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Planetary emergency appeal

In the run up to the December crisis meeting on global warming, a call has gone out to world governments meeting in Bali to make a global energy and economic transition without delay in order to save the planet and its inhabitants from disaster. Signatories to the call say a “systemic shift” is needed just to stabilise the planet’s climate.

Drawn up by leading development and climate organisations, including the International Forum on Globalisation, Focus on the Global South and the Polaris Institute, the appeal calls on governments to "begin a pathway toward new global agreements that recognise and operate within our planet’s limits and equitably share its ecological space". It rightly points out that the proposals governments are likely to discuss in Bali will "dangerously underestimate the challenges confronting us".

Instead, the signatories make the case for having "deeper binding targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at the very least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050... with solutions that place the greatest burden of adjustment on the richer nations, and the richer segments within all nations". The appeal demands that developed countries "drastically reduce consumption of energy and others resources, materials, and commodities" and proposes that "...conservation and re-localising cycles of ownership, production and consumption are the fastest, cheapest most efficient means toward powering down”.

Interestingly, the appeal recognises the need to "shift power away from global and national governance, and toward local economies, especially energy and food systems..". This appears to be the beginnings of a realisation that the structures of the existing society cannot deliver a sustainable future. There is a call for new development models that "satisfying basic human rights and basic human needs for all (such as survival, sufficiency, freedom, identity)", to replace existing measurements based on economic performance.

The signatories urge the creation of global financial mechanisms to help poor nations keep their resources and see the need to "drive ecological solutions that transform today’s patterns of production and consumption, replacing long-distance trade and absentee-ownership with decentralised economic activity under community control".

There is nothing in the appeal you could disagree with, even if there is no reference to the economic system known as capitalism anywhere in the document. The real issue revolves around how these absolutely necessary changes are to be achieved. In this respect, the signatories mistakenly place their faith in existing governments and institutions to carry through the transition. For example, the appeal claims: “Just as one of the oldest global bodies, the International Labour Organisation, includes representatives from governments, labour, and business, these new negotiations must involve all of the sectors of society to be effective.”

Just how naïve this approach is was demonstrated by the New Labour government last week when it effectively gave the green light for a new runway at Heathrow Airport, despite massive opposition from local communities and environmental groups. Transport secretary Ruth Kelly said expansion was needed to keep the British economy “competitive”. Her “solution” for the extra CO2 emissions that would occur was to ensure “that every tonne of carbon that is emitted from a plane is matched by a reduction somewhere else in Europe” through carbon trading.

Kelly’s decision is just one of countless examples of how corporate power and compliant governments are locked into a mutual dance of death at the planet’s expense. They are deaf to appeals, whatever their merits and logic, and incapable of tackling the planetary emergency in the way outlined by the signatories above. Political and economic life will have to be restructured from top to bottom by the mass of the people themselves independently of their rulers’ wishes. If there was an easier option, it would have been discovered by now.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor
29 November 2007

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