Hundreds arrested as delegates dither at Copenhagen climate confab

Some 100,000 marched Dec. 12 on Copenhagen’s Bella Center, the sprawling and heavily fortified convention center where delegates and observers from 194 nations are gathered for the UN Climate Change Conference, known as COP 15, or the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Police made at least 968 arrests, including about 400 members of militant “Black Bloc” groups from across Europe. About 150 were released after questioning. (NYT, AFP, Dec. 12)

The march was jointly organized by Climate Justice Action and Climate Justice Now, two international networks that have also joined with Danish activists for an alternative conference known as the Climate Collective or KlimaKollektivet under the banner of “System Change Not Climate Change.” (Press release via CommonDreams, Dec. 11)

While the official talks are set in a remote location surrounded by police and razor wire, the alternative conference’s Klimaforum09 is being held in a Copenhagen community center and is free and open to the public. At the forum, the international group Via Campesina‘s argued that industrial agriculture is by far the biggest source of carbon emissions, citing a recent study by GRAIN, an international organization that promotes the sustainable and biodiverse agriculture to support local communities. “These results are horrifying,” said Camila Montecinos, the lead GRAIN researcher from Chile. “So much carbon is lost from the soil using monoculture practices.” (IPS, Dec. 12)

The official talks are meanwhile clouded by the leak of a draft document that would apparently undercut the very purpose of the conference. Reported The Guardian Dec. 8:

The UN Copenhagen climate talks are in disarray today after developing countries reacted furiously to leaked documents that show world leaders will next week be asked to sign an agreement that hands more power to rich countries and sidelines the UN’s role in all future climate change negotiations.

The document is also being interpreted by developing countries as setting unequal limits on per capita carbon emissions for developed and developing countries in 2050; meaning that people in rich countries would be permitted to emit nearly twice as much under the proposals.

The so-called Danish text, a secret draft agreement worked on by a group of individuals known as “the circle of commitment”—but understood to include the UK, US and Denmark—has only been shown to a handful of countries since it was finalised this week.

The agreement, leaked to the Guardian, is a departure from the Kyoto protocol’s principle that rich nations, which have emitted the bulk of the CO2, should take on firm and binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gases, while poorer nations were not compelled to act. The draft hands effective control of climate change finance to the World Bank; would abandon the Kyoto protocol—the only legally binding treaty that the world has on emissions reductions; and would make any money to help poor countries adapt to climate change dependent on them taking a range of actions.

Actually, Kyoto Protocol, which had no enforcement mechanism, was binding in name only. But the world powers—with the US in the lead—could end up replacing it with something even worse at Copenhagen. A New York Times Dec. 12 analysis virtually admits that what is underway in Denmark is a bit of a charade:

Mr. Obama enters the Copenhagen negotiations without anything close to consensus in his own party for his cap-and-trade plan to reduce emissions. The issue pits coastal liberals against the so-called Brown Dogs of the Rust Belt and the Great Plains whose states depend heavily on coal for power and manufacturing for jobs. At least a dozen of these Democrats have made it clear they will not accept any legislation—or any treaty—that threatens their industries or jobs. Another Senate coalition emerged last week behind a proposal to tax fossil fuels and return most of the revenues to consumers to compensate for higher energy prices. But that plan, though it has drawn some Republican support, is also unlikely to meet the 60-vote threshold required to call a vote.

It is not at all clear today that Mr. Obama and his allies in the Senate can overcome these obstacles next year, or ever. And without the Senate, the entire international project is in jeopardy because without the participation of the United States—which emits 20 percent of all greenhouse gases—any international regime is bound to fall short.

See: Kyoto Protocol. That was the ill-fated 1997 climate accord that the Senate refused to consider because it made no binding demands on developing nations to limit their emissions. The Copenhagen conference is supposed to come up with a framework to replace it, and one of the big fights standing in the way is the level of emissions reductions that developing nations are willing to accept…

Mr. Obama is trying to both prod the Senate into action and go around it with a series of administrative actions that will begin unilaterally to address the problem of greenhouse gas emissions and demonstrate to other nations the president’s will to tackle the issue.

