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Kyoto II abandoned as corporates call the shots

Any attempt to reduce the risk of runaway climate change with a new international treaty to limit carbon emissions is off the table for the foreseeable future as corporate profits take precedence.

The next round of UN climate talks in Durban next week will be a waste of time, since the richest countries have already made clear in private they are not ready to even make a start on negotiating a binding agreement to replace the Kyoto protocol before 2016.

As former Bolivian UN climate change representative Pablo Solon says:

The Kyoto Protocol has many weaknesses, but to turn it into an empty shell or make it disappear in Durban would be suicide. The only responsible alternative is to preserve the Kyoto Protocol with an emissions reductions goal that allows us to avoid incinerating the planet.

The Alliance of Small Island States, which represents countries that would disappear in a “business-as-usual” scenario say the delay is "reckless and irresponsible". Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency (IEA), warned that without an international agreement working by 2017 the chance to hold a rise in global temperatures below 2ºC “will be closed forever".

The failure to make a serious start on cutting emissions means global output of CO2 has already jumped again, rising by the biggest amount on record in 2010. The world pumped out about 564 million more tons of carbon than it did in 2009.

That's an increase of 6%, a "monster" rise that is unheard of, says Gregg Marland, a professor of geology at Appalachian State University, who has helped calculate the figures for the US Department of Energy.

As a result, the scenario for climate change is beyond the worst case scenario outlined by scientists working with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change only four years ago.

At the last round of talks in Cancun, developed capitalist countries promised to pledge emissions cuts (to be achieved between 2012-2020) that would limit warming to 2ºC. This rise in itself would mean millions of deaths from drought and flood, and put some 20-30% of animal and plant species at risk of extinction. Many coastal zones and island states would sink below the waves and glaciers disappear entirely.

But the actual pledges made since Cancun would lead to an average increase in global temperature of around 4°C or more – a catastrophic level which it seems likely the ecosystem could not survive.

The complex impact of global warming on weather was highlighted this week in a new IPCC report. It warns that in a high emissions scenario “it is likely that the frequency of hot days will increase by a factor of 10 in most regions of the world” and that “heavy precipitation will occur more often, and the wind speed of tropical cyclones will increase while their number will likely remain constant or decrease”.

No measures are being taken to prepare for these problems – quite the opposite. More fossil fuels – the major contributor to global emissions – are being burned than ever before. No attempts have been made to support serious development of renewables. Air travel has contributed to the leap in emissions measured by the US Energy Department, and as far as manufacturing is concerned “from an emissions standpoint, the global financial crisis seems to be over,’ says Tom Boden, who chairs the US Energy Department’s carbon dioxide information analysis centre.

And that’s the heart of the matter: Capitalism and its political proxies at state level will pay any price to achieve growth. The only diplomacy that will achieve the kinds of cuts in emissions needed to halt climate change is the open discussion and debate taking place between global assemblies of free peoples. Liberated from the drive for profit, they will shift to a system of planned production for need, and start to try to repair the damage.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
24 November 2011

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