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Creative accounting blocks climate action

Rich nations could go on increasing carbon emissions by up to 8% if they exploit gaping loopholes in a new draft agreement which is going to the next UN climate summit in Mexico in December.

An analysis compiled by the Bolivian government and published by the United Nations at talks in Bonn this week shows that using a series of accounting tricks, rich nations could carry on business as usual.

Selling surplus carbon credits created when the Soviet economies collapsed in the 1980s is one ruse. Using carbon markets to “offset” emissions and adopting new rules giving credits for palm plantations on areas cleared of virgin forest would also do the trick.

Christian Figueres, the new UN climate chief, admitted: “The pledges that we have on the table are not sufficient to meet the 2ºC pledge made in Copenhagen, and certainly not enough to guarantee the survival of the most vulnerable and poorest."

Without the loopholes, rich countries would have to reduce emissions by 10-14% below 1990 levels by 2017 to meet the targets agreed at Copenhagen last December. With them, they could increase emissions by between 4% and 8% above 1990 levels and still meet Copenhagen’s already shameful targets.

Bolivia’s UN ambassador Pablo Solon warned: “The new data shows a frightening chasm between what the science says, what the people have asked for and Earth needs, and what rich countries are saying they are willing to do."

Friends of the Earth is one of the organisations that will be excluded from the climate summit in Cancun in November because the major economies don’t want any kind of public pressure and debate around the talks. FoE international climate change campaigner said this week: "The proposals on the table are riddled with loopholes so its not surprising that current targets will do nothing to protect the world from climate disaster."

So now it is clear – even limiting warming to 2ºC is not an honest target for rich countries. Their servility to profit-driven growth and to the power of markets, could lead to 4ºC and more.

The absence of serious commitment to change was underlined this week by an International Energy Authority report, showing that fossil fuel subsidies rose to $557bn in 2008, from $342bn in 2007. Renewable energy innovators struggle to get any help, but subsidies allow fossil fuel to be consumed at less than market price.

There is a mood of gloom amongst some climate campaigners, who fear that the impact of the economic slump, spending cuts and unemployment, and the propaganda onslaught by climate change deniers, means people no longer care about climate change.

But a survey by Cardiff University shows that 78% of British people think the climate is changing, a substantial base to build on. Four out of ten thought that the threat from global warming is exaggerated, but 42% disagreed. And a similar survey in the US shows that public concern about the issue is increasing.

The UN Climate Change talks have become a diversion from real political action aimed at halting the rise in emissions, and a front for continued inaction. Qumrul Chowdhury, who is lead negotiator for the least developed countries' block, asked in Bonn what would happen if the talks dragged on beyond Mexico, warned: "It will be tragic, a holocaust. I warn all the world that it will be at the expense of 1 billion people. We cannot afford to lose this battle."

He is right. But what is needed is a bold approach that makes the connection between the economic crisis which is devastating people’s lives across the world, the climate crisis and the crisis of democracy, where the views of the majority count for nothing.

For even if 100% of people in Britain wanted action on global warming, they could not get it within the national and global status quo of capitalism.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
11 June 2010

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