The UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen broke up on December 19 with a political “agreement” but with no legally binding treaty to address the greatest crisis facing the world.
“I was born in 1992. You have been negotiating all my life. You cannot tell us that you need more time!” These were Christina’s words to the government negotiators as she addressed the Climate Conference in Copenhagen. Christina is 17, and lives in the Solomon Islands – whose very existence is threatened by sea level rise in her lifetime. At the same time lead U.S.A negotiator Todd Stern referred to Copenhagen as nothing more than a “first step”.
Perhaps it’s time to listen to Christina and her millions of fellow victims of climate change!
The crisis before us is one that we all face. The Rio Environment conference in 1992 named two principles to help us share responsibility for change as we face the environmental crises. “Polluter pays” and “Common but differentiated responsibility” were principles to which all countries gave their agreement. Now that it’s time to pay up, we find that these were weasel words by the greatest polluters. They refuse to accept their common but differentiated responsibility. Leadership no longer seems to lie with our governments.
Inside the Bella Centre, leaders of rich countries chose to ignore their scientists. The scientific consensus is that the rich world must cut our emissions of the gases that warm the earth by 40% below the levels that existed in 1990. This must happen within the next 10 years if we are to have even a 50-50 chance of not reaching the Point of No Return, when the Earth’s natural processes start to break down and warming becomes unstoppable.
So, do we listen to Christina and the scientists? Or to our politicians and the fossil fuel industries (coal, oil, gas) to whom they answer?
Pope Benedict XVI warns us in his World Peace Day message 2010: “The deterioration of any one part of the planet affects us all…Our present crises — be they economic, food-related, environmental or social — are ultimately also moral crises and all of them are interrelated,”
He reminds us that God made man and woman in his image and gave them dominion over the earth, So God called them to be stewards of creation, drawing from the earth what they needed and safeguarding its riches for future generations. “Environmental degradation challenges us to examine our lifestyle and the prevailing models of consumption and production, which are often unsustainable from a social, environmental and even economic point of view.”
An event was organized during the Copenhagen Conference by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and Caritas Internationalis. Joy Kennedy of the WCC Working Group on Climate Change said that climate change, at its root, is a profound moral issue.”
We must understand who we are as people in relation to the earth and God the creator of earth. “If we believe the planet is just a natural resource bank, there to be exploited, excavated, extracted, dumped on, then we will treat it that way. But if we believe we are part of a sacred creation dependent on its gifts for our very survival and for life, then human activity requires responsibility and we will act differently because we love and serve and protect our home.” She called the church to move away from a theology of dominance. We need to find ways to replace greed with an economy of enough if climate justice is to happen.
President of Caritas Europa, Fr Erny Gillen, spoke of the moral responsibility of religious people to involve themselves in the climate change debate. We “share the human condition with all other people living on earth. “It is time we have the guts to name the problem. It is not sex, not money, not the poor. It is the rich. Let’s make poverty history, but shouldn’t we say let’s make richness history, let’s make greed history.”
The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in December 1997, set binding targets for the industrialized countries that produced the majority of the Carbon dioxide (CO2) and other pollutants. They were obliged to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions by 5 per cent on average below 1990 levels by 2012. FACT: In 2007, America’s greenhouse-gas levels were 16 per cent above 1990 levels.
Through The Emissions Trading Scheme, industrialised countries are allowed to “trade” their carbon emissions allocations. They could pay for carbon mitigation projects in developing countries to meet their reduction targets. But emissions trading, or offsetting, is not in fact a mechanism to reduce emissions. Such schemes are more about privatising the atmosphere than about preventing climate change; the emissions levels set by the Kyoto Protocol are several times higher than what is needed to stop a 2°C rise in global temperatures.
It is from 50 -200 times cheaper to plant trees in poor countries to absorb CO2 than it is to reduce emissions at source. So the burden of “clean-up” falls on the poor. This looks like a good deal from a market perspective. In terms of energy justice, it is evil to burden the poor twice – first with the climate disasters caused by CO2 pollution and then with offsetting the pollution of the rich.
In a globalised economy, addressing pollution by setting emissions levels for each country doesn’t work. In 2006, China produced 6.1 billion tonnes of CO2; the US produced 5.75 billion tonnes. But in per capita terms the US emissions were 19 tonnes of CO2, compared with 4.6 tonnes in China. But we must remember that China is producing goods for US companies that America will consume. For example Wal-Mart procures most of the products it sells from China.
England’s domestic economy produced only 2.13 % of the world’s emissions. But it is estimated that UK products produced elsewhere (China, India, Africa) amounted to between 12-15% of global total.
A 2 degree Celsius increase in average global temperatures translates into a 3-3.5 degree increase in Africa. That means, according to the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, another 55 million people could be at risk from hunger and water stress could affect between 350 and 600 million more people. ‘You cannot say you are proposing a ‘solution’ to climate change if your solution will see millions of Africans die and if the poor not the polluters keep paying for climate change.’ – Augustine Njamnshi (Pan African Climate Justice Alliance)*
Europe understands how much money will be made from carbon trading, since it has been using the mechanism for years. But developing countries have never dealt with carbon restrictions, so many don’t really grasp what they are losing. The carbon market is valued at $1.2 trillion a year, according to leading British economist Nicholas Stern. Contrast this with a mere $10 billion that rich countries are offering to developing countries,
THE BOTTOM LINE
Vandana Shiva suggests that regulating by carbon trading is like fiddling as Rome burns. The only just method is for Governments and the UN to impose a carbon tax on corporations for production – wherever their facilities are located – and for transport. (Interview with Amy Goodwin, courtesy democracynow.org )
So, perhaps it’s not such a bad thing that there was no binding agreement reached in Copenhagen. After describing what 2 degrees would mean for Africa, Archbishop Tutu pronounced that it is ‘better to have no deal than to have a bad deal.’
Matthew Stilwell of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development–one of the influential advisers in the Copenhagen talks – says that the wrong kind of deal would ‘lock in the wrong approach all the way to 2020’–well past the deadline for peak emissions. ‘I’d rather wait six months or a year and get it right because the science is growing, the political will is growing, the understanding of civil society and affected communities is growing, and they’ll be ready to hold their leaders to account to the right kind of a deal.’
Stilwell accuses rich countries of trying to exchange ‘beads and blankets for Manhattan.’ He adds: ‘This is a colonial moment. That’s why no stone has been left unturned in getting heads of state here to sign off on this kind of deal. Then there’s no going back. You’ve carved up the last remaining unowned resource – the sky- and given it to the wealthy.’
Meantime, whether we are fellow citizens of planet earth or religious people, we must raise our voices to let our governments know that we will not tolerate selfish ‘solutions’ to leave things as they are and so to punish the people who have done least to cause this crisis and who stand to suffer the most. Once more the question “Am I my brother or my sister’s keeper?”becomes an urgent moral and religious question for each of us.
The Copenhagen process has been marked by lack of transparency, bullying of poorer countries and the undue influence of powerful industrial lobby groups.
It is clear that our governments cannot be trusted to act for the good of all without the oversight and the questions of us their citizens.
* Naomi Klein, Copenhagen: The Courage to Say No, The Nation December 18, 2009
Kevin Dance, C.P.