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Boosting carbon markets top priority at Cancún

As the Cancún climate talks stumble along, it should be no surprise to anyone to learn from Wikileaks that the United States and the European Union used pressure and bribery to bully smaller nations into signing up to the Copenhagen Accords.

As long ago as 2007, A World to Win denounced the UN climate change process as a forum for the prevention of action on climate change. And nothing has happened since to alter that view.

Even the agreements that were expected to be signed in Cancún – the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) agreement, the proposal for free sharing of green technologies between advanced industrial and poorer nations, and the mitigation fund – are now foundering.

Of course, it would be good news if REDD collapsed. It proposes to draw forest protection into the corrupt and ineffective carbon market, with rich countries paying poor countries to protect forest, then claiming carbon offsets to carry on polluting.

It is simply another route towards “business as usual” and it would not, by the way, protect forests, as illegal logging would doubtless continue. It is not surprising that major corporations sent delegates to a meeting in Cancún in support of REDD, including Walmart CEO Robson Walton.

The draft text still includes plantations – for example palm oil plantations – in the definition of forests. So Indonesia could turn a blind eye to illegal clearing of a forest, and then claim funding for the protection of the resulting palm oil plantation. This is turning logic on its head – or rather it is basing the whole process on the logic of the market.

As the ETC Group says in its report “The New Biomassters – Synthetic Biology and the Next assault on biodiversity and livelihoods”:

New carbon markets are turning plant-life into carbon stocks for trading (in lieu of reducing emissions). But the companies that say ‘trust us’ are the same energy, chemical companies, agribusinesses and forestry giants that created the climate and food crises in the first place.
And at the same time, Silvia Ribeiro of the ETC Group warns:

The Gene Giants are stockpiling patents that threaten to put a choke-hold on the world’s biomass and our future food. The breadth of many patent claims on climate ready crop genes is staggering. In many cases, a single patent or patent application claims ownership of engineered gene sequences that could be deployed in virtually all major crops – as well as the processed food and feed products derived from them.

So what is taking place in Cancún is not a negotiation on climate change, but a further development in the globalisation process, where the penetration of the market into new areas is facilitated and subsidised by governments through carbon off-sets.

Bolivia is accused of putting forests at risk by holding out against the inclusion of carbon trades in any treaty. But as ambassador Pablo Solon said, his government is motivated by the desire to prevent the kind of disastrous rise in global temperatures that would condemn humanity to death. He said:

We have come to seek an accord for humanity and nature in its totality. The most current research indicates that 300,000 people die each year due to natural disasters. You’re playing with human lives.

But that is precisely what capitalism does – it commodifies everything on the planet, including the labour of human beings, and puts it all to work for the creation of profit. At Saturday’s meeting, Liberation Beyond Resistance – Towards a Peoples Assemblies Movement – it will be important to include emergency actions on climate change in discussions about what the priorities for the future must be.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
9 December 2010

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