[Marxism] Class war at Copenhagan climate talks

Patrick Bond pbond at mail.ngo.za
Wed Sep 9 07:46:33 MDT 2009

And national/race/gender/eco war, too, for sure...

Stuart Munckton wrote:
> http://climateandcapitalism.com/?p=1100#more-1100
> Class War at the Copenhagen Climate Change Talks September 3, 2009

Call for a ‘Seattle’ approach to Copenhagen climate talks, Africans 
demand reparations

By Patrick Bond | LINKS | 7 September 2009

    A `Seattle' in Copenhagen could scuttle a climate deal that only 
serves the richest countries.

September 5, 2009 – Durban -- Here’s a fairly simple choice: the global 
North would pay the hard-hit global South to deal with the climate 
crisis, either through the complicated, corrupt, controversial ``Clean 
Development Mechanism’ (CDM), whose projects have plenty of damaging 
sideeffects to communities, or instead pay through other mechanisms that 
must provide financing quickly, transparently and decisively to achieve 
genuine income compensation plus renewable energy to the masses.

The Copenhagen climate summit in December is all about the former 
choice, because the power bloc in Europe and the US have put carbon 
trading at the core of their emissions reduction strategy, while the two 
largest emitters of carbon in the Third World, China and India, are the 
main beneficiaries of CDM financing.

What that means is that problems caused when Al Gore’s US delegation 
brought pro-corporate compromises to Kyoto in 1997 – promising a US 
sign-on to Kyoto (hah, what a lie) in exchange for carbon trading - are 
going to now amplify, and haunt us for a very long time, unless serious 
reforms are achieved in Copenhagen.

They won’t be, and nor will any substantive agreement emerge, hinted the 
new UN Development Programme director and New Zealand’s neoliberal 
former prime minister Helen Clark this week: ``The success of the 
Copenhagen summit on climate change in December will not depend on a 
final international deal being sealed there.’’

In other words, prepare for a stalemate by a coalition of selfish, 
fossil-fuel addicted powers. Terribly weak targets may get a mention (or 
even no mention, as last time at Bali), but market mechanisms will be 
invoked as the ``solution’’ so as to appease polluting capitalists and 
the governments under their thumb, especially US President Barack Obama’s.

In contrast, there are attractive, simple mechanisms for financing 
Africa’s survival, including the militant ``ecological debt’’ (or 
``climate reparations’’) demands now being made by environmental leaders 
of the African Union (AU), as well as Jubilee Africa’s request to just 
remove the damn boot from Africa’s financial neck by canceling ongoing 
debt repayments.

On that score, in 2009 the lowest-income African countries are suffering 
a 50% increase in debt repayments (as a percentage of export earnings), 
according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

As I noted four years ago, that means the Make Poverty History 
NGO-rockstar campaign was a farce. The only debt written off wasn’t 
possible to repay anyway, so for low-income Africa, ``debt relief’’ was 
just an accounting gimmick and the G8’s real Gleneagles debt strategy 
was to squeeze Africa even tighter, as IMF data now shows.
African Union role

But, you may well ask, should anyone take anything said by the AU 
leadership seriously? The AU typically serves, as Zimbabwe’s new finance 
minister Tendai Biti once put it, as the continent’s ``trade union of 

Heading the AU climate team is Ethiopian strongman Meles Zenawi, who 
also chairs South Africa's subimperialist New Partnership for Africa’s 
Development and thus gets invited to G20 gatherings along with Pretoria 
(better him than AU chair Moammar Gaddafi, reckon the others).

Sometimes seen merely as a US puppet – thanks to the disastrous, 
Washington-sponsored 2007 invasion of neighbouring Somalia – Zenawi is 
rather more complex. He was once a self-described Marxist but is now a 
brutal tyrant whose troops have killed scores of students and other 
democrats, and who has just imposed a ban on international funding of 
local civil society aimed to intimidate critics.

