Copenhagen Summit: Save the planet? No, they can't!

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"Copenhagen ends in failure" (Guardian, UK) "Fiasco in Copenhagen", "Grotesque conclusion", "Worse than useless" (Financial Times, UK), "A worthless summit" (The Asian Age, India), "A cold shower", "The worst agreement in history" (Liberation, France)... The international press is nearly unanimous[1] that this supposedly historic summit was a catastrophe. In the end the participatory countries signed an accord in the form of a vague promise for the future, which guaranteed nothing and committed no one: reducing warming to 2°C in 2050. "The failure of Copenhagen is even worse than one could imagine" according to Herton Escobar, the science specialist of the daily O Estado De Sao Paulo (Brazil), "The greatest diplomatic event in history didn't produce the least commitment".[2] All those who had believed in a miracle, the birth of "green capitalism", have seen their illusions melt away like a glacier in the Arctic or Antarctic.

An international summit to calm fears

The Copenhagen summit was preceded by an immense publicity campaign. The media barrage was orchestrated on an international scale. All the television channels, newspapers and magazines made this event an historic moment. There is no shortage of examples.

From the 5th June 2009 the documentary film by Yann Arthus Bertrand, Home, a dramatic and implacable exposition of the scale of the world ecological catastrophe, was shown simultaneously and without charge in 70 countries (on television, internet, and in the cinemas).

Hundreds of intellectuals and ecological associations have issued pompous declarations to "raise consciousness" and "bring popular pressure to bear on the politicians". In France the Nicolas Hulot foundation launched an ultimatum: "The future of the planet and with it, the fate of a billion starving people... is at stake in Copenhagen. Either solidarity or chaos: humanity has the choice". In the United States the same urgent message was delivered: "The nations of the world meet in Copenhagen from 7 to 18 December 2009 for a conference on climate that has been called the last chance. It's all or nothing, make or break, literally, sink or swim. In fact it's the most important diplomatic meeting in the history of the world."[3]

The day of the opening of the summit, 56 newspapers in 45 countries took the unprecedented initiative of speaking with a single voice from one and the same editorial: "Unless we unite to act decisively climate change will ravage our planet [...] Climate change [...] will have indelible consequences and our chances of controlling it will be played out in the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the 192 countries meeting in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to quarrel or blame each other [...] Climate change affects the whole world and must be resolved by the whole world."[4]

These declarations are half true. Scientific research shows that the planet is indeed in the process of being ravaged. Global warming is worsening, and with it, desertification, fires, cyclones... Species are disappearing rapidly with pollution and the intensive exploitation of resources. 15 to 37% of biodiversity will be lost from now till 2050. Today one in 4 mammals, one in 8 birds, a third of amphibians and 70% of plants are in danger of extinction.[5] According to the World Humanity Forum climate change will lead to the death of 300,000 people a year (half from malnutrition)! In 2050 there will be "250 million climatic refugees".[6] Well, yes, it is urgent. Humanity is confronted with a vital historic challenge!

Conversely the other half of the message is a great lie designed to delude the world proletariat. It calls for the responsibility of governments and international solidarity faced with climate danger, as if states were able to forget or overcome their national interests to unite and cooperate in the interests of the well being of humanity. This is a lullaby to reassure a working class worried about the ongoing destruction of the planet and the suffering of hundreds of millions of people.[7] The environmental catastrophe clearly shows that only an international solution can work. To prevent workers thinking too much by themselves about a solution, the bourgeoisie wants to pretend that it is capable of putting aside national divisions and, according to the international editorial of 56 newspapers, of "not getting lost in quarrels", "not blaming each other" and understanding that "climate change affects the whole world and must be resolved by the whole world".

The least one can say is that this objective has completely failed. If Copenhagen has shown anything it is that capitalism can only produce hot air.

