This paper written in 2012 and used for staff training of Environmental Rights Action
Climate impacts on Africa and other vulnerable regions are not matters of speculation. The impacts are real. Failing rains, failing crops, increased desertification and population displacements are some of the manifestations. These impacts are not letting up and will not diminish until something is done. The big question is will something be done?
For Africa, perhaps more than anywhere else, climate impacts are not merely environmental. Climate change impacts diverse realms of life and living. These include poverty, hunger, peace, security, human rights, health and socio-economic aspects.
Globally, the causes of global warming are generally understood. It is also generally agreed that the phenomenon is a global one that requires global action. The big gulf is with regard to what actions must be taken to fight the menace. The blockage to needed for action appears to be erected by the perceived sense of inbuilt resilience by the rich and industrialised nations who feel they can withstand the ravages of global warming over several decades, making it easy for policy makers to delay action while hoping that their grandchildren would help themselves when the tide eventually threatens to swallow them up. Another factor is the strong grip of the fossil fuels sector over policy structures. Through well-orchestrated spin they sell the idea that the continuation of the fossil fuel path is inevitable. They dismiss examples being shown that renewables can and must replace the fossil driven mode of production and consumption. Policy makers who swallow the deception of the fossil fuel sector would do well to pay attention to what analysts have said of the critical need for urgent transition. Any delay is just that, a delay. The problem is that some people must pay the cost. And the most vulnerable, the victims, will bear that cost through their blood, miseries and tears.
In the words of Hermann Scheer:
If the transition from the nuclear and fossil to renewable energy is only carried out in a piecemeal and gradual manner, then it is highly likely that world civilization will be thrown into a staggering crisis affecting everyone and everything: dramatic climate change threatens to make entire habitats unfit to live in and to trigger mass misery and the migration of hundreds of millions of people.
The addiction to fossil fuels path is leading to desperations in the oil fields with oil companies moving into more fragile ecosystems, into deeper offshore and extending their claws into the Arctic. These moves are already accompanied by more polluting accidents that compound the environmental crisis. Meanwhile oil companies dither to squeeze the last drop from their oil concessions, the last coal from the mines and engage in dangerous extraction of shale gas as well as tar sands.
There is no disputing that the upsurge in global temperatures is due largely to the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere. Carbon is a basic building block in every living thing, plant or animal. Our soils are loaded with carbon and so is our air and oceans. We take in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Plants do the reverse and we coexist happily supplying each other’s carbon dioxide or oxygen needs. The problem is that over the last two centuries humans have dramatically increased the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. It is estimated that about 26 billion tones equivalent of CO2 is released this way yearly. One way to visualise how CO2 plays a vital role in the climate equation is to see the gas as enveloping the entire earth, occupying a belt around it, so to speak, in the lower atmospheric regions. Now, there are several other gases there, but the essential difference is that this gas, along with other greenhouse gases, allows the energy from the sun through to reach the earth but slows down the escape back into space of the energy reflected from the earth’s surface. This build up of energy is the greenhouse effect.
It is not difficult to fully grasp the importance and magnitude of hydrocarbons. Modern urban life is petroleum-based: it depends on it for electrical power and transportation, and releases petroleum in its 300 million tons of waste annually. Modern life is petroleum-based: it depends on machinery, agrochemicals such as the 136.44 million tons of fertilisers plus millions of tons of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and other chemicals used annually, as well as the transportation of agricultural products. Healthcare and food systems are becoming ever more petroleum-based as food and health sovereignty are increasingly abandoned. In the United States alone, coal is the source of half of all the electrical power generated.
Climate change is fundamentally a systemic crisis that cannot be tackled through palliatives. It is a crisis of a civilisation built on the rapacious destruction of nature through massive consumption and waste of resources. It is the consequence of ruinous production and consumption patterns that are blind to the fact that planet earth is finite and that there must be a point when such a path becomes unsustainable in many ways.
Adaptation and mitigation action taken to tackle climate change impacts are nothing more than palliatives–a term most Nigerians have come to grips with as something done to ease pains inflicted on the peoples by acts of poor governance as well as institutionalised perfidy. These palliatives do not in any way solve the problem; they only help to cope with certain degrees with the crisis.
