The Copenhagen Climate Crunch

Posted on December 10, 2009 by


Student activist David McKay tells us about the Copenhagen Climate talks, and what’s wrong with the current and likely future treaty:

The Copenhagen Climate Crunch

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” – Shakespeare was right…

Between the 7th and 18th of December, representatives of all the countries of the world will gather in Copenhagen, Denmark.  Their objective?  To hammer out the replacement for the failed Kyoto Protocol, the original treaty attempting to limit carbon dioxide emissions, which expires in 2012.

At these talks, those currently in power will attempt to work out how to stop the looming spectre of climate chaos.  It is, however, our generation that will have to implement their decisions, or face the consequences if they get it wrong.  Unfortunately, they haven’t made a good start…

Many of the flaws of the old Kyoto Protocol look set to be reincluded in the new treaty.  One of the main concerns is over reliance on carbon trading, the scheme in which carbon ‘credits’ have to be bought and traded by big carbon dioxide emitters, with the number of credits and theoretically emissions shrinking over time.  Sounds good on paper, but the example of the European carbon market does not inspire much confidence in the scheme.  Under pressure from corporate lobbying, far too many credits were issued, leading to low prices and therefore minimal costs for emitting carbon.  The market also eventually crashed, causing prices to plummet and making emissions ridiculously cheap.  Do we want to let corporations and stock markets decide our future?  Our recent experiences of the finance industry suggests that we shouldn’t trust our fate to unstable markets.

Another glaring fault of the Kyoto Protocol is the exclusion of key areas of emissions from cuts – most notably shipping and aviation, despite the fact that they are a significant proportion of the sources of emissions.  So a country could be successfully making ‘cuts’ under the protocol, even if their shipping and aviation emissions could be rising faster than those cuts!  The Clean Development Mechanism, which theoretically funds low-carbon transition technologies and projects, also accepts several unproven practices such as carbon capture (still many years off practical use), as well as nuclear power (whose fuel generation is carbon-intensive even with no emissions at point of generation).

The protocol also attempts to reduce emissions by preventing deforestation by paying landowners not to cut the forest down (known as REDD).  However, REDD also allows landowners to buy up rainforest, kick out any indigenous peoples, cut it down (releasing all the carbon locked up in the soil), replace it with palm oil plantations, and still receive money for ‘preventing’ deforestation.  In short, we’re paying for corporations to destroy the rainforest for profit in the name of climate change.  This, I hope you agree, is totally unacceptable.

The whole protocol with these flaws is now up for renegotiation in the replacement treaty.  But it seems many western nations are intent on keeping these loopholes open, as are the many lobbyists of the industries most affected by them.  The negotiations are also set to be deadlocked between the developed and developing world, with rich western nations unwilling to cut more than developing nations, but developing nations unwilling to start cutting before they do.  In short, neither side will cut before the other side does, creating a seemingly insurmountable deadlock.  And in the middle, poor nations – despite being the least responsible – are suffering the most from the climate change.  Within years the Maldives is set to become one of the first countries destroyed by climate chaos through rising sea levels, becoming the first of many sources of environmental refugees.

These deadlocks are so entrenched that – at the time of writing – many nations are now scaling back their hopes for the talks, talking instead of making progress rather than reaching a binding treaty.  But we do not have the time for such delays – the science is clear that critical tipping points, involving processes such as the Albedo Effect in Polar Regions, methane release from gas hydrates and instability in the complex climate system mean that emissions must start falling within a few years, or dangerous levels of climate change will occur.  Some temperature rise is already inevitable due to past emissions, but we owe it to future generations to cut them as much as possible to give the best chances of maintaining relatively stable living conditions whilst otherwise adapting.  Inaction is not an option – the severity of the consequences if we don’t demands immediate action.

To show their opposition to the fake solutions proposed, thousands of protestors, activists and NGOs will be descending on Copenhagen during the talks.  Activities will range from charities lobbying for a fair deal within the summit, to demonstrations outside and full-scale invasions of the conference centre and alternative conferences planned by others.  Closer to home, thousands plan to march on Westminster on the 5th December to demand that the UK government works for the best deal possible, joined by Southampton Universities very own Green Action society.

So what can we do?  We need to keep building an international movement of people to demand change of our leaders, and take action independently if they fail.  We need to defy the status quo of business as usual, or business will never be able to be usual again.  We, as students and therefore representatives of the next generation, need to make sure that the current generation in power see beyond their short political careers and corporate interests.  We need real climate justice at Copenhagen, and to keep working towards it beyond Copenhagen whatever its outcome.

David McKay

SU Green Action Activism Officer

Search on Facebook for SU Green Action Society and (Y)Our Generation (the national student campaign group on climate chaos)

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