Will 2013 witness worsened climate change? Without doubt, thanks in part to the pathetic performance of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), whose 18th Conference of the Parties was held in the feudal Qatari regime’s capital Doha last month.
Making oil tycoon Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah the chair and carbon trader Christiana Figueres the main UN official personified the summit’s failure to address climate and instead promote the agenda of polluters and profiteers.
Even so, climate-management contradictions are so extreme that the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme and a few other experiments can only crash further in 2013 as a result of the negotiators’ failure to undergird market demand with emissions cuts.
Doha was hobbled by our own COP17’s Durban Platform, an utterly useless document when it comes to binding emissions cuts or raising finance required for renewable energy, public transport, fossil-free agriculture and production, zero-waste disposal and all the other economic rebooting that civilisation desperately needs this century.
As usual, Washington came to Doha to sabotage a genuine climate solution, and as usual, succeeded with its primary objective, to prevent making binding emissions cuts notwithstanding Barack Obama’s post-election climate confession. It was especially evident when poor countries raised the prospect of ‘Loss and Damage’ bills on the scale of Superstorm Sandy, which wrecked roughly $60 billion worth of US property overnight last November.
As sea-level rise inundates the Bangladesh coast and small islands, as glaciers in the Andes and Himalayas melt, as African soil dries and crops burn, there will be similar–sized bills in the non-industrialised world, broached by Pakistan’s one-third flooding in 2010, for example, or huge storms that devastated Thailand, Cambodia and El Salvador in 2011. During the Doha summit, the Philippines was hit by a typhoon, leaving 500 dead and 300,000 displaced.
But dare suggest that the ‘climate debt’ from these disasters be paid in part by the United States – using what should be the uncontroversial ‘polluter pays’ principle – and you get this response from Stern: ‘I will block this. I will shut this down.’
Stern’s ruthless defence of US interests included watering down liability language and ensuring that the World Court will not soon have an opportunity to provide an Advisory Opinion.
Stern also backtracked on $100 billion/year Green Climate Fund commitments his boss Hillary Clinton had made in Copenhagen three years earlier.
What is most urgently needed is a mechanism to pay the climate debt directly to the victims of climate chaos instead of to corrupt bureaucracies and aid agencies, such as a Basic Income Grant mechanism – but that will require more visionary strategies to change power and financial flows than are currently available.
In addition, China has become a useful idiot for Northern emissions-cutting claims, simply because since the 1997 deal was cut in Kyoto, East Asia won a substantial shift in industrial production that once took place in the rich economies.
In ramping up emissions dramatically the past dozen years, the Chinese are conjoined with the other large emerging countries – Brazil, India and South Africa (together known as BASIC) – which in 2009 signed the Copenhagen Accord offered by Obama.
Some rich countries still argue for a great role for carbon markets, even during the week that this ‘false solution’ generated further criminal investigations into fraud, involving even Deutsche Bank. For years, the EU’s scheme and the UN Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) have been unable to shake the reputation of giant casinos based on the ‘privatisation of the air’.
But like many financial casinos, the carbon markets continue to fail the free-marketeers. Because Japan and New Zealand don’t have legally binding targets, they are restricted from purchasing carbon credits, which shrinks demand even further in coming months.
Although extending the Kyoto Protocol until 2020 provides a renewed fiction that carbon markets generate emissions cuts, the markets are effectively dead, especially those that support Third World trading in the CDM and similar offset strategies for forests.
‘Nations dodged a chance to agree several measures that could have lifted rock-bottom demand for UN-backed carbon offsets,’ reported Reuters Point Carbon. ‘The value of the credits they generate has plunged 95 percent in four years to well below 1 euro, crushing profits that investors count on to set up the carbon-cutting schemes… The Doha talks failed to pave the way for billions of dollars to be invested in projects to cut carbon emissions.’
In other words, if you are honest and of the belief that climate catastrophies are market problems – externalities – that simply need market solutions to ‘get the prices right’ and assure clear price incentives, your faith in the global negotiators at the COPS ‘Conference of Polluters’ has evaporated.
All the rest of us had already realized that processes of elite management of world financial and ecological crises amount to little more than pushing the bubble around – and that renewed climate justice movement from below is the only hope.
Patrick Bond directs the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society, and authored the UKZN Press book Politics of Climate Justice: Paralysis Above, Movement Below.