Systemic challenges, systemic solutions
The global nature of climate change necessitates actions of global proportions and across the earth. Climate change is a crisis of capitalism and its attendant creed of expansion and unlimited economic growth and profits. The current inability to confront this crisis is due mainly to the vice grip on the global systems by the powerhouses of imperialism. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was set up to provide guideposts and to urge nations to act together in everyone’s common interest for the survival of the planet as we know it. The conferences of parties (COP) to the convention have quickly turned into talk shops for nations to display their power, arm-twist the poor and evade action. This became most obvious at COP15 in Copenhagen and became entrenched at COP16 in Cancún. What happened at COP17 in Durban must take the medal as a conference whose critical achievement was the blatant postponement of action while the earth burns.
Climate justice activists saw the Durban debacle as one where ordinary people were unabashedly let down by governments. Leading the betrayal were the governments of the USA, Japan, Australia, Canada and other developed nations who reneged on their promises, weakened the rules on climate action and strengthened those rules that allow their corporations to profit from the climate crisis.
At the close of the Durban meeting, Sarah-Jane Clifton of Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) explained for example that the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding framework for emissions reductions, survived in name only, and
The ambition for those emissions cuts remains terrifyingly low. The Green Climate Fund has no money and the plans to expand destructive carbon trading move ahead. Meanwhile, millions across the developing world already face devastating climate impacts, and the world catapults headlong towards climate catastrophe. It is clear in whose interests this deal has been advanced, and it isn’t the 99 percent of people around the world.The noise of corporate polluters has drowned out the voices of ordinary people in the ears of our leaders.
While Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid saw the Durban outcome as “… a compromise which saves the climate talks but endangers people living in poverty,” the UNFCCC secretariat saw COP17 as a great success and indeed called it
… a landmark historical COP – not just the longest but also the decisions here have really marked a completely new trajectory for the climate regime. It has guaranteed a second commitment period but it has also laid the path for a broader regime applicable to all in a legal way and provided mechanisms for developing countries to address their needs of mitigation and adaptation.
The response of analysts such as Pablo Solón, former lead negotiator for the Plurinational State of Bolivia, was clear and to the point: ‘It is false to say that a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol has been adopted in Durban. The actual decision has merely been postponed to the next COP, with no commitments for emission reductions from rich countries. This means that the Kyoto Protocol will be on life support until it is replaced by a new agreement that will be even weaker.’
The descent into non-binding pledge-and-review system places the world on the way to warming by as much as 4 to 7 degrees C above preindustrial levels. If that happens, Africa will be cooked because the continent experiences 50 per cent more than average global temperature levels. The reluctance of rich and highly polluting nations to take real actions on climate change has rightly been described as a form of apartheid. This is apartheid against Mother Earth and the species that she bears.
While the people see the outcomes of COPs 15, 16 and 17 as off the mark, officials insist that sitting in the driving seat is not the same as being in the passenger’s seat. They say that reaching those conclusions in a conference of so many governments ought to be applauded. The views of key players at the conference are revealing. Let us look at samples of these:
For Maite Nkoana-Mashbane, the president of the Durban conference: ‘We have taken crucial steps forward for the common good and the global citizenry today. I believe that what we have achieved in Durban will play a central role in saving tomorrow, today.’ The executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christiana Figueres was no less upbeat: ‘I salute the countries who made this agreement. They have all laid aside some cherished objectives of their own to meet a common purpose — a long-term solution to climate change. The South African presidency steered through a long and intense conference to a historic agreement that has met all major issues.
The water and environment affairs minister of South Africa, Edna Molewa, waxed superlative in her summation of the COP: ‘After a year of intensive negotiation, the final outcome of Durban is historic and precedent-setting, ranking with the 1997 conference where the Kyoto Protocol was adopted. In the dying hours of this watershed conference, we were able to agree on a comprehensive deal.’
