Saturday, 19 December 2009

Beyond Copenhagen

It is now clear the Copenhagen conference, and the entire process that has been unfolding for the past two years, has utterly and completely failed. None of the work has resulted in an agreement of any kind, let alone a strong and fair one. At last minute, a proposal put together by the US and a few other countries behind closed doors was submitted, with no emissions targets. The UN delegates have now left and the conference has broken up without approval of this meaningless "deal".

The US and some other countries produced a two page declaration outside of UN processes. This document mentioned only a "goal" of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. There were no emissions targets listed at all, no method for monitoring or enforcement, and no obligations, legal or otherwise, for participating countries. The US itself has made no new commitments to emissions targets beyond its prior inadequate proposal of reducing by 4 percent. The document is short, vague, ineffective, and essentially meaningless.

This document was then submitted to UN delegates and they were given just an hour to decide whether or not to approve. After much protest, delegates were allowed to speak, and a string of countries began to denounce and reject the document. After much deliberation, the conference broke up without any approval of this last minute proposal. They agreed only to "take note" of it, which is also meaningless. This is better than the worst case outcome, however. It is better to have no deal, than an obviously weak and impotent one.

So, where do we go from here? 18 years of effort in international negotiations have amounted to virtually nothing. These processes have failed, and we have lost time we could not afford to lose. Activists have devoted their blood, sweat and tears for over a year trying to raise awareness and put pressure on leaders to reach a strong and fair deal. It hasn't worked, and we see a lot of anger and bitterness being expressed today.

The third world is going to experience the worst effects of catastrophic climate change, and indeed, many countries are already suffering. If they remain united, they do have some power and the capability of forcing the issue. This means various forms of sanctions, boycotts and embargoes. If Western countries refuse to reduce emissions, they can deny us the ability to grow emissions by denying us the resources that generate those emissions or make them possible.

A large amount of oil and other important natural resources are located in the third world. Beyond oil, there is coal, natural gas, uranium, and various rare metals. Third world nations can decide to leave these in the ground, limit supplies, or sell only to certain countries. This will force us to conserve and to get by with the fossil fuels we are producing ourselves. It will force us to scale back and take a more serious interest in alternative energies. It will force us to change, though we might be dragged kicking and screaming to a sustainable way of life.

In the end, this will help the whole world, including those living in the West. Activists in the West can do everything they can to support these measures, and to agitate against any possible retaliation, especially military invasion or bombings. The US military is already stretched to the breaking point in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US cannot dominate the world if the world stands against them. Indeed with limited supplies of resources, the US may be forced to withdraw from these countries and focus their limited resources and funds on change at home.

In Canada, of course, we produce more oil than we need, and in the case of an embargo, we might be tempted to expand our exploitation of the tar sands. Other forms of sanctions or boycotts might be needed to discourage us from such action. At the very least, the demand should be that we abandon the tar sands completely. We have enough oil without it, but if we insist on environmentally destructive behaviour in order to prop up US supplies impacted by an embargo, then we need to be isolated.

Many European countries are taking progressive positions in terms of emissions reduction. If possible a third world bloc could align itself with some of these nations, if they are willing to participate in sanctions and embargoes. Russia is an unknown quantity, but it may serve their interests to cooperate with such efforts. As much as possible the goal should be to force the US and Canada, and any other massive polluters to stand alone.

The UN has failed to address the most pressing humans rights issue of our time, and perhaps the most important crisis in human history. A new alliance is now needed. An alliance of hope and peace and justice must be built to oppose the axis of pollution, extinction and self destruction. We are now at a crossroads. One path leads only to pain, and suffering and death. We cannot afford to take that road.

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