His administration struck a deal with automakers to increase fuel efficiency by 30 percent and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a similar amount by 2016. Some $80 billion in stimulus spending has been earmarked for clean energy projects, energy efficiency and research on capturing carbon emissions. The government will require that all major pollution sources report their greenhouse gas emissions starting in January. And earlier this month the Environmental Protection Agency finalized its finding that carbon dioxide and other climate-altering gases pose a threat to human health and welfare, paving the way for sweeping, economy-wide regulation of global warming pollutants.

E.P.A. regulation is the trump card that the administration is holding if Congress continues to dither. But Mr. Obama has repeatedly said that he much prefers a messy Congressional compromise. Trying to remake much of the economy by regulatory fiat is certain to become entangled in years of litigation.

Yet Mr. Obama cannot simply tell the other leaders at Copenhagen that he must await assent from Congress before he can commit the United States on global warming. He is asking the leaders of Western Europe and Australia to commit troops to support his buildup in Afghanistan and he can hardly stiff them on climate change, a global threat many of them consider as menacing as terrorism.

In other words, his trip this week may have as much to do with Kandahar as Copenhagen.

And the Afghanistan adventure, we have argued from the very beginning, is fundamentally about encirclement of the Central Asian oil reserves. We don’t think the change in administration has changed that.

See our last post on Copenhagen and the climate crisis.

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  1. Grassroots Southeast Asian dissent at Copenhagen
    From East Timor and Indonesia Action Group (ETAN), Dec. 14:

    Southeast Asian Leaders – Go for Solution Not Delusion!
    A Joint Statement, Copenhagen, Denmark, December 14, 2009

    Copenhagen – 14 December 2009: We, members of Oilwatch Southeast Asia and Indonesian Civil Society Forum for Climate Justice (CSF) declare our common position and demands on the current climate negotiation in COP 15 UNFCCC Copenhagen. We have witnessed the lack of leadership among industrial countries to significantly cut carbon emission let alone show their responsibility to support developing countries to tackle the impacts of climate change.

    Southeast Asia is considered as one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to impacts of climate crisis. Most of the Southeast Asian countries are poor and majority of the population in the region live in deep poverty resulting to a very low capacity to adapt to climate change impacts. The location of the region poses high risk for disasters such as typhoons, droughts, earthquakes, and flooding.

    We are disappointed that the negotiations in COP15 UNFCCC do not take into account the reality in the ground that fossil fuel exploitation by industrial countries have been going from strength to strength. Oil and gas projects of transnational corporations are mushrooming and demand for coal is increasing.

    Big foreign and private corporations such as Royal Dutch Shell, BHP Biliton, CNUOC, Chevron Texaco, Amarada Hess, Conoco Phillips and Bumi Resources, are the same actors who plunder natural resources and pollute the environment. These big corporations control and exploit the rich natural resources of the region particularly fossil resources like oil, gas and coal. Also these entities with the support of international financial institutions like International Monetary Fund, World Bank and Asian Development Bank, are the owners and suppliers of fossil-based technologies and products that the people of Southeast Asian are forced to be dependent with.

    Given the fact that burning and consumption of fossil fuels especially oil and coal is the leading cause of global carbon emission, we demand the national governments in Southeast Asia

    To agree on a common position to push for more than 40% carbon reduction from ANNEX I countries by 2020 from the level of 1990.

    To demand from ANNEX I countries to compensate Third World countries from ecological debt and fund their mitigation and adaptation initiatives

    To declare an immediate moratorium on new exploration and commercial operation of oil, gas and coal by big transnational companies in the region.

    To define a concrete timeline and comprehensive plan on eventual phase out of fossil fuel extraction and usage in the region.

    In this regard there should be a significant investment on research and fast development of technologies that harness alternative and renewable resources of energy that are cheap, safe and clean. This is needed to make the economy and energy needs of Southeast Asia to veer away from relying on the production and consumption of fossil fuels. Majority of the income and revenues from the existing extraction of fossil fuel in the regions should be automatically appropriated for funding public services

    We oppose the false solutions being implemented and pushed for by ANNEX I countries and their transnational corporations such as carbon trading, clean development mechanism, the proposed REDD and “clean” coal technologies. These market-based and profit-oriented solutions put the interest of private corporations and ruling elite above anything else.