The successes of the Durban conference alluded to:
- Agreement to set up a Green Climate Fund
- Agreement to negotiate a binding emissions reduction by 2015 and bring it into force by 2020 (an ‘agreement to negotiate’ is a quaint form of agreement)
- Not burying the Kyoto Protocol (but merely leaving it on life support)
- Jettisoning of equity aspect of the Kyoto Protocol (by erasing the common but differentiated responsibilities provisions)
- Agriculture got mentioned in the outcomes (for carbon credit purposes opposed by farmers and mass movements)
Would you trust a COP?
In To Cook A Continent, I noted:
The question that confronts humanity is how to tackle this carbon in the atmosphere. What should people do? Do we stop releasing carbon into the atmosphere? What would that entail? Are there acceptable levels that we can keep to so as not to reach the point of no return with a runaway climate change? These questions have engaged the imaginations of many and a variety of solutions have been offered.
One interesting proposed solution that has come up is that of carbon sequestration. In this scenario you could keep up with business as usual, releasing as much carbon as you please, only ensuring that the carbon is captured and stored or sequestered. Technologists have been at work on carbon sequestration technologies with some already undergoing tests, but with none likely to be ready for practical use until about 2020. Meanwhile carbon offset is gaining ground in some quarters with the proposition that one could pollute in part of the world, and then have the pollution offset in another part of the world. For example, a company in Europe could keep on stoking the atmosphere with carbon, but plant a tree plantation somewhere in Africa and since the trees absorb carbon, the company can feel satisfied that they are carbon neutral. It is a convenient fictional scenario. The company cleans up its conscience; those setting up the plantation get paid. Communities whose lands are taken up to set up the plantations may get jobs as plantation hands and perhaps receive some form of compensation for lost farmlands.
The COP17 outcome seeks to include developed and developing nations in set emissions reduction targets. But it would only negotiate such a new legally binding agreement in 2015. And whatever this agreement turns out to be, it will only take effect after 2020. This means that from now until 2020, nations would cut emissions based on their own national pledges, which are voluntary and not legally binding.
Thus the Durban conference eliminated any sense of equity and fairness predicated on the common but differentiated responsibility in the efforts to tackle climate change.This was done despite the fact that the rich industrialised countries are responsible for three quarters of all emissions historically whilst hosting only 15 percent of the world’s population.
The Durban outcome showed no sense of urgent action in the face of the planetary emergency— just a promise to start a whole new round of negotiations on a whole new treaty, delaying action until 2020— by which time we may already have irreversible crisis on our hands.
The entire foundation of the climate regime was pulled apart, and those to blame for this destruction are the governments of United States, Canada, Japan, Australia and the other rich industrialised nations who worked hard to avoid their legal and moral obligation to make deep and urgent emissions reductions to help the world avoid the onset of runaway climate change.
By forcing the so-called Durban Platform through the UN process, the United States and the EU led the charge in shifting the burden of tackling climate change squarely onto the shoulders of countries in Africa and the global South.
While countries dither about what can be done globally to avoid a 2 degrees Celsius rise in global temperatures others have learned from the Katrina floods that showed the soft underbelly of the USA that no one is immune to what is coming in the future. Thus, Germany is spending 600 million Euros on one new sea wall for Hamburg while The Netherlands plans to spend 2.2 billion Euros on dykes between now and 2015. These measures may be inadequate considering they are indicators of what rich nations are capable of doing in a bid to survive the coming floods. The question is, what will happen to the poor? What is the response to the cries of the Small Island States such as Tuvalu whose citizens are already becoming climate refugees?
Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) is one mechanism that allows polluters to keep polluting, take no action to reduce emissions but rather buy carbon credits that enable them to carry on with business as usual. Many observers including the Durban Group for Climate Justice exposed this loophole and denounced REDD as a false solution. In 2009 at Copenhagen the Durban Group stated:
Like Clean Development Mechanism credits, they exacerbate climate change by giving industrialised countries and companies incentives to delay undertaking the sweeping structural change away from fossil fuel-dependent systems of production, consumption, transportation that the climate problem demands. They waste years of time that the world doesn’t have. Worse, conserving forests can never be climatically equivalent to keeping fossil fuels in the ground, since carbon dioxide emitted from burning fossil fuels adds to the overall burden of carbon perpetually circulating among the atmosphere, vegetation, soils and oceans, whereas carbon dioxide from deforestation does not. This inequivalence, among many other complexities, makes REDD carbon accounting, impossible, allowing carbon traders to inflate the value of REDD carbon credits with impunity and further increasing the use of fossil fuels.