Quite ridiculous, isn’t it, for Zenawi to lead the charge, reportedly 
demanding a minimum of US$65 billion – and up to $200 billion – annually 
from the North by 2020?

Well, no, not considering how much Africa will be devastated. Even 
Zenawi’s voice, and role in Copenhagen are potentially crucial in the 
struggle ahead.

What a struggle it is. The most shocking probable outcome of climate 
change is that 90% of the African peasantry will be out of business by 
2100 due to drought, floods, extreme weather events, disease and 
political instability, according to UN experts.

The Climate Change Vulnerability Index, calculated in 2009 ``from dozens 
of variables measuring the capacity of a country to cope with the 
consequences of global warming’’, listed 22 African countries out of 28 
across the world at ``extreme risk’’, whereas the United States is near 
the bottom of the world rankings of countries at risk, even though it is 
the leading per capita contributor to climate change.

There is no question that those most responsible should pay reparations, 
now that we are aware of the damage being done by rising greenhouse gas 
emissions, and by the ongoing stubborn refusal by the rich-country 
government – especially Obama’s - to cut back.

The amounts can be debated, for of course $65 billion/year for Africa is 
way too low, given how much devastation to individuals and communities 
is already underway, how many economies will falter, and how many 
incalculably valuable species will be lost.

But in addition to AU leaders, the world is awakening. After several 
years of hard work by World Council of Churches (WCC) members and staff, 
on September 2 the WCC’s central committee adopted a formal statement on 
the North’s ``deep moral obligation to promote ecological justice by 
addressing our debts to peoples most affected by ecological destruction 
and to the earth itself.’’

The WCC slams ``the agro-industrial-economic complex and the culture of 
the North, characterized by the consumerist lifestyle and the view of 
development as commensurate with exploitation of the earth's so-called 
natural resources’’, and cites the eco-debt definition pioneered by 
Accion Ecologica of Ecuador: ``historical and current 
resource-plundering, environmental degradation and the dumping of 
greenhouse gases and toxic wastes.’’

Like the USA’s ``Superfund’’ legislation or any other damages paid by 
corporations for messes made – such as Thor Chemicals’ notorious mercury 
spillage a few dozen kilometres from my Durban home, now leaking into 
the city’s bulk water supply at the Inanda Dam – the point is to get a 
general estimate of clean-up costs and a rough estimate of damages done.

As compensation, flows of grant funding are required – hopefully via an 
accountable, fair, transparent system such as a basic income grant for 
all residents of Africa (a Namibian pilot is showing excellent results) 
– instead of the kinds of corrupting carbon trade financing that 
dictators or big corporations currently grab hold of and redirect to 
adverse ends.
Carbon market

What is a carbon market regime and why is it counterproductive? This is 
the heart of the debate about the merits of a Copenhagen deal.

Carbon trading allows corporations and governments generating greenhouse 
gases to seemingly reduce their net emissions. They can do this, thanks 
to the Kyoto Protocol, by trading for others’ reductions (e.g. CDM 
projects in the Third World) or emissions rights (e.g. Eastern Europe’s 
``hot air’’ that followed the 1990s economic collapse).

Why do they do it? The pro-trading rationale is that once property 
rights are granted to polluters for their emissions, a ``cap’’ can be 
put on a country’s or the world’s total emissions (and then 
progressively lowered if there is political will). So as to minimise 
adverse economic impact, corporations can stay within the cap even by 
emitting way above it, by buying others’ rights to pollute.

