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Climate debt and the Durban deception

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As African civil society, global South movements and international allies protested right through COP17 in Durban, South Africa. They rejected the call of many developed countries for a so-called 'Durban mandate' to launch new negotiations for a future climate framework. Photo: Orin Langelle/GJEP

COP17 is over in Durban and some positions have now become clear. From a reading of the independent accounts of the negotiations and the long-winded statements issued by governments, this is what has happened:

1) Actual action to reduce carbon emissions and greenhouse gases has been pushed back by years, probably five and maybe even 10. A new treaty will take several years to negotiate and a few more to get it ratified by enough countries so that it makes a difference. Even then, major polluters like the USA (especially the USA but also China, India, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa) may not ratify it. We don’t know – since it wasn’t spelt out in Durban – that any new agreement won’t be a weak and useless ‘pledge and review’ system.

2) Developed countries want to end the Kyoto Protocol. But they also want to retain and expand parts of the Kyoto Protocol they like. This includes the CDM (Clean Development Mechanism). The European Union (EU) is most keen on this. By doing this they want to continue to transfer their responsibilities to developing countries. Since Durban ended with no legally binding emission reductions (under the expiring Kyoto Protocol or under any sort of successor to it) there is no rationale for any carbon market. But the big carbon brokers and traders of the EU want the carbon market, the continuation of the CDM and even the creation of new ‘market mechanisms’.

3) The hold of global finance and banking over climate negotiations is strong. The World Bank and the Global Climate Fund mean that any climate fund linked to a post-Kyoto deal will be managed by an anti-democratic entity that is responsible for much of the climate disruption and poverty in the world. The World Bank together with support from the European Union will block any attempt at participatory governance of such a fund. This means the Global Climate Fund will be set up to funnel more profits – under the guise of mitigation and adaptation – to the private sector.

This much is clear to me. That is why I see one more outcome:

4) Large and influential advocacy groups such as India’s Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) will support the position their government’s take even what that position is going to hurt the poor in the country. In a briefing titled ‘The final outcome of the Durban Conference on Climate Change’ the CSE provided its assessment:

Developed countries are committing themselves to reduce only 13 to 17 percent by the year 2020. This will lead the world to an increase in the temperature of more than four degrees Celsius. Photo: Orin Langelle/GJEP

“The Durban Conference is a turning point in the climate change negotiations as even though developing countries have won victories, these have come after much acrimony and fight. At Durban the world has agreed to urgent action, but now it is critical that this action to reduce emissions must be based on equity. India’s proposal on equity has been included in the work plan for the next conference. It is clear from this conference that the fight to reduce emissions effectively in an unequal world will be even more difficult in the years to come. But it is a conference which has put the issue of equity back into the negotiations. It is for this reason an important move ahead.”

But – COP17 saw no turning point, although India’s government and its media supporters are saying so at home. Developing countries have won no victories and the poor in those developing countries must bear the brunt of the environmental impacts of business as usual. There was no agreement to urgent action – in fact exactly the opposite. India has no proposal on equity – it has none at home and therefore none to offer any climate negotiations. There is no move ahead except for finance, carbon markets and tech transfer brokers.

That’s that, as I see it. Here is some material worth consulting to learn more about the ideas of equity and justice under the subject of climate change.

In Triple Crisis, Martin Khor wrote: “The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban ended on Sunday morning with the launch of negotiations for a new global climate deal to be completed in 2015. The new deal aims to ensure “the highest possible mitigation efforts by all Parties”, meaning that the countries should undertake deep Greenhouse Gas emissions cuts, or lower the growth rates of their emissions. It will take the form of either “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force”. In a night of high drama, the European Union tried to pressurize India and China to agree to commit to a legally binding treaty such as a protocol, and to agree to cancel the term “legal outcome” from the list of three possible results, as they said this was too weak an option.”

In Project Syndicate, Mary Robinson, a former President of Ireland, is President of the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town and a Nobel Peace Laureate, have written about climate justice:

“The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires at the end of 2012. So the European Union and the other Kyoto parties (the United States never ratified the agreement, and the Protocol’s terms asked little of China, India, and other emerging powers) must commit to a second commitment period, in order to ensure that this legal framework is maintained.”

“At the same time, all countries must acknowledge that extending the lifespan of the Kyoto Protocol will not solve the problem of climate change, and that a new or additional legal framework that covers all countries is needed. The Durban meeting must agree to initiate negotiations towards this end – with a view to concluding a new legal instrument by 2015 at the latest. All of this is not only possible, but also necessary, because the transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy makes economic, social, and environmental sense. The problem is that making it happen requires political will, which, unfortunately, seems in short supply. Climate change is a matter of justice. The richest countries caused the problem, but it is the world’s poorest who are already suffering from its effects. In Durban, the international community must commit to righting that wrong.”