REDD does not seek to halt deforestation as it rather focuses on what the promoters believe is the carbon stock in the trees. In this process, forest communities suffer evictions and exclusion from their territories and forest resources. Moreover, the United Nations sees monoculture plantations as forests, making it attractive for carbon speculators to convert forests into plantations in efforts to disconnect indigenous communities from ever claiming titles over their patrimony. REDD is a major driver of land grabbing that is impoverishing already poor communities and deepening the food crisis by converting arable lands for cash cropping and related projects aimed at the export markets.
While communities stand to lose, big companies are raring to go in their carbon cash dash. Big polluters investing in REDD include Shell, Rio Tinto and Chevron-Texaco who see this as an avenue for buying their way out of reducing their greenhouse emissions at source by supposedly conserving forests. The oil giant Shell (well known for its role in the environmental destruction of Nigeria’s Niger Delta), Gasprom and the Clinton Foundation are funding the landmark REDD Rimba Raya project in East Kalimantan in Indonesia.
Agrofuels – the new fossil fuels?
In 2006 the former president of Senegal proposed the creation of what he termed a ‘green’ OPEC expected to be the Pan-African Non-Petroleum Producers Association (PANPP). President Abdoulaye Wade, in an article titled Africa Over the Barrel, envisioned the body as one that would aspire to ‘become leaders in the field of biofuels and alternative energy strategies, following in Brazil’s footsteps.’
The notion of a green OPEC suggests a propensity for commodity cartelisation as well as a fixation on a model dependent on fossil fuels. With fifteen countries already on board and meetings already held, the PANPP dream may wax strong. At the founding meeting, twenty-five countries participated, with fifteen endorsing the founding charter. The countries included: Benin Republic, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo and Zambia.
The concerns are whether its activities will help or worsen the food crisis and land conflicts on the African Continent.
We were very disappointed that the Copenhagen conference attempted to impose the adoption of an accord on the COP following an undemocratic process.The Copenhagen Accord attempted to eliminate the Kyoto Protocol and ignored concerns already well shown by science and equity to be critical for the survival of the earth and her peoples. The ‘Accord’ does this mainly through the negation of the principle of aggregate emissions reduction target for rich nations. By promoting voluntary emissions targets, the Accord has so far pointed at a possibility of a temperature increase of over 4 degrees Celsius – a clear notice to Africa that she should prepare to be incinerated. Comparable extreme fate awaits small island and Arctic states if that scenario is allowed to stand.
The Peoples Agreement, a key outcome of the Cochabamba conference, demands that countries cut their emissions by at least 50 percent on 1990 levels at source in the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2013-2017), without recourse to offsets and other carbon trading schemes. These market mechanisms such as those in CDM and REDD sell false solutions to speculators who are happy to do nothing while exposing the earth to grave danger through unabated greenhouse gas emissions.
In terms of finance, the Peoples Agreement demands that developed countries commit 6 percent of their GDP to finance adaptation and mitigation needs. The financial suggestions of the Copenhagen Accord are a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed to secure vulnerable peoples and nations.
The peoples of the world also affirmed that there is a climate debt that must be recognised and paid. The payment is not all about finance but principally about decolonizing the atmospheric space and redistributing the meagre space left. Developed countries already occupy 80 percent of the space.
The climate debt is also about taking actions needed to restore the natural cycles of Mother Earth and one clear way of achieving this will be through the proclamation of a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth with clear obligations on humans.
The Peoples Agreement recognises that the causes of climate change are systemic and that systemic changes are needed to tackle them. On this note, the model of civilisation that is hinged on uncontrolled development can only compound the crisis. The world needs to move towards living well and not continue on the path of domination of others and of conspicuous and wasteful consumption.
