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It’s time to permanently retire the UN climate circus

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‘World on Fire’ by Spiros Derveniotis, courtesy Cartoon Movement,

‘World on Fire’ by Spiros Derveniotis, courtesy Cartoon Movement,

This year’s ritual of talking about climate and talking about the effects of changing climates has begun. This is the 21st year that this is being done, and in none of the previous 20 years have the talkers achieved any worthwhile goal. They will not this year either, although much money will be spent on slick and colourful messages to convince the publics of 196 countries otherwise.

On 1 June the Bonn Climate Change Conference June 2015 began. The actors at this conference are mainly from the same cast that has played these roles for 20 years. They have been replaced here and there, and overall the main cast and supporting casts have grown in number – I think this growth in the number of climate negotiators and climate experts matches the growth rate of parts per million of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, there may be a correlation that can inspire a new discipline of research.

These conferences are expensive, for thousands of people are involved. Most of these people profess to be concerned about climate change and its effects and most of these people maintain curriculum vitaes that are tomes designed to awe and impress, usually with the purpose of securing well-paid consultancies or academic tenureships or some such similar lucrative sinecures. It is an industry, this negotiating climate change, whose own rates of growth are about as steep as the number of those, in the OECD countries, who fall into debt. As before, there may be interesting correlations to note.

The soundbite, big data and cool vector graphics world of UNFCCC climate negotiation pretense has gone on for far too long.

The soundbite, big data and cool vector graphics world of UNFCCC climate negotiation pretense has gone on for far too long.

The publics of the 196 countries that are constrained to send emissaries and observers and negotiators to these colossal jamborees have been lied to for 20 years quite successfully, and this 21st year we will see the lies repeated and presented all wrapped up in new tinsel. Many of these countries – from south-eastern and central Europe, from small island states in the Pacific and Indian oceans, from the Caribbean, from South America and from South-East Asia – pay for the useless privilege of sending representatives to attend this annual round of sophisticated tomfoolery. It is money down the drain for them.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) under whose aegis most of these jamborees are held, and in whose august name most of the hollow but portentous pronouncements are ritually made, is an organisation that is over the hill, round the bend and up the wall. It represents today nothing that is in the interest of the public and it represents today almost everything that is in the interest of the corporate plutocracy, whether global or regional or national.

A 21st edition of annual obfuscation by the UNFCCC and its crony institutions.

A 21st edition of annual obfuscation by the UNFCCC and its crony institutions.

Unembarrassed by its own hopelessly prodigal existence, the UNFCCC lines up ‘technical expert meetings’ month after month to produce suitably technical papers that would fill libraries, if they were printed. It arranges conclaves in expensive locales (all sponsored naturally) to gauge ‘mitigation ambition of countries through multilateral assessment’. It commissions extensive reviews of the adequacy of countries’ agreed goals to keep the global average temperature from rising beyond 2°C above pre-industrial levels and the abundantly-qualified authors of these reviews (which read very much like the reviews of 2014, 2013, 2012 and so on) self-importantly inform us that “the world is not yet on track to achieve the long-term global goal, but successful mitigation policies are known and must be scaled up urgently”, just as their predecessors did 20 years ago.

The main UNFCCC cast and its supporting cast (of thousands, but these thousands alas do not form the geographic representation that the United Nations system pretends to) spend days together at preparatory conferences and meetings, and pre-preparatory conferences and meetings, and agenda-setting conferences and meetings, and theme-outlining conferences and meetings, all year round. From somewhere within this flurry of busy nothingness they announce (perhaps on the days before the solstices and following the equinoxes) that new breakthroughs have been made in the negotiating text and that consensus is nigh.

This has gone on far too long. Twenty years ago, when this great obfuscation began, there were some 1.83 billion children (under 14 years old) in the world. Today they are at ages where they are finishing primary school, have begun working (many of them in informal, insecure, hazardous jobs whose paltry wages keep families alive) and a few are completing university degrees. Some of this 1.83 billion may have an interest in what climate is and why it changes but for them, the techno-financial labyrinths invented by the UNFCCC and its comfortable nest of crony institutions offer no enlightenment. For those young women and men, the cancerous industry of climate change negotiations has done nothing to ensure, during their lifetimes till now, any reduction in the exploitation and use of materials whose first and primary effect is to degrade the nature upon which we all depend. [This article has also been posted on the India Climate Portal.]


No Shri Javadekar, India won’t gamble with carbon

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Coal will account for much of India's energy for another generation. How does the BJP calculate its 'value' at international climate talks? Image: PTI/Deccan Chronicle

Coal will account for much of India’s energy for another generation. How does the BJP calculate its ‘value’ at international climate talks? Image: PTI/Deccan Chronicle

There is a message New Delhi’s top bureaucrats must listen to and understand, for it is they who advise the ministers. The message has to do with climate change and India’s responsibilities, within our country and outside it. This is the substance of the message:

1. The Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government must stop treating the factors that contribute to climate change as commodities that can be bartered or traded. This has been the attitude of this government since it was formed in May 2014 – an attitude that says, in sum, ‘we will pursue whatever GDP goals we like and never mind the climate cost’, and that if such a pursuit is not to the liking of the Western industrialised world, India must be compensated.

