is little market pressure to change behaviour at all. Even enthusiasts for the scheme acknowledge that the price needed to rise, not fall, to force any switch. The Green Alliance think-tank, in a study of the scheme, concludes bluntly, ‘The first phase of emissions trading from 2005 to 2007 is not going to deliver emissions reduction’ (Quoted on BBC news report, 16 February 2005. (21).

The scheme only applies to a limited number of establishments. Some 12,000 are included in the scheme, accounting for less than half of the European Union’s emissions.

It is also open to crude manipulation. For example, in 2005, Britain’s government attempted to increase by 3 percent the baseline emissions for the 1,000 establishments big enough to be included in the trading scheme. It then claimed that under Kyoto targets its own quota should be set 5.2 percent below this increased baseline, in effect watering down the Kyoto cut from 5.2 percent to just 2.4 percent. Even the European Union thought this New Labour scam a little too blatant and blocked it. The British government, a supposed global champion of action on climate change, launched legal action against the European Union to win the right to fiddle its emissions figures (22).

Things get worse still when you find out that an absolutely central role in the emissions trading process will be played by an entity called the Prototype Carbon Fund – an arm of the World Bank. The Transnational Institute and Carbon Trade Watch argue in a definitive report on emissions trading:

“Trading programmes in effect privatise the problem of air-pollution. Government and communities lose control over environmental protections, placing it in the hands of the polluters. When the incentive to reduce emissions is profit and cost-effectiveness, there is incredible pressure to cheat by overestimating reductions, while underestimating emissions” (23).

In this way, “carbon markets create a muddle” and “…leave much room for unverifiable manipulation” (24).

Carbon Trade Watch argue that it places disproportionate emphasis on individual lifestyles and carbon footprints distracting attention from the wider, systemic changes and collective political action that needs to be taken to tackle climate change (25).

The report is a devastating critique of emissions trading, based on schemes that are already under way. It concludes that emissions trading schemes remove any credibility at all from the Kyoto protocol:

“A country will be able to meet 100 percent of its Kyoto reduction commitments through purchasing credits in the market rather than reducing climate change emissions at source… Unfortunately the protocol’s market-based mechanisms such as emissions trading allow countries and companies to escape their responsibilities to reduce their own emissions. With the inclusion of these ‘flexible mechanisms’ this hard-fought agreement may actually be a first step backwards.”

An indication of how flawed the system is, relates to a scandal that erupted in April 2005 around one of the first schemes backed by the Prototype Carbon Fund. This involved the Plantar corporation setting up a massive eucalyptus plantation in the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil to produce wood for making charcoal to be used in pig iron production. The corporation argues that otherwise it would have used coal, producing even more carbon dioxide, and is claiming a carbon credit under the Kyoto scheme with the backing of the World Bank.

A whole series of Brazilian and international NGOs and social movement groups have united to slam the fraudulent scheme, which involves the forcible eviction of people from land in the area to establish a huge monocultural plantation. These organisations have signed an open letter calling for the Prototype Carbon Fund to be shut down. They draw out more general arguments about emissions trading which those climate change campaigners who have accepted emissions trading as part of the solution would do well to heed:

“The Prototype Carbon Fund was born out of the World Bank’s efforts to promote neoliberalism. It is an instrument to commodify the atmosphere, promote privatisation and concentrate resources in the hands of a few, taking away the rights of the many to live with dignity. The PCF is not a mechanism for mitigating climate change.
Having followed the PCF’s activities and projects to date, we have learned by its doings that it does not avert dangerous climate change but instead increases hardship for local communities. This exposes inherent flaws not only in its own projects, but in project-based ‘carbon trading’ as a whole and the offset culture underpinning it. Any other similar fund or trading regime will systematically replicate these flaws.
The PCF extends the World Bank’s unacceptable political activities into a new sphere with its own special technical impossibilities. The PCF accordingly must be closed down as a first step in the right direction. It is neither ‘carbon’ nor pollution that is being traded, but people’s lives and paper certificates claiming to be carbon credits. Offset culture and pollution trading must be rejected as false solutions to climate change” (26).

