[Marxism] The failure of the Paris environmental summit, COP21

Patrick Bond pbond at mail.ngo.za
Fri Dec 18 06:35:59 MST 2015

On 2015/12/15 09:11 AM, Joseph Green wrote:
> The "red lines" demonstration in Paris was the best thing that happened at the Paris climate change summit, COP21...

Agreed... but from centrist-NGO civilized society came a stunningly weak 
response, worse than I'd anticipated from the prior episode at the G7, 
sigh. A couple of pieces to express the frustration:

*Climate terror from Paris could endure for generations*

/ZNet, /15 December 2015

Paris witnessed both explicit terrorism by religious extremists on 
November 13 and a month later, implicit terrorism by carbon addicts 
negotiating a world treaty that guarantees catastrophic climate change. 
The first incident left more than 130 people dead in just one evening’s 
mayhem; the second lasted a fortnight but over the next century can be 
expected to kill hundreds of millions, especially in Africa.

But because the latest version of the annual United Nations climate 
talks has three kinds of spin-doctors, the extent of damage may not be 
well understood. The 21^st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the UN 
Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) generated reactions 
ranging from smug denialism to righteous fury. The first reaction is 
‘from above’ (the Establishment) and is self-satisfied; the second is 
from the middle (‘Climate Action’) and is semi-satisfied; the third, 
from below (‘Climate Justice’), is justifiably outraged.

Guzzling French champagne last Saturday, the Establishment quickly 
proclaimed, in essence, “The Paris climate glass is nearly full – so why 
not get drunk on planet-saving rhetoric?” The /New York Times /reported 
with a straight face, “President Obama said the historic agreement is a 
tribute to American climate change leadership” (and in a 
criminally-negligent way, this is not untrue).

Since 2009, US State Department chief negotiator Todd Stern successfully 
drove the negotiations away from four essential principles: ensuring 
emissions-cut commitments would be sufficient to halt runaway climate 
change; making the cuts legally binding with accountability mechanisms; 
distributing the burden of cuts fairly based on responsibility for 
causing the crisis; and making financial transfers to repair 
weather-related loss and damage following directly from that historic 
liability. Washington elites always prefer ‘market mechanisms’ like 
carbon trading instead of paying their climate debt even though the US 
national carbon market fatally crashed in 2010.

In part because the Durban COP17 in 2011 provided lubrication and – with 
South Africa’s blessing – empowered Stern to wreck the idea of Common 
But Differentiated Responsibility while giving “a Viagra shot to 
flailing carbon markets” (as a male Bank of America official cheerfully 
celebrated), Paris witnessed the demise of these essential principles. 
And again, “South Africa played a key role negotiating on behalf of the 
developing countries of the world,” according to Pretoria’s environment 
minister Edna Molewa, who proclaimed from Paris “an ambitious, fair and 
effective legally-binding outcome.”

Arrogant fibbery. The collective Intended Nationally Determined 
Contributions (INDCs) – i.e. /voluntary /cuts – will put the temperature 
rise at above 3 degrees. From coal-based South Africa, the word 
ambitious loses meaning given Molewa’s weak INDCs – ranked 
ClimateActionTracker as amongst the world’s most “inadequate” – and 
given that South Africa hosts the world’s two largest coal-fired power 
stations now under construction, with no objection by Molewa. She 
regularly approves increased (highly-subsidised) coal burning and 
exports, vast fracking, offshore-oil drilling, exemptions from pollution 
regulation, emissions-intensive corporate farming and fast-worsening 
suburban sprawl.

A second narrative comes from large NGOs that mobilised over the past 
six months to provide mild-mannered pressure points on negotiators. 
Their line is, essentially, “The Paris glass is /partly/ full – so sip 
up and enjoy!”

This line derives not merely from the predictable back-slapping 
associated with petit-bourgeois vanity, gazing upwards to power for 
validation, such as one finds at the Worldwide Fund for Nature and 
Climate Action Network, what with their corporate sponsorships. All of 
us reading this are often tempted in this direction, aren’t we, because 
such unnatural twisting of the neck is a permanent occupational hazard 
in this line of work.

And such opportunism was to be expected from Paris, especially after 
Avaaz and Greenpeace endorsed 
<http://triplecrisis.com/avaazs-climate-vanity/>G7 leadership posturing 
in June, when at their meeting in Germany the Establishment made a 
meaningless commitment to a decarbonised economy – in the year 2100, /at 
least fifty years too late/.