But the carbon market isn’t working, for several reasons:

    * the idea of inventing a property right to pollute is effectively 
the privatisation of the air;
    * the corporations most responsible for pollution and the World Bank 
– which is most responsible for fossil-fuel financing – are behind the 
market, and can be expected to engage in systemic corruption to attract 
money into the market even if this prevents genuine emissions reductions;
    * many of the offsetting projects – such as monocultural timber 
plantations, forest ``protection’’ and landfill methane-electricity 
projects – have devastating impacts on local communities and ecologies;
    * the price is haywire, having crashed by half in a short period in 
April 2006 and by two-thirds in 2008;
    * there is a serious potential for carbon markets to become an 
out-of-control, multi-trillion dollar speculative bubble, similar to 
exotic financial instruments associated with Enron’s 2002 collapse 
(indeed, many Enron employees populate the carbon markets);
    * as a ``false solution’’ to climate change, carbon trading 
encourages merely small, incremental shifts, and thus distracts us from 
a wide range of radical changes we need to make in materials extraction, 
production, distribution, consumption and disposal; and
    * the idea of market solutions to market failure is an ideology that 
rarely makes sense, and especially not following the world’s worst-ever 
financial market failure.

Recall that scientists insist an 80% cut in emissions will be necessary 
within four decades at most, with the major cuts before 2020. To achieve 
this, carbon markets won’t work, as the leading US climate scientist, 
James Hansen, remarked in opposition to Barack Obama’s cap and trade scheme.

Obama’s legislation – the Waxman-Markey bill that passed the US House of 
Representaives in June 2009 – is so profoundly flawed it should be 
scrapped. Some excellent movements have sprung up to try to prevent US 
carbon trading and the destruction of Environmental Protection Agency 
powers to regulate carbon pollution, on which Waxman-Markey is 
especially wicked. (Please help by joining scores of groups disgusted 
with Obama’s legislation here and here – and do give a miss to 
pro-``Hopenhagen'' campaigners like Avaaz, the World Wildlife 
Federation, the ``Climate Action Network’’ and other deal-doers who 
either haven’t thought through the issues properly or who wallow in 
conflicts of interest as carbon-traders themselves.)

In sum, the emissions trade is a bogus ``false solution’’. Very 
different forms of climate finance are required at the Copenhagen summit 
in December, including the North’s payment of ecological debt. But 
Zenawi and others from Africa – especially civil society – will have to 
work much harder to put climate compensation on the agenda (and to 
ensure that governments corrupted by the fossil fuel industry and other 
transnational corporations, as well as local elites, do not become the 
vehicle for distributing the compensation).
For a `Seattle’ at Copenhagen

While carbon trading is at the heart of Copenhagen negotiations, any 
deal done will be a step backwards. The Durban Group for Climate Justice 
– founded in 2004 in South Africa - is the main civil society network 
explicitly fighting carbon trading; a superb analysis by Larry Lohmann 
is available from the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation at 

One of our other gurus, University of KwaZulu-Natal honorary professor 
Dennis Brutus, puts the challenge ahead quite frankly: ``My own view is 
that a corrupt deal is being concocted in Copenhagen with the active 
collaboration of NGOs who have been bought off by the corporations, 
especially oil and transport. They may even be well-intentioned but they 
are barking up the wrong tree.’’

Instead of a bad deal, Brutus recommends that we all ``Seattle’’ 
Copenhagen, i.e. the AU insiders work with massed protest outside to 
prevent the North from doing a deal in their interests, against Africa’s 
and the planet’s. A decade ago, that formula stopped the World Trade 
Organisation’s Millennial Round from succeeding in Seattle, and in 2003 
the feat was repeated in Cancun.

``We’re outta here’’, Zenawi may well say in Copenhagen, for on 
September 3, he issued a strong threat from Addis Ababa: ``If need be we 
are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threatens to be 
another rape of our continent.’’

To ``Seattle’’ Copenhagen would entail civil society protesting outside 
and African governments working for Africans’ interests inside, to halt 
a dirty deal that makes matters worse. Even with less than 100 days to 
go, Brutus insists it’s feasible, and would then allow us to move on to 
the real emissions reduction and alternative energy and production 
systems the world desperately needs.

[Patrick Bond, director of the Centre for Civil Society in Durban, is 
co-editor of the UKZN Press book Climate Change, Carbon Trading and 
Civil Society: Negative Returns on South African Investments. This 
article was originally a ZNet commentary.]

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