Emissions trading is not the only scam. In recent years, many businesses and governments have latched on to what is dubbed “carbon sequestration” as the answer. Oil companies, in particular Norway’s Statoil and Britain’s BP, have been particularly keen to push this idea, and both have major projects under way. In essence the idea is to capture some of the carbon emitted by burning fossil fuels and store or “sequestrate” it in secure deep rock formations or in exhausted undersea oil reservoirs.

Ron Gueterbock, one of Greenpeace’s climate change experts, rightly argues: “This whole approach is the wrong way to tackle climate change” (27).

It diverts resources away from measures to cut emissions and is an attempt by the giant fossil fuel corporations to say we can have business as usual while they come up with a technical fix which will get us off the hook of climate change.

With the creation of a market for mandatory trading of carbon dioxide emissions within the Kyoto Protocol, the London financial marketplace has established itself as the centre of the carbon finance market, and is expected to have grown into a market valued at $60 billion in 2007 (28).

23 multinational corporations came together in the G8 Climate Change Roundtable, a business group formed at the January 2005 World Economic Forum. The group included Ford, Toyota, British Airways, BP and Unilever. On June 9, 2005 the Group published a statement stating that there was a need to act on climate change and stressing the importance of market-based solutions. It called on governments to establish “clear, transparent, and consistent price signals” through “creation of a long-term policy framework” that would include all major producers of greenhouse gases (29).

By December 2007 this had grown to encompass 150 global businesses (30).

All the major oil companies, with the exception of Exxon, may now talk of the need to take action on climate change, as do the car, tyre, power and other corporations responsible for pumping out greenhouse gases (31), and Shell and BP may have moved into renewable energy. But no one should be fooled into thinking this is a strategic shift away from fossil fuels. Behind the greenwash it is business as usual.

Whatever the views of those at the top, and however genuine their concern over climate change, they are prisoners of the remorseless logic of profit by which corporations live or die. On average all the oil companies still depend on fossil fuels for 95 percent of their revenues and profit. So renewables account for just 0.8 percent of Shell’s global investment, and for just 1 percent of the $8 billion BP spends a year on fossil fuel exploration and production. It is the same story with the car firms. Ford, for example, makes lots of green noises about climate change. But it is utterly committed to selling more and more cars, expanding into newer markets like India and China, and so contributing even more to global warming (32).

It may be argued that the measures needed to tackle climate change are not necessarily incompatible with capitalist society. And it is quite easy to imagine how the giant polluting corporations can profit by adapting to the production and sale of renewable energy. Indeed, there is no reason in abstract why capitalism has to be dependent on fossil fuels and industries linked to them. Capitalism can profit from anything it can turn into a commodity-and the history of capitalism is one of showing a remarkable facility for turning just about anything imaginable into commodities (33).

The future of civilization literally depends on the extent to which capitalism is able to break from the relationship it has with fossil fuels and the speed at which any transition to renewable sources of energy takes place. But in doing so, agreements must be meaningful and genuinely deliver.

Up until now, the figures climate talks have set bear no relationship to the science and are negated away by loopholes and false accounting. Some countries like the UK are meeting their obligations, but outsource their pollution to other countries, whilst a country like Canada, flouts them with impunity as a result, for example, of its practice of extracting tar sands that involve the biggest open cast mining operation on earth (34).

Canada hasn’t acted alone. The biggest leaseholder in the tar sands is Shell (35), a company that has spent millions persuading the public that it respects the environment.

The other great greenwasher, BP, initially decided to stay out of tar. Now it has invested in plants built to process it (36).

The British bank RBS, 70 per cent of which belongs to the government, has lent or underwritten £8bn for exploiting the tar sands (37).

A radical departure from the kinds of deceitful practices described in this article is needed if politicians are serious about saving the planet – practices which have seen opportunities squandered by denial and delay, and have led to the current situation whereby the years in which more than two degrees of global warming could have been prevented, have passed (38).

Recent work by scientists at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, suggests that even global cuts of three per cent a year, starting in 2020, could leave us with four degrees of warming by the end of the century(39).

At the moment emissions are heading in the opposite direction at roughly the same rate. If this continues, nobody knows what will be the effects in terms of temperature rises.

What all this illustrates, is that mitigating the effects of global warming (limiting greenhouse gas pollution), has failed.

