UN Climate Talks: Criminal Charade in Warsaw

by Orpheus Reed | Updated December 8, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


The 19th United Nations (UN) "Conference of the Parties" (COP) talks on global climate change concluded on November 24 in Warsaw, Poland.

Just as these talks were about to begin, typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda slammed into the Philippines. Haiyan's wind speeds were the highest ever recorded in world history. Its devastating storm surge was made worse by the higher ocean levels brought by global warming. Thousands upon thousands were killed, whole villages swallowed up by the ocean. Four million people have been made homeless and are suffering from lack of food and water.

While it's not possible to say Haiyan was directly "caused" by climate change, its power was quite likely enhanced by the warming oceans. Climate scientist Michael Mann recently wrote that scientific models "suggest more frequent and intense storms in a warmed world" and that "a number of scientists suspect that recent storms like Sandy and Haiyan exhibited characteristics outside the range of natural variation." And higher ocean levels caused by global warming make the damage to coastal areas from such storms worse. There is much other evidence that climate change is already causing more extreme weather events, such as heat waves and droughts.

Filipino climate negotiator Yeb Saño announced in an impassioned plea at the start of the Warsaw conference that he would fast until the delegates made real agreements to do something to stop climate change. Saño said, "What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness. We can stop this madness, right here in Warsaw." Climate activists around the world joined Saño in his fast.

The delegates at the conference gave Saño a standing ovation. And then the conference proceeded and accomplished nothing to stop, or even seriously address, the climate emergency already wreaking havoc on the planet and its people.

The stated purpose of these UN climate talks, which have been held every year for 19 years, is to stabilize greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide—CO2—and other gases that cause global warming) in the atmosphere "at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic [human-induced] interference with the climate system." Instead, these talks have obstructed, and even sabotaged, any actual agreements to put binding cuts on greenhouse gas emissions.

This past year, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere broke the 400-parts-per-million barrier, a level not seen on earth in three million years. And over the 19 years of talks, the damage and danger caused by climate change has become substantially worse.

The Warsaw "Deal" and the Path to 4 Degree Celsius Disaster

There was a "partial deal" struck in Warsaw. This in theory sets up ways to help fund the development of green technology and some payments to poorer nations for damage caused by climate change. These countries have done the least to cause the problem but are suffering the worst. The deal also involves continuing to work toward forging a climate "agreement," in talks in Paris in 2015, that would supposedly result in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Even if such an agreement were to come about, it would not even take effect until 2020!

Waiting until 2020 is insane and criminal. Climate scientists have repeatedly warned that time is running out to stop the planet from a global average temperature warming above two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). A rise of two degrees C in the global average temperature will mean terrible changes in a world that is already greatly impacted by climate change from only the .75 degree C average temperature rise that has occurred over the last 100 years. But two degrees C is the uppermost limit that temperature rise must not exceed if catastrophic climate change is to be prevented. All experts agree on this, and this goal is written into the already existing climate agreements from past talks.

To keep below the limit of a two degree C rise would require drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, beginning immediately and continuing until fossil fuel burning and other practices that spew gases into the atmosphere are almost completely phased out and replaced by green energy technologies over the next decades. So putting off any agreement until 2020 is deadly inaction.

Furthermore, the plan for the Paris agreement is supposedly based on each country coming forward with plans for how much they want to cut their own emissions, and then the other countries looking at the plans and deciding if these are enough. The proposals for cuts by the U.S. and European Union are nowhere near what are needed to stop the worst of climate change. Other countries, like Japan and Australia, actually even took back promises to make emissions cuts they had agreed to previously!

Even as the Warsaw conference was going on, scientists with the Climate Action Tracker website showed that if the current pledges and policies on greenhouse gas emissions cuts of the world's governments are added up, they would result in nearly a four degrees C temperature rise and possibly more.

An article in the UK Guardian quotes from a presentation by climate scientists Alice Bows and Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester in England. According to Bows and Anderson, if there was a global temperature rise of 4 degrees C, the hottest days on earth would be 6-12 degrees C (about 11-21 degrees F) hotter, sea levels would rise by 80 centimeters (over 2.6 feet) or higher, and the yields for key crops like corn, wheat, and rice would drop by as much as 40 percent.

As Dr. Bows notes, "Those sorts of things would be absolutely devastating—they would be catastrophic.... There's a widespread view that four degrees could be incompatible with organized global community and would inevitably lead to conflict and disruption and could potentially be beyond adaptation. Ecosystems are already being threatened—at four degrees we have irreversible impacts on ecosystems." 

