Copenhagen Review: The Inside Story

Sunday, 27th December 2009 at 12:00 UTC Leave a comment

I’ve finally managed to sit at a desk long enough and with few enough distractions to begin writing out my review of Copenhagen. As such, I imagine it might come in several parts. Here I’ll attempt to review the internal process, which I didn’t see first hand, but which was presented to me daily by numerous people who had been there a few hours before their presentation.

There has been much talk about the validity of the UN’s role in the Climate Negotiations. The activist consensus was that, whilst some wished to disagree, we couldn’t simply attack the UN process out of hand as being a Western Power conspiracy. It was not like the WTO; the WTO has a mandate to expand free-trade, making money for the richest at the expense of the poorest. The UNFCCC process, however, has a mandate to find a global solution to the climate crisis. Ergo, one is Bad, the other is Good.

What we saw, even through the second hand accounts of those who were in the talks, something horrifyingly similar to the WTO: the announcement of aid that is in fact debt, the announcement of technology transfer that really means “we’ll give money to our companies so they give you Western, expensive solutions to Southern problems, and can tie you (the Global South) into complex and expensive spare-parts deals. No real transfer of technology, no actual assistance to ensure energy-sovereignty for the global south.

It should be explained how the $100billion Hilary announced is actually made up. Regardless of what others asked for, America’s $100billion is actually flawed in several ways, but the key one is the use of the word “aid” to disguise old-style World Bank loans that will entrap countries in even. We’re back to campaigning for “More and Better Aid”, as Make Poverty History put it. The conditions on the aid are pretty much a suicide pact, and some didn’t shy from call it that.

Essentially, Southern Countries were told to sign an agreement that would destroy their countries, making them either uninhabitable and uncultivable or worse, sink with little trace, in return for inadequate money with huge strings attached. Without signing, no money. But with signing, no country, and fortunately, enough stood up to the bullying to damage the triumphalism more than a little.

First, the US government deals out money in trillions these days; billions are so last century. Second, giving out money through the World Bank just shows a complete lack of regard for global public opinion. The World Bank has always been the lynchpin of neo-colonialism.

REDD was also a massive bone of contention. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation might sound like a good idea, but a few things need to be mentioned. First, Deforestation accounts for far less carbon than flying or coal electricity generation. Second, REDD doesn’t protect the rights of those most able to defend forests.

It involves transferring millions of hectares of land that currently has no state-recognised owner into the hands of huge companies who will be charged with spending the money from carbon credits on maintaining a forest of non-native trees (and possibly GMO trees), which may well be harvested and turned into something called bio-char which can then be placed into the ground in former mines and collieries in the hopes that the carbon will stay there (if that sounds like nuclear waste storage for the Climate Chaos era, you’d be right; how do we know it will stay down there?). In short, its an old-school colonialist land grab funded by a dodgy and unworkable market mechanism that will push the few sustainable tribes on the planet over the edge and into high-carbon city dwelling, and, like most displaced indigenous groups, alcoholism and social degradation.

Its also worth noting just how complex and “big” the process was. Such was the scale of the discussions that a country could screw things over in one space, then look like a hero in another with almost no time between. This is pretty much what Britain, America and China all did. If you’ve heard someone blame a country for causing the talks to collapse, they’re probably right, unless they are saying that the poor countries should have signed themselves out of existence.

Anyone with any level of development, from, say, South Africa upwards has to bare some blame, is a legitimate target for complain and needs to be pressured into pursuing a tougher agreement. And yes that means China. But, and this is the most important thing for most of those reading this: Britain needs to do far more, and the EU needs to do far more. We need tough decisions to be taken in Brussels and Whitehall, and fast. The only interest we can allow to win is human survival. Not state survival, or state interests. We haven’t the elbow room for such luxuries. In the words of Chavez, we need to talk not about the nature of humanity’s future, but the very existence of a future.

That’s probably not very coherent. The talks weren’t coherent, so writing something coherent here would be to oversimplify matters. I hope this gives a useful flavour of what happened inside the shiny monstrosity that is the Bella Centre.

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Entry filed under: Climate Change, Development, Environment, Politics, United Nations.

My 2009 Christmas Letter Copenhagen Review: The Outside Story

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