Moreover there was no illusion to create, nothing good could emerge from this summit. Capitalism has always destroyed the environment. In the 19th century, London was an immense factory spewing smoke and the Thames became a sewer. The only goal of this system is to produce profit and accumulate capital by any means. It hardly matters that in order to do so it must burn forests, pillage the oceans, pollute rivers and unbalance the climate... Capitalism and ecology are mutually antagonistic. All the international meetings, the committees, the summits (like Rio de Janeiro in 1992 or Kyoto in 1997) have always been fig leaves, theatrical ceremonies to make us think that the "great and the good" are concerned with the future of the planet. The Nicolas Hulots, Yann Arthus Bertrands, Bill McKibbens and Al Gores[8] want to make us think that it will be different this time, that faced with the urgency of the situation, the leaders will come to their senses. While all these ideologues wave their arms in the air, these same leaders brandish their eco...nomic weapons! This is the reality: capitalism is divided into nations, competing one against the other, waging an unceasing commercial and if necessary military war.

A single example. The North Pole is disappearing. The scientists see a veritable ecological catastrophe: rise in sea levels, changes in salination and alteration of currents, destabilisation of infrastructures and erosion of coasts following the melting of glaciers, the liberation of CO2 and methane from defrosted soil, degradation of arctic eco-systems.[9] Capitalist states see this as an opportunity to exploit the resources made newly available and open new sea routes free from ice. Russia, Canada, the United States, Denmark (via Greenland) are presently waging an implacable diplomatic war, including the use of military intimidation. Thus, last August, "Some 700 members of the Canadian Forces, from the army, navy and air force, participated in the pan-Canadian operation NANOOK 09. The exercise was designed to prove that Canada is capable of asserting its sovereignty in the Arctic, a region contested by the US, Denmark, and above all Russia, whose recent tactics like the sending of planes or submarines has irritated Ottawa". [10] Since 2007 Russia has regularly sent combat aircraft to overfly the Arctic and sometimes Canadian waters as it did during the Cold War.

Capitalism and ecology are indeed always antagonistic!

The bourgeoisie can no longer even save appearances

"The failure of Copenhagen" is thus anything but a surprise. We said in International Review n° 138: "World capitalism is totally incapable of the degree of international co-operation necessary to address the ecological threat. Especially in the period of social decomposition, with the disappearance of economic blocs, and a growing tendency for each nation to play its own card on the international arena, in the competition of each against all, such co-operation is impossible."[11] It is more surprising, by contrast, that all the heads of state didn't even succeed in saving appearances. Usually a final agreement is signed with great ceremony, phoney objectives are proclaimed and everybody is happy. This time, it was officially a "historic failure". The tensions and bartering have emerged from the corridors and taken centre stage. Even the traditional photo of national leaders, arm in arm with smiles of self-congratulation, was not taken. Which says it all!

This failure is so patent, ridiculous and shameful that the bourgeoisie must keep a low profile. The noisy preparations for the Copenhagen Summit have been succeeded by a deafening silence. Thus, just after the international meeting, the media contented themselves with a few discreet lines reporting the failure (while systematically blaming other nations for it) then carefully avoiding this dirty history in the following days.

Why, unusually, did the national leaders not succeed in making it seem a success? In two words: the economic crisis.

Contrary to what has been claimed everywhere recently, the gravity of the present recession is not pushing the heads of state into "the adventure of the green economy". On the contrary the brutality of the crisis stirs up tensions and international competition. The Copenhagen Summit revealed the war that has been unleashed among the great powers. It is no longer the time to appear cooperative and to proclaim accords (even phoney ones). The knives are out. Too bad about the photo!

Since summer 2007 and the fall of the world economy into the most serious recession in the history of capitalism, there is a growing temptation to listen to the sirens of protectionism. There is a growth of every man for himself. Obviously it has always been in capitalism's nature to be divided into nations that devote themselves to implacable economic war. But the 1929 Crash and the crisis of the 30s revealed to the bourgeoisie the danger of a total absence of rules and international coordination for world commerce. In particular, after the Second World War the blocs of east and west organised themselves internally and constructed a minimum framework of economic relations. Extreme protectionism, for example, was everywhere recognised as damaging to world commerce and therefore to every nation. Accords such as Bretton Woods in 1944 and institutions policing the new rules like the International Monetary Fund have lessened the effects of economic slowdown that hit capitalism after 1967.