2. Rising GDP is not the measure of a country and it is not the measure of India and Bharat. The consequences of pursuing rising GDP (which does not mean better overall incomes or better standards of living) have been plain to see for the better part of 25 years since the process of liberalisation began. Some of these consequences are visible in the form of a degraded natural environment, cities choked in pollution, the rapid rise of non-communicable diseases, the economic displacement of large rural populations. All these consequences have dimensions that deepen the impacts of climate change within our country.

3. There are no ‘terms of trade’ concerning climate change and its factors. There is no deal to jockey for in climate negotiations between a narrow and outdated idea of GDP-centred ‘development’ and monetary compensation. The government of India is not a broking agency to bet a carbon-intensive future for India against the willingness of Western countries to pay in order to halt such a future. This is not a carbon casino and the NDA-BJP government must immediately stop behaving as if it is.

RG_coal_201503_1The environment minister, Prakash Javadekar, has twice in March 2015 said exactly this: we will go ahead and pollute all we like in the pursuit of our GDP dream – but if you (world) prefer us not to, give us lots of money as compensation. Such an attitude and such statements are to be condemned. That Javadekar has made such a statement is bad enough, but I find it deeply worrying that a statement like this may reflect a view within the NDA-BJP government that all levers of governance are in fact monetary ones that can be bet, like commodities can, against political positions at home and abroad. If so, this is a very serious error being made by the central government and its advisers.

Javadekar has most recently made this stand clear in an interview with a foreign news agency. In this interview (which was published on 26 March 2015), Javadekar is reported to have said: “The world has to decide what they want. Every climate action has a cost.” Worse still, Javadekar said India’s government is considering the presentation of a deal – one set of commitments based on internal funding to control emissions, and a second set, with deeper emissions cuts, funded by foreign money.

Earlier in March, during the Fifteenth Session of the African Ministerial Conference on Environment (in Cairo, Egypt), Javadekar had said: “There has to be equitable sharing of the carbon space. The developed world which has occupied large carbon space today must vacate the space to accommodate developing and emerging economies.” He also said: “The right to development has to be respected while collectively moving towards greener growth trajectory.”

Such statements are by themselves alarming. If they also represent a more widespread view within the Indian government that the consequences of the country following a ‘development’ path can be parleyed into large sums of money, then it indicates a much more serious problem. The UNFCCC-led climate change negotiations are infirm, riddled with contradictions, a hotbed of international politics and are manipulated by finance and technology lobbies.

RG_coal_201503_2It remains on paper an inter-governmental arrangement and it is one that India is a part of and party to. Under such circumstances, our country must do all it can to uphold moral action and thinking that is grounded in social and environmental justice. The so-called Annex 1 countries have all failed to do so, and instead have used the UNFCCC and all its associated mechanisms as tools to further industry and foreign policy interests.

It is not in India’s nature and it is not in India’s character to to the same, but Javadekar’s statement and the government of India’s approach – now made visible by this statement – threatens to place it in the same group of countries. This is a crass misrepresentation of India. According to the available data, India in 2013 emitted 2,407 million tons of CO2 (the third largest emitter behind the USA and China). In our South Asian region, this is 8.9 times the combined emissions of our eight neighbours (Pakistan, 165; Bangladesh, 65; Sri Lanka, 15; Myanmar, 10; Afghanistan, 9.4; Nepal, 4.3; Maldives, 1.3; Bhutan, 0.7).

When we speak internationally of being responsible we must first be responsible at home and to our neighbours. Javadekar’s is an irresponsible statement, and is grossly so. Future emissions are not and must never be treated as or suggested as being a futures commodity that can attract a money premium. Nor is it a bargaining chip in a carbon casino world. The government of India must clearly and plainly retract these statements immediately.

Note – according to the UNFCCC documentation, “India communicated that it will endeavour to reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 20-25 per cent by 2020 compared with the 2005 level. It added that emissions from the agriculture sector would not form part of the assessment of its emissions intensity.”

“India stated that the proposed domestic actions are voluntary in nature and will not have a legally binding character. It added that these actions will be implemented in accordance with the provisions of relevant national legislation and policies, as well as the principles and provisions of the Convention.”

The four degree doom

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Conducted by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and Climate Analytics in Berlin, the report, ‘Turn Down The Heat’, released this month just before the next round of climate change negotiations begin in Doha, Qatar, discusses bluntly the frightening risks of a future without climate policy.

There are several sharp and extremely urgent messages for politicians and policy-makers alike in the Potsdam report. Politicians, whether in the OECD countries or in the BRICS or in the G20, have proven themselves time and again, year after year, to favour the enrichment of themselves and their constituencies over any consideration of a shared planet and a cooperative future. What do we have left? Policy-makers, bureaucrats, NGO and community representatives and hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens in our countries, and so it becomes necessary that these are the people who read and digest what Potsdam has had to say.

