Monday, 23 January 2012

Disastrous Durban: a post-COP review.

The Durban outcome. COP17 failed the world… as expected.

Ahead of the COP, African Ministers met in Bamako and agreed that, to save the world, we need to limit temperature increase to well below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels; that the major historical polluters (AKA the rich Northern countries) must reduce their emissions by at least 40 percent by 2017, and that they must make new and additional public finances available to Southern countries to enable the urgent actions needed to save peoples’ lives and the environment.

In Brussels, while the COP was in session, Europe’s leaders patched agreement after agreement in a desperate attempt to avoid the economic depression into which their devotion to ‘the market’ has led them. In Durban, the world’s leaders went into extra time on the climate negotiations but the deal done there merely confirms that severe and prolonged global depression presents the best hope that global carbon emissions will be reduced at the scale required to avoid escalating the already dangerous climate crisis.

It may be recalled that, during the first round of the depression in 2008-2009, the national states made some $13 trillion available to bail ‘the market’ – effectively defined by a core group of just 147 corporations – from the consequences of its insatiable greed. Since the national states assumed the costs of market failure, ‘the market’ now insists that these costs are passed onto the people. The citizens of the weakest countries in the Euro-zone are the first in line for the austerity treatment demanded by ‘the market’.

Throughout the process of climate negotiations, national states have represented their respective interests in the global accumulation of capital. The USA in particular has ensured that there will be no deal that jeopardises corporate power. The Durban session clarified, if clarity was needed, that it will not under any circumstance agree to any binding obligation to reduce carbon. Not now, not ever. Nor will it agree to pay more than a token amount into any climate fund. It will instead use China as a scapegoat for its own refusal to act.

The ‘Durban Platform’ opens a new negotiating track within the climate negotiations. This is to develop some form of new agreement with obligations applicable to all parties. This initiative, proposed by the EU and supported by the South African hosts who wanted a result with brand value, is meaningless. As it has been in the past, the condition for agreement is that it should be ineffective in addressing climate change.

The costs of inaction will be severe. The poor will be hit first, the people of Africa and of the drowning islands will be hit first, but ultimately all will perish. The people of the world must consider whether the short-term interest of the ruling corporate and state elites is worth it and, if not, what they can do about it.

It is of particular concern to groundWork that the South African state enabled and then justified the use of informal violence against legitimate protest. On the first occasion, official Durban City ‘volunteers’ – who were in fact paid to be there – joined the people’s march organised for the Global Day of Action on December 3rd. They responded with violence to protesters who denounced the record of Jacob Zuma’s presidency. Five days later, at an open meeting with President Zuma in the Durban City Hall, the City volunteers attacked people holding posters which called on South Africa to stand firm with the African Bamako position. President Zuma did nothing to intervene and city officials later justified their volunteers’ actions.

Without a very radical change of policies, more people will suffer growing distress in consequence of both economic depression and climate change. And more people will come onto the streets to denounce policies which protect the rich at their expense. It appears that the state used the COP to rehearse violent responses to even the mildest forms of dissent. Parallel with this rehearsal, the Secrecy Bill and the Weather Bill are respectively designed to close down people’s access to information and their right to free speech on pollution and weather incidents.

We believe that South Africans who are concerned with environmental justice, with climate justice or even with the physical survival of people on earth must defend and expand on these freedoms which are essential to their capacity for action. 

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