Climate change: Capitalism’s climate fiasco in Copenhagen

"Our planet, not your profits!"

US President, Barack Obama, came to Copenhagen like Caesar, only to be ruthlessly exposed as the Emperor, in HC Andersen´s famous tale, ‘The Emperor´s New Clothes’. While in the fairy tale, it was a poor boy in the crowd who first dared to cry that the Emperor was naked, this time, it was nearly 100,000 thousand primarily young demonstrators in the streets of the Danish capital that first exposed capitalism’s climate fiasco, with slogans like "Our planet, not your profits", "Bla, bla, bla…act now" and "System change, not climate change". "Copenhagen: Seattle grows up", author Naomi Klein hopefully declared before the Copenhagen Climate Summit. Judging from events in Copenhagen, capitalism’s climate fiasco can lead to the development of a new activism, linked to a developing socialist consciousness.

None of the world’s spin doctors have been able to describe the so called Copenhagen Accord, a two-and-a-half page document that was, finally, "noted" in the minutes of the COP15 meeting, but without being adopted, as progress. It has also generally been described as a fiasco by the media and environmental organisations, as well as most politicians, who have begun a blame game in order to try to escape their own responsibilities.

CWI banner at Copenhagen climate protests

It seems clear that the USA came to Copenhagen with the idea of establishing a new order for climate negotiations, allowing the US to finish with the Kyoto Protocol when its first stage expires in 2012 and thereby more easily escape from contributing to the idea of "climate justice", based on the principle that the developed countries (especially the USA) must carry the main responsibility to compensate its historical "debt" in relation to climate change, based upon its emissions per capita. As Washington’s chief climate negotiator, Todd Stern, stated, "the sense of guilt or culpability or reparations – I just categorically reject that."

When this led to the brink of a complete breakdown, because of tough resistance from China and the poor countries of the so called "G77 plus China" group, the only thing remaining to be done was to attempt to break the resistance from the G77 countries, through a compromise with the biggest and mightiest of them. The so-called ‘Copenhagen Accord’ was the rotten result of back room negotiations between Obama and China´s Premier, Wen Jiabao, which first gained the approval of the so called BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) and then of the EU – a total of 25 of the 193 state delegations present.

The content is so weak that even the Swedish Environment Minister, Andreas Carlgren, has tried to wash his hands of his own right-wing government´s EU-led position, explaining that, "it would probably have been best if the EU had not at all been part of this accord" (Dagens Nyheter, January 3rd).

What marked Copenhagen out was another and more successful back door attempt by the Obama administration to establish the control of a few "super-polluters" and ‘wannabes’ super-polluters, in the name of a more efficient and streamlined process to continue with business as usual

Obama and Wen Jiabao

Compromise between ‘super-polluters’

The compromise between Obama and Wen Jiabao – with the more or less hesitant support of the other BASIC governments and the EU – was, as Andreas Carlgren points out, "a result of the world´s new geopolitical relations. From different points of view there was a coming together of the great power interests of the USA and China". Through this "accord", the world’s now two leading carbon dioxide emitters, both of which have an interest in appearing to be ‘leading’, in order to avoid overly far-reaching targets, could seize the initiative from the hands of the EU. At the same time, a crack opened up in the broad climate alliance between China and many of the poor G77 delegations, with the support of the BASIC governments.

This compromise was apparently a shock to many delegations of the South, especially since the summit, up to that point, had seemed a more clearly expressed clash between the delegations of "rich and poor" countries, against the background of growing concerns about the ever-clearer consequences of climate change for poor people, caused by droughts, floods, melting glaciers and a growing lack of water and fertile land for agriculture.

A complete breakdown was threatened during the summit´s last plenary session, after furious criticism against the closed back door negotiations from the delegations of the ALBA states (Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua), as well as from those of Sudan, Egypt and the tiny island state of Tuvalu – supported by climate activists from the whole world who had gathered in Copenhagen.

The Swedish right wing Premier, Fredrik Reinfeldt, and other EU leaders have, in their blame game, despite their own responsibility for the Accord, pointed the finger partly at China and partly at what Reinfeldt described as the ”dictatorships” of the third world – while avoiding overly sharp criticism of the USA.

Ed Milliband, the British envrionment minister, with the support of Mark Lynas, author of the book ‘Six Degrees’, blames China for ”hijacking” the summit, through its veto against including a target to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 50% by 2050, and by 80% in the developed countries. According to Lynas. it was also China that refused to accept a formulation stating that global emissions must peak, at the latest, by 2020.