Perhaps worse than their upward gaze, though, the lead NGOs suffered a 
hyper-reaction to the 2009 Copenhagen Syndrome. Having hyped the COP15 
Establishment negotiators as “Seal the Deal!” planet-saviours, NGOs 
mourned the devastating Copenhagen Accord signed in secret by leaders 
from Washington, Brasilia, Beijing, New Delhi and Pretoria. This was 
soon followed by a collapse of climate consciousness and mobilisation. 
Such alienation is often attributed to activist heart-break: a 
roller-coaster of raised NGO expectations and plummeting Establishment 

Possessing only an incremental theory of social change, NGOs toasting 
the Paris deal now feel the need to confirm that they did as best they 
could, and that they have grounds to continue along the same lines in 
future. To be sure, insider-oriented persuasion tactics pursued by the 
42-million member clicktivist group Avaaz are certainly impressive in 
their breadth and scope. Yet for Avaaz, “most importantly, [the Paris 
deal] sends a clear message to investors everywhere: sinking money into 
fossil fuels is a dead bet. Renewables are the profit centre. Technology 
to bring us to 100% clean energy is the money-maker of the future.”

Once again, Avaaz validates the COP process, the Establishment’s 
negotiators and the overall incentive structure of capitalism that /are 
the proximate causes of the crisis./

The third narrative is actually the most realistic: “The Paris glass is 
full of toxic fairy dust – don’t dare even sniff!” The traditional 
Climate Justice (CJ) stance is to delegitimise the Establishment and 
return the focus of activism to grassroots sites of struggle, in future 
radically changing the balance of forces locally, nationally and then 
globally. But until that change in power is achieved, the UNFCCC COPs 
are just Conferences of Polluters.

The landless movement Via Campesina was clearest: “There is nothing 
binding for states, national contributions lead us towards a global 
warming of over 3°C and multinationals are the main beneficiaries. It 
was essentially amedia circus.”

Asad Rehman coordinates climate advocacy at the world’s leading 
North-South CJ organisation, Friends of the Earth International: “The 
reviews [of whether INDCs are adhered to and then need strengthening] 
are too weak and too late. The political number mentioned for finance 
has no bearing on the scale of need. It’s empty. The iceberg has struck, 
the ship is going down and the band is still playing to warm applause.”

And not forgetting the voice of climate science, putting it most 
bluntly, James Hansen called Paris, simply, “bullshit.”

Where does that leave us? If the glass-half-full NGOs get serious – and 
I hope to be pleasantly surprised in 2016 – then the only way forward is 
for them to apply their substantial influence on behalf of solidarity 
with those CJ activists making a real difference, at the base.

Close to my own home, the weeks before COP21 witnessed potential 
victories in two major struggles: opposition to corporate coal mining – 
led mainly by women peasants, campaigners and lawyers – in rural 
Zululand, bordering the historic iMfolozi wilderness reserve (where the 
world’s largest white rhino population is threatened by poachers); and 
South Durban residents fighting the massive expansion of Africa’s 
largest port-petrochemical complex. In both attacks, the climate-defence 
weapon was part of the activists’ arsenal.

But it is only when these campaigns have conclusively done the work COP 
negotiators and NGO cheerleaders just shirked – leaving fossil fuels in 
the ground and pointing the way to a just, post-carbon society – that we 
can raise our glasses and toast humanity, with integrity. Until then, 
pimps for the Paris Conference of Polluters should be told to sober up 
and halt what will soon be understood as their fatal attack on Mother Earth.


*Avaaz’s climate vanity: Upward gazing can be politically blinding*
/Triple Crisis <http://www.triplecrisis.com/avaazs-climate-vanity/>, /17 
June 2015

Who’s not heard the great African revolutionary Amilcar Cabral’s 
<https://www.marxists.org/subject/africa/cabral/1965/tnlcnev.htm>, fifty 
years ago, “*/Tell no lies and claim no easy victories/*”? If, like me, 
you’re a petit bourgeois who is hopeful for social progress, then let’s 
be frank: this advice hits at our greatest weakness, the temptation of 
back-slapping vanity.