But the seriousness of the present crisis has weakened all these rules of functioning. The bourgeoisie has certainly tried to react in a unified fashion, organising the G20 in Pittsburgh and London, but the spirit of everyone for themselves has repeatedly reasserted itself. The plans for recovery are less and less coordinated between nation states and so the economic war is becoming more aggressive. The Copenhagen Summit strikingly confirms this tendency.

Contrary to all the lies about a light at the end of the tunnel and recovery of the world economy the recession continues to deepen and even accelerate anew at the end of 2009. "Dubai: the bankruptcy of the Emirate", "Greece is on the edge of bankruptcy"[12] - such news has been like a thunderclap. Each national state senses that its economy is in danger and is conscious that the future will bring an increasingly profound recession. To prevent the capitalist economy from sinking too rapidly into a depression, the bourgeoisie has had no other choice since summer 2007 than to create money on a massive scale in order to pay the public and budgetary deficits. Thus, as a report titled "Worst-case debt scenario" published in November 2009 by the bank Société Générale says: "The worst could be in front of us... state rescue packages over the last year have merely transferred private liabilities onto sagging sovereign shoulders, creating a fresh set of problems. First among them the deficit... High public debt looks entirely unsustainable in the long run. We have almost reached a point of no return for government debt".[13] Global indebtedness is much too high in most of the developed countries in relation to their GDP. In the United States and the European Union public debt in two years time will represent 125% of GDP. In the United Kingdom it will reach 105% and in Japan 270% (according to the report). Société Generale is not the only one to sound the alarm. In March 2009 Credit Suisse drew up a list of the 10 countries most threatened by bankruptcy by comparing deficits with GDP. For the moment this top ten comprises, in order, Iceland, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Estonia, Greece, Spain, Latvia, Rumania, Great Britain, the United States, Ireland and Hungary.[14] Another proof of the concern is on the financial markets where a new acronym has appeared: the PIGS. "Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain are going to shake the world. After Iceland and Dubai, these four overindebted countries of the euro zone are considered as possible time bombs of the world economy."[15]

In reality, all nation states, faced with their debt mountains must react with new austerity policies. Concretely that means:

develop a very strong fiscal pressure (raising taxes);

diminish expenses still more drastically by suppressing tens or hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs, reducing pensions, unemployment pay, welfare and health costs in a draconian way;

and, evidently, carry out a more and more aggressive commercial policy on the world market.

In short, this disastrous economic situation exacerbates competition. Each country today is disinclined to accept the least concession; it wages a battle royal against other bourgeoisies to survive. It was this tension, this economic war that was played out at Copenhagen.

Ecological quotas are economic weapons

At Copenhagen all the countries came, not to save the planet, but to defend themselves by hook or by crook. Their only goal was to use "ecology" to adopt rules which advantaged them while disadvantaging their rivals.

The United States and China were accused, by the majority of the other countries, of being mainly at fault for the failure. They both refused to fix any figure for the lowering of CO2 emissions, which are the main cause of climate warming. But the two greatest polluters on the planet have the most to lose.[16] "If the objectives of the IPCC[17] are retained [a lowering of CO2 by 40% by 2050] in 2050 every person in the world must emit only 1.7 tonnes of CO2 per year. Now each American produces about 20 tonnes!"[18] As for China its industry is almost entirely derived from coal that "creates 20% of the world emissions of CO2. That is more than all transport combined: cars, lorries, trains, boats and planes."[19] So one can understand why all the other countries tried so hard to "fix objective figures" for the lowering of CO2!

But the United States and China by no means made common cause. The Middle Empire had, on the contrary demanded a lowering by 40% of CO2 emissions by 2050...for the United States and Europe, while claiming that it should naturally be omitted because it was an "emerging country". "Emerging countries, notably India and China, demanded that the rich countries make a strong reduction of greenhouse gases but refused themselves to be subject to objective constraints".[20]

India used almost the same strategy: a lowering for others but not for itself. It justified its policy by the fact that "it sheltered hundreds of millions of poor and so the country could hardly be expected to make major efforts". The "emerging countries" or "developing countries", often presented in the press as the first victims of the Copenhagen fiasco, have not hesitated to use the misery of their populations to defend their bourgeois interests. The Sudanese delegate, who represented Africa, compared the situation to that of the holocaust. "It is a solution founded on the values that sent 6 million people to the gas ovens in Europe."[21] These leaders, who starve their population and who sometimes even massacre them, dare today to invoke their suffering. In Sudan for example, millions of people are being massacred today with weapons; there's no need to wait for the climate to do it in the future.

