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System change, not climate change!

Halting climate change and preventing further, catastrophic damage to the world’s ecosystems will require mass action against the very politicians and business interests that are gathering in Copenhagen for next week’s summit.

That much is clear from their abject failure to take the kind of action that would cut carbon emissions in any serious way. Leading climate scientists like James Hansen admit that Copenhagen is doomed and even say that no agreement would be better than the half-baked deals on the table.

These are centred around widely-discredited carbon trading schemes and carbon offsets. Capitalism doesn’t get more obscene that creating markets to buy and sell the very stuff that is killing off the planet’s life support systems. And it is not as if the schemes work.

As Carbon Trade Watch has shown, carbon trading does not actually reduce any emissions. It simply gives corporations greater room to manoeuvre through the sale of permits. Instead of cleaning up its act, one polluter can then trade these permits with another who might make “equivalent” changes more cheaply.

The EU Emissions Trading Scheme, the world’s largest carbon market (worth $68 billion in 2008) has consistently failed to “cap” emissions while the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) based on carbon offsets, which are also traded, routinely favours environmentally ineffective and socially unjust projects.

Hansen, who heads the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, says scathingly of carbon trading and offsetting:

This is analogous to the indulgences that the Catholic church sold in the middle ages. The bishops collected lots of money and the sinners got redemption. Both parties liked that arrangement despite its absurdity. That is exactly what's happening. We've got the developed countries who want to continue more or less business as usual and then these developing countries who want money and that is what they can get through offsets.

So Copenhagen is aimed at preserving the status quo, whereby the very same market forces that have driven climate change are the only devices on offer for tackling exactly the same problem! We should not be surprised, however. The United Nations which hosts the summit has teamed up with big business in a “compact”, urging them to find “green solutions” towards a “sustainable economy”.

No treaty that binds countries to cut carbon emissions or face international sanctions will ever be signed so long as big business rules the roost at the UN as well as in the cabinet rooms of the world’s major governments. No treaty will ever be signed so long as the global economy remains driven by year-on-year increases in corporate profits and the relentless expansion of the production of commodities.

For Brown, Obama and the rest the priority is economic “recovery” based on a “return to growth”. In other words, back to the destruction of resources through an expansion of fossil-fuel based production and consumption. And they say there is such a thing as “sustainable capitalism”!

At Copenhagen, Climate Justice Action (CJA) wants to take over the summit for a day and set up a Peoples Assembly. The Danish state will no doubt try and prevent real voices disrupting the cosy, meaningless deliberations of the summit but CJA’s demand for “system change, not climate change” is absolutely right.

Copenhagen’s failure demonstrates clearly that the present capitalist system and its supine leaders have lost all legitimacy and authority. Creating permanent Peoples Assemblies in Britain and other countries as a step to transferring power out of the hands of the political, economic and financial elites and creating a democratic, sustainable society is definitely the way forward.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
3 December 2009

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