Revolution #188, January 10, 2010
Copenhagen Climate Summit Accord: A Crime Against the Planet
This is an edited and updated version of an article available online at revcom.us.
Many people were hoping the UN summit on climate change in Copenhagen would seriously address the crisis of global warming that threatens the planet and humanity. But the accord signed at Copenhagen does nothing to cut emissions of greenhouse gases that are the major cause of this threat. It does not represent any serious plan to even start to do so. Instead, the biggest global powers, especially the United States, made clear that their message to the earth and humanity is: Drop Dead.
The Obama administration and some other leaders of the rich imperialist countries have proclaimed the accord a significant breakthrough. The media portrayed it like Barack Obama came in at the last minute and pushed through a process that can now go forward. But this is pulling the wool over people's eyes, exactly at a time when people need to wake up to the urgency of this crisis. This is worse than nothing coming out of Copenhagen.
The Copenhagen summit was not an urgent gathering of scientists and people of good will from around the world coming together to solve a global emergency. It was a meeting dominated by leaders of the world's powerful countries, with the U.S. as top dog. It was about the leaders of these powerful countries fighting to gain advantage over their rivals. It was about powerful imperialist countries enforcing their interests over poor countries and the world's people, all the while trying to "rebrand" themselves as eco-friendly savers of the planet. It was about creating new markets—such as the carbon trading market—as a new way to use "rights" to pollute to generate more profit. What these negotiations proved is that the only thing any of the capitalist powers are capable of is viciously pursuing their own interests while the planet and its people are left to burn.
The U.S. Godfather Calls the Shots
From the start, this summit was extremely contentious. Outside the talks, mass protests punctuated the atmosphere and broke into the international spotlight.
Inside the summit, the U.S., European Union (EU) and China tried to force concessions on each other—on targets for emissions cuts, procedures to monitor whether countries were complying with emissions targets, and other issues. The U.S. and EU, who together are responsible for the great majority of the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that are already causing devastating changes, tried to strong-arm and bribe poor countries to accept the terms they set.
At one point, poor nations walked out, demanding the goals for any agreement be a temperature rise of no more than 1.5 degrees C because higher temperatures could mean the death of whole continents—especially Africa. In response, Obama, who spent all of eight hours in Copenhagen, threatened that if these countries didn't sign on, it would be worse for them. First the U.S. dangled as a bribe the promise of billions of dollars for poor countries to deal with the devastation already caused by global warming. Then the U.S. led in imposing a do-nothing agreement that will deny this aid to any countries that don't sign on.
On the last day, the talks threatened to completely break down. This was a problem for the United States. Not because it cares about the planet. But because this threatened what the U.S. wanted to get out of the summit. The U.S. has been widely condemned for up until recently being the single largest contributor of carbon emissions. And the U.S. is widely seen as the biggest obstacle to solving this problem. Obama hoped to reverse this at Copenhagen and rebrand the U.S. as a leader in saving the planet. The U.S. also wanted to institutionalize an approach to global warming in line with its imperialist interests—like the spread of carbon trading markets. And the U.S. wanted to use these talks to shift the blame to one of its rivals—targeting China for being a "reckless emitter" and not playing by rules the U.S. wants to impose.
Obama coming in at the last minute and "saving the talks" was highly staged and orchestrated. Strategically this was a way for the U.S. to assert its hegemony —making clear it is the power broker of international accords.
Obama and Hillary Clinton reportedly burst into a meeting held by China and other countries. They announced that negotiations would not go on in secret, without the involvement of the United States! This from chief representatives of an empire that is unrivalled in the history of the world for its covert CIA/military operations, and its declared unilateral right to attack and invade any country that gets in the way of its interest. Then, between the five countries present—the U.S., China, India, Brazil and South Africa—they made the agreement! Other dominant powers were brought on board. And only then was this agreement announced to the rest of the 192 countries, who were given one hour to decide whether they would sign on or not. The head of Tuvalu, a Pacific Island nation that is being submerged by rising seas due to global warming, refused to sign and said, "it looks like we are being offered thirty pieces of silver to betray our people and our future."
Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, a Sudanese diplomat who has been representing the Group of 77 developing countries, compared the decision to the Nazi Holocaust, because this is what global warming will actually mean for Africa due to drought, water shortages and collapse of food production.
Business As Usual in the Face of Ecological Crisis
The "Copenhagen Accord" contains no binding commitments on the part of anyone, to cut the emissions of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, or deforestation, that are warming the planet. The accord even dropped goals for cuts in previous agreements—which were already a sham because they contained no way to enforce these cuts. The Copenhagen Accord says world temperatures need to be kept from rising above 2 degrees Celsius (C). But it says nothing about how to do this. It sets no date for when greenhouse emissions must peak, then decrease, in order to save the planet. And there is no time frame for when a supposedly "legal and binding" agreement will be signed.
No matter what these powers say, their actual plans show they have no serious intention of doing anything but extracting and burning more coal, oil and gas. Coal, oil and gas, and even more "dirty" forms of fossil fuels continue to be dug and drilled out of the earth. And many countries, including the U.S. and China—have plans for building even more coal fired power plants that are the largest and most dangerous polluters. Copenhagen addressed none of these vital questions.
Countries who signed the accord are supposed to say how much they plan to cut emissions. But a group of climate scientists (www.climateinteractive.org) who came together to analyze the proposals at the summit report that even if all the promises for greenhouse emission cuts were actually carried out—the temperature of the planet would still rise 3.9 degrees C (7 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100. The consensus among scientists is that temperature increases must be kept below 1.5-2 degrees C in order to prevent an ecological disaster.