The leading framers for the 41-million strong clicktivist team from 
Avaaz need to remember Cabral. They over-reached ridiculously last week 
in praising the G7:

/Many told us it was a pipe dream, but the G7 Summit of leading world 
powers just committed to getting the global economy off fossil fuels 
forever!!! Even the normally cynical media is raving that this is a huge 
deal. And it’s one giant step closer to a huge win at the Paris summit 
in December – where the entire world could unite behind the same goal of 
a world without fossil fuels – the only way to save us all from 
catastrophic climate change… Our work is far from done, but it’s a day 
to celebrate – click here to read more and say congratulations to 
everyone else in this incredibly wonderful community!!/

Actually, according to /The Economist/ 
/“*no fossil-fuel-burning power station will be closed down* in the 
immediate future as a result of this declaration. The goal will *not 
make any difference to the countries’ environmental policies*, since 
they are mostly consistent with this long-range goal anyway. Where they 
are not (some countries are increasing coal use, for example) they will 
*not be reined in* because of the new promises… the G7’s climate effort 
raises as many questions as it answers. The group seems to have 
*rejected proposals for more demanding targets*, such as decarbonisation 
by 2050.”

Or /Time/ 
“*The results were disappointing* to say the least… The G7 announced an 
‘ambitious’ plan to phase out all fossil fuels worldwide by 2100. 
Unfortunately, *they didn’t make any concrete plans to scale back their 
own conventional fuel consumption.* That’s a big deal when 59 percent of 
historic global carbon dioxide emissions—meaning the greenhouse gases 
already warming the atmosphere—comes from these seven nations. Taken as 
a group, G7 coal plants produce twice the amount of CO2 as the entire 
African continent, and at least 10 times the carbon emissions produced 
by the 48 least developed countries as a whole. *If the G7 is serious 
about tackling climate change, they should start at home*.”

So what was going on, really? Here’s a talking head from the /Council on 
Foreign Relations/ 
(an imperialist braintrust): “The United States has long pressed for 
a*shift away from binding emissions reduction commitments* and toward a 
mix of nationally grounded emission-cutting efforts and binding 
international commitments to transparency and verification. European 
countries have often taken the other side, emphasizing the importance of 
binding targets (or at least policies) for cutting emissions. Now it 
looks like the*big developed countries are on the same page as the 
United States*. The language above is all about binding countries to 
transparency – and *there isn’t anything elsewhere in the communiqué 
about binding them to actual emissions goals*.”

There is an even tougher critique from the left, e.g. from Oscar Reyes 
of the Institute for Policy Studies, who annotated the G7 climate 
communique here 
He lands many powerful blows, not least of which is that you simply 
cannot trust these politicians. This is well known 
in Africa. Exactly a decade ago, Tony Blair led the (then-G8) Gleneagles 
Summit that made all manner of ambitious redistributive promises for the 
continent that weren’t fulfilled.

Another promise to look at more critically is whether ‘net zero’ carbon 
emissions by 2100 will be gamed through ‘false solutions’ like Carbon 
Capture and Storage, dropping iron filings in the ocean to create algea 
blooms, and expansion of timber plantations to suck up CO2. The most 
serious watchdogs here, the ETC group 
and Biofuelwatch 
agree that the G7 needs to reverse its energy ministers’ recent 
endorsement of these Dr Strangelove strategies.

Put it all together, and after last week’s Elmau G7 Summit, admits even 
(often also upward gazing), “This lukewarm summit result will *only make 
the fight harder, if not impossible*.”

Avaaz are not only embarrassingly contradicted on their right flank. The 
organisation’s premature celebration is /dangerous. /After all, the 
conservative (pro-market pro-insiderism anti-activism) wing of ‘climate 
action’ politics – as distinct from climate /justice /advocacy – is 
gaming us all now, arguing that the Paris COP21 can result in a victory. 
Avaaz just amped up that narrative.

Will the mild-mannered Climate Action Network (CAN) join a big all-in 
tent to maximise Paris popular mobilisations? In 2011 at the COP17, 
that’s the approach that civil society tried in Durban, to my regret 
I think CJ activists drawing in CAN – and Avaaz – may be making a 
serious mistake 
For this surprising Avaaz spin – declaring victory at the G7 – compounds 
the essential problem of mis-estimating the rigour of the fight ahead.

