24 Dec 2009

Copenhagen and the environmental credit crunch

Copenhagen and the environmental credit crunch
As the debacle at the United Nations Climate Change Conference proved, there is no solution to the growing environmental crisis unless we tackle global inequality, consumerism and the capitalist market.

The Copenhagen conference, which aimed to provide a global agreement for dealing with climate change, has been widely recognised as a failure. While a bloc of developing countries wanted to see a tough agreement with strong limits on emissions and aid for poorer countries to reduce carbon output, this was too much for the wealthier nations. The USA essentially sabotaged the prospect of a strong and just plan for climate change.

Rather than an agreement and a plan for action, the conference ended with a weak non binding statement- more a press release than a set of agreed policy objectives.

As Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez remarked in his analysis of the conference:

"An accord was not possible in Copenhagen due to the lack of political will of the rich countries: the powerful of this world, the hyper-developed, they do not want to change their patterns of production and consumption which are as senseless as suicide. “The world can go to hell if it dares to threaten my privilege and my lifestyle”, is what they appear to be saying with their conduct: that is the hard truth that they do not want to hear from those who act under the historical and categorical imperative to change course.

"Copenhagen is not the end, I repeat, but a beginning: the doors have been opened for a universal debate on how to save the planet, life on the planet. The battle continues."
The conference was both corporate and chaotic. 'Hopenhagen' logos sponsored by soft drinks companies littered the city. The Independent journalist Johan Hari noted:

Every delegate to the Copenhagen summit is being greeted by the sight of a vast fake planet dominating the city's central square. This swirling globe is covered with corporate logos – the Coke brand is stamped over Africa, while Carlsberg appears to own Asia, and McDonald's announces "I'm loving it!" in great red letters above. "Welcome to Hopenhagen!" it cries. It is kept in the sky by endless blasts of hot air.
Southern delegates walked out at several points, activists on the streets were brutalised and some are likely to be in prison in Denmark over the Christmas holiday. The representatives of the NGO Friends of the Earth were thrown out of the conference for a time. The Danish government introduced new legislation that made it easy to arrest protesters.

In a sense, Copenhagen was dead before it even began. The planet has become so emeshed in market-based economics that climate change is being tackled at a global level mainly via carbon trading. The targets set at an international meetings, of which Copenhagen is the latest, for reducing CO2 emissions are to be achieved almost exclusively by market mechanisms. Sir Nicholas Stern may have described climate change as the greatest market failure in the history of humanity, but the notion of using the market to deal with climate change is absurd. Despite decades of meetings, protocols and agreements, the international framework has failed to reduce CO2 emissions at all.

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