An area glossed over in the UNFCCC negotiations is the role of industrial agriculture in climate change. The Peoples Conference debated this key sector and reached the agreement that the way to a sustainable future is through the enthronement of food sovereignty based on agro-ecological and peasant based agricultural systems.Water is a public trust and an inalienable human right and the continued global destruction of the world’s water and its commodification was clearly rejected in the Peoples Agreement.
In all, the Peoples Agreement recognises that real strategies to tackle climate change must be based on the principles of equity and justice in dealing with the structural causes. Without climate justice it will clearly be impossible to achieve the much talked about Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Cochabamba resonated with calls for urgently securing the rights of Mother Earth as a means of reconfiguring our relationship with the earth and with each other— in a way that respects the past, today and the future. All these will be a pipe dream unless peoples’ sovereignty is supported, restored and built across the world. Cochabamba was a turning point in the march to transform our world from the paths of conflicts, competition, exploitation and domination unto a path of solidarity and dignity.
As representatives of peoples from across the world we urge the United Nations system to embrace the contributions captured by the Peoples Agreement and other outcomes of the Cochabamba World peoples Conference on Climate Change and to use them as the key to untangle the gridlock that is keeping the world on the path to even more climate chaos.
In a presentation to the UN Secretary General, Meena Raman asserted that ‘The Peoples’ Agreement from Cochabamba has called for a global referendum or popular consultation on climate change, should the process of future climate meetings not deliver the aspirations of the Peoples’ Agreement.’ She noted that a key outcome at the next COP must be an amendment to the Kyoto Protocol for the second commitment period from 2013-2017 for developed countries to agree to domestic emissions cuts of at least 50 percent from 1990 levels excluding carbon markets or other offset mechanisms. She stressed that the Kyoto model is superior because it mandates an aggregate reduction target for Annex I parties, it mandates each Annex I country have an adequate target which is also comparable with one another, and that these are legally binding. Under the Copenhagen Accord, there is no aggregate target, and each country only pledges what it wants even if it is not adequate. Under the Accord the pledges as you know are grossly inadequate, adding to only a 11-18 percent cut compared to the 40 percent cut needed. Raman concluded that the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol was imperative and noted that developed countries, through the Copenhagen Accord, were attempting to ‘kill’ the KP.
The negotiations at the UNFCCC COPs continue to drag away from real solutions and instead move deeper into offset regimes, depending on market forces that have clearly driven the world into financial, economic and political crises. Larry Lohmann reminds us that when Sir Nicholas Stern, climate change advisor to Tony Blair’s government, famously said in 2007 that global warming was ‘the greatest market failure the world has ever seen’, the implication was that, given the proper price signals, addressing it could be a market success.
Lohmann adds that with that mindset, predictably, Sir Stern became a climate entrepreneur, serving also as advisor to IDEAcarbon, a company whose ambition is to provide ‘ratings, research, and strategic advice’ on carbon commodities and finance to ‘buyers, sellers and hedgers’.
We need to evaluate the creed that presents the market as holding the solution to every problem and the key to human progress and happiness in the face of the crises it has spawned. Humans cannot trade their way out of the impending climate catastrophe.
The fossil fuel sector needs to be reined in. In particular, the oil sector that most entrenches the production and consumption patterns that aggravate global warming is very closely interwoven with the military industrial complex. The intertwining is so deep that a map of flash-points in the world would almost equal one of crude oil and gas fields. Thus, when the UNFCCC creates a climate account with no cash in it rich countries are busy investing billions of dollars in destructive wars and selling weapons to struggling economies with no need of standing armies.
Less than ten per cent of the budgets lavished on wars by rich nations would more than take care of helping vulnerable nations build resilience as well as adapt to the unfortunate situation they are driven into. The same can be said of the funding of the MDGs.
It is time for world leaders to listen to their people. Climate change does not divide the peoples of the world. It unites them in more sense than one. It offers a clear opportunity for solidarity actions to stem the tide and show the present generation of humans cares about the future.
The current trend wherein development is measured in terms of pollution must be halted. Levels of carbon emission should be a measure of irresponsibility and not one of well-being. The more polluting a country is, the more irresponsible it should be seen to be and such countries should be held accountable for their impacts on the planet.
