Revolution #187, December 27, 2009

Copenhagen Climate Summit Accord: A Crime Against the Planet

The Copenhagen UN Summit talks on climate change are over and their message to the earth and humanity are clear: Drop Dead.

The accord that came out of this meeting was first called "an important (though modest) step" by U.S. and European Union leaders—despite the fact that no commitments of any kind were made to cut greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming. A day later this farce of an agreement was being hailed by spokespeople as a "great step" and an "unprecedented accomplishment." This is a complete cover-up and sham.

Barack Obama, who was in Copenhagen for all of eight hours, and other U.S. officials rammed this agreement through at the last minute when the summit was facing breakdown. This summit was contentious. Poor nations had walked out of the meeting at one point due to the lack of any commitment to cut emissions by the main producers of greenhouse gases and other issues. Repeated mass protests outside of where the talks were held punctuated the atmosphere and broke into the international spotlight.

The U.S. Godfather Calls the Shots

Like the world-class gangsters they are, Obama and Hillary Clinton burst into a meeting held by China and other countries, according to the New York Times, announced that negotiations would not go on in secret, without the United States. This is blatant godfather thuggery and hypocrisy from a system known for conducting secret wars, criminal invasions and imperialist arm-twisting throughout history.

In fact, this agreement itself was pulled together by the U.S. in a closed door meeting of representatives from only 25 or so of the 190 countries represented and then imposed on the rest. And from now on, it appears the rich capitalist countries will solve the problem of the "contentiousness" of these summits by just totally barring the poor nations entirely. The New York Times wrote that according to a representative from the Council on Foreign Relations, that the world's leading greenhouse polluters will instead meet only amongst themselves to, "tackle a narrower agenda of issues, such as technology sharing or the merging of carbon-trading markets, without the chaos and posturing of the U.N. process."

At the summit, Obama used the promise of billions of dollars in aid to poor countries to supposedly deal with devastation from global warming as a bribe. Then he threatened that without an agreement there wouldn't be any aid.

Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, a Sudanese diplomat who has been representing the Group of 77 developing countries, denounced the accord: "The developed countries have decided that damage to developing countries is acceptable," he told reporters, saying that the 2-degree target would "result in massive devastation to Africa and small island states." He and many other representatives of the most vulnerable countries wanted a target of 1.5 degrees.

"Today's events, which really are a continuation of the history of the negotiations for the last two years, represent the worst development in climate change negotiations in history," Mr. Di-Aping said. (New York Times, December 12, 2009)

Business As Usual in the Face of Ecological Crisis

The "Copenhagen Accord" that emerged contains absolutely no binding commitments to cut the emissions of greenhouse gases or deforestation that are warming the planet. The accord even dropped goals for cuts in previous agreements. And these agreements were already a sham because they contained no method of making or enforcing these cuts.  The accord claims great concern about global warming and says world temperatures need to be kept from rising above 2 degrees, but says nothing about how this will actually take place. In other words—this agreement is just a continuation of business as usual—which is a potential death sentence for the environment and humanity.

A group of climate scientists ( came together to analyze the proposals on the table during the summit. Up until the day of the accord, they had been reporting that even if all the promises for greenhouse gas emission cuts were actually carried out by all these governments—the temperature of the planet would still rise 3.9 degrees Celsius (C) (7 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100. (The scientific consensus says that temperatures must be kept below 1.5-2 degees C or disaster will ensue.) After the accord was released, climate interactive stated the accord had too few quantifiable results to even analyze.

People around the globe desperately wanted something to come out of this summit. Many felt, with the eyes of the world on Copenhagen, with a new U.S. president… maybe something significant would finally be done to substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming. They told themselves that doing anything would be better than doing nothing. But what the world's powers did was actually worse than doing nothing. This is because what came out of this summit does absolutely nothing to stop the planet from burning—while a BIG lie is being promoted that this summit has opened up the way to actually doing something about the environmental crisis.

The summit in Copenhagen never was an urgent gathering of scientists and people of good will from around the world to solve a global emergency. It was a gathering of government leaders, dominated by the capitalist-imperialist powers, with the U.S. as the head godfather. It was about the leaders of different powerful countries advancing their own interests at the expense of each other—and to the detriment and severe damage to humanity and the earth's ecosystems. It was all about these powers trying to gain advantage over their rivals. 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. It was about powerful imperialist countries enforcing their interests over poor countries and the world's people, all while trying to "rebrand" themselves as eco-friendly savers of the planet.

Author George Monbiot who writes on globalization and 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 head of the G-77+China delegation (a grouping of poor nations and China), said for Africa, already facing massive drought fueled by global warming, the Copenhagen accord is akin to the Holocaust.

Global Warming and the Global Marketplace

Humanity is confronted with something humans have never confronted before—the possibility that life, or at least much of life, on earth, could be snuffed out by environmental destruction with global warming the leading threat. Disastrous things are already occurring due to this warming (see online article, "Global Warming in the Himalayas"). For 17 years, world powers and other governments have been talking about stopping climate change. World governments have held conferences, summits, even passed treaties among some—such as the Kyoto treaty of 1997. But with all this, and now with Copenhagen, the only thing that has actually happened is that greenhouse emissions have skyrocketed and the rate of growth of them is getting worse. From 2000-2008, greenhouse emissions increased 29 percent worldwide. This system and its approach to nature place the very existance of life on the planet at risk.  We need a revolution, and soon.


