Blather at Bali on climate change

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At the beginning of December there was the spectacle of the Bali Conference held under the auspices of the UN. “It is the first such meeting since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that evidence for global warming was ‘unequivocal’. The two-week gathering in Bali, Indonesia, will also debate how to help poor nations cope in a warming world. The annual high-level meeting, organised by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is under pressure to deliver a new global agreement on how to cut rising greenhouse gas emissions” (BBC News). There was wrangling over targets for carbon emission reduction, about who should be paying for all of this, about how to apportion ‘fault’ (along the lines of ‘you’re a bigger polluter than I am’), and everyone pointing their fingers at the USA that was painted as the main ‘villain’ for not agreeing to binding limits.

The ending of the meeting proved to be quite dramatic “As talks overran their scheduled close by more than a day, delegates from the EU, US and G-77/China embarked with UN officials on a series of behind-the-scenes consultations aiming to break the remaining deadlock. The EU and US agreed to drop binding targets; then the EU and China agreed to soften language on commitments from developing countries. With delegates anxious to make a deal and catch aeroplanes home, the US delegation announced it could not support the amended text. A chorus of boos rang out. And a member of Papua New Guinea’s delegation told the US: ‘If you’re not willing to lead, please get out of the way.’ Shortly after, the US delegation announced it would support the revised text after all. There were a number of emotional moments in the conference hall - the UN’s top climate official Yvo de Boer in tears after being accused by China of procedural irregularities, and cheers and hugs when the US indicated its acceptance” (BBC News).

So, after this drama, what has been achieved? The main achievement seems to have been an agreement ... to have more talks in two years time. It’s been described as a ‘roadmap’ setting out the ground for further talks, and preparing the way for an international carbon trading scheme. This will, literally, allow richer countries to exchange money for ‘hot air’: it’s a get-out clause for the biggest polluters. Poorer countries, with less advanced technology, are being paid to pollute.

There is an insoluble contradiction between, on the one hand, the necessity to produce commodities at the cheapest possible rate and sell them, and on the other controlling pollution from economic activity. At the World Economic Forum at Davos world leaders expressed their concerns over arresting the decline in economic growth and what measures can be taken, and at Bali they considered measures that will constrain growth.

This was recognised explicitly by George Bush when he stated that he would never sign any Treaty on carbon emissions if it meant the cost of American jobs. Of course, this doesn’t prevent American corporations closing US production and farming it out, principally to China. Recently the Indian Prime Minister visited China. While China has now become the world’s biggest carbon emitter and India the 3rd biggest emitter by about 2015, they have no intention of cutting back. As Prime Minister Singh put it, when in Beijing, it was others who “squandered the earth’s resources” in the use of fossil fuels, going back to the time of the Industrial Revolution. So, India and China are not going to curtail the development of their economies for the sake of the environment, and countries like the US and Australia partly justify their refusal to curb emissions through citing the examples of China and India.

It is only the working class which holds an alternative perspective for the future of the world. Against the nation state – the highest form of development under capitalism – there is the possibility of a world human community. Only a different social and economic system can even begin to attempt to mitigate the effects of unproductive and polluting activity. Only then could the latest technology be put in place across the world for the collective benefit of humanity. Only then could we stop unproductive activity and gear all activity towards fulfilling the needs of human beings as opposed to the bank accounts of the capitalists. Graham 29/01/08

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