South African fingerprints on Copenhagen climate corpses
(This is in the 22 December edition of the Durban newspaper, The Mercury)
Curing the hangover after Copenhagen
With global climate governance now effectively destroyed, the role of
civil society becomes critical
By Patrick Bond
Eye on Civil Society column
In Copenhagen, the world’s richest leaders continued their fiery fossil
fuel party last Friday night, ignoring requests of global village
neighbours from the Third World that they should please cool down.
Instead of halting the hedonism, the mansion doors opened for a few more
guests from the middle class: Jacob Zuma, China’s Wen, Brazil’s Lula and
India’s Singh. Then on Saturday morning, drunken with power, the elites
stumbled back onto their jets and headed home.
The rest of us now have a killer hangover, because the elites stuck the
planet, the poor and future generations with the clean-up charges.
What cheek. The 770 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere
envisaged in the Copenhagen Accord signatories’ promised 2020 emissions
cuts – about 14% below 1990 levels, but only 4% for the US – will cook
the planet, say scientists, with nine out of ten African peasants losing
The most reckless man at the party, of course, was that normally urbane,
Ivy League-educated lawyer who, a year ago, we thought might behave with
the dignity and compassion behooving the son of a leading Kenyan
intellectual, Barack Obama.
But in his refusal to lead the North to make 45% emissions cuts by 2020,
and offer payment of the $400 billion climate debt they owe Third World
victims, Obama trashed not only Africa but also the host institution,
according to Professor Bill McKibben, who inspired the 350.org movement:
‘he blew up the United Nations.’
Obama did so with the connivance of South African officials, who a week
earlier were already criticized by leading Third World negotiator
Lumumba Di-Aping for dividing the South’s main negotiating group, the G77.
Pretoria’s technical negotiators – Joanne Yawitch and Alf Wills –
deserve much of the blame, as Yawitch forced a humiliating apology from
Di-Aping for his frank talk to an African civil society caucus about her
treachery. Then on Friday night, Zuma did exactly what she had denied
was underway: destroyed the unity of Africa and the G77.
One problem is that the Pretoria team went to Copenhagen empowered by
endorsements from World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace officials –
alongside gullible climate journalists – who took at face value the
promise of a 34% cut in emissions levels by 2020.
Tristen Taylor of Earthlife Africa begged Pretoria for details and after
two weeks of delays, learned that Yawitch was estimating cuts from a
‘Growth Without Constraint’ (GWC) scenario. According to Taylor, ‘The
main problem behind this offer is that GWC is fantasy, essentially an
academic exercise to see how much carbon South Africa would produce
given unlimited resources and cheap energy prices.’
The government had already, in mid-2008, labeled GWC as ‘neither robust
nor plausible.’ Hence, as Taylor charged last Wednesday, ‘The SA
government has pulled a public relations stunt.’
Then came Friday’s pressure from Obama. As environmentalist George
Monbiot pointed out, the fateful evening could be compared to Berlin
negotiations in 1884-85, when the historic ‘Scramble for Africa’
The African Union was twisted and U-turned to support Zuma’s
capitulation by its leader Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian dictator who had
in September pronounced, ‘If need be we are prepared to walk out of any
negotiations that threatens to be another rape of our continent.’
But he didn’t walk out, he walked off the plane in Paris on the way to
Copenhagen, into the arms of Nicolas Sarkozy. Complained Mithika Mwenda
of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, ‘Zenawi is undermining the
bold positions of our negotiators and ministers represented here, and
threatening the very future of Africa.’
Not only were Zuma and Zenawi surrendering on the necessary emissions
cuts, but also on compensatory financing: the North’s climate debt to
‘Meles wants to sell out the lives and hopes of Africans for a
pittance,’ said Mwenda. ‘Every other African country has committed to
policy based on the science. That means at least 45% cuts by rich
countries by 2020’ and for finance, $400 billion per year, not the $100
billion promised, which includes private sector investments.
Worse, a great deal of the funding will flow through carbon trading, in
the form of notoriously corrupt Clean Development Mechanism projects
which often do great damage in local settings. According to the
Copenhagen Accord, ‘We decide to pursue opportunities to use markets to
enhance the cost-effectiveness of and to promote mitigations actions.’
But carbon markets are prone to failure. On Thursday, the European
Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme anticipated the feeble Copenhagen
outcome and fell 5%, with the benchmark price at 13.66 euros, less than
half the peak of mid-2008 and far lower than what is required to attract
renewable energy investments.
According to the head of the European Climate Exchange, Patrick Birley,
‘We were hoping that a deal in Copenhagen would open up new
opportunities for emissions trading. That expectation has now faded’.
Did Zuma know what he was doing in Copenhagen; was he acting on behalf
of major mining/metals corporate polluters, which keep the ruling party
lubricated with cash, BEE deals and jobs for cronies, and which need
higher Eskom carbon emissions so as to continue receiving the world’s
Perhaps, but on the other hand, two other explanations – ignorance and
cowardice – were plausible defenses for Zuma’s role eight years ago,
promoting AIDS denialism during the period in which 330 000 were killed
by Thabo Mbeki’s refusal to supply anti-retroviral medicines (as a
Harvard Public Health School study showed).
To his credit, Zuma reversed course by 2003, as massive public pressure
arose from the Treatment Action Campaign and their international allies.
And that’s exactly what the main local activist network, Climate Justice
Now!, must repeat, or otherwise permit Zuma to remain as signatory to a
far worse genocide. Since Copenhagen was the death of hope for a global
solution to climate chaos, we need to start here, at home, now.
(Patrick Bond directs the UKZN Centre for Civil Society,