What does the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics have to say? “Humankind’s emissions of greenhouse gases are breaking new records every year. Hence we’re on a path towards 4-degree global warming probably as soon as by the end of this century. This would mean a world of risks beyond the experience of our civilisation – including heat waves, especially in the tropics, a sea-level rise affecting hundreds of millions of people, and regional yield failures impacting global food security.”

As usual, it is the poorest in the world are those that will be hit hardest, the researchers conclude, making development without climate policy almost impossible. But we have to ask – how possible is it with the current apology of climate policy? What is popularly called the “global community” by the world’s mainstream media (most of which is owned by corporations, politicians or both) is considered to have committed to holding warming below 2°C to prevent “dangerous” climate change. This is rubbish, and the Potsdam report all but says so: “The sum total of current policies – in place and pledged – will very likely lead to warming far in excess of this level. Indeed, present emission trends put the world plausibly on a path toward 4°C warming within this century.”

The increase in total ocean heat content from the surface to 2000 m, based on running five-year analyses. Reference period is 1955–2006. The black line shows the increasing heat content at depth (700 to 2000 m), illustrating a significant and rising trend, while most of the heat remains in the top 700 m of the ocean. Vertical bars and shaded area represent +/–2 standard deviations about the five-year estimate for respective depths. Chart: Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)

As I am intimately concerned with agriculture and food and therefore the effects of a changing climate upon them, I turned to that section of the ‘Turn Down The Heat’ report (get the pdf here). The Potsdam researchers said that projections for food and agriculture over the 21st century indicate substantial challenges irrespective of climate change. They added: “As early as 2050, the world’s population is expected to reach about 9 billion people and demand for food is expected to increase accordingly.”

Here I found the first problem, and that indicated yet again that the climate scientists are good at modelling climate, but bad at understanding how the food system (not the natural one, the corporate one) actually works. What is more correct in my view is that primary agricultural produce at current levels is enough to feed a growing population for the next two generations provided (1) food crops such as maize are not grown to provide biofuel, (2) meat in all its hideous factory-farmed forms is drastically reduced in all agro-ecological regions, (3) the huge inventories held by the regional and global food processing and food retail industries are drastically cut down (that their businesses are shut down).

The Potsdam report continued that “based on the observed relationship between per capita GDP and per capita demand for crop calories (human consumption, feed crops, fish production and losses during food production)” it is reasonable (from the evidence it cites) to “project a global increase in the demand for crops by about 100 percent from 2005 to 2050”. It mentions “other estimates for the same period project a 70 percent increase of demand” and that “several projections suggest that global cereal and livestock production may need to increase by between 60 and 100 percent to 2050, depending on the warming scenario”.

Here I found the second problem. What is meant by these expert reports when they talk about the relationship between per capita GDP and per capita demand for crop calories? Beyond a localised recommended daily dietary allowance designed to provide proper nutrition, extra consumption of food calories (and protein and fats and sugar and micro-nutrients) can no longer be seen as expected to rise in parallel with rising income (where is income rising in real terms anyway, my thermometric friends, other than for the 1% who are causing most of this trouble in the first place?). The reform of diet and the return of local slow food is the answer to those complex, altogether unnecessary equations that posit 40%, 50%, 70% or 100% increases in food production over X, Y or Z years.

Then, the Potsdam report goes on to say that “the historical context can on the one hand provide reassurance that despite growing population, food production has been able to increase to keep pace with demand and that despite occasional fluctuations, food prices generally stabilise or decrease in real terms”.

Here I found the third problem and it is, as the more laid-back of Americans tend to say, it’s a doozy. What’s the historical context? Is it the Green Revolution by any chance? Is it the mutation of hybrid agri into bio-tech agri? Considering that the climate scientists are the ones who are very familiar with the gases now crowding our atmosphere, have they not made the connection between industrial, synthetic, high-external input agriculture and the nitrification of the atmosphere they’re so good at measuring? I’ll bet they are, so how can they point to the relentless growth of primary crop tonnage as a “reassurance” when it’s in fact the opposite?

That’s my quick reaction to the food growth part of what they have said. As for “food prices generally stabilise or decrease in real terms”, clearly they don’t consult even the mild-mannered FAO food price index, which has entered in 2012 November yet another month of its high plateau which makes it the longest sustained maintenance of elevated food price index since it began. The climate scientists are good at climate, but they surely need a crash course in understanding how the corporations and their patrons, those pesky politicians who are preparing for another jaw-jaw in Doha, exploit climate change for profit, and that includes making an extra penny out of a kilo of wheat flour, never mind the weather outside.

Written by makanaka

November 24, 2012 at 17:05

Occupy, pepper spray, democracy and the cop meme

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Occupy has led to an outburst of creativity. One example is the many photos circulated on the internet showing the cop who pepper sprayed non-violent students at a California campus superimposed on works of art and other pictures, pepper spraying the people picnicking in a Seurat painting, pepper spraying the members of the Constitutional Convention and so forth. It was American Police Lieutenant John Pike who pepper-sprayed the students at the University of California Davis on November 18th, 2011. Here’s a gallery of the casually pepper spraying cop.


Written by makanaka

December 12, 2011 at 17:40