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US and EU scupper climate summit

International talks preparing for the Copenhagen climate summit are in disarray and on the point of collapse, as the science is pushed to one side and the discussion descends into self-seeking wrangling. The United States says it will not sign up to an agreement that includes the Kyoto Protocol. Since other countries thought they were negotiating a successor treaty to Kyoto, this is a major blow.

The US wants historic responsibility for climate change on the part of the earliest industrialised countries removed from the picture and countries to set their own emissions reductions targets. But India and China say they will not sign up to any agreement that does not include Kyoto principles.

The existing protocol sets specific emissions target for each industrialised nation while allowing them to use carbon trading schemes to buy or sell “credits”. The protocol was never ratified by the US and the Obama administration has also declined to endorse it.

The European Union signed up to Kyoto but spokesperson Karl Falkenbert now agrees with the US. His smokescreen? "We look at the Kyoto protocol, but since it came into force we have seen emissions increase. It has not decreased emissions.”

All that is true, but the question is, why was it not made clear four years ago that Copenhagen was about negotiating an entirely new framework treaty? Starting on negotiations for a new treaty now means that talks will rumble on into 2015/2016 with no action taken.

At present, the only US offer on the table is a 17% cut from 2005 emission levels by 2020, and even that has not made its way into law, though between the recession and carbon off-setting, the US could meet that target without making any real reductions at all.

Even the modest cap-and-trade scheme proposed by the Obama administration is foundering, as frightened Democrats give in to the Republican Right. The only legislation that looks likely to pass is an Energy Bill with a small commitment to renewables, and a rider allowing extensive drilling for new oil and gas off the Florida coast.

Organisations like the Association of Small Island States are in despair. The Maldives, Kiribati, and some of the Bahamas, would be inundated by sea levels more than one metre above current levels – which could happen by 2100, if warming is not kept to a minimum of 1.5%. Samoa, Fiji and other south sea islands have already lost hundreds of acres of coast to rising sea levels.

AOSIS representative Dessima Williams, from Grenada, said: "We face an emergency. We want commitments. We did not create the problem. Any mechanism currently in use is one we want to maintain. National actions are important but they are no substitutes for an international framework.”

But the survival of small island nations is not a priority at Copenhagen, nor drought, hunger, disease or wars over resources. The only priority is the need for capitalist business-as-usual.

There is a kind of liberal piety that says that China historically did not create the emissions, so should not hold back development by making substantial cuts now. But industrial development is not taking place for the benefit of ordinary Chinese. Poverty in the countryside, low wages in the factories and political repression everywhere are the Chinese realities. We should be demanding that all global industries start now to prioritise emissions reductions over profits – wherever they are located on the planet.

Profit-driven forms of production are unsustainable – in terms of climate and the eco-system, raw materials and human health – but capitalism will not vote itself out of prime position at the heart of all international debates. In the end, it will have to be physically removed by the mass action of millions – and we need to do it soon, for our own survival.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
8 October 2009

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