A Victory in Montreal, But. . .

“The Earth’s climate is nearing, but has not passed, a tipping point beyond which it will be impossible to avoid climate change with far-ranging undesirable consequences. These include not only the loss of the Arctic as we know it, with all that implies for wildlife and indigenous peoples, but losses on a much vaster scale due to rising seas. . . The Earth’s history suggests that with warming of two to three degrees, the new sea level will include not only most of the ice from Greenland and West Antarctica, but a portion of East Antarctica, raising the sea level by twenty-five meters, or eighty feet.” James Hansen, NASA scientist, as quoted in 1/12/06 N.Y. Review of Books

There is no question but that the earth and all its life forms won a victory over those who are destroying them in early December at the United Nations Climate Conference in Montreal, Canada. Despite the arrogant and obstructionist efforts of the U.S. delegation to prevent it, the nations of the world who have signed the Kyoto Protocol agreed to take steps to begin negotiations this year on how to strengthen the Protocol when its current first phase ends in 2012.

The world’s governments stood firm partly because the science is so overwhelmingly clear on this issue, partly because countries around the world are beginning to experience the negative effects of global warming, and partly because on December 3rd over 30,000 people in Montreal and close to 100,000 internationally demonstrated in the streets.

The birth in 2005 of this visible international grassroots movement is as important, probably more important, than the decisions made inside the Palais de Congres in Montreal. Because the hard reality is that, despite those decisions, the pace and scale of action to slow, stop and reverse global warming is much too slow, much too influenced by the power and influence of the transnational corporations whose bottom line is not the health of the world’s peoples, animals, mammals, fish, insects and plants but, instead, the pursuit of selfish profit.

A recent article, “Neoliberal Bird Flu Infects Climate Talks,” by G.C.S. Erion and M.K. Dorsey, explains how this happened and what it has meant:

“Back in 1997 when the Kyoto Protocol was being negotiated, the Brazilian delegation came forward with the idea of a Clean Development Fund whereby developed countries (called Annex 1 in the Protocol) would face heavy fines for missing their reductions targets, which would be put towards north-south clean technology transfer. However, the American delegation rejected this proposal in favor of a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) that rejected fines and substituted emissions trading. Similar to their acid rain trading program, this scheme would allow Annex 1 (developed) countries to get credits against their own targets by investing in emissions reductions or sequestration projects in developing countries. The scheme effectively avoided forcing transnational polluters to pay for carbon pollution. When introduced the CDM proposal was rejected by the EU, the G77, and the vast majority of environmental organizations (ENGOs) as they worried it would fail to deliver real benefits in developing countries or any real reductions in developed countries. Yet the Americans made it very clear that they would not sign Kyoto without the CDM and so everyone finally agreed to it.

”Now eight years later, the Americans of course have refused to ratify Kyoto, the Europeans have gotten over their initial opposition to trading and launched the EU Emissions Trading System (EUETS) in early 2004, and many ENGOs – such as the Climate Action Network (CAN) – now support trading. Yet the empirical evidence around all the flaws of the CDM keeps building up. . . Poorer countries, especially in Africa, have attracted very little investment. . . For those countries who are getting the investments, the vast majority of emissions credits approved to date are concentrated around projects that capture and/or destroy other [than carbon dioxide] greenhouse gases like hydroflorocarbons or methane, which provide little benefits to local communities, but enormous returns on investments for project developers. . . Thus traditional energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, which were initially expected to represent the bulk of the CDM, now account for less than 5% of the market.”

Those around the world and around the USA who recognize the urgency of the climate crisis, those who are prepared to speak and act on that basis, have an obligation to be forthright and clear about what is needed if we are to have a chance of preventing the catastrophe of an 80 foot rise in sea levels and all the other catastrophes coming down the pike. And now is the time to do so because this year, as a result of the decisions in Montreal, organized international discussions are to begin about how to strengthen the Kyoto Protocol after 2012. We need to broaden and deepen the international grassroots movement, and that movement needs to demand a significant course correction in the way in which this crisis is being addressed, indeed, before 2012.

Climate Crisis: USA Join the World, the network of 70 organizations that came together last year and which organized clean energy actions around the USA during the time of the Montreal conference, put out a press release just prior to that conference about what it thought was needed:

“The Climate Crisis group is demanding that the U.S. government join the world by ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and then take action to achieve the 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions which credible scientists agree is necessary to stabilize the climate. It calls on the federal government to withdraw its annual $25 billion in subsidies for coal and oil and create equivalent subsidies for clean, safe, non-nuclear energy alternatives; to dramatically strengthen energy conservation and fuel efficiency standards; to plan for a just transition for workers, Indigenous communities and others affected by a change to clean energy; and to actively defend the world’s forests and support community-run tree planting campaigns.

“Climate Crisis also proposes that the U.S. government enact tax-shifting legislation to decrease the amount of taxes taken from a worker’s salary and to raise the same amount via a tax on the use of carbon-based fuels–oil, coal and natural gas–which cause global warming.

“The Climate Crisis program, moreover, urges that the international community establish a fund, of about $300 billion a year for about a decade, to jump-start renewable energy infrastructures in developing countries. That fund could be financed by a tax on international airline travel or by a miniscule tax (0.025 percent) on international currency transactions — in other words, a tax on global commerce to fund the transfer of clean energy to poor and developing countries.

“Finally, Climate Crisis endorses the proposal made by, among others, Margot Wallstrom, former Environmental Commissioner of the European Union, and Sir Crispin Tickell, former British Ambassador to the United Nations, for a 5% Progressive Fossil Fuel Efficiency Standard and urges delegates and climate activists in Montreal to publicly support this approach. Under this mechanism, every country would start at its current baseline of energy use and increase its energy efficiency by 5% every year until the necessary 70% reduction of greenhouse gases is attained.

“Ross Gelbspan, author of The Heat Is On (1997) and Boiling Point (2004), said of these proposals, ‘They are ideas whose time has to come, and that time is now. The world scientific community is in agreement that the climate crisis is real, it is accelerating, and there is an urgent need to take action today.’”

With the limited victory won in Montreal, environmental organizations have a responsibility to give leadership, to call for and demand that the world’s governments discuss and support these or similar ideas. We cannot accept that the earth’s ecosystem be held hostage to a corporate-type “solution” that is clearly not working given the escalating and dangerous pace of climate change.

All people who care about our future, whether currently active with an environmental group or not, must learn more about this issue, take steps to be about energy conservation on a personal level, publicly speak out, and consciously build the energy conservation/clean energy movement. More mayors and local governments, more state governments, more universities, more religious institutions, more small businesses and, yes, more corporations need to take action to improve efficiency, reduce fossil fuel use and increase the use of renewable energy. Every candidate running for office this year and next should be confronted with people demanding that he/she take the right positions and do the right thing if elected or re-elected.

Finally, we have to keep up the “street heat” pressure. November 11th will be the next International Day of Climate Protest, but we can’t wait until then. We need to consider how to up the ante, how we underline the urgency and magnitude of our crisis. Organized fasts; a national march on Washington; targeted nonviolent civil disobedience: all of these and other tactics must remain under active and on-going discussion.

The holidays are over; the new year is beginning; it’s time to get busy!