And Europe, she who plays at being the lady of good virtue, how does she defend "the future of the planet"? Let's take several examples. The French president Nicolas Sarkozy made a thunderous declaration on the last-but-one day of the summit, "If we continue like this, it's failure. [...] all of us, we must make compromises [...] Europe and the rich countries, we must recognise that our responsibility is greater than the others. Our commitment must be stronger. [...] Who will dare to say that Africa and the poorer countries do not need money? [...] Who will dare say that you don't need a body to compare respect for the commitments of each?"[22] Behind these great tirades hides a more sinister reality. The French state and Nicolas Sarkozy were fighting for a lower target for CO2 emissions and, above all, for unlimited nuclear power, that vital resource of the French economy. This energy also carries a heavy weight of menace, like a sword of Damocles hanging over humanity. The accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power station caused between 4,000 and 200,000 deaths according to estimates (depending on whether the victims of cancers caused by radiation are included).  With the economic crisis, in the decades to come, states will less and less have the means to maintain nuclear power stations, and accidents will become more and more probable. And today, nuclear power pollutes massively. The French state wants us to believe that radioactive waste is treated "carefully" at La Hague when in fact to economise it exports a large part of it to Russia: "nearly 13% of the radioactive material produced by our nuclear industry sits somewhere at the end of Siberia. To be exact, in the atomic complex of Tomsk-7, a secret city of 30,000 inhabitants forbidden to journalists. There, each year since the middle of the 1990s, 108 tons of depleted uranium from French nuclear power stations has come, in containers, put aside in a huge parking lot under the open sky."[23] Another example. The countries of Northern Europe have the reputation of being at the leading edge of ecology, real little models. And yet, as far as the struggle against deforestation is concerned... "Sweden, Finland, or Austria did everything to prevent change."[24] The reason? Their energy production is extremely dependent on wood and they are huge exporters of paper. Sweden, Finland and Austria were therefore to be found at Copenhagen on the side of China which, itself, as the world's biggest producer of wooden furniture, did not want to hear any more talk of some limit to deforestation. This is not just a detail: "Deforestation is in effect responsible for a fifth of global emissions of CO2." [25]  and "The destruction of the forests weighs heavily in the climatic balance [...] Around 13 million hectares of forest are cut down every year, the equivalent of the area of England, and it is this massive deforestation which makes Indonesia and Brazil the third and fourth largest emitters of CO2 on the planet."[26] These three European countries, officially living proof that a green capitalist economy is possible (sic!), "saw themselves awarded the prize of Fossil of the Day[27] during the first day of the negotiations for their refusal to accept their responsibility concerning the conversion of forested land."[28]

The country that sums up all the bourgeois cynicism which surrounds "ecology" is Russia. For months, the country of Putin has cried loud and strong that it is favourable to an agreement on targets for CO2 emissions. This position is a little surprising when one knows the state of nature in Russia. Siberia is polluted by radioactivity. Its nuclear weapons (bombs, submarines...) rust in graveyards. Will the Russian state show any remorse? "Russia presents itself as a model nation on the subject of CO2 emissions. But this is nothing but a conjuring trick. Here's why. In November, Dimitri Medvedev [the Russian president] was engaged in reducing Russian emissions by 20% by 2020 (from a base in 1990[29]), more than the European Union. But there was only one constraint since, in reality, Russian emissions had already reduced by... 33% since 1990 because of the collapse of Russian GNP after the fall of the Soviet Union. In effect, Moscow wants the power to emit more CO2 in the years to come in order to not curb its growth (if this returns). The other countries are not going to accept this position easily."[30]

Capitalism will never be "green". Tomorrow, the economic crisis will hit even harder. The fate of the planet will be the last worry of the bourgeoisie. It will look out for only one thing: to support its national economy, while confronting other countries with ever increasing force; in shutting down less profitable factories, even if it means leaving them to rot; lowering production costs; cutting maintenance budgets for factories and power stations (nuclear or coal-fired), which will also mean more pollution and industrial accidents. This is the future capitalism has in store: a profound economic crisis, a polluted and deteriorating infrastructure, and growing suffering for humanity.

