The mass walkout of the 19th Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at Warsaw by civil society groups and movements rekindled the hope that the Voice of the Streets would find a space in the battle to save the planet from the unfolding global burning. The walkout was an expression of disgust at the way the climate negotiations have become little more than an arena for trading in hot air, a carbon stock exchange. The need for deep emissions cut has been clearly shown by science. It is also known that global warming is not a matter of speculation but a reality. The carbon budget has been calculated and the level of emissions to be cut is known. Still, negotiation arenas remain places for fiddling while Rome burns.
It is also known that to put the planet on a course that would keep global average temperature rise at not more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels up to 80 per cent of known fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground. By the way, when we speak of a global average of 2 degrees Celsius for Africa that means 3 degrees. Little wonder Africa is one continent that suffers grave climate change impacts and is still having increasing manifestation of desertification. With the knowledge that fossil fuels must be kept untapped the frenzy for extreme extraction, including by fracturing nature (also known as fracking) continue unabated.
In addition it is known that deforestation and industrial agriculture are major culprits contributing to the literal choking of the planet. Just as citizens are having their lives snuffed out by brutality of the forces paid to defend them, the Earth is screaming: I cannot breathe! Rather than having a rethink, we are hearing of oxymoron like “sustainable intensification.”
With all these knowledge what is happening and what are we hearing from the climate negotiations? Platitudes. Paltry voluntary pledges of money and carbon emissions offsets! The path set by the Kyoto Protocol underscored equity and justice in tackling global warming. It stipulated binding levels of emissions cut that rich, polluting countries had to make. Assigning commitments based on historical responsibility as well as common but differentiated responsibilities are sensible ways to tackle a phenomenon of quantum is scientifically computed. Earlier negotiations were clear about climate finance and transfer of technology.
The COPs since the 15th session held in Copenhagen in 2009 have become arenas for voluntary commitments. Having countries pledging to make emissions cuts according to what is convenient to them does not indicate and understanding of the emergency situation confronting the planet and all life forms on it. This era of voluntarism does nothing to indicate that there is a carbon budget that has to be dealt with. The height of this new strategy could well be what they term the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). This should suggest to us the serious erosion of multilateralism and the enthronement of bilateralism and even an upsurge of unitary actions. This could be why voluntary pledges to a Green Climate Fund that rotates on an axis set in Copenhagen receive applause from some quarters.
Lest we forget, the world took a major wrong fork on the road to tackling global warming at Copenhagen. Subsequent COPs at Cancun, Durban, Doha and Warsaw have built on stipulates of the Copenhagen Accord. We remind ourselves that we cannot get to the right destination using a wrong map no matter how far we may go. It is always good sense to retrace one’s steps when we know we had missed it. Lima locks in those steps, as the Eifel Tower appears on the horizon.
The COP in Lima takes the cake when it comes to showing utter disdain to the urgent cries for justice and equity in the world today. For one, the host nation chose to host the world in a military facility that the locals say is tainted with blood of citizens that were tortured or disappeared there. Entering this facility reminds one that there is indeed a very thin line between freedom and repression. The setting itself is a sterile affair with meetings held under tents in the often-sweltering heat that ought to remind negotiators that global warming should not be toyed with.
If the official negotiations are locked in on the path that treats climate change as something over which to make long speeches and then perhaps throw some money at, the mood outside the COP was different. Although before the COP began there were fears that the mobilisation of citizens would be weak, the reality proved otherwise. Waves upon waves of citizens took to the streets denouncing the inaction at the COP, destruction of territories, human rights abuses and demanding the desired seriousness. Corporate kidnapping of the COP was also strongly denounced with activists marching against a meeting of the extractive sector companies, asking that they unhinge their fangs from the veins of the Earth.
At the Peoples’ Summit Against Climate Change (Cumbre De Los Pueblos) held in Parque de la Exposicion, miles away from the Little Pentagon, citizens from all over the world offered real solutions to climate change. They underscored the fact that the dominant global capitalist system is the major driver of the crisis and demanded “system change, not climate change.” The demands include an urgent transition from fossil fuels and the support of agro-ecological and peasant agriculture as the assured way of feeding the world and cooling the planet at the same time. At a session on Systemic Alternatives, Pablo Solon stressed the need to get to the root of the problem. “Climate change is not only about greenhouse gases. You cannot limit emissions without cutting extraction,” he said.
Citizens rose up against Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) and other carbon offset mechanisms in all their manifestations. REDD was shown to be mostly a way of giving polluters permit to pollute and to displace poor forest dependent communities. Sadly this may end up being one of the major props for the Paris COP in 2015, according to some observers.
For Mary Louise Malig of the Global Forest Coalition, “carbon offset permits are simply permits to harm nature.” She also sees the so-called climate-smart agriculture as a backdoor way of “introducing carbon markets for soils and for using carbon accounting to direct agricultural policies.”
Two days of sitting of the International Tribunal on the Rights of Nature revealed from submissions of experts and impacted citizens that the view of Nature as an object for exploitation or merchandise and an apparent ignorance of the spiritual and cultural dimensions of nature are some of the root causes of the planetary crisis. The Tribunal admitted all cases presented and found the governments and corporations guilty as charged.
As we depart from Lima, after the COP’s official time slot had expired, the negotiators were still huddled in their dens piling up options for Paris in a document that lacks a soul. Three thoughts shared during these past days keep ringing in my mind and we close this piece with them.
“Our relationship with Nature must move from exploitation to respect. We must reject the sacrifice economy where the environment, humans and other species are being sacrificed,” said Francois Houtart. And this one from Vishwas Satgar: “We need to humanise power and subject pit to the principles of life.” The third thought came from an indigenous brother from Brazil who said: “ We are a people of culture, our spirituality and nature works in line with nature.”
This last thought inspired me to write this poem:
We Are A People Of Culture
We are a people with culture
We do not destroy nature
Solidarity, productivity, respect - those we nurture
And we are loving by nature
We are a people of culture
We live at peace with nature
Our thoughts are intergenerational in structure
For this we detest actions that break and fracture
Believe or not our future is born mature
For we incubate and brood over the picture
Of our desired, dreamed future
Not surprising we internalize our love for nature
We are a people of culture
And we live at one with nature
We will resist your plots to box us into your strictures
Even though we are so loving by nature
Lima. 13 December 2014