The real solution to climate change is the cutting of emissions at source rather than wasting resources on untested technologies such as those of carbon capture and storage and geo-engineering.This is the time for the world to quickly move away from the fossil fuels driven civilisation.The equation of energy security to national security will continue to lead some nations into military adventures that, apart from being destructive, themselves consume huge fossil fuels and compound the problems of climate change. The neoliberal system permits the World Bank to parade itself as a climate bank while it keeps funding dirty energy projects such as the Eskom coal plant in South Africa and a number of other fossil fuels projects elsewhere. It is time for the overturning of corporate power and halting of its erosion of peoples’ sovereignty.
The world needs urgent actions to ensure rapid transiting from the current fossil fuels driven path and build transformation solutions on a renewable and sustainable path. The key nodes of this agenda will include:
- Reclaiming peoples control over their resources
- Building progressive people-oriented governments and power structures and shifting away from destructive modes of relations
- Redirecting military budgets for climate change mitigation and adaptation
- Legislation – such as the Rights of Mother Earth
- Recognition of ecocide as an international crime and the commencement of the prosecution of eco-criminals akin to what happens at the current International Court of Justice, but not allowing any nation or corporation to opt out.
- Leaving fossil fuels in the soil
- Having binding agreements for emissions reduction, and jettisoning carbon offsetting as a means of tackling global warming.
- Scheer, Hermann (2012) The Energy Imperative – 100 Per Cent Renewable Now, London, Earthscan, p.3 ↵
- Friends of the Earth International (2011), ‘Reaction to Durban climate talks’, 11 December, http://www.foei.org/press/archive-by-year/press-2011/reaction-to-durban-climate-talks (accessed 28 May 2016) ↵
- Focus on the Global South (2011), ‘CJN: COP17 succumbs to Climate Apartheid. Antidote is Chochabamba Peoples’ Agreement’, http://focusweb.org/content/cjn-cop17-succumbs-climate-apartheid-antidote-cochabamba-peoples-agreement (accessed 28 May 2016) ↵
- Conway-Smith, Erin (2011)‘China Says Rich Countries don’t care Enough About Climate Change To Do Anything’, Business Insider Australia, (12 December), http://www.businessinsider.com.au/china-says-rich-countries-dont-care-enough-about-climate-change-to-do-anything-2011-12 (accessed 28 May 2016) ↵
- United Nations (2011) ‘Durban conference delivers breakthrough in international community’ response to climate change’ https://unfccc.int/files/press/press_releases_advisories/application/pdf/pr20111112cop17final.pdf (accessed 28 May 2016) ↵
- Bond, Patrick, ‘Durban’s conference of polluters, market failure and critic failure’, ephemera, http://www.ephemerajournal.org/contribution/durban’s-conference-polluters-market-failure-and-critic-failure (accessed 28 May 2016) ↵
- Bassey, Nnimmo (2012) To Cook A Continent – Destructive Extraction and the Climate Crisis in Africa, Oxford, Pambazuka Press, pp.105-106 ↵
- This emissions pledges and non-committal choreography was confirmed at COP20 and COP21 ↵
- See ‘The Global Alliance of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities against REDD’, (07 December 2011), at http://www.iucn.org/about/union/commissions/ceesp/?8786/The-Global-Alliance-of-Indigenous-Peoples-and-Local-Communities-against-REDD (accessed 28 May 2016) ↵
- Lang, Chris (8 September 2010). Shell REDD project slammed by indigenous Environmental Network and Friends of the Earth Nigeria. http://www.redd-monitor.org/2010/09/08/indigenous-environmental -network-and-friends-of-the-earth-nigeria-denounce-shell-redd-project/ (accessed 28 May 2016) ↵
- See the Submission by the Plurinational State of Bolivia to the Ad-Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action at http://unfccc.int/files/meetings/ad_hoc_working_groups/lca/application/pdf/bolivia_awglca10.pdf (accessed 7 June 2016) ↵
- Larry Lohmann. 28 October 2011. The Endless Algebra of Climate Markets. http://www.thecornerhouse.org.uk/sites/thecornerhouse.org.uk/files/LohmannCNSarticle.pdf (accessed 7 June 2016) ↵