Protesters block the halls at the Durban International Conference Centre, December 9, 2011. Photo: Earth Negotiations Bulletin

In Real Climate Economics, Frank Ackerman said about the USA: “While others are not blameless, the United States is the leader of the do-nothings, the country whose inaction ensures a global climate stalemate. As long as the world’s largest economy, with the largest cumulative emissions and the greatest resources to tackle the climate crisis, refuses to act, others are not likely to move forward on their own. Yet there is not a snowball’s chance in Texas that any significant climate policy will survive the current U.S. Congress. Thus the global failure to protect the earth’s climate can be traced back to the dysfunctional state of American politics. With the Republicans increasingly committed to science denial and the Democrats unable or unwilling to challenge them, climate policy is going nowhere.”

Several more points on subjects that have much to do with climate change.

On technology – “The technology discussions have been hijacked by industrialised countries speaking on behalf of their transnational corporations”, said Silvia Ribeiro from the international organisation ETC Group. Critique of monopoly patents on technologies and the environmental, social and cultural evaluation of technologies have been taken out of the Durban outcome. Without addressing these fundamental concerns, the new technology mechanism will merely be a global marketing arm to increase the profit of transnational corporations by selling dangerous technologies to countries of the South, such as nanotechnology, synthetic biology or geoengineering technologies.

On agriculture – “The only way forward for agriculture is to support agro-ecological solutions, and to keep agriculture out of the carbon market”, said Alberto Gomez, North American Coordinator for La Via Campesina, the world’s largest movement of peasant farmers. “Corporate agribusiness, through its social, economic and cultural model of production, is one of the principal causes of climate change and increased hunger. We therefore reject free trade agreements, association agreements and all forms of the application of intellectual property rights to life, current technological packages (agrochemicals, genetic modification) and those that offer false solutions (biofuels, nanotechnology and climate smart agriculture) that only exacerbate the current crisis.”

According to Pablo Solón, Bolivia’s former ambassador to the UN and Bolivia’s former chief negotiator on climate change, "The USA blackmails developing countries. They cut aid when a developing country raises its hands and does discourse against their proposals. This happened to Bolivia two years ago: after Copenhagen, they cut aid of $3 million." Photo: Petermann/GJEP-GFC

On REDD + and forest carbon projects – “REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation)+ threatens the survival of Indigenous peoples and forest-dependent communities. Mounting evidence shows that Indigenous peoples are being subjected to violations of their rights as a result of the implementation of REDD+-type programs and policies”, declared the Global Alliance of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities against REDD and for Life. Their statement, released during the first week of COP17, declares that “REDD+ and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) promote the privatisation and commodification of forests, trees and air through carbon markets and offsets from forests, soils, agriculture and could even include the oceans. We denounce carbon markets as a hypocrisy that will not stop global warming.”

On the green economy – “We need a climate fund that provides finance for peoples of developing countries that is fully independent from undemocratic institutions like the World Bank. The bank has a long track record of financing projects that exacerbate climate disruption and poverty”, said Lidy Nacpil of Jubilee South. “The fund is being hijacked by the rich countries, setting up the World Bank as interim trustee and providing direct access to money meant for developing countries to the private sector. It should be called the Greedy Corporate Fund!” Climate policy is making a radical shift towards the so-called “green economy”, dangerously reducing ethical commitments and historical responsibility to an economic calculation on cost-effectiveness, trade and investment opportunities. Mitigation and adaption should not be treated as a business nor have its financing conditioned by private sector and profit-oriented logic. Life is not for sale.

On climate debt – “Industrialised Northern countries are morally and legally obligated to repay their climate debt”, said Janet Redman, co-director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies. “Developed countries grew rich at the expense of the planet and the future all people by exploiting cheap coal and oil. They must pay for the resulting loss and damages, dramatically reduce emissions now, and financially support developing countries to shift to clean energy pathways.” Developed countries, in assuming their historical responsibility, must honour their climate debt in all its dimensions as the basis for a just, effective and scientific solution. The focus must not be only on financial compensation, but also on restorative justice, understood as the restitution of integrity to our Mother Earth and all its beings. We call on developed countries to commit themselves to action. Only this could perhaps rebuild the trust that has been broken and enable the process to move forward.

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