Vicious Competition from a Vicious System
Author George Monbiot, who writes on the environment, compared the Copenhagen summit to meetings in 1884 in Berlin where the world was carved up between the colonial powers. This time, however, he said, it is the atmosphere that's being carved up.
The U.S. offered a pathetic proposal to cut its own emissions only 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. This would be only a 3-4 percent cut below 1990 levels. But accepted science says that industrialized countries must cut emissions 25-40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. (Emissions in the world as a whole must be cut 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.)
Obama came to Copenhagen fresh off of picking up a Nobel peace prize while escalating the war in Afghanistan. This was a double hypocrisy, because the dirty secret is that the U.S. military is the single largest institutional consumer of oil in the world and one of the largest producers of greenhouse gas emissions.
The European countries meanwhile posed as "green capitalists," while Danish police beat and preemptively arrested at least 1,500 people protesting to save the planet. These "green capitalists" floated out that they might agree to cut greenhouse emissions 20 percent or more by 2020—if their rivals in the U.S. and also developing countries would agree to make more cuts. The EU countries try to portray themselves as the real champions of the earth. But the truth is that since the 1997 Kyoto Accords (which set binding limits on emissions from developed nations) carbon dioxide emissions in the European countries as a whole, have actually risen 5 percent! (UK Guardian, November 30, 2009)
Meanwhile, China and India—countries still dominated by imperialism but seeking to develop into major capitalist powers with global reach—also refused to make any binding emissions cuts. They acted in this way precisely because of their need to expand and compete with the larger powers that are trying to prevent them from doing this. While China has surpassed the U.S. in global emissions, this is largely because China is now the workshop and sweatshop of the world—integrated into a global network of capitalist production. Fully one-third of China's emissions have been linked to production for export, overwhelmingly goods produced by exploited masses of proletarians for consumption in the rich imperialist countries. What this means is that all the investments in China by the imperialist countries, taking advantage of the low wages and lack of safety and environmental standards, amount to offloading pollution from the rich countries onto China.
This production fueled by international capital has led to a situation where 7 of the world's 10 most polluted cities are in China. Eighty percent of China's major rivers are so degraded they don't support aquatic life and 90 percent of all groundwater systems under the major cities are contaminated. Even with the surge of emissions in China, still 75 percent of the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere is the result of emissions from the advanced capitalist countries. The U.S., with 5 percent of the world's people, still produces 25 percent of the world's carbon dioxide. This amount is 30 percent when the emissions from the U.S. military, which aren't included in any of the account books, are added on. And the U.S. produces 4 times more greenhouse pollution per person than China.
Copenhagen and the Road Ahead
Some environmental groups have bought into the deadly logic that at least Copenhagen is a "step in the right direction." They should be sharply challenged that such low sights means writing off much of humanity and huge swaths of the globe and its ecosystems to destruction. Others have condemned the accord but continued to direct their efforts towards appealing to world leaders to "do the right thing."
But Copenhagen didn't "fail" due to a "lack of will" on the part of the participants, or simply because there are just "too many divisions" that could be overcome by these leaders if they would just decide to put the planet first. Yes, the dominant forces in power are facing some very extreme environmental problems too. But they are only capable of addressing them within the confines of their systems of production—which is the problem in the first place.
Sources for this article:
1. Maude Barlow, Blue Covenant: the Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water, New Press, 2007
2. Climate Interactive, climateinteractive.org
3. "Copenhagen closes with weak deal that poor threaten to reject," Guardian UK, December 19, 2009, guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/19/copenhagen-closes-weak-deal
4. "Copenhagen reaction: delegates speak," Guardian UK, December 19, 2009, guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/19/copenhagen-reaction-delegates-speak
5.James Hansen, Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and our Last Chance to Save Humanity, Bloomsbury USA, 2009
6. Raymond Lotta, "The Elephant in the Room: Can Anything Short of Revolution Solve the Environmental Crisis?" online webcast, revolutionbooksnyc.org/home.html
7. George Monbiot, "Copenhagen negotiators bicker and filibuster while the biosphere burns," Guardian UK, December 18, 2009, guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/18/copenhagen-negotiators-bicker-filibuster-biosphere
8. "Global Carbon Emissions since Kyoto," Guardian UK, November 30, 2009, guardian.co.uk/environment/interactive/2009/nov/30/copenhagen-summit-world-carbon-emissions
9. "Pressure on poor at Copenhagen led to failure, not diplomatic wrangling," Guardian UK, December 23, 2009, guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2009/dec/23/g77-copenhagen-bernaditas-de-castro-muller
10. Andrew C. Revkin and John M. Broder, "A Grudging Accord in Climate Talks," New York Times, December 19, 2009, nytimes.com/2009/12/20/science/earth/20accord.html?_r=1&scp=3&sq=copenhagen%20accord&st=cse
11. Barry Sanders, The Green Zone: the Environmental Costs of Militarism, AK Press, 2009
12. Peter N. Spotts, "Copenhagen climate change talks stall as CO2 emissions rise," Christian Science Monitor, November. 18, 2009, csmonitor.com/World/Global-Issues/2009/1118/p06s01-wogi.html
13. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Draft Decision-/CP.15 Copenhagen Accord, unfccc.int/resource/docs/2009/cop15/eng/l07.pdf
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