The reality: if we don’t dramatically change the balance of forces and 
applaud activists who do much more militant modes of engagement, then 
global COP malgovernance continues another 21 years. Civil disobedience 
has beenbreaking out 
in all sorts of blockadia spaces, and so surely Avaaz should put 99% of 
its climate advocacy effort into amplifying the work of those heroes?

 From Paris, one of the main organisers of COP21 protests, Maxime 
Combes, was suitably cynical 
about the G7, which “had already committed in 2009 (in Italy) to not 
exceed 2° C and to achieve a reduction of at least 50% of global 
emissions by 2050. So nothing new in the 2015 declarations except that 
at that time they had also committed to reduce by 80% or more their own 
emissions by 2050. No mention of this target is present in the 
declaration this year.” Avaaz is young, yes, but still should be able to 
recognise /backsliding /over the half-dozen years.

Last September, I was greatly heartened 
by Avaaz mobilising (not messaging), against what were my own prior 
(on /RealNews /from 4’00”, reflecting pessimism thanks partly to Avaaz’s 
awfully unfortunate New York subway adverts 
<https://twitter.com/pinelli_adrien/status/505485038381965312>, putting 
“hipsters and bankers in the same boat march”). That wonderful mass 
march linked the issues and put non-compromising placards high into the 
air (way higher than ‘climate action’ or pro-nuke or pro-cap-and-trade), 
and the next day, the Flood Wall Street protest hit corporations hard 
for a few hours. Avaaz and allies appropriately had us marching */away 
/*from the UN, because after all nothing useful has happened there 
regarding air pollution – or any global crisis for that matter – since 
the 1987 Montreal Protocol addressed the ozone hole by banning CFCs.

And I am also one who appreciates Avaaz’s excellent petition machinery. 
(It’s in use now generating awareness and solidarity for truly excellent 
anti-mining campaigns two hours south 
and north 
of where I live in Durban, for example.) So this is not a standard lefty 
critique of clicktivism. It is a recognition of how desperately 
important it is for Avaaz to retain maximum credibility in the 
mainstream and among hard-core activists alike. Endorsing the world’s 1% 
politicians is quite surreal, given how little they did last week in 
Bavaria, what with their 85-year time horizon and orientation to false 

Avaaz wasn’t alone, by the way. From a press release 
I learned from Greenpeace’s international climate politics officer 
Martin Kaiser: “Elmau delivered.” Also, from Greenpeace US Energy 
Campaign director Kelly Mitchell, “Leaders at the G7 meeting have put 
forward a powerful call to move the global economy away from fossil 
fuels and toward a renewable energy future. Heading into the Paris 
climate meeting this year, it’s a significant step toward securing a 
commitment to 100% renewable energy by 2050.”

Tell no lies, claim no easy victories. What I hope might happen is that 
in future Avaaz, Greenpeace and similar well-meaning activists might at 
least see it in their interest to tell the truth and intensify the 
battle */against/* the leaders of the G7 (and the BRICS too) */and 
especially against /*the corporations that yank their chains. Instead of 
Avaaz massaging 
<https://www.facebook.com/Avaaz?rf=106321336073398&filter=2> the G7 
elites for “sending an immediate signal to dirty and clean energy 
investors that will help accelerate the clean-energy boom we desperately 
need,” as if capitalism can solve the climate crisis, why not re-boot 
the power relations?

How about this wording, instead: “Since the G7 rulers finally recognise 
that fossil fuels must stay underground, /duh!/, but still*/fail to act 
decisively to that end/*, we in Avaaz condemn the politicians. We’ll 
redouble our efforts to target their biggest fossil investors. We’ll do 
so through not only divestment – achieved by small investor committees 
in wealthy Global North institutions – but now we’ll also turn Avaaz’s 
mighty 41-million strong listserve towards consumer boycotts of the 
corporations and especially the banks that have the most power over 
these G7-BRICS politicos. And we’ll get legal and media support for 
anyone blockading these firms, since the ‘necessity defence’ for civil 
disobedience is becoming much more vital to our world’s near-term 
survival. Even the Pope’s new climate Encylical agrees.”

Wouldn’t that be a more satisfying and nutritious strategy than the 
climate junkfood email that millions just received from Avaaz? I really 
felt a little sick after consuming it. Surely Avaaz can see the merits 
of shifting the goalposts to the left each time they have a chance, and 
thus /enhancing the climate justice struggle/ – not joining the G7 in 
a/fatal climate snuggle/.

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