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Achieving climate change justice

The chief climate change negotiator for the developing nations has demanded that the rich world agrees to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2020, from 1990 levels, or there can be no deal at Copenhagen.

During the final preparatory talks in Barcelona, Sudanese diplomat Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, who leads the negotiating team from the G77/China bloc, was adamant that only a reduction of this order could save millions from the impact of climate change, by keeping the rise in global temperatures since the pre-industrial era to 1.5 degrees or certainly below 2 degrees.

"Anything less than 40% means Africa's land mass is offered destruction as the only alternative," he said. Meanwhile the Canadian negotiator said his country’s non-negotiable offer was a cut of 3% over 1990 levels. The EU is considering 30%. The US is not offering anything specific.

The developing world frames the argument in terms of justice – they have not created the problem of climate change but it is countries of the south who will suffer the worst consequences. Seen in this way, the developed economies’ attitude is a continuation of the process whereby the west grew rich from the seizure of land, labour and raw materials from Africa, Asia and South America. Now the balance must be redressed.

Bangladesh, for example, has one of the lowest levels of energy consumption of any country, but its very existence is threatened by climate change. The United States has a carbon footprint 70 times higher than that of Bangladesh. There is no doubt that there is a serious injustice here.

The problem however is that justice for the poor is not achievable within the existing global capitalist economy and it is certainly not something that the wealthy countries deliver even to their own people, with unemployment soaring, homelessness on the increase and hard-won rights under attack.

ALL the governments and institutions meeting in Copenhagen support the continuation of the global capitalist economy and offer no alternatives. They are not there to look after the interests of their people, or the interests of people in countries affected by climate change.

Amongst the bloc making the demand for a 40% cut is the Chinese government – rich, repressive and itself plundering the oil and land resources of Africa and the Middle East. Its own people have few rights and their land too is being privatised, monetised and plundered.

The government of Sudan has rented out thousands of acres of fertile farm land to global agri-business to achieve the kinds of farming intensity that have contributed to global warming – the manufacture of fertilizers is one of the processes that contribute most to greenhouse gas emissions.

South African agri-business has been offered up 10 million hectares (24.7 million acres) of land to farm in the Republic of Congo and 35,000 hectares in Libya. Uganda and Angola are also inviting the big South African farming corporations in.

The question that immediately arises is, whose land was it before? It wasn’t empty. Where are the people who farmed it for their own benefit?

So whilst climate change is certainly an issue of justice, it is not only the injustice of exploitation of poor countries by rich, but of the working class and peasants in every country by their own ruling capitalist class, desperate to join the global capitalist élite.

The argument that the wealthy countries of the west should reduce carbon emissions at a higher rate so that developing countries can continue their development, has a ring of fairness to it. But what is this development to be? Who will benefit from it? Without economic, political and social revolution, it will not be the people of those developing countries, that’s for certain.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
5 November 2009

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