Moreover, when one considers that the costs of mitigation have apparently been underestimated (40), the need for a shift away from the present orthodoxy becomes an urgent necessity.

This shift would arguably involve the governments of the world either exiting from the capitalist system altogether – a system that necessarily prioritizes the competitive logic inherent to the accumulation process which is at the root of the global warming crisis – or finding ways to restrict the worst of the projected devasting impacts of global warming, through a policy of adaption.

As the environmental activist George Monbiot points out, the costs of stopping climate breakdown – as high as they are – are far lower than the costs of living with it. Germany is spending E600 m just on a new sea wall for Hamburg. The Netherlands will spend E 2.2 bn on dykes between now and 2015; both of which are likely to be inadequate (41).

The UN suggests that the rich countries should be transferring $50-75bn a year to the poor ones now to help them cope with climate change, with a massive increase later on (42). But nothing like this is happening.

The rich nations have promised $18bn to help the poor nations adapt to climate change over the past seven years, but they have disbursed only 5 per cent of that money (43).

In real terms, this amounts to a net gain for the poor of nothing (44).

Oxfam has made a compelling case for how adaptation should be funded: nations should pay according to the amount of carbon they produce per capita, coupled with their position on the human development index (45).

On this basis, the US should supply over 40 per cent of the money and the European Union over 30 per cent, with Japan, Canada, Australia and Korea making up the balance.

But there appears to be no chance of them ever meeting these obligations.

Regardless of whether they meet there obligations or not, there is a limit to what this money could buy anyway. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that “global mean temperature changes greater than 4°C above 1990-2000 levels” would “exceed … the adaptive capacity of many systems.”(46).

At this point there’s nothing that can be done, for example, to prevent the loss of ecosystems, the melting of glaciers and the disintegration of major ice sheets. Elsewhere it spells out the consequences more starkly: global food production, it says, is “very likely to decrease above about 3°C” (47).

The IPCC also finds that, above three degrees of warming, the world’s vegetation will become “a net source of carbon” (48).

This is just one of the climate feedbacks triggered by a high level of warming. Four degrees might take us inexorably to five or six: the end – for humans – of just about everything.

So the situation facing humanity is critical. But who is going to pay for the global warming crisis?

A relatively new framing set by Copenhagen, is the growing demand for the repayment of climate debt which is coming predominantly from the developing world, led by the government of Bolivia and other Latin American governments, and it has been joined by the coalition of least developed countries which are primarily in Africa.

What they are saying is that the climate crisis as we know was created in the industrialized world.

There is a direct correlation between industrialization (what the Western world calls development) and carbon emissions. In fact, 75 per cent of the historical carbon emissions have been produced by only 20 per cent of the world’s population.

There is a geographical irony to this, which is that the effects of climate change are felt overwhelmingly in the developing world, and the parts of the world that are least responsible for creating the crisis (49).

According to the World Bank, 75-80 per cent of the effects of climate change are being felt in the developing world (50).

So, there is an inverse relationship between cause and effect.

It is in this context that we see a growing movement from the developing countries that really are on the front lines of climate change, saying those who created the crisis (the rich world), owes them a debt – tangible reparations for the creation of this crisis. And those reparations should be paid in three forms.

Firstly, through deep emissions cuts in the developed world – at least 40 per cent below 1990 levels.

Secondly, they are saying the rich world, the G-8  industrialized countries, should pay for the huge costs that poor countries face in adapting to climate change.

Thirdly, they are arguing that they would like to leapfrog over the dirty energies, the fossil fuels that are fueling the climate crisis.

But they point out that this is expensive, and more expensive to shift to cleaner green technology than it is to develop with cheap, dirty fuels, which is the way we did in the rich world.

So, the developing countries are committed to positive changes, but they don’t think they should have to pay this additional cost because the problem, they argue, is not of their creation.

Essentially the climate debt arguments is the “polluter pays” argument, which is a familiar argument to people in the United States, its a basic principle of jurisprudence. Another way of putting this is “you broke it, you bought it” (51).

But judging by the previous conferences, it is unlikely these demands of the poor will be heard by the rich.

What for activists, will be regarded as the measure of success for the conference?

