Climate Conference Ends In Farce
UN-sponsored climate change conference held on the Indonesian island
of Bali ended on the weekend without any agreement on combatting global
warming other than vague generalities. A last-minute, face-saving communiqué
was issued but, at the insistence of the Bush administration and its
allies, it made no mention of specific carbon emission reduction targets.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had
recommended a cut in carbon emissions of 25 to 40 percent in the advanced
industrial countries by 2020 and a total world emissions reduction of
50 percent by 2050.
10,000 delegates, lobbyists, scientists and bureaucrats from 180 countries
participated in the Bali conference. The event was the first of a series
of international summits scheduled over the next two years, which are
to determine a successor agreement to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol due to
expire in 2012. All of those present paid lip service to the need for
concerted action to avert a global environmental calamity, but each
national delegation was primarily concerned to defend its own narrow
between the major powers dominated the conference. The European powers,
together with China, India and other emerging industrial countries,
pressed for the inclusion of a reference to the IPCC emission targets
in the final statement. The Bush administration—which never ratified
Kyoto and has adamantly refused to agree to binding carbon cuts—led
a bloc of countries including Japan, Canada, and Australia, which rejected
this and also demanded that so-called developing countries be issued
emission targets. (These countries are currently exempt under Kyoto.)
In the end,
the Bali statement attempted to fudge all the disputed issues. After
acknowledging that evidence of climate change was “unequivocal”
and that “deep cuts in global emissions will be required”,
conference delegates endorsed “quantified emission limitation
and reduction objectives” for developed countries without specifying
any targets. The question of whether undeveloped economies would be
assigned emissions targets was similarly left unanswered. Delegates
agreed that “nationally appropriate mitigation actions”
should be developed for China, India, Brazil and the other emerging
industrial countries, “supported by technology and enabled by
financing and capacity-building”. Exactly what will be done—particularly
relating to the transfer of technology and finance from the advanced
capitalist countries—remains unclear and is subject to further
negotiation between the participating countries.
very limited statement was in doubt. The conference was supposed to
finish on Friday, but in the absence of an agreement, the reportedly
acrimonious talks continued well into the weekend. Only after all reference
to specific emissions targets was dropped did Washington sign on. Even
at the last minute, US delegates threatened to halt everything because
they were dissatisfied with a minor amendment included by India regarding
the transfer of “green” technologies to developing countries.
Other delegates loudly booed the American team, which then withdrew
its opposition to the amendment in the face of this hostility.
of the US and international media presented the decision as a significant
shift and even a “u-turn” on Washington’s part. Several
members of the European delegation claimed the final communiqué
was a victory on the grounds that the Bush administration signed on
to the “road map” that would lead to a new agreement. Nothing
could be further from the truth. Shortly after the end of the conference,
the White House released a statement that reiterated Bush’s long
standing positions and made clear that the Bali statement changed nothing.
scientists expressed disappointment with the outcome. “We could
have moved on from here with a confident range of future cuts,”
the University of Washington’s Andrew Light told the New York
Times. “Instead we have to move on with the same continued uncertainty.
At the beginning of the week I was really heartened by the public praise
the US delegation was giving to the IPCC and now I can’t help
but think, was it all lip service?”
Grenada’s UN ambassador and chair of the Alliance of Small Islands,
said: “We are ending up with something so watered-down there was
no need for 12,000 people to gather here in Bali. We could have done
that by email.” The Alliance of Small Islands is a grouping of
low-lying island nations that face inundation from rising sea levels.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had earlier issued clear cut
warnings of the grave and immediate threat posed by global warming.
More than 200 climate scientists involved in the IPCC research issued
an open letter to the Bali delegates pleading for urgent action. “The
amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere now far exceeds the natural
range of the past 650,000 years, and it is rising very quickly due to
human activity,” the letter explained. “If this trend is
not halted soon, many millions of people will be at risk from extreme
events such as heat waves, drought, floods and storms, our coasts will
be threatened by rising sea levels, and many ecosystems, plants and
animal species will be in serious danger of extinction.”
