World leaders are incapable of agreeing to the action necessary to halt dangerous climate change. It is already clear that there will be no deal on reducing greenhouse gases finalised when they meet in Copenhagen.
Summit host, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, has admitted as much. But negotiators still hope to be able to announce some face saving “progress” after the summit. Rasmussen has talked of a “politically binding” agreement—where countries agree on the major issues and defer final drafting to next year.
However, if anything is agreed it will have no substance. The world’s richest countries have all refused to budge on two key issues—committing to serious emissions cuts and providing climate aid to developing countries.
The US—the world’s largest economy—could well derail the whole summit. Obama has failed to get a climate bill through the US Senate, meaning his commitments are not binding. Obama’s announced target of 17 per cent cuts on 2000 levels works out to only 3 per cent on 1990 levels, much less than was required under the Kyoto protocol.
Australia is another guilty party delaying action—refusing to put any figure on climate aid it is prepared to offer to the developing world.
African nations have threatened to walk out of the negotiations if the rich countries do not shift. They have called for emissions cuts of at least 40 per cent by 2020 and increased aid offers to help them install renewable technologies and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Rudd was singled out by African representatives as one of the world leaders failing to deliver on his rhetoric.
Sudanese diplomat Lumumba Di-Aping demanded, “Tell me of any politician who delivered on his political manifesto. Was it Gordon Brown? Was it Kevin Rudd?”
Why they won’t act
Ending the addiction to fossil fuels will impose major costs on businesses worldwide. No government wants its economy to bear a greater cost of cutting emissions than its rivals, and each country is working to make sure their local businesses get a better deal than overseas competitors.
This is why, as Marian Wilkinson wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald, the talks are “bogged down in an elaborate game of chicken with the players waiting to see who will blink first.”
The stalemate is a product of the nature of the capitalist economy itself. Corporations must maintain competitive against their rivals. A company capable of lowering its production costs and undercutting rivals can drive them out of business. So a decision by any national government to impose higher production costs—through forcing businesses to pay the higher power costs associated with installing renewable energy—is something they want to avoid.
World leaders are engaged in a game of imperialist competition, defending the interests of their country’s major industries. Unless there is pressure on them from a mass movement, governments will put business profits before the planet.
However, the outcome at Copenhagen is only the beginning of the struggle to demand action from governments on climate change.
The pathetic “targets” each country is offering in emissions reductions can disguise another crucial question—how they intend to actually meet their target.
Many countries are implementing emissions trading schemes—like Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS).
Business favours such schemes as they both make it easy for them to avoid cutting emissions and guarantee that ordinary people will bare any cost to the system. In addition to the billions in compensation polluting industries have been able to exact from Rudd’s CPRS and the proposed US scheme, companies can buy up dodgy “offsets”—which claim to reduce emissions overseas—instead of cutting emissions themselves.
A recent Greenpeace report exposed how investors claimed 55 million tonnes of carbon was offset by a major reforestation project in Bolivia—but it actually captured just 10 per cent of that figure.
Carbon trading was a key part of the Kyoto protocol, and will be at the heart of negotiations at Copenhagen.
In contrast to the efforts of world leaders, ordinary people worldwide will be taking to the streets during the summit to demand action.
Tens of thousands from across Europe are expected to protest in Copenhagen itself. As Jørn Andersen, from the Climate Movement in Denmark explained:
“The way the preparations for the talks have gone confirms what many on the left are saying—that governments are bound up with corporate interests and won’t do what’s needed to stop climate change.
“If we have a big protest it can be the start of building a real movement demanding socially just, global solutions to climate change.”
By James Supple