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Will the failure of Copenhagen whet our appetite for real change?

December 21, 2009

Of all the post Copenhagen wraps up, George Monbiot pretty much sums up my feelings about the outcomes of the Copenhagen meeting, but others also remind me that there is still some hope.

Unlike many, I am not so worried not to have achieved the much sought ‘legally binding agreement’ at this meeting. It’s a lot to secure from so many Governments in such a short space of time.

I am a fan of global process. I am believer in the power and purpose of civil society. I am confident that the UN holds and important role in our future (when it overcomes the bureaucratic problems of the present). And, I know that when Governments want to, and the right negotiators are in the room, they can fundamentally change the way the world is structured.

I also know that binding agreements take time, as text is laboriously negotiated while it moves through the permeation of different language translations and the domestic legal implications of phrases and words. I always thought it was ambitious, but still possible, to strive for a binding agreement in mid 2010, with the Copenhagen meeting thrashing out the directions and framework. I would have preferred that they announced this is what they planned to do. Instead, negotiations veered in another direction, and the meeting revealed another character –brinkmanship.

What we got on the last day of the Copenhagen meeting was far short of what should have been achieved. At a time when so much focus has been turned on the chosen few who hold responsibly for us all, I am dismayed they read our wishes so wrong and opted for a motherhood statement – the Copenhagen Accord – presumably in an attempt to placate our desire for progress. How they misunderstood our collective concern is staggering. The accord has been fairly branded as inadequate and utterly empty. I have read it and agree that the content is hollow with no meaningful targets and no timetable for getting the job done. We don’t really even know if they plan to meet again on detail between now and next year’s climate talks in Mexico (December 2010). And, like many I immediately noticed that the accord has not been adopted by the COP15, only “taken note of”. This implies that the countries that are Parties to the UNFCCC may now decide to sign or not – so really we have nothing. Something is amiss. And many commentators are now speculating if this signals a diminishing role for the UN.

There is no sense in paraphrasing Monboit as he has already penned it so well:

“First they put the planet in square brackets, now they have deleted it from the text. This is no longer about saving the biosphere: now it’s just a matter of saving face. … Any deal will do, as long as the negotiators can pretend they have achieved something. A clearer and less destructive treaty than the texts currently being discussed would be a sheaf of blank paper, which every negotiating party solemnly sits down to sign.”

That the Governments seem to have retrenched back to self interest in the face of global crisis is unnerving. On the one hand they have become very ‘generation now’ communicating with us transparently and quickly, blogging and tweeting in real time from the talks, while on the other they appear to have gone ‘old school’ and returned to an old-fashioned land grab for the right to pollute, drawing economic lines across the global commons (our atmosphere) to decide who gets what. They haven’t sought solutions; they have instead delayed action, again. José Manuel Barroso, the president of EU commission, said on the final day that the negotiations were “perhaps the hardest there have ever been.”

However, Robin McKie is suggesting there is still hope if a radical reframing of climate change policy is adopted so that a proper deal can be struck at next December. Nicolas Stern has suggested that a group of 20 nations be set up now so that its representatives can work on a draft treaty, and develop a consensus about future deals among other nations. So, it still can be done. Perhaps, if the right people and the right motives are in the room.

While the disappointment is difficult to overcome, I am prepared to hear McKie. There is momentum now and world leaders will find it difficult to suggest they have done in enough in the face of a world outraged about the results last week. Perhaps this brutal reality check is what we really needed anyway.

Perhaps this is the opportunity for the alternatives to come more to the fore. The public appetite for information is alive now. Maybe their palette can be introduced to some new flavors such as the ones articulated in the People’s Declaration from Klimaforum09, expressing the hopes, ideas, and visions of citizens groups and social movements from all corners of the planet.

The Klimaforum09 declaration bravely calls for what we all know must happen:

  • A complete abandonment of fossil fuels within the next 30 years, which must include specific milestones for every 5-year period. An immediate cut in GHG of industrialized countries of at least 40% compared to 1990 levels by 2020.
  • Recognition, payment and compensation of climate debt for the overconsumption of atmospheric space and adverse effects of climate change on all affected groups and people.
  • A rejection of purely market-oriented and technology-centred false and dangerous solutions such as nuclear energy, agro-fuels, carbon capture and storage, Clean Development Mechanisms, biochar, genetically “climate-readied” crops, geo-engineering, and reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), which deepens social and environmental conflicts.
  • Real solutions to climate crisis based on safe, clean, renewable, and sustainable use of natural resources, as well as transitions to food, energy, land, and water sovereignty.

A few years ago to suggest such radical shifts would have relegated you to the bleachers, no longer a player in the game. Such concepts are no longer considered extreme. We know this is what must happen if we want to maintain the lifestyle our biosphere currently benefits us and, if like me, we feel a responsibility to allow the other species of this planet to continue with their lives.

As Monboit says, we have already lost nearly 20 precious years as a result of a systematic campaign of sabotage driven and promoted by the energy industries,

“… aided and abetted by the nations characterised, until now, as the good guys: those which have made firm commitments, only to invalidate them with loopholes, false accounting and outsourcing. Corporate profits and political expediency have proved to be more urgent concerns than either the natural world or human civilisation. Our political systems are incapable of discharging the main function of government: to protect us from each other”

Cross posted with WDCS From the Front Line

One Comment leave one →
  1. John permalink
    December 31, 2009 7:58 am

    HI, I am from Melbourne. I came across your site via your “condemn” posting on Lavartus

    Please find some references by a unique author who is 100% certain that both global climate change and warming are primarily driven by human activities—especially the world-wide beef industry, or the industrial scale brutalization machine, a machine that brutalizes everyone, including those who eat its “products”.

    The above two essays are from this book.


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