The European powers and the international carbon industry
has again drawn international condemnation for its position on climate
change. Ever since coming to office, the Bush administration has sought
to protect the interests of its close allies in the US oil industry
by playing down the scientific evidence for climate change and refusing
to ratify the Kyoto protocol. American intransigence has allowed the
European powers to posture as serious advocates for the world’s
environment. However, the stance of Europeans is driven just as much
by short-term economic self-interest.
The EU based
its preferred targets on the IPCC report, which itself is outdated,
relying on an assessment of scientific studies published only up to
mid-2006. Additional evidence released in recent months indicates that
climate change is far more advanced than was previously realised and
requires far greater emissions cuts. Greenhouse gas emissions are rising
faster than even the worst-case IPCC scenarios forecast. While carbon
dioxide emissions increased by 1.1 percent a year from 1990-1999, they
grew by more than 3 percent from 2000 to 2004. This enormous increase,
which testifies to the failure of the Kyoto Protocol to address the
climate change crisis, threatens to trigger irreversible climate change
One of these
potential multipliers is the melting of the Arctic ice cap, which is
proceeding far more rapidly than the IPCC realised. Scientists this
week warned that Arctic ice could completely melt during summer as soon
as 2013. Recent studies have established that the melting of the polar
ice caps is not a gradual, linear process but instead flips from one
state to another as temperature increases lead to a qualitative transformation
in the structure of polar ice sheets. Scientists from NASA, Colombia
University and the University of California published a paper in May
showing that when temperatures rose to 2-3 degrees Celsius above today’s
level, 3.5 million years ago, sea levels rose by 25 metres. The study
concluded by warning that the Earth was in “imminent peril”
and stated that without major emissions cuts, “devastating sea-level
rise will inevitably occur”. This process, should it ever occur,
will only compound the problem of global warming. An absence of polar
ice means that heat previously reflected back into space will be absorbed
by the world’s earth and oceans, leading to a cycle of further
heat absorption and warming.
level of emission cuts required to prevent dangerous global warming
is not known. One scientific study published this year in the Geophysical
Research Letters journal concluded that even with a 90 percent cut in
global emissions by 2050, the generally agreed threshold of tolerable
global warming—a 2 degree Celsius rise above pre-industrial level—would
eventually be broken. Some scientists have warned that what is required
is nothing less than the immediate transition to a “decarbonised”
None of the
major delegations to the Bali conference raised this possibility. That
the European powers stuck with the outdated emission reduction recommendations
points to the fact that their position was not driven by genuine concern
for the environment. Their real agenda is that of securing the long-term
future of the $US30 billion Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and maintaining
Europe’s domination of the world carbon commodity trade.
A joint communiqué
issued by more than 150 mostly British and European companies before
the Bali conference underscored the enormous economic interests at stake.
The statement—signed by executives of companies including Shell,
Allianz, HSBC Bank, KPMG, British Airways and Lloyds Bank—demanded
the establishment of emission reduction targets, including a 50 percent
cut by 2050. The “shift to a low-carbon economy will create significant
business opportunities,” the corporate chiefs declared. “New
markets for low carbon technologies and products, worth billions of
dollars, will be created if the world acts on the scale required ...
we believe that tackling climate change is the pro-growth strategy.”
ETS has emerged as the most lucrative of all the so-called free market
mechanisms developed through the Kyoto Protocol. The ETS has done nothing
to significantly reduce emissions in Europe, but it has spawned an enormous
international market in carbon investment and speculation. Carbon trading
involves businesses being allocated emissions “credits”
which can be sold to other corporate polluters if their carbon output
falls under their allotted “cap”. All the world’s
leading banks and financial institutions are now involved in various
forms of carbon investment and speculation.
than $US60 billion changed hands in the global carbon market this year,
double the trade of last year and up from just $US400 million three
years ago,” an article in last Saturday’s Sydney Morning
Herald titled “Bali’s Business Bonanza” explained.
