Climate summit, climate justice

The climate summit called today by the United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon, will not bring the commitments needed to avert global chaos. Only popular mobilisation for climate justice can do that.

Dipti Bhatnagar
23 September 2014
Girl on climate march in Delhi interviewed

Voice of the future: joining the climate march in Delhi. Flickr / South Solidarity Initiative. Some rights reserved.On Sunday, from New York to Kathmandu to London to Delhi to Amsterdam, hundreds of thousands of citizens and environmental activists took to the streets. In advance of today’s climate summit at the United Nations, they joined the People’s Climate March, the largest climate action in history, endorsed by more than 1,200 organisations representing 100 million people worldwide.

The voices of those hardest hit by climate change must be heard. At the heart of every climate solution must be an impetus urgently to transform energy and food systems and the way forests are managed, and to build the power of people everywhere to take action.

The numbers and science are clear. As a planet and a civilisation, we cannot let average global temperature rise by more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

The voluntary pledges by governments and business at the summit are laughable in the face of the climate crisis. Non-binding pledges are an insult to the hundreds of thousands of people who are losing their lives and livelihoods due to climate change, including extreme weather events, more floods and droughts and failing agriculture. What we need are ambitious, equitable, science-based and, most importantly, binding emissions-reduction targets for developed countries.

Undue corporate influence

Yet developed countries’ leaders are neglecting their responsibility to prevent climate catastrophe. Their priorities are increasingly driven by the narrow economic interests of wealthy elites, the fossil-fuel industry and multinational corporations. They are listening to the polluters instead of the people.

The summit for business held on the eve of the climate summit highlighted the undue corporate influence at the UN. Dirty energy companies and other polluters and their financiers are co-opting democratic governments and the UN, where the voices of ordinary people should be heard.

Business used this year's UN Private Sector Forum on “a fair valuation” of carbon to profit even more from carbon trading and offsetting, which have proven false solutions to the climate crisis. Carbon trading’s basic premise is that polluters can pay someone else to soak up their pollution, so they don’t have to do any work to reduce it. It isn’t working to reduce emissions—it's only making profits for elites while further dispossessing vulnerable communities in the developing world of land and other resources.

Similarly, the “climate smart agriculture” initiative, yet another push for offsetting being launched at the summit, is a new empty phrase used to greenwash the worst practices of industrial agriculture; synthetic fertilisers, industrial meat production and genetically modified crops. The proponents of this dangerous solution—the corporations which stand to benefit and the World Bank, among others—are seeking to turn the carbon in farmers' fields into carbon credits. It would be another excuse to grab lands and resources from communities, as has already been happening in other multi-billion-dollar carbon-credit schemes.

Real solutions

The list of false solutions to climate change is long and includes nuclear energy, mega-dams, natural gas, “clean coal”, carbon capture and storage, genetically modified organisms, agro-fuels, carbon trading, offsetting and mechanisms like REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation). These false fixes distract from the real social and economic changes needed to exit the climate crisis.

First among these real solutions is the reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions at source. This must be agreed through a legally-binding agreement at the UN in line with science and equity.

Climate change is directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of people even year.

The way energy is produced, distributed and consumed must also be transformed. Dirty energy is causing climate change and harming workers and communities. Clean, sustainable, community energy fulfils the right for people to have access to energy, to decide and own their sustainable-energy sources and to enjoy sustainable consumption patterns.

Deforestation is a contributor to net carbon emissions and must be stopped. It is mostly driven by industrial agriculture, agro-fuels, excessive meat consumption and unsustainable demand for timber. To stop the destruction of forests, we need public funds to implement community forest management, to tackle deforestation and support communities at the same time.

Current industrial methods of food production and consumption also contribute to carbon emissions, as well as to global food crises and shortages due to mismanagement and waste. The solution is “food sovereignty”, which includes decentralised food production and distribution, and agrarian reform in favour of small-scale, peasant farmers practising agro-ecological farming, absorbing atmospheric carbon.

Another solution promoted at the People's Climate March is the financial transaction tax (FTT)—a tax on Wall Street also known as the Robin Hood tax. It proposes a tiny tax on trades of stocks, bonds and other financial instruments which would nevertheless generate hundreds of billions of dollars of new revenue annually.

The FTT is supported by Nobel Prize-winning economists and the Pope, among others. It would generate public funds desperately needed to help people around the world transform their energy and food systems. Eleven European countries, including Germany, are establishing a regional Robin Hood tax. France, a member of that coalition, already has one, the revenue from which is used in part to help developing countries address climate change.

Climate justice

The FTT is an example of a grassroots initiative which has affected the leaders of some countries. It is based on a rights-and-equity approach—“climate justice”—which needs much more support to make a difference on a global scale.

The climate crisis is about people and about justice, not just saving cute polar bears. It is about asking why we live in a world which is so unequal. The causes of the climate crisis and sky-high inequality are the same: a “dig, burn, dump economy”.

Richer developed countries, with less than one fifth of the world’s population, are responsible for almost three-quarters of historical greenhouse gas emissions. The European Union and the US alone are responsible for more than half the carbon emissions in the earth’s atmosphere, yet they only have roughly a tenth of the world’s population between them.

By contrast, the poorest 10% of the world’s population has contributed less than 1% of these emissions. Developing countries have contributed least to the causes of climate change—yet they are the most affected.

Industrialised countries must commit to reducing their emissions domestically, without carbon trading, in line with what science and equity demand. The 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (the Kyoto convention) clearly states that developed countries have a “historical responsibility” for their carbon emissions. They have accrued a climate debt to developing countries which must be reflected in ambitious emission-reduction targets, as well as technology transfer and financial support for mitigation and adaptation in developing countries.

Climate change is directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of people even year. Most are in the poorest countries of the world, which didn’t do anything to create this crisis in the first place.

From 10 to 18 October, people across the world will be taking co-ordinated actions on energy as part of Reclaim Power. In the coming sequence of official climate-change “Conferences of the Parties” to the convention, world leaders must be held accountable: from the social “pre-COP” in Venezuela through “COP20” in Lima, culminating in the much-hyped “COP21” in Paris in December 2015, where a global agreement is supposed to be reached. It will take popular mobilisation and further successful climate-justice initiatives to avoid the worst the climate crisis may bring.

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