Climate outcry rebuffed
The closer the world got to the UN negotiations in Copenhagen Dec. 7-18 for a treaty succeeding the Kyoto Protocol, the more it looked like a train wreck. What it showed most of all was the capitalist system and the countries most responsible for emissions of greenhouse gases stuck on a collision course with the reality of climate change. It was as if the rulers thought that talking to the engine could stop the train.
In truth, a flurry of conflicting activities set the ground for Copenhagen, especially the movements to limit global warming. On Oct. 24 over 5,200 events in 181 countries called attention to the need to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to the equivalent of 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide.
At the same time reports continued to pour out. The International Energy Agency--far from radical, it answers to the U.S. and allied governments--released its World Energy Outlook 2009, warning starkly: "Continuing on today's energy path...would mean rapidly increasing dependence on fossil fuels, with alarming consequences for climate change and energy security."
Meanwhile, scientists working with the Global Carbon Project released a study showing that carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning rose by 41% from 1990 to 2008, and accelerated in the 2000s. "Developing countries" now emit more than developed countries, partly due to the moving of industrial production to exploit low wages and lax environmental controls, shipping the product back to the rich countries.
On another front, a number of intergovernmental meetings took place. At the UN climate talks in Barcelona in November, African nations walked out for a day, demanding deeper emissions cuts by 2020 from rich nations. Kemal Djemouai, chair of the African group, said, "People are dying now, when the developed countries are not willing to express...ambitious reductions."
The pre-summit talks made clear that the leading carbon emitters--the U.S., Europe, China, Russia, India--were not going to commit to cuts of the magnitude needed to avoid catastrophe in coming decades, nor were rich countries going to commit the money needed to finance a low-carbon development path for poorer countries. Billed just months ago as "make or break," Copenhagen was demoted in advance to a "political agreement" rather than a binding treaty, which the Obama administration suddenly termed "unrealistic."
Led by the Maldives, 11 nations most vulnerable to climate change drafted a declaration calling for more ambitious, legally binding targets without delay. They pointed to the "existential threat" posed to nations like the Maldives and Kiribati, which would be submerged even under the two-degree temperature rise limit invoked by most countries; and to Bhutan and Nepal, whose glacier-fed water supply is endangered. "The fate of the most vulnerable will be the fate of the world," they warned. The vulnerable will just experience it sooner.
At press time the Copenhagen conference has not begun, but it will face multiple sizable protests, direct action, and an alternative "people's summit" called Climate Forum 09.
Published by News and Letters Committees