Against this stands the much more widespread conclusion, at least among poor countries and environmentalists, that the fiasco must be blamed primarily on how the USA and the host country Denmark´s government, with the consent of the EU, allowed the rich countries – the so-called ”friends of the chair” – to hijack the summit, and afterwards, tried to bully the other delegations into accept its shameful result.

’Copenhagen Accord’

The so called Copenhagen Accord is, despite its lip service to a 2 degrees target and a weak promise to support some measures calling for climate mitigations in the poor countries, is nearly empty regarding aims, staged goals and methods to achieve anything. Every paragraph is full of loop-holes and contradictions. Worst is that it even lacks any goal for the so called developed countries to cut emissions by 2020 – despite new alarms being raised by climatologists that a cut of emissions in the order of at least 40% is required, compared to 1990, by 2020, as well as a 95% cut by 2050, added to a considerably higher amount, in the order of at least some $400 billion annually, to support climate mitigations in the poor countries.

The "Accord" asks the countries that are willing to sign up to it before 1 February 2010 to present their own voluntary and non-binding national targets, which shall be compiled in two lists – one for the “rich” countries, with actual cuts, and one for poor countries, with a list of some measures.

The ”rich” countries’ voluntary targets for emission cuts can, at best, be estimated to add up to an average cut of emissions between 11% and 19%. Even if the US Senate adopts the Democratic Party’s bill with its Obama supported target to cut emissions by 17 per cent by 2020 compared to 2005 (which is far from certain, especially in a US Congress election year), that only means a cut of 3% – 4% compared to 1990. It also relies to a great degree on inefficient proposals of a cap and trade system with emissions rights. This can only contribute to pitiful targets from other governments like those of Canada, Japan and Australia, and also undermines the likelihood that the EU can agree to raise its target from 20% to 30%.

These low targets will, according to a leak from a paper from the UN Climate Secretariat, rather point to a likely increase of global warming to a catastrophic 3 degrees or more, and an insufferable 5 degrees in some parts of Africa and the Polar Areas. As the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) points out, “Millions of lives, hundreds of billions of dollars and a wealth of lost opportunities lie in the difference between rhetoric and reality on climate change action.”

UN expert, Martin Khor, in a Guardian article, explains some of the arguments behind China´s opposition to a global target to reduce emissions by 50% by 2050 – something that has previously been agreed by G20 – as well as the linked target that the developed countries would reduce their emissions by 80%. According to Khor, with 50% by 2050, the distribution of the burden would require the developing countries to reduce their emissions by 20%, or 60% per person, while the US still would be allowed to emit 2 to 5 times more per person! The Chinese elite also argue that 30% of Chinese emissions are caused by its net exports to the USA and other developed countries.

According to Beijing, this violates the Kyoto Protocol and the principles of the UN climate process about ”common but differentiated responsibilities” and the acknowledged right of the poor countries to make development their main priority – a key reason why they want to hold on to the Kyoto Protocol, even after the present phase expires in 2012.

China has announced a new target, to reduce its emissions by 40% – 45% by 2020 – but only as a share of its, so far, rapidly growing GDP. At the same time, the Chinese leaders in Beijing continue to refuse to name any target of total cuts to emissions even by 2050 – when China could have become by far the world’s leading polluter of the atmosphere. When the US, by far the historically biggest carbon dioxide emitter, ignores its own key responsibility in this way and, like the EU, only promises to support climate mitigations in the poor countries with puny amounts of money, compared to its budgets for wars or support to its financial institutions, and refuses to share the best technologies, due to “intellectual propery rights”, it also cements an unwillingness by the elites of the new carbon emitters, like China, India and Brazil, to do more than try to reduce emissions as a proportion of growth.

Even if this clash of interests, rooted in the pressure from the world’s capitalist classes, has been, for the time being, partially swept under the carpet, through the compromise between Obama and Wen Jiabao, it will soon re-emerge. Already, Sarkozy has announced an invitation to another meeting of the signatories of the Copenhagen Accord in Paris in April or May, with the intention to build momentum and reintroduce the (totally inadequate) target of 50% by 2050 – i.e through another and now openly proclaimed WTO-type of separate meeting of the main polluters just before the UN 6-monthly meeting in Bonn and the next COP16 meeting in Mexico City in November 2010. This will take place at about the same time as a competing summit of the critics of the Copenhagen Accord, which Bolivia’s President, Evo Morales, has proposed for 22 April.