“Analysts estimate the market could be worth $US1 trillion within
the next 10 years. By 2030, according to some carbon bulls, it may even
be the biggest commodity market in the world, overtaking crude oil.”
market has rapidly developed into a vast international racket, with
an array of subsidiary corporate industries and services. Their representatives
played a prominent role in the Bali discussions. The largest single
lobby group at the conference was the International Emissions Trading
Association, which constituted 7.5 percent of the nearly 4,500 registered
non-governmental organisation delegates. More than twice as many carbon
trading operatives were present than representatives for the World Wide
Fund for Nature and Greenpeace combined.
trading industry received a major boost through the Bali conference,
primarily due to the efforts of the EU delegation. In one of the few
concrete measures agreed at the meeting, deforestation will now be tied
to the European ETS. A new scheme known as “reducing emissions
from deforestation and forest degradation” (REDD) will allow Europe’s
corporate polluters to maintain existing operations, even if they emit
more than their allotted cap, provided that they buy additional carbon
credits through schemes to supposedly prevent deforestation in undeveloped
countries. The plan, which is modelled on the corruption-riddled Clean
Development Mechanism, will almost certainly fail to reduce greenhouse
gas emissions or halt deforestation. It will, however, generate further
profits for the international carbon market. Analysts estimate that
carbon credits worth $US10 billion a year could be generated through
the REDD scheme in Indonesia alone.
powers expect that the enormous profits on offer will lead to a significant
shift in the US after Bush leaves office. A similar process in Australia
culminated in the Labor government’s ratification of Kyoto. Just
as Australian big business repudiated the Howard government’s
intransigent stance, so powerful sections of corporate America have
concluded that Bush has favoured the fossil fuel industry at the expense
of their broader interests. Earlier this year the US Climate Action
Partnership—comprised of major corporations including Alcoa, Chrysler,
Ford, General Motors, Dow Chemical, General Electric, and Rio Tinto—issued
a “call to action” to the US president and congress, demanding
the establishment of a national carbon trading market based on clear
emission targets. The three leading Democratic presidential candidates—Hillary
Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama—have all pledged to set
up a US carbon-trading scheme, as has Republican challenger John McCain.
Other Republicans are yet to make their position clear.
None of the
piecemeal and pro-market schemes advanced by the major capitalist powers
can resolve the climate change crisis. The entire framework within which
the Kyoto and post-Kyoto negotiations have proceeded testifies to the
anarchic and anachronistic character of the capitalist system. While
the present epoch is marked by the ever-closer integration of the world
economy, official discussion on potential solutions to climate change
remains posed in terms of national emissions targets.
inevitably led to absurdities. If, for example, an American transnational
corporation is emitting copious greenhouse gases in a factory located
in Mexico, which country is credited with the emissions? Under Kyoto
the answer is Mexico. Or if Australian mining companies export enormous
supplies of coal, a fossil fuel, to China for electricity generation,
which country is held responsible for the resulting carbon combustion?
Under Kyoto—China. And what about the emissions generated by international
travel? Should ships and planes transporting people and goods add to
the tally of national emissions for the country of departure or of origin?
Under Kyoto, these emissions are classed as “orphan emissions”
and not attributed to any country.
the reduction in required global carbon emissions, nothing less than
the complete reorganisation of the world economy is necessary. An internationally
coordinated economic plan is needed involving the complete restructuring
of the world’s industrial and agricultural sectors, as well as
the reorganisation of energy generation, transportation, and urban planning.
As the outcome of the Bali conference again demonstrated, this is impossible
under the present capitalist order in which the priority is the short-term
profits of the corporate elite at the expense of the social needs of
the majority and the long-term viability of the planet as a whole.
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