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Issue #1440      27 January 2010

Copenhagen: “Battle between culture of death and culture of life”

As the world looked on and hundreds of thousands of people took part in global actions, the Copenhagen climate conference ended in abject failure. The unstinting and determined efforts of more than 155 developing countries were sabotaged and thwarted from day one to the very end by the representatives of a small group of rich, capitalist, industrialised countries under the leadership of the US. The best that can be said about the outcome is that the door has not be shut on future discussions, that the meetings scheduled for Berlin and Mexico later this year have not been cancelled.

While the battle raged inside the conference, tens of thousands of people from around the world took to the streets of Copenhagen. The protestors were treated with alarming brutality by security forces. Their peaceful calls for action on climate change were met with tear gas, pepper spray, baton charges, mass cages, thousands of arrests, even “pre-emptive” arrests of people who might demonstrate!

Thousands took part in the alternative Klimatforum09 people’s climate change summit and other activities. They adopted a People’s Declaration, titled “System Change – Not Climate Change”, but attempts to have it presented to the UN summit failed.

The key issue before Copenhagen was survival of the human species and the survival of the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding international instrument for achieving this goal. Capitalism is not only responsible for the human-induced climate change; it has proven yet again incapable of saving the human race from extinction.

Inside the conference the representatives of the developed countries, led by the US with Australia playing the role of loyal deputy, set out from the beginning to kill the Kyoto Protocol (KP) and avoid their legal obligations under it and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). They failed to pledge deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions or commit financial and technological assistance that developing countries require for mitigation measures and coping with the impacts of climate change as they attempt to develop their economies.

Instead, they tried to hijack the summit with a document of their own, the so-called “Copenhagen Accord” that would kill off the KP, relieve them of their responsibilities and shift the burden of tackling climate change onto the backs of the peoples of the poor nations. They represented the interests of big business, in particular, the major fossil fuel polluters and the institutions that would benefit from carbon trading.

The developing nations, who will be the first and hardest hit by climate change – in fact are already feeling its impact – fought from the beginning for the Kyoto Protocol. They represented the voice of humanity, the only hope for survival of the human species on planet earth.

In a powerful speech given to the summit, the President of Bolivia, Evo Morales (the only Indigenous government leader) summed it up: “… two cultures are under discussion here: the culture of life and the culture of death; the culture of death, which is capitalism. We, the Indigenous peoples, say that it is living better, better at the cost of others,” Morales said.

“Mother Earth or Nature exist and will continue to exist without the human race, but human beings can’t live without planet Earth, therefore, it is our duty to defend the right of Mother Earth.

“We have profound differences with the Western model, and that is under discussion at this moment.”

“…our obligation is to save all of humanity and not half of humanity.”

In another strong speech Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez noted: “If the climate were one of the biggest capitalist banks, the rich governments would have saved it.”

Third World defends Kyoto Protocol

When Copenhagen commenced there was little prospect of reaching agreement on every matter, but there were hopes that at least a framework within the KP would emerge, with some aspects resolved and the final details to be worked out later.

Western leaders, lead by US President Obama, ignored the appeals of sinking island states, of displaced peoples, of those facing starvation through drought and crop failure due to climate change, of environmentalists, of scientists and millions of ordinary people concerned for the survival of the human species and the ecology of the planet on which it depends.

The G77 (132 developing countries), China, the African Union, the Alliance of Small Island States, ALBA* (the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) fought hard for the implementation of the KP and the survival of the human species.

Emission reductions

The developed countries refused to increase their disgracefully low offers of emission reductions. Their inaction was in sharp contrast to the pledges made prior to the conference by China, India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Indonesia to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. As developing countries they are not obliged to reduce emissions at this stage under the KP. Their priority is development along sustainable lines with the necessary assistance (financial and technological) from the developed countries to achieve this.

Australia has still to put a concrete offer on the table. The range of emission cuts put forward is between 2% and 22% based on 1990 levels; most of this is dependent on changes in land use by the agricultural sector, not on reductions in emissions from fossil fuels.