The capitalist system's approach to dealing with greenhouse gas emissions is by bringing these issues "into the marketplace." They plan to base emissions cuts on a global "carbon trading" system where greenhouse limits are supposedly set, and rights to pollute can be traded, generating tremendous profit. This is the logic and rules of operating-market profitability in command. This does not and can not really address the problem of rising carbon emissions—which to begin with come from putting profit in command. In fact, where this market system approach to the problem has been tried, it has totally failed to cut emissions.

The capitalists want to incorporate some new energy technologies into their profit making framework and are competing over who will benefit most from this, while their overall process of production remains completely locked in the framework of burning oil, coal and gas. In fact, as capitalist production is heating up the earth, the system seeks even more destructive and irrational means of grabbing up new reserves of oil and gas. In Alberta, Canada, huge reserves of dirty oil are being flushed out of tar sands—leaving massive pools of contaminated water in large open pits and threatening massive environmental destruction. As the arctic melts because of burning fossil fuels, the U.S., Norway, Canada, Russia and Denmark are vying to take advantage of the ice melting so they can do what? Drill for more oil in the regions of the northern seas that are becoming ice free.

Copenhagen showed once more that these summits are about different world powers vying to gain competitive advantage. U.S. negotiators, for example, tried to say that Obama's pledge to cut U.S. emissions and a decision by the EPA to declare greenhouse gases a pollutant (cleverly timed to coincide with Copenhagen), were examples of the U.S. moving to the forefront of the "global fight against climate change." In reality, the U.S. came with a pathetic proposal to cut emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. This would mean only a 3-4 percent cut below 1990 levels. The 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. This is what must happen if there is to be any chance of averting catastrophic environmental damage.

Obama came to Copenhagen fresh off escalating the war in Afghanistan and picking up a Nobel peace prize while advocating more war. This was a double hypocrisy, because the dirty secret is that the U.S. military is the largest single user of petroleum and the largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions. Can anyone imagine U.S. tanks, bombers and drones warring on the planet powered by solar panels? Obama and U.S. officials came to Copenhagen representing the country that is by far the largest contributor in historical terms to the climate crisis. And yet had the audacity to demand concessions from China and other countries and then ram through a disastrous deal.

And the European countries meanwhile-posed as the "green capitalists," while Danish police spied on, beat, pepper sprayed and preemptively arrested at least 1,500 people out to fight for a planet that is livable. These "green capitalists" floated out that they might agree to cut greenhouse emissions 20 percent or maybe more by 2020—if their rivals in the U.S. would also cut much more, and as they also sought to enforce stringent cuts on oppressed countries. All the time European Union countries tried to portray themselves as the real champions of the earth. The world press talked about how the Kyoto treaty has been the only treaty that set binding limits on developed nations to cut emissions. But the blinding and hardly mentioned reality is that over the time of Kyoto—from 1997 until today—emissions in the European countries as a whole, have actually risen 5 percent (UK Guardian)!

Meanwhile, China and India—countries still under the domination of imperialist powers but seeking to develop into modern capitalist powers—also refused to make any binding emissions cuts, precisely because of this need to expand and "grow their economies." While China has surpassed the U.S. in global emissions, a central point is that 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 cheap 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 amounts to just offloading pollution from the rich countries onto China.

And this production fueled by international capital has led to a situation where 7 of the world's 10 most polluted cities are in China. 80 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.

The Cause... and the Barrier to Solving Global Warming

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 putting the planet first. Yes, the dominant forces in power are facing some very extreme environmental problems too—but they are, and showed themselves to be, only capable of addressing them within the confines of their systems of production which is the problem in the first place.

Capitalism is both the cause, and the barrier to solving, global warming.

Copenhagen's decisions are the result of power being in the hands of a system that is driven to maximize profit, to continually grow and expand—and ruthlessly out-compete others seeking to do the same. And it is impossible for this system to rupture out of this without tremendous dislocation and an overturning of all its structures of accumulation of capital and unending growth. This was supposed to be the summit where—after science has made dramatically clear that global warming threatens life on the planet—that drastic and mandatory cuts to greenhouse emissions were finally made. Instead, this summit was, and could only be, about the dominant players seeking to force concessions on competitors while preserving their own economic advantage, letting the planet and its people go die.

Life on this planet faces a crossroads. We don't have much time—the planet cannot be left in the hands of this system of capitalism-imperialism. This summit should go down in history as a meeting of historic criminality and shame further showing this system is simply incapable of doing anything but destroying the environment.  But there is a way out. We have principles of socialist sustainable development that are capable of totally reorganizing society along different lines. And we have the more scientific and vibrant communism of Bob Avakian—a way to unleash the tremendous creativity and enthusiasm of masses on a scientific basis to tackle what would be extremely challenging environmental problems. These approaches offer real hope of preserving the ecosystems of the planet and humanity, and creating a world people could live and flourish in. We must confront the stakes of the global environmental emergency and have this fuel our determination and imagination. And we must work urgently to spread this revolution and to develop resistance to the crimes of this system on the environment and many other fronts as part of developing a revolutionary movement that can bury this system before it's too late.

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