In any case, the initiative have now been wrought from the hands of the main promoters of the Kyoto Agreement. In the driver’s seat are now the two leading, and rival as well as mutually dependent, competitors of the 21st century, the USA and China – heading the league of super-polluters who have been least prepared to compromise on national and economic interests.

This will increase the prospects of what Andreas Carlgren describes as "a fragmentation of national solutions that lead to climate nationalism. Growing demands of climate duties is the next step in the absence of an international agreement". The road to the next climate summit, COP16 in Mexico in November this year, will be thorny. Also, as is pointed out by the Reuters news agency: without hope of a marked economic recovery and new jobs, many US Senate politicians will fear a backlash against a climate agreement that would mean even marginally higher energy prices. Especially since major sections of US big business, who most US politicians need to keep happy in order to get their sponsorship money, will put them under strong pressure.

Danish police brutality against climate protestors

False market solutions

The fiasco of Copenhagen shows again the real threat of capitalism destroying our planet. The only good thing in the failure to find an agreement is that the free market “solutions” which the governments of the advanced capitalist countries propose were not agreed either. This includes the absurd cap and trade scheme, with rights to pollute and effective privatisation of the atmosphere, along with a new ‘green light for coal and fossil fuels, behind the smoke screen of "offsets", like carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) or cheap "REDD plus" schemes to save rain forests, that will delay action from the “rich” countries and will be impossible to control and may lead to ‘land grabbing’ at the expense of indigenous peoples.

As a Brazilian activist put it, "COP15 has seen an obscene amount of lobbying from emerging carbon traders that promote false solutions, while the oil and coal lobbyists remain the elephants in the room".

The ever-more explicitly anti-capitalist climate movement has taken comfort from the fiasco that Copenhagen represented for the financial elites that had been looking forward to a one trillion dollar market for the artificial cap and trade scheme, as a way to offer the main polluters cheap ways of escaping action, through cheap offsets elsewhere.

The drop in European carbon-trading prices post-Copenhagen strengthens the arguments for a democratically planned and controlled socialist solutions.

What we saw on the streets of Copenhagen may have been a new "Seattle moment", that can trigger more, larger, action-oriented and system-critical climate movements, that also did not allow themselves to be silenced by the high degree of repression by the Danish riot police and its emergency so-called "hooligan law". The belief that the NGOs, through good arguments and examples, can persuade the ruling elites by "progressive lobbying" to opt for green capitalist solutions has also been dealt a blow.

The most common placards dominating the main climate demonstration, with up to 100,000 participants on 12 December were distributed by Greenpeace, but without the organisation’s logo, and with slogans that had been voted on the internet, with messages like: "Nature does not compromise", "There is no Planet B", "Bla, bla, bla…Act now", "Change the system, not the climate", and "Climate justice now". Slogans like "Our planet, not your profits", echoed through the streets of Copenhagen.

"System change, not climate change" was also the headline given to the lengthy and radical Peoples´ Declaration, which showed a clear opposition to false capitalist market solutions, and was adopted by the counter-conference, Klimaforum09, attended by thousands of activists and hundreds of social organisations.

Using vague terminology, the declaration calls for a new kind of society that is not based on profits and competition: "Democratic ownership and control of the economy: The reorganisation of society’s productive units around more democratic forms of ownership and management, in order to meet people’s basic needs such as employment creation, access to water, housing, land, health care and education, food sovereignty and ecological sustainability", and so on. The declaration also argues for the need for a new ‘movement of movements’, with the long term goal of carrying out a sustainable transition in society, through "a broad alliance of environmental movements, social movements, trade unions, farmers and other aligned parties that can work together in everyday political struggle on a local as well as national and international level."

Marxists must fully participate in such movements, among other things, in order to assure that the struggle for green jobs and a sustainable development will not pit worker against worker. This task must be linked to proposals that can address the capitalist economic crisis and mass unemployment at the same time as showing ways to find solutions to capitalism’s environmental crisis, through converting and brining into public ownership banks, transport, heavy industry, construction and the car industry, with sustainable production and consumption, under the control of workers.

Struggle – the only solution

According to scientists, there are only six years left (until 2015) to massively reduce the emission of carbon dioxide before “catastrophic” effects become unavoidable.

