anjali appadurai’s speech is the best thing to come out of the #cop17 UN climate change conference in durban, not counting the ever-inspiring COY.
of course, most media channels are eager to cover ‘both sides’ and tell the story of those that call this ‘agreed outcome with legal force’ a success or a ‘historic deal to save the planet’. the problem is, that it’s not a success. reaching an agreement in the wee hours may feel like a successful end of the day, but in the big picture, this agreement was an utter failure for the future of our species. it’s increasingly difficult to imagine that we won’t look back on these times as the age of stupid.
essentially, what we have on the table is a new commitment period for the kyoto protocol (KP), the decision to establish a green climate fund to deal with the consequences of climate change (adaptation) without a clear strategy for its funding, and an agreement to continue talking about a legally binding treaty and hopefully settle by 2015 (and not 2020, as proposed by the US).
celebrating this as a success is reinterpreting the kyoto protocol. KP’s success was that it was the first international agreement of this kind. however its target of reducing emissions by 5.2% from 1990 levels by the year 2012 is not ambitious. admittedly, emissions would have kept on rising so 5.2% is more ambitious that it initially sounds. however, the deindustrialization in post-soviet systems after the 1990 led to an emissions reduction that had already taken place by the time KP was negotiated. not accounting for this created approx. 8-12 billion carbon credits (1 credit = 1 ton of CO2) worth absolutely nothing - usually referred to as ‘hot air’ because this reduction happened an. to put this amount of ‘hot air’ into perspective, the entire world’s emissions were just below 30 billion (2008). there are other examples of KP’s measures gone awry, such as HFC-23 projects accounting for more than half of the CDM credits. finally, the underlying logic of creating a market, applauded by economists, brought the wrong people to the table: greedy banksters who turned most of michelle chan’s ‘ten ways to game the carbon market’ warnings into reality, most notably the carousel fraud in the EU ETS.
so we shouldn’t be euphoric about the result that we’ll have a second commitment period of KP. perhaps it’s better than nothing, but it’s not much. it’s certainly not what science tells us we need to do, which is to get back to 350ppm of atmospheric carbon. we’re still on the path towards a 3-4 degree warmer world, which is where we might trigger runaway climate change. some argue, this agreement lock us in on this path, leaving ‘no room for increasing the depth of carbon cuts.’
common but differentiated responsibility
during the final showdown, the EU, india and china made passionate pledges for their positions. analyzing the diplomatic negotiations would go beyond my expertise, but i have a few opinions:
- it is absolutely critical that we have a legally binding treaty on climate change that includes developing nations. they need to develop, but they shouldn’t make our mistakes all over again, we don’t have the time or the resources for more mistakes.
- that said, it’s even more important that we uphold the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ (CBDR). we need a fair deal that allows countries to develop. climate policy mustn’t be used as economic hitman policy, and we need stop the bullying immediately (salerno’s fierce response after standing on the table when she was being ignored).
- the reason why the EU/US should take on a larger role in fighting climate change is plainly because it’s the ‘developed’ world that caused the problem, not china or india. scroll down this guardian article to see the list of historical emissions, in total and per capita. how dare we put this pressure on a country with a GDP per capita of approx. $1400 (US: $47,000 | EU: $32.000) that currently emits 1.4t per capita (US: 17.5t | EU: 10.5t)?
- an aspect i find too often overlooked is the outsourcing of emissions to developing nations. indeed, china is the world’s largest polluter in total figures, but it’s also the world’s factory. it’s producing for our consumption, something easily forgotten ever since china passed the US in total emissions when the media’s tone in describing china’s carbon emissions has become quite reproachful. however, they’re only consuming 3.1t per capita (india: 1.8t) while the US is consuming 29t! there’s an interesting list on the bottom of the guardian article.
future of the climate movement
so, as our political leaders have failed us yet again in the most important issue humanity has ever faced, where do we go from here? 2011 has shown the willingness of people to take their fate into their own hands (arab spring, spanish indignados, keystone XL protests, occupy wall street and everywhere), which is a very hopeful development for the future of humanity. for now, i’d like to end with kumi naidoo’s words:
do not accept when any of us say to you that young people are the leaders of tomorrow. you have to say ‘young people are the leaders of today, we are ready to lead now!’ and if adults are not prepared to provide the leadership, you should challenge us to get out of the way and you have to step up forward and bring a new vision.
[UPDATE: check out 350.org’s coverage on the activist movement in durban]