Class conflict surfaces at climate summit

Half way into the 15th UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen on December 7-18, 100,000 demonstrators from 500 different organizations were in the streets protesting, and a parallel People’s Climate Summit was making news. The official meeting was splintered. Heads of state arriving at the Summit’s end likely will be unable to celebrate a single plan for reducing greenhouse gases.

The Summit’s task was implementation of the 1997 Kyoto Protocols through legally binding agreements to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gaseous emissions of fossil fuel combustion. The object is to prevent mean global temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius in the future. The scientific community recommends a 40 percent reduction by 2020 of emissions prevailing in 1990. The United Nations has called for 25 to 40 percent reductions for developed nations and 15 to 30 percent cuts for underdeveloped nations, who had no Kyoto obligations.

Ignacio Ramonet had set the stage.  Click here: The former Le Monde Diplomatique editor pointed out that the Kyoto Protocol, rejected by the United States, remained in force and did represent international law. In his view, the Summit should assess each state’s historical responsibility for climate degradation, develop a plan of assistance for poor countries coping with global warming, and establish a schedule of progressive reductions of emissions for all countries.

Ramonet notes a “serious contradiction between the logic of capitalism – uninterrupted growth, profiteering, and worldwide exploitation – and a new austerity required for avoiding the climate catastrophe.” He envisions worldwide popular mobilization for basic fairness.

Many of the 30,000 government, officials, journalists and NGO representatives arriving at the Summit took offense at a leaked Danish government document. It outlined a pre-Summit plan by U.S., British, and Danish officials, and others, for cuts in CO2 emissions by underdeveloped states more restrictive per capita than limits placed on rich nations. Critics, particularly the G77 group of 130 developing nations, said the plan would bypass Summit deliberations and transfer power from the United Nations to the World Bank.

Speaking to African representatives, the Sudanese chief G77 negotiator Lumumba Di-Aping tearfully announced, “We have been asked to sign a suicide pact.” “After 500 years-plus of interaction with the West we [Africans] are still considered disposable.”

Very poor African nations allied to small island states contested larger, richer underdeveloped nations, who resisted tight CO2 restrictions. Aiming to keep the global temperature rise to under 1.5 degrees C, island nations are demanding a 45 percent reduction from 1990 levels.

Adding to the confusion was “climategate,” a fracas set off by charges that Penn State climatologist Michael Mann and others had used unwarranted extrapolations from old observational data to validate recent temperature elevations.

Meanwhile environmental and social justice activists meeting at Klima Forum09 for an alternative summit, attended workshops, discussions, and rallies on issues like reparations, climate migrants, alternative development models, and indigenous rights. “Shock Doctrine” author Naomi Klein, discussing reparations there, cited the “inverse relationship between the people who created the problem and where the effects of those problems are being felt.” Rich nations, she said, hold onto money, despite science and treaties. Her remedy is “movement muscle” provided by social movements. Klein redefines environmentalism “as a class war that is being waged by the rich against the poor. “That struggle was evident in the fight over the “historical climate debt,” obligations upon rich nations to provide financial and technical support to poor nations. Proposals circulated (commitments are lacking) of a $10 billion payout over three years, a suggestion ridiculed by Kemal Djemouai, spokesperson for African nations. He pointed out the $1.4 trillion paid out to counter the financial crisis.

Preliminary proposals for CO2 emission reductions varied. The United States offered a 17 percent reduction by 2020, to 2005 levels. Great Britain offered 34 percent; Japan, 25 percent; Brazil, 38-40 percent; and the European Union, 20 percent. All these proposals called for reductions to 1990 levels of CO2 emissions. Because U.S. emissions have risen 15 percent since then, the U.S. proposal targeting a return to 2005 levels represented a less than six percent cut. Underdeveloped nations are demanding 45 to 50 percent reductions by industrialized nations, in accordance with scientific recommendations.

China, under no obligations imposed by the Kyoto Protocol, voluntarily offered reductions of 40 to 45 percent in what it calls “carbon intensity,” a measure tying emission reductions to units of GDP, with the result that its total gaseous production will increase along with rising GDP.

At the Summit mid-point, two draft agreements had been released. Neither expressed “clear numbers or language on any of the most contentious issues,” according to The rival documents reflect contending views on obligations from underdeveloped nations. Their responsibility is limited, they say, because their 80 percent of the world population has accounted for only 20 percent of the released gases, and they will do most of the suffering.

Photo: / CC BY 2.0


W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.