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Durban Climate Change summit: The time for talk is over

John Bell

November 20, 2011

“The more we talk about the need to control emissions, the more they are growing”: John Reilly, co-director of MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change.

As the world heads to yet another UN sponsored summit on climate change the news is grim. Figures for 2010 show that greenhouse gas emissions are increasing faster the worst-case scenario put out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change just four years ago.

The leading culprits are the US, China and India.

In the US alone, 2010 saw 247 separate “natural disaster” events causing more than a billion dollars damage. These included temperature extremes, droughts, wildfires, blizzards, tropical storms, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes. Perhaps not every single event can be attributed to climate change, but the trend is undeniable: since 1980, when there were fewer than 70 such events, there has been a steady increase in the number and severity of weather related disasters.

‘Natural disasters’

The same is happening around the world. Bangkok, one of the world’s great cities, has been under flood water since July. In the Mekong delta, one of the world’s crucial rice growing regions, a combination of flooding and rising sea levels have ravaged that crop and the people dependant on it. And so it goes around the world

Munich Re, one of the worlds biggest insurance companies, wrote in a 2010 press release: “the only plausible explanation for the rise of weather-related catastrophes is climate change.”

There is one ray of hope. Most industrialized nations that signed on to the Kyoto Accord report they have reduced their emissions about eight per cent below 1990 levels, although that may be due as much to factories idled by economic crisis as anti-pollution measures. Canada is not among those nations. Stephen Harper scrapped any pretence of abiding by the treaty, and emissions have soared, led by development of the Tar Sands.

Last year’s summit, held in a luxury resort in Cancun, Mexico, was a shambles, driving the final nail in the Kyoto Accord’s coffin. Whatever its shortcomings, Kyoto tried to force signatories to meet hard, verifiable targets for reducing emissions. In its place a new “consensus” has emerged, brokered by the US and China, replacing Kyoto’s hard numbers and dates with “aspirations”, deliberately vague promises for future action, and reliance on market mechanisms like carbon trading.

These market mechanisms have proved to be a sham. Big finance has found a new way to get richer, but emissions continue to grow out of control.

The only honourable exception at Cancun was the Bolivian delegation which walked out, exposing the charade going on inside. The government of Evo Morales organized the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, which produced a stirring document known as the Cochabamba Agreement.

It states: “The corporations and governments of the so-called ‘developed’ countries, in complicity with a segment of the scientific community, have led us to discuss climate change as a problem limited to the rise in temperature without questioning the cause, which is the capitalist system.”

Every person concerned about the planet should read this document, with its Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. You are welcome to download it from and distribute it.

The Cochabamba document will not be on the table at Durban, South Africa when the summit convenes at the end of November. This will be the meeting where the Kyoto Accord expires. There will be a lot of dire warnings and vague promises.

We can expect nothing positive to come out of the behind-closed-doors talks at Durban. The US, Canada, China and the rest will see to that.

Tale of two Durbans

But there will be two Durbans: the official meeting of people more interested in propping up the capitalist system than healing the planet; and the outpouring of anger from ordinary people outside the gates, massing behind the slogan “System Change Not Climate Change”.

Until now the environmental movement has been distracted by red herrings (blaming “overpopulation” or “greedy consumers”) or by being too focused on the local symptoms to see the global cause.

But there is a new power growing in the world. From Cairo to Athens, from Wisconsin to Wall Street, even in a park near you, more and more people are standing up to say that a system where 99 per cent toil and suffer so that one per cent can wallow in luxury and power–capitalism–is the problem.

The incredible victory to halt construction on the Keystone XL pipeline is proof positive that grassroots mass mobilization is the key to halting climate change.

The last word goes to socialist and environmentalist John Bellamy Foster, speaking to a rally at Occupy Wall Street:

“What we need therefore is to change our economic culture. We need an ecological and social revolution… You may say that this is impossible, but the World Occupy Movement would have been declared impossible only a month ago. If we are going to struggle, let us make our goal one of ecological and social revolution–in defense of humanity and the planet.”

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