The US is offering a reduction that amounts to 2-5 percent by 2020, Canada 3%, New Zealand 10-20% and Japan 25%. The only industrialised nations offering anything up to 40% are Norway and Russia.

The aggregate emission targets of developed countries are 12-19% below 1990 levels by 2020 – nowhere near the 45% plus required.

A secret UN report leaked during the conference, revealed that the aggregate emission cuts proposed by developed countries could see a global temperature rise of 3°C by 2050, not even the 2°C they were promising, let alone the science-based cap of 1.5°C.

UN data also revealed that the pledges of developing countries would make a greater contribution to the reduction in emissions than those of the developed countries!

Many of the developed countries said that their emission reduction pledges were not made under the Kyoto Protocol, but in the context of “a new, universal, comprehensive and effective international agreement on climate change”. They offered nothing under the Protocol. They expect the developing countries to pick up the shortfall in their pledges.

Emission reductions is not the only area where the industrialised nations obstructed progress. They point blank refused to put money on the table as legally obliged under the Protocol. It is their historical responsibility as those primarily responsible for human induced climate change to assist the developing countries with the transfer of climate-related technology and mitigation and adaptation to climate change. Instead, they offered a paltry $10 billion per annum over the next three years, but this offer only applied to a new treaty. The money was not on offer under the Kyoto Protocol!

Political agenda

Unfortunately, the US, Australia, Japan, Canada, the European Union and other leading developed countries had no intention of reaching any agreement in accordance with their internationally legally binding obligations under the UNFCCC or Kyoto Protocol.

They set out to kill the Kyoto Protocol and adopt a political agreement which would become the basis of negotiations for a new treaty. They made false claims that the KP expires in 2012, and said they needed a new treaty to bring in the US instead of insisting the US join the other 194 nations that are Parties to the Protocol.

Lies exposed

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said that the conference was “all about getting a political agreement internationally to tackle climate change. That’s the focus of this conference, that’s going to be my focus…”

Wong told the media, “The Kyoto Protocol doesn’t apply to developing economies,” using it as an excuse for a new treaty. It is just not true. When asked if she would put up a target under the Kyoto Protocol, her response was: “I’m not going to get into hypotheticals on a negotiation.” So the putting up of emission reduction targets under the KP (as Australia is legally bound to do under the international treaty on climate change) amounts to “hypotheticals”!

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the Kyoto Protocol was about to expire – another lie. He called for a political agreement and new treaty. He repeatedly told press conferences that he was “trying to get the absolute best outcome for Australia’s national interest.” By national interest he means corporate interests. Climate change is to be exploited, corporate profits blinding the threat to survival of the human race.

US deputy

The Australian government worked extremely hard throughout the conference to push the US’s agenda. (Its role will be a subject of a future article in The Guardian). Rudd was at the forefront demanding developing countries cut their emissions and accept verification processes regarding mitigation measures that would lay the basis for the US and others to impose trade bans if they decided they were not met. His main targets were China and India. The aim is to hold back their economic development which poses a threat to US global economic and political dominance.

The poor nations were fighting a life and death battle for survival and the rich to enhance their profits and retard the development of the Third World. They tried to turn climate change to the economic advantage of big business and hand over as much as possible, including assistance to the developing countries, to the private sector and markets, an approach hotly contested by developing countries.

Secret document

Rumours abounded during the conference of a secret document and clandestine negotiations. These were fiercely denied by the Danish chair of proceedings, even following the leaking of a draft text of the document by the British Guardian!

Then on December 16, when heads of government were joining proceedings, the Danish President Lars Loekke Rasmussen took the chair and presented the non-existent Danish text for adoption instead of the two texts that had been thrashed out over the past 10 days (in fact over two years) by the UNFCCC and KP working groups.

The G77 and China objected strongly to the Danish text. China referred to it being “parachuted from the sky”.

Chávez, speaking on behalf of ALBA described it as “illegitimate, undemocratic and non-transparent.”

“… it is a text that comes from nothing, we do not accept any other text unless it comes out of the working groups which are the legitimate texts that have been discussed with such intensity during these two years,” he said.

