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Climate talks ignore the evidence

As Durban suffered unseasonable heavy rain and flooding that killed six people in the South African city playing host to the current round of UN Climate Talks, European representative Artur Runge-Metzger asked delegates:

How high needs the water to get in this conference centre before negotiators start deciding on things?

The answer is, it doesn't matter how high, or how horrific the impacts of extreme weather on populations across the world because there can’t be a new treaty on climate change within the present profit-driven system.

Right across the world there is evidence of more extreme and unseasonal weather, outside the natural variability of the climate. Glaciers crucial for water supplies are melting.

In Afghanistan, Oxfam says serious drought helped send prices of wheat and wheat flour in July 2011 up to 79% higher in affected areas over their levels a year before. In south-east Asia, heavy monsoon rainfall and multiple typhoons have killed more than 1,100 people and helped increase rice prices by about 25% and 30% in Thailand and Vietnam. Floods have devastated Pakistan’s Sindh province for a second year.

The United States has suffered hurricanes, droughts, out-of-the ordinary snowstorms and even freezing rains in California. Food prices are soaring as a result. Canada, which has become one of the main opponents of a binding agreement to reduce carbon emissions, saw freak gales roaring through Alberta, ironically the province where they are determined to go ahead with extracting tar sands.

Closer to home, southern England is facing a water shortage in December, whilst floods are spreading across Scotland.

But none of these events has any impact in the conference centre, and there is no limit to the ability of governments to ignore reality and continue down the same disastrous road.

Before the talks opened, it was said that rich nations had already decided to push any substantive talks on a binding agreement to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to 2015 – now it seems unlikely they will accept even that timetable. The truth is, there isn’t going to a successor treaty to Kyoto which will end next year and be quietly forgotten.

Another major element of the talks was to be the launch of the “Green Climate Fund”, which requires developed countries to provide $100 billion to poorer countries by 2020 to help them reduce their own carbon emissions and adapt to climate change.

Now the United States has held up the deal, saying they won't sign anything unless developing nations – wealthy ones, like China, India and Brazil – contribute too.

Countries who would have benefited were also deeply unhappy that the proposed framework for the fund would have allowed corporations to apply directly for money, bypassing governments.

They were prepared to let it go through unchanged, however, because no more funding for mitigating the effects of climate change would have been forthcoming. But outside the conference, a group of leading NGOs wrote an open letter strongly objecting "to any resources going from the Green Climate Fund directly to the private sector, particularly through the establishment of a private sector facility."

They warn that projects that help poor people to adapt to climate change, or tackle their energy problems, are not going to generate corporate profit. Letting corporations and “green investment funds” get their hands on the money would mean it poured into the existing discredited and scandal-ridden carbon markets, or into the new “risky financial instruments” that "green economy" speculators are designing. So in effect, the fund would become yet another means of transferring public money and assets into the hands of the private sector and the speculators.

The message is that the climate crisis, which is a direct result of the operation of capitalist forms of commodity production, cannot be solved within the system that caused it. Our answer to this shameful failure on the part of our governments must be to replace them with a truly democratic power that can then make a binding agreement to reduce carbon emissions.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
2 December 2011

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