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.