“There is a group of countries which believe themselves superior to us from the South, to us from the Third World…

“This planet is billions of years old, and has existed for billions of years without us, the human race: that is to say, it does not need us to exist. Now, we cannot live without the Earth,” said Chávez.

He was received with tremendous applause.

The Danish texts were rejected and it was agreed that the negotiated texts would go ahead.

Dirty tricks

Instead of respecting the decision of the conference, the US through the Danish President handpicked 25 countries to discuss the rejected document. They stood over invitees with the offer of their document or “total collapse of the conference”.

India, China, Brazil and South Africa, along with Russia and a few handpicked developing countries joined developed countries in these discussions. Late in the evening of December 18, the final day, the chair suspended the summit session while these unofficial discussions on the rejected document took place. Proceedings resumed at 3am on December 19 when many country leaders had left for home.

The Danish President, chairing the plenary sessions of the conference, attempted to impose the (now amended) Danish document from those discussions – the so-called “Copenhagen Accord” – as a decision of the conference. This US/Danish fabricated document had not arisen from nor been discussed by any properly constituted session of the conference.

Delegates were given one hour to study it! The chair would not even tell them who took part in the discussions on it. US President Barack Obama shattered any remaining illusions anyone present might have held about him. He gave an arrogant, insulting, take-it-or-leave-it speech, full of rhetoric which effectively tore up the underlying principles of the UNFCCC and KP and jettisoned the US’s responsibilities.

The chair invited a select group to speak in support of the document – mainly leading rich countries and a few very poor ones. Bolivian President Evo Morales then sought to speak, and the chair was forced by the insistence of other delegations to give him the floor. He was followed by Venezuelan representative Claudia Valerno and the Cuban Minister for Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodriguez. They all spoke strongly against the Danish document.

“Any argument on the continuation of the negotiations to reach agreement in the future to cut down emissions must inevitably include the concept of the validity of the Kyoto Protocol … Your paper, Mister Chairman, is a death certificate of the Kyoto Protocol and my delegation cannot accept it,” the Cuban Minister said.

“The Cuban delegation would like to emphasise the pre-eminence of the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities,’ as the core of the future process of negotiations. Your paper does not include a word on that...”

The Cuban representative outlined many of the US/Danish document’s failings, its many omissions – including the lack of concrete commitments by developed countries.

Tuvalu will be one of the first countries to disappear as a result of climate change. Its representative Ian Fry referred to the money that had been offered in the document saying, “We are offered 30 pieces of silver to betray our people and our future. Our future is not for sale. Tuvalu cannot accept this document.”

Further representatives joined the debate, Sudan spoke on behalf of the G-77 (a grouping of 132 developing nations), rejecting the document as unacceptable and refusing to support its adoption.

Under UN procedures, decisions are made by consensus. There was clearly no consensus around the offending document. The chair had to be pulled into line on several occasions trying to put it to the vote, first seeking to have it carried by a majority and then later in an attempt to isolate and be able to name those opposed to it. Many countries did not vote, as the procedure was completely out of order.

The document was not adopted. It was “noted”, giving it no legal standing as a formal negotiating document or decision of the summit. This has not stopped Western leaders and even the Secretary-General of the United Nations giving the impression that it is an official outcome of the conference. The title of the document, “Copenhagen Accord” is misleading.

Sabotage

The contempt with which the US, Danish, Australian and other developed countries’ leaders treated the UN, the negotiating process and developing countries is beyond words. They clearly had no intention of reaching any agreement under the KP, full well knowing that their secret document would later be sprung on the conference.

They dishonestly strung the rest of the world out, creating despair, frustration, confusion, undermining the United Nations and its democratic model. All the while they were blaming China and “hardline radicals” for lack of progress and the chaos they created. The Danish chair in particular played a despicable role.

They ran roughshod over the past two years of negotiations, in particular over the 12 days and many nights of intense discussions by the two major and many other working groups under the KP and the UNFCCC. While these groups did not resolve many outstanding issues, they none-the-less made some progress. The reports of these groups were in fact adopted, but no mention made of this by the US, Australian and other Western governments or media. It is these reports that should be the basis for further discussion, not the US/Danish document.