It is time to destroy capitalism before it destroys the planet and decimates humanity!

Pawel (6 January 2010)

 



[1]. Only American and Chinese papers conjured up a "success", a "step forward". We will say why a little later.

[2]. http://www.estadao.com.br/estadaodehoje/20091220/not_imp484972,0.php

[3]. Bill McKibben, American writer and militant in the magazine Mother Jones.

[4]. http://www.courrierinternational.com/article/2009/12/07/les-quotidiens-manifestent-pour-la-planete

[5]. http://www.planetoscope.com/biodiversite

[6]. http://www.futura-sciences.com/fr/news/t/climatologie-1/d/rechauffement-climatique-300-000-morts-par-an_19468/

[7]. This is not to exclude the fact that a great many intellectuals and responsible ecological organisations themselves believe in the history they have invented.  This is very possibly the case.

[8]. Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his struggle against global warming with his documentary "An Inconvenient Truth"!

[9]. http://m.futura-sciences.com/2729/show/f9e437f24d9923a2daf961f70ed44366&t=5a46cb8766f59dee2844ab2c06af8e74

[10]. http://www.radio-canada.ca/nouvelles/National/2009/08/19/001-harper-exercice-nord.shtml

[11] "The myth of the ‘green economy'".  Third quarter 2009.

[12]. Liberation, 27 November and 9 December 2009. The list has only grown since the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009 when Iceland, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Estonia were already dubbed "bankrupt states ".

[13]. Report made public by the British Daily Telegraph, 18 November 2009. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/6599281/Societe-Generale-tells-clients-how-to-prepare-for-global-collapse.html)

[14]. Source: http://weinstein-forcastinvest.net/apres-la-grece-le-top-10-des-faillites-a-venir/

[15]. Le nouvel Observateur, French magazine, from 3rd to 9th December.

[16]. Hence the cry of victory from the American and Chinese press (highlighted in our introduction), for whom the absence of an agreement is a "step forward".  .

[17]. The group of inter-governmental experts on the evolution of the climate.

[18]. Le nouvel Observateur , 3 to 9 December (special Copenhagen issue).

[19]. Idem.

[20]. http://www.rue89.com/planete89/2009/12/19/les-cinq-raisons-de-lechec-du-sommet-de-copenhague-130640?page=3#comment-1198267

[21]. Les Echos, 19 December 2009.

[22]. Le Monde, 17 December 2009.

[23]. "Nos déchets nucléaires sont cachés en Sibérie", Libération, 12 Octobre 2009.

[24]. Euronews (European television channel), 15 December 2009 (http://fr.euronews.net/2009/12/15/copenhague-les-emissions-liees-a-la-deforestation-font-debat/)

[25]. http://www.rtlinfo.be/info/magazine/environnement/293711/wwf-l-europe-toujours-faible-dans-la-lutte-contre-la-deforestation

[26]. La Tribune (French daily), 19 December 2009 (http://www.latribune.fr/depeches/associated-press/le-projet-anti-deforestation-remise-a-copenhague.html).

[27]. This prize is awarded by a group of 500 environmental NGOs and "rewards" individuals or states which, to use a euphemism, "drag their feet" in the struggle against global warming.  During the week of Copenhagen, almost every country earned the right to their Fossil of the Day (http://www.naturavox.fr/en-savoir/article/fossil-of-the-day-award).

[28]. Le Soir (Belgian daily), 10 December 2009 (http://blogs.lesoir.be/empreinte-eco/2009/12/10/redd-l%E2%80%99avenir-des-forets-tropicales-se-decide-a-copenhague/).

[29]. 1990 is the reference year for greenhouse gas emissions for all countries since the Kyoto Protocol. 

[30]. Le nouvel Observateur from 3rd to 9th December 2009.

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