    We push for the leaders of Southeast Asia countries to unite for truly address the issue of climate change and curb global warming. There should be a reversal of the orientation and framework of economic development and production in the region. In this regard, climate solutions should be based on human security, rectification of ecological debt, land rights, the change of production and consumption pattern, to realize social justice and people‚s sovereignty.

    These principles ensure in the heart of climate solutions are the welfare and interest of the people and the environment.

    The Oilwatch Southeast Asia, CSF, PACC, La’o Hamutuk and TCJ [Thai Working Group for Climate Justice] remain committed not only in pushing for genuine climate solutions but also in steadfastly fight along with grassroots communities against agreement, policies, program and projects that will further aggravate climate change and endanger our communities.

  2. “Sham deal” at Copenhagen
    From Friends of the Earth, Dec. 18:

    Statement of Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth U.S., on tonight’s announcement by President Obama:

    “Climate negotiations in Copenhagen have yielded a sham agreement with no real requirements for any countries. This is not a strong deal or a just one—it isn’t even a real one. It’s just repackaging old positions and pretending they’re new. The actions it suggests for the rich countries that caused the climate crisis are extraordinarily inadequate. This is a disastrous outcome for people around the world who face increasingly dire impacts from a destabilizing climate.

    “The blame for the failure to achieve a real deal lies squarely on the rich countries whose pollution has caused the climate crisis—especially the United States. Rich countries refused to budge from the grossly inadequate emissions reduction proposals they brought to Copenhagen, and they failed to put sufficient money on the table so that poor countries that did not cause this crisis have the capacity to cope with it.

    “With the future of all humans on this planet at stake, rich countries must muster far more political will than they exhibited here. If they do not, small island states will become submerged, people in vulnerable communities across the globe will be afflicted with hunger and disease, and wars over access to food and water will rage.

    “The devastation will extend to those of us who live in wealthy countries. If we cannot find a way to cooperate with others to produce a real agreement to solve this problem, climate change impacts will devastate the U.S. economy, undermine our security, and inflict irreparable harm on future generations.

    “The failure to produce anything meaningful in Copenhagen must serve as a wake up call to all who care about the future. It is a call to action. Corporate polluters and other special interests have such overwhelming influence that rich country governments are willing to agree only to fig leaf solutions. This is unacceptable, and it must change.

    “Fortunately, while the cost of solving the climate crisis rises each day we fail to act, the crisis remains one that can largely be averted. It is up to the citizens of the world — especially citizens of the United States, which has so impeded progress—to mobilize and ensure that true solutions carry the day. I firmly believe that together, we can still achieve a politics in which climate justice prevails.”

  3. Chávez at Copenhagen: the Devil and Pachamama
    Echoing comments about Bush made three years ago, Venezuela’s Hgo Chávez unsubtly dissed Obama at Copenhagen:

    Mr Obama, Nobel Prize of war, I still smell sulphur, I still smell sulphur in this world. [Australian Broadcasting Corp, Dec. 19]

    …While favorably invoking his friend Evo Morales’ reference to the Andean Earth goddess:

    The cause of all this disastrous situation is the destructive capitalist system. Capitalism is the road to hell…. I would exhort the governments and the people of the earth…to say that if the destructive nature of capitalism exists, let’s fight against it and make it obey us. If capitalism resists, then we have to give battle against capitalism and open our way to save mankind…. If we don’t do this, then the great creation of our planet, humans, will disappear,” Chavez said. “It doesn’t need us, but we can’t exist without it. We’re destroying it, we’re destroying Pachamama. [Toronto Star, Dec. 16]

  4. Bolivia to host alternative climate summit
    From Prensa Latina, Dec. 20:

    CHUQUISACA, Bolivia — Bolivian President Evo Morales announced today that a world conference of social movements is to take place in Bolivia, as a response to the failure of the 15th Summit on Climate Change, recently held in Copenhagen.

    “The problems of climate change are directly linked to the irrational development of industry,” said the president at the celebrations for the 49th anniversary of the foundation of the Culpina municipality, in the region of Chuquisaca.

    Morales said that he has requested technical and scientific arguments to support a large-scale international mobilization to defend the environment, especially water.

    The meeting will take place on April 22, which is the International Day of Mother Earth.

    “It will be a great meeting where we’ll be able to come up with solutions for the problem of climate change,” the leader said.

    Ojalá, Evo. Ojalá.