The US/Danish document contains no legally binding figures for emission cuts; denies the historical responsibility of developed countries; tries to shift the burden onto developing countries; sets aggregate targets for cuts and temperature rises that are far short of what science demands; and is silent on the future of the KP. It offers of $10 billion per annum from 2010-2012 for developing countries (not necessarily all new funds or without strings attached from the likes of the World Bank), compared with the $200 billion per annum or more required now. Many of its provisions contradict and negate those of the KP. It represents a huge backward step. (An analysis will be published in a future issue of The Guardian.)

Political and economic agenda

As Fidel Castro points out in his “Reflections” (January 4, 2009), Obama and the group of richest states on the planet resolved to dismantle the binding commitments of Kyoto. He described it as a “battle of world opinion” where “the United States government, its NATO allies and the richest countries tried to effect a fraudulent and anti-democratic coup in Denmark against the rest of the emerging and poor countries of the Third World.”

Developing countries were faced with a bad deal or no deal. The smallest, poorest and most desperate nations that will be hit first and hardest by climate change were given the choice of $10 billion per annum for developing countries under the Danish document or nothing under the KP. Several succumbed, breaking the unity of the developing nations. The willingness of China, India, Brazil and South Africa to accept the invitation to discuss the Accord and apparently agree to it being put to the conference has also raised concerns amongst a number of other developing countries.

The next period will be critical in restoring the unity of developing countries which the West will continue to do its utmost to destroy. Without that unity, there will be no hope of any agreement that seriously addresses climate change. The fight to defend the KP is not over.

UN undermined

Far from upholding and defending the United Nations and its democratic processes, UN General-Secretary Ban Ki-Moon played ball with the US. Several days before the end of the conference he said, “Our goal is to lay the foundation for a legally binding climate treaty as early as possible in 2010.” (ABC, December 16) Who does he mean by “our”? It is not the UN’s goal. The goal of the UN is surely to further the implementation of the existing treaty.

Then, three days after the conference, he urged “all governments to formally sign on to the Copenhagen accord by registering their support” through the UNFCCC. “The faster we have all the signatures, the more momentum we can give it.” He said he would encourage world leaders “to directly engage in achieving a global legally binding climate change treaty in 2010.” He has no right to speak of a new treaty, no such decision has been made. The UN already has a climate change treaty – the Kyoto Protocol – a treaty binding 194 nations.

His actions can only be interpreted as killing the very treaty he should be promoting and implementing. They also play into the hands of those who wish to replace the UN with the likes of the G20, World Bank and other narrow, powerful and undemocratic bodies that reflect the interests of the richest and most powerful nations.

“We cannot continue like this”

The US and its allies, including Australia, are determined to put the “Accord” on the table and bury the Kyoto Protocol. The first and most immediate issue is the call for countries to sign onto the Accord to give it the legitimacy which it currently lacks.

The outcome of this battle lies very much in the preservation of unity of the developing countries and the building of mass movements to the point where they can exert more pressure on the governments of the US and other developed countries. This will not be an easy battle, as a great deal of confusion and misinformation reigns, in particular over the status of the KP and when it expires. Some environmental organisations are already running with the “Accord” as if it has replaced the KP.

Chávez in his speech correctly laid the blame for climate change at the feet of capitalism. He went further than the immediate demands and principles of the Protocol and the UNFCCC that were being debated. He addressed the nature of the capitalist system, the cause of the crisis. “Can a finite earth support an infinite project? The thesis of capitalism, infinite development, is a destructive pattern… we cannot continue like this.”

“Capitalism is the road to hell, to the destruction of the world.” Then paraphrasing Simón Bolívar: “if the destructive nature of capitalism opposes us, let’s fight against it and make it obey us, let’s not wait idly by for the death of humanity.

“History calls on us to unite and fight.”

*ALBA is the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas – its members are Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Venezuela.

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