For writer and activist Naomi Klein, the definition of success has been lowered and lowered. She states:

“A few months ago the definition of success in Copenhagen was countries agreeing to lower emissions, to levels that climate scientists were demanding. And the science is very clear that we really do need cuts of 40 per cent below 1990 levels.

The other definition of success was rich countries coming to the table with levels of funding for the developing world that once again meet the actual need. And we know what those types of figures are. The World Bank for instance, has estimated the cost faced by developing countries to simply adapt to a changing climate dealing with droughts, dealing with increased flooding, is $100 billion a year. The cost of leapfrogging over those dirty energies is $500 billion-$600 billion a year. That’s a figure from independent UN researchers. But now what we hearing from the UN is there hope for Copenhagen is that they can get developed countries, rich countries, to agree to $10 billion a year” (52).

At Copenhagen, will the decision-makers continue on the path of hoodwinking the public into believing that something meaningful is being achieved, or will they commit to the required C02 emission cuts of 40 per cent below 1990 levels as argued by Klein? Further will they insist that the rich world pays for the costs of the pollution that they are fostering onto the poor?

What is certain, is that the consequences for the planet are catastrophic if we continue on the path that we appear to be committed to at present.

Copyright: Daniel Margrain, 2009.

References:

(1) www.monbiot.com/archives/2009/03/17/a-self-fulfilling-pr0phecy/

(2) http://en.cop15.dk/news/view+news?newsid=2257

(3) http://en.cop15.dk/news/view+news?newsid=876

(4) www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=119&issue=107)

(5) www.monbiot.com/archives/2008/07/21/distortions-falsehoods-fabrications/

(6) Dr Lucy Arnot, October 18, 2007.

(7) https://www.uea.ac.uk/mac/comm/media/press/2009/nov/CRUupdate

(8) www.ipcc.ch

(9) http://www.globalchange.gov/publications/reports/scientific-assessments/us-impacts/key-findings

(10) http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2004/sep/15/greenpolitics.uk(11). (http://www.ipcc.ch/

(11) (http://www.ipcc.ch/

(12) www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/mar/11/sea-level-rises-climate-change-copenhagen

(13) www.ens-newswire.com

(14) www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/01/28/0812721106.full.pdf+html

(15) http://www.globalchange.gov/publications/reports/scientific-assessments/us-impacts/key-findings

(16) http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=119&issue=107

(17) http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=119&issue=107

(18) http://www.isj1text.ble.org.uk/pubs/isj88/mcgarr.htm

(19) www.rcep.org.uk

(20) The Guardian, 10 February 2005

(21) www.bbc.co.uk

(22) The Guardian, 12 March 2005

(23) www.tni.org/reports

(24) www.ft.com/cms/s/0/4680ee18-f393-11db-9845-000b5df10621.html/?nclick_check=1

(25) www.carbontradewatch.org/

(26) www.tni.org

(27) The Guardian, 5 September, 2003

(28) www.pointcarbon.com/

(29) www.weforum.org/pdf/98_climatechange.pdf

(30) www.epa.gov/climateleaders/partners/

(31) The Observer, February 20, 2005

(32) www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=119&issue=107

(33) www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=119&issue=107

(34) http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cif-green/2009/nov/30/canada-tar-sands-copenhagen-climate-deal

(35) http://peopleandplanet.org/tarsands/localimpacts

(36)  ibid

(37) The Financial Times, November 16, 2009

(38) http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2009/12/01/the-urgent-threat-to-world-peace-is-%e2%80%a6-canada/

(39) www.tyndall.ac.uk/publications/journal_papers/fulltext.pdf

(40) Dieter Helm, Tanner lecture, Oxford, February 21, 2009

(41) www.monbiot.com

(42) John Vidal, The Guardian, February 20, 2009

(43)  ibid

(44) (Oxfam, May 29, 2007

(45)  ibid

(46) www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-chapter19.pdf

(47) ibid, Table 19.1

(48) IPCC, 2007b, ibid

(49) http://www.democracynow.org/2009/11/23/naomi_klein_on_climate_debt_why

(50) http://beta.worldbank.org/climatechange/

(51) http://www.democracynow.org/2009/11/23/naomi_klein_on_climate_debt_why

(52) ibid