As we put it in our leaflet distributed at the Copenhagen demonstration in December, the CWI stands for:

  • A target to reduce emissions by at least 50% by 2020, with the aim of at least a 90% reduction by 2050.
  • Oppose the false capitalist measures like cap and trade with rights to pollute and the imposition of increased taxes and charges (such as carbon taxes) on the backs of working class people. Make the real polluters pay – big business!
  • Massive public investment to replace the use of fossil and nuclear fuels with renewable energy.
  • A wholesale shift to sustainable transport, housing, agriculture, forestry and industry, for global planning under democratic workers’ control.
  • A transformation of industries, such as the car and coal industries, defending all jobs and wages, to use the technology and knowledge of the workforce to produce socially useful and environmentally friendly goods
  • Nationalisation of the 500 multinationals which dominate the world today, economically and politically
  • Mobilise and unite the daily struggle for jobs, welfare and climate – into an international joint struggle of trade unions, environmental groups and left organizations, with the aim of building socialist and environmentally conscious mass political parties.

Socialist planning the only real solution

These measures will not be implemented by good will or by negotiations between capitalist governments, who only act in the interests of their own national companies.

The only way to force them to act is through building a strong movement against the capitalist destruction of the world. Linked to the struggles of the working class and the poor around the globe an environmental movement can win the necessary support to force through steps to save the planet. But, ultimately, capitalism is the problem. For the CWI, this struggle is therefore linked to the struggle to end the dictatorship of the market.

For socialist planning

As Naomi Klein wrote before Copenhagen, the most common criticism against the earlier so called "anti-globalisation movement" was that it had a laundry list of grievances and few concrete alternatives. "The movement converging in Copenhagen, in contrast, is about a single issue — climate change — but it weaves a coherent narrative about its cause—and its cures—that incorporates virtually every issue on the planet." All this points in the direction of anti-capitalism and the development of an understanding of the necessity for climate justice, socialism and democratic planning.

Even the ‘socialist slogans’ of the Presidents of Venezuela and Bolivia got a strong response, reflecting the anti-capitalist mood in Copenhagen – even if they in their home countries have not carried through a real socialist transformation.

With a direct reference to the protests on the streets outside, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, in his speech to the Summit, paraphrased Karl Marx, saying that "a ghost is running through Copenhagen…Capitalism is the ghost that hardly anyone wants to name…It is capitalism, the people cry out there, listen to them", and added that, "If the climate was one of the largest capitalist banks, the rich governments would have saved it by now". Even Bolivia’s Evo Morales, in his speech, explained that, "If we want to solve this problem, we must get rid of the capitalist system".

At a public meeting of leftist organisations in Copenhagen which Chavez and Morales both attended, Chavez even spoke of the necessity of a worldwide socialist revolution, including the countries of the North, and invited all to participate in the formation of a “fifth socialist international”. In a common declaration of the ALBA states after Copenhagen, in which they announced the necessity of continuing the struggle against the "Copenhagen Accord 2010", it was stated that, "It’s clear that we can’t consider the issue of climate change without considering changing the system. The model of capitalist production and consumption is bringing life on the planet to the point of no return and to a crucial moment in human history, and the debate in these situations can’t be reduced to the economic interests of a small group." However, it is essential that a new mass Climate Justice movement must remain independent in relation to all capitalist governments, including those who speak in the name of "Bolivarianism".

The so called "preventive" mass arrests by the police contributed to the radicalism in Copenhagen, that reached its maximum scale on 12 December, when nearly 1000 peaceful demonstrators were handcuffed for 6-7 and, in some cases, 12 hours – first forced to sit for 3 hours on the cold winter street and afterwards, in a disgusting "climate prison" long into the night. Among them there were 40 CWI members from Sweden, Germany and Belgium, who played an important role in the protests against the assault of the Danish state.

The police did not even hesitate to use pepper spray and batons in order to stop a big group of delegates, including two members of the Bolivian government, to leave the Bella Center in order to link up with the climate justice protest outside.

The climate threat may very well, in this new decade, become one of the most decisive factors that will convince a new generation of the necessity of global socialism and democratic planning as the only alternative to the further degeneration of capitalism into sheer barbarism. The momentum that was built by the magnitude of the unexpectedly massive mobilisations to Copenhagen can hopefully carry on into continued large protests in France in April or May, in Germany in June and at the next COP16 climate summit in Mexico City.

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January 2010