||Durban appears as a central site from which to fight climate injustice, as major SA environmental groups greenwash firms addicted to fossil fuels
THERE are crucial moments when dividing-and-conquering a pliable civil
society occurs far too easily, and just such a moment has arrived here
in Copenhagen, as the UN climate summit begins.
With outright climate denialism now passť (notwithstanding scandalous
e-mail traffic between numbskull University of East Anglia researchers),
more sophisticated ways have emerged for polluting corporations and
states to maintain business as usual.
Usefully for those addicted to fossil fuels, a few green agencies are
making common cause with polluters and governments. They endorse the Cap
and Trade carbon trading strategy allegedly meant to lower greenhouse
gases - even though the European Union's pilot Emissions Trading Scheme
has conclusively failed. Sadly, two local groups are also greenwashing
SA firms addicted to fossil fuels - including metals smelters and mining
houses desperate for more cheap, coal-fired electricity - plus Pretoria
politicians like Environment Minister Buyelwa Sonjica.
Science requires a steady reduction of greenhouse gas emissions at the
world scale, starting now and reaching a 45 percent decline by 2020.
Given the vast waste in the world economy, that's not an unreasonable
figure to shoot for in the North; the US Environmental Protection Agency
could begin immediately, by all accounts.
But the same is true in the most egregious emerging market economies
whose growth strategies have stunted genuine development in favour of
carbon-intensive exports. SA is a case in point.
Look in the mirror and let's be frank: we're one of the world's ugliest,
meanest carbon tsotsis. It's not only because of our extreme social
inequality, which limits adequate, affordable electricity access to the
wealthiest, but even more so due to the metals and mining houses which
use an inordinate share of the world's cheapest electricity. Eskom's CO2
emissions are many times worse per unit of per capita economic output
than even the United States, that great climate satan.
Why? Shady, decades-long deals done during apartheid are still in place,
providing Anglo, Arcelor Mittal, BHP Billiton and their ilk with huge
profits, which they export to London and Melbourne - in the process
worsening SA's extreme balance of payments deficit and driving the
electricity price for the rest of us skyhigh.
As a result, deputy Transport Minister Jeremy Cronin last month
suggested phasing out aluminium smelters to lower both emissions and
Eskom tariff hikes. In early 2008 Standard Bank chairman Derek Cooper
advocated cutting the smelters' power source to avoid brownouts.
The new social movement, Climate Justice Now (CJN), also calls for
immediate reductions and a policy of keeping fossil fuels like oil in
the soil, and coal in the hole. And CJN's members in Earthlife Africa
were instrumental in defeating Sasol's carbon trading strategy earlier
in 2009, and in making Sasol a leading candidate for the mock prize of
most obnoxious polluter to be found lobbying here in Copenhagen (the
Angry Mermaid award, named after the famous harbour statue).
In contrast, the most visible and well-resourced NGO, the World Wildlife
Fund (WWF), is tightly allied with Pretoria's obscure Long Term
Mitigation Scenario, which its staff helped draft during the reign of
environment minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk. His successor, Sonjica,
has apparently rejected Cronin's wise counsel in order to maintain Van
Schalkwyk's destructive trajectory: SA's emissions will rise until 2025,
thanks mainly to two huge new coal-fired power plants, plateau for a
decade and then decline from 2035, as she confirmed in a speech last month.
Sonjica added: Without financial and technology support, it will not be
possible to do more than what we are already doing. This is nonsense,
of course (as Cronin shows in an Umsebenzi article), and reflects mainly
the agenda of the big vested interests which donate funds to the ruling
party and its BEE buddies.
More optimistically, recall that 18 months ago, Sonjica - then mining
minister - initially backed the Australian titanium grab in the Wild
Coast's Xolobeni dunes, but community resistance forced her to U-turn,
suggesting there may be flexibility under pressure.
Tragically, however, former environmental activist Peter Lukey - now
Sonjica's main climate spokesman - defends Pretoria's irresponsible
Copenhagen stance on etv's Big Debate climate show. The WWF terms
Sonjica's head-in-the-sand posture very progressive. Likewise, another
SA civil society group in which WWF is dominant, Climate Action Network,
has endorsed another six years of rising emissions.
The WWF is playing a role reminiscent of the 1990s scandal in which oil
behemoth Chevron trashed Papua New Guinea's fragile Lake Kutubu. When
local residents opposed the oil company's ecological and cultural
destruction, WWF took a $3 million Chevron contract for an Integrated
Conservation and Development Project.
In exchange, Chevron viewed WWF as indispensable for spin-doctoring
efforts to control media and interest groups, specifically Greenpeace.
In the event of an oil spill, wrote a Chevron official, WWF will act as
a buffer for the joint venture against environmentally damaging
activities in the region, and against international environmental
Price to pay
But there is a price for this behaviour. For example, last month, 80
environmental and indigenous people's organisations attacked
WWF-certified palm oil projects for dislocation of local populations'
livelihoods, destruction of rainforests and peat lands, pollution of
soils and water, and contribution to global warming.
And in Geneva last week, dozens more activists from across the globe
demonstrated at the group's international headquarters. According to
protester Michelle Pressend of the church-based Economic Justice Network
in Cape Town, they demanded an end to WWF's promotion of genetically
modified soya, to its Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil - a
contradiction in terms - and to counterproductive Latin American carbon
trading and other market-based climate strategies.
In part because WWF and market-friendly environmentalists support carbon
trading, others in civil society have redoubled their efforts against
this US/EU strategy. Last Tuesday, Climate Justice Now! and the Durban
Group for Climate Justice launched a 10-minute film,
http://www.storyofcapandtrade.org, and within six days recorded nearly
100 000 downloads.
Durban appears as a central site from which to fight climate injustice,
I can tell you from Copenhagen. The social justice internationalism -
mistakenly called the anti-globalisation movement - that increased in
earnest at the Seattle protest against free trade exactly 10 years ago
is nothing without the linkages made by the Durban groups.
As in the case of Aids treatment activism, civil society again shows
that thinking globally and acting locally are much more than a
bumper-sticker slogan. Without that combination, we will lose this vital
battle over our planet's future to the polluters, their paid
politicians, and a few greenwashing NGOs.
# Patrick Bond directs the Centre for Civil Society, and with Rehana Dada and Graham Erion he co-edited the book Climate Change, Civil Society and Carbon Trading (UKZN Press, 2009).