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Alba Sud News | Responsible Tourism


Climate Auction: a mirage of charity checks

Joan Buades | Alba Sud

In his third article in the series COUNTDOWN TO COPENHAGEN, brings to light how attention is being diverting from the need for a regulatory agreement on climate change at the upcoming Copenhagen Summit with talk about the cost of funding it.

As soon as the Barcelona preparatory talks got underway, signs started appearing that the negotiations would end with an upbeat final photo, just as the spin doctors for transnational corporations and large industrial countries had advised. The scenario going into Copenhagen is turning out to be quite different from what we were looking at just a few months ago: the massive bailout of the criminal debts of private banks and corporations with public money is enabling them to recover command of global governance and get back to business as usual. The key elements have been the determination to advance with small steps and to boil down differences of interest and needs to a question of money.

Following the phase of all-out crisis that aroused fears that the only way out would be to increase regulation and democratic control over the financial system and, in the case of climate protection, replace the Kyoto Protocol with a complete, regulatory agreement covering all polluting activities, the world’s industrial and political elite are now breathing easier. In the United States, the world’s most polluting nation per capita, the Obama Administration has made it clear that “it doesn’t have the time” to go to Copenhagen with any approved climate protection law or bill, since its priority is domestic health reform. The host of the summit, conservative Danish Minister of Climate and Energy, Connie Hedegaard, has stopped hassling the industries fundamental to the spread of neoliberalism and no longer mentions, even in jest, introducing a tax on international airplane tourism and maritime transport of goods, two monumental oversights of the Kyoto Protocol that more and more clearly are endangering any real global reduction in CO2 emissions. So, “realism” rules, that is, the management techniques learned at Harvard: the Copenhagen summit has to come out well and it would be better to have a big agreement with small positive gestures than have the talks collapse from their inability to fairly and sustainably reform the system of consumption in industrialized countries.

To get the world to swallow this, nothing would be better than deflecting the focus of attention onto the price tag: what it will cost to protect the climate and who will pay for it. This is the native language of neoliberalism, which has brought us to the brink and is trying to turn it into the common intercultural currency (“if we put money in the middle, everyone will want a piece and, thus, we have won”) that would make an agreement doable. A recent New York Times article summed it up bluntly: “Biggest Obstacle to Global Climate Deal May Be How to Pay for It.” The auction is gaining steam. If official economists are saying $100 thousand million a year is needed to subsidize mitigation of climate chaos in the South, there are plenty of experts who believe the figure will have to be multiplied by a factor of ten. China, already the leader in total emissions, does not want to hear a word about paying. Meanwhile, the most vulnerable countries, like ones in Africa (Le Monde, 15 September 2009) or island nations at risk for being flooded out of existence, are threatening to walk out on the auction.

The United States, the European Union and the ineffable Spanish government (which, to burnish its international image on the threshold of assuming the EU presidency in January 2010, just announced that it will give the ridiculous sum of €100 million between now and 2012) have been working hard lately to make it look like they will sign “generous” checks in Copenhagen for saving the climate. However, who can trust their word? According to the above-cited New York Times article, the splendid United Nations Adaptation Fund, created in 2008 to fund projects in the South that mitigate global warming, is supposed to be funded by both UN-managed carbon markets and voluntary donations from the North, but has only raised $18 million so far, when a minimum of $1.6 thousand million was expected.

To appreciate the hypocrisy of the industrial elite at the expense of the world’s climate, notice the astounding contrast with the fabulous sum of public money they have managed to divert in under a year to fix the financial problems of private banks and transnational corporations that have made a fortune from speculation without borders. Estimates vary, but they range from a minimum of $5 million to $13 million million. This would be the cost of two to four wars like the one in Iraq. Or 30 to 90 times the grandiose UN Millennium Development Goals, aimed at halving poverty by 2015.

Basically, for the 200 million people who might become environmental refugees by 2050, the success of the “Copenhagen fair” will be irrelevant. There is an extremely high risk that climate chaos will spawn new and terrible lines of conflict between the North and the South, according to social psychologist Harald Welzer. In reality, what we need in Copenhagen is evident: climate justice for the South as part of a drastic reduction in the consumer lifestyle of the North and emerging States such as China and India. Doing anything else, such as being distracted by charity checks, will not prevent an explosion in South-to-North migration for survival.


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