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Protecting the (Business) Climate: ditch the poor global South, forget Montrea

Joan Buades | Alba Sud

This is the second article in the series COUNTDOWN TO COPENHAGEN on the debate leading up to the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen, 7-18 December 2009.

Getting over the fears sparked by a deep economic recession coinciding with a flood of reports that the effects of climate change are coming faster and more furiously than earlier forecasts, the world’s leader have taken advantage of the last few months to sell optimism aimed at the crucial moment in Copenhagen. President Obama himself, in a speech unsettling for being devoid of content, has delineated what will be possible to attain (an agreement of well-intentioned words that stretches urgent change out to 2050) and where the red lines are (the convention cannot set any meaningful emission reduction targets before 2020, there’s no reason for it to be binding, and it has nothing to do with the issue of how to respect the rights of the South, starting with food rights).

There are plenty of jitters, though they’re different enough. For example, the tourism industry (the world’s largest economic sector) and the transportation industry (the record holder in increasing climate killing emissions) lie awake at night from fear that Copenhagen will impose an ecotax that will affect them, too. Which may not be such a bad idea, after all. WWF Germany recently demonstrated the outsized carbon cost for a central European tourist to travel to Mexico (7.2 tons of CO2 for a 7-day package trip), primarily from air travel, which is exempted from the Kyoto Protocol. A simple trip from Frankfort to Majorca produces as much CO2 as driving a car for an entire year. Deutsche Bank, a financial agency above reproach, has just released a hair-raising report on hunger in the world, drawing attention to the difficulties of feeding 9 billion people (2.5 billion more than in 2005) under conditions of growing environmental and climate vulnerability. In the end, distress is rampant because of the risk that a good part of the South, mainly everything besides China or India, will decide to emigrate to the North in coming decades, fleeing agricultural and climate collapse and producing chaos and instability in the industrial system’s heartland. In 2009, the world now has 1.1 billion hungry people (especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia). A third fear is how much “mitigation” of climate change is going to cost and who is going to pay for it. The prestigious International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) in London has criticized the official calculations of the IPCC (UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), which estimated a maximum of 170 billion dollars a year (the cost of organizing three Olympic Games), because it leaves out vital sectors like mining, energy and tourism or ecosystem maintenance. According to the IIED, the cost would actually be two to three times that much and the impact would be much more prejudicial to broad areas of the South. Seen from the Pacific, Central America and the Caribbean or Africa, which have per capita emissions far below the average, transnational corporations and the North would have to be the only funders if they want to keep from going over the edge.

In the midst of these colossal questions, world leaders and many industries are making even more gestures of voluntary commitment to the climate (the one from the aeronautics sector being the most spectacular and illusory) as well as promises of aid (though never giving a dollar amount) to the poor global South. But their true colours are showing. Because the crucial question is this: Why can’t Copenhagen sign an agreement to protect the climate that would follow the model of the only global environmental agreement that has actually worked, the Montreal Protocol, which led to the rapid disappearance of CFCs? Could it be because the Montreal agreement was binding on corporations and governments, with deadlines for the complete, permanent end to the fabrication of industrial machinery harmful to Earth’s ozone shield? Apparently, not even the air we will breathe in years to come nor the overwhelming majority of humanity, who live in the South, merit the attention of the climatocracy that rules the road to Copenhagen and that has but a single goal—improving the climate... for doing business. The priority, then, should be for every corner of the Earth to demand a change in priorities to benefit the climate and improve the subsistence conditions in which most people live. The global call to international climate action on 24 October must be a success. This is the only way to make room for real optimism in Copenhagen.

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