Climate Talks, Big Power Contention

These talks are not an arena where the world's people and scientists are gathering to deal with what is in reality a global climate emergency. Instead, they are another arena where each of the main players is vying to advance its own interests at the expense of the others, driven by the vicious and cutthroat drive of capitalism for economic profitability and strategic power. None of this has anything to do with saving the planet. (See "Climate Negotiations and 'Big Power' Rivalry")

As the talk shop charades continue at these conferences, the big powers scramble to find and burn even more "unconventional" and carbon polluting fossil fuels. (See "Check It Out: The Race for What's Left: The Scramble for the World's Last Resources, by Michael Klare")

The Warsaw talks, like climate conferences in the past, were extremely divided and contentious, reflecting the intense divisions that exist in the world: Divisions among the imperialist powers like the U.S. and the European Union that have overwhelmingly caused the climate crisis through their relentless burning of fossil fuels. Divisions between these imperialist powers and rising capitalist powers such as China and India, who point to the U.S., the EU, and Japan as mainly responsible for causing climate change, but who are only maneuvering to increase their own positions and power in the capitalist shit pile. And divisions between all these world powers and the governments of the poorer oppressed countries dominated by imperialism. It is in these poor and oppressed countries where the majority of humanity lives, where millions are already suffering the impacts of climate change, and where hundreds of millions will be the most devastatingly impacted as climate change continues.

Here's the reality that everyone needs to confront: The capitalist-imperialist powers have set the world on a trajectory that will cause immense and almost unimaginable disruption and suffering to people everywhere and to the whole amazing fabric of life on this planet. The system has locked the world into a trajectory that threatens ecosystems worldwide and even the eco-balance of earth itself. This trajectory—if it is not ruptured out of—could potentially threaten the future of humanity itself.

Warsaw Protests and the Need for Massive Resistance and Revolution

There were significant protests at the Warsaw talks. Three thousand people from around the world converged on Warsaw in protest at the conference site. Greenpeace hung banners on government buildings to condemn the Polish government, which hosted a world conference on the use of coal at the same time as the climate conference. And hundreds of environmentalists with non-governmental organizations walked out of the climate talks in protest.

These protests are important, but they largely remained confined to speaking of the horrible situation and demanding changes—and seeing the way to do this still as putting pressure on these world powers and other governments to act rationally, to "end the madness," as Yeb Saño said.

But what is required is a rupture out of this framework that sees the solution as coming from appealing to or pressuring these criminal capitalist powers who have shown themselves utterly incapable of doing anything about this crisis. What is needed are urgent efforts by millions of people who are being impacted by climate change and millions who care about the environment and humanity's future, to develop truly massive political resistance to the criminality of these regimes and the system of capitalism-imperialism. To fundamentally stop the deadly direction we're on, we need to wrench the world from the framework and domination of world imperialism through revolution and establish new socialist systems that immediately move away from fossil fuel production.

What is required are radical and immediate measures to move away from use of fossil fuels, to leave oil and coal in the ground, to immediately mobilize all resources, technology, and people to bring forward alternative, green, and sustainable forms of energy in service of the needs of the world's people and to protect, preserve, and stop the destruction of species and ecosystems. Economic production under this system would be consciously and collectively planned, based on the interests of humanity and ecosystems, not driven by capitalist profitability and the "workings of the market" which have brought the world to the brink of disaster.

This is what's needed. Time is long past for anything else or any other approach. There is a way to do this all over the world, through communist revolution—a re-envisioned communist revolution that is possible because of the work of Bob Avakian (BA). The new synthesis of communism brought forward by BA opens up a way out of the horrors we face today to a world where humanity could flourish and that would be based on sustainable ecological principles where people act as caretakers of the planet and work to mitigate the damage already built into the climate system by the insane workings of capitalism. (See "Some Key Principles of Socialist Sustainable Development.")

In response to those who say, "That's not realistic"—what's truly unrealistic is to believe that this current system and its representatives will do anything other than leave the planet's environment and humanity fucked.

The science on global climate change and the danger is clear. The trajectory this system is taking things is apparent. We are at a point where it's unacceptable for people who see this and know that systemic and radical changes are required, to lock themselves in self-delusion that working through or "pressuring the system" to change its ways is all that's necessary or possible. We must start from the reality of the level and urgency of the problem and what is truly required to create a situation where this can be addressed. And it's also unacceptable for people to allow despair about the immensity of the problem to lead to a refusal to look at the whole picture and end up clinging to their "comfort zones" while working for change on a small scale. There is a way forward—and a strategy for this revolution in the U.S. (see "On the Strategy for Revolution," a statement from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA). Yes, this will require hard struggle and sacrifice—but nothing less than revolution is required.

New socialist systems brought about through communist revolution won't magically transform climate emergency—because there is a momentum to the global climate changes that have already built up and will continue. But such a revolution is the only thing that can allow humanity to quickly move to begin dramatic changes that will have an actual chance to prevent the most catastrophic damage that is coming, unless such changes are made.

We need to fight and struggle to develop massive, uncompromising political resistance to the main and critical ways this system is destroying the environment right now. This resistance needs to be stepped up to stop as much destruction as possible—but fundamentally, if this mass resistance isn't increasingly part of the whole movement for revolution, the trajectory of catastrophe can't be averted. This is the only hope for preservation of ecosystems and humanity's future. The resistance needs to be built urgently, and it must be linked to hastening the time when a revolution can be made—to start the process where we can work in common to do everything we can to prevent the worst of what climate change will bring and allow the climate system to stabilize and natural ecosystems to come back.


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