Peoples’ Movement on Climate Change | Statement on the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference and the Copenhagen Accord
Millions of people across the planet had hoped that governments under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) would walk away from Copenhagen with a strong, just, and timely climate deal. Predictably, the summit failed to deliver. Copenhagen is the latest, and – with runaway climate change looming large on the horizon – perhaps the costliest, of the UNFCCC’s long list of failures.
Coming in to the summit, it was clear what outcomes the planet and those most vulnerable to climate change demand.
Science requires that warming be held to as far below 1.5ºC as possible, and that to achieve this, emissions must peak no later than 2015 and approach zero by 2050.
Equity and justice requires the North to compensate the South, first, by taking on deep emissions cuts – 45% to 50% by 2020 and 95% to 100% by 2050 against 1990 levels – and second, by enabling Southern adaptation and low-carbon development – through sufficient, long-term, and mandatory technology transfer, capacity building support, and provision of finance amounting to $500bn to $1tn annually as reparations for climate debt.
These obligations require an international enforcement and compliance architecture that legally binds the North to fulfill their twin commitments, and places enhanced mechanisms for mobilizing and delivering financial, technology, and capacity building support to the South.
The UN climate summit failed to meet any of these demands. The Copenhagen Accord, a document parachuted down on the conference in its final hours, is a hollow, unjust, and potentially disastrous agreement.
The dangerously conservative 2ºC limit to warming that the Accord sets ignores the growing scientific consensus and popular demand for the safer warming limit of 1ºC and below, and threatens the very survival of many vulnerable countries.
The Accord sets no internationally legally-binding emissions reduction target for developed countries. Instead, it calls on rich countries to submit non-binding individual pledges, which to date are so little that if implemented could lead to catastrophic warming of 4ºC by 2100.
The Accord further waters down the North’s emissions commitments by installing a REDD (Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) mechanism that creates private sinks out of Southern forests and links them to the market for carbon offsets, encouraging land-grabbing and the conversion of forests into monoculture plantations, and risking the displacement and loss of livelihood of forest-dependent communities.
While it downgrades rich countries’ emissions obligations, the Accord raises those of poor countries, tasking them to register their mitigation actions and submit them to international monitoring. This lays the ground for greater emissions obligations from poor countries in the future.
The funding the Accord commits – $30bn for mitigation and adaptation over 2010-12, and $100bn per year by 2020 for mitigation – is only a tiny fraction of the amount developing countries need. Small as they are, these amounts will not come from mandatory payments, but will be raised through a hodgepodge of public and private sources, including carbon offsetting and voluntary aid from Northern development agencies.
This means that under the Accord, funding for poor countries will be left to the vagaries of carbon markets and Northern donors, that debt-creating loans will still be pushed on poor countries, and that developed countries will continue to raid their long-underfunded aid flows to fulfil their climate funding commitments.
Finally, the Accord sketches out a toothless and patchwork architecture for global climate action that would likely leave even its measly targets hanging unfulfilled.
The emissions reduction system it sets up relies entirely on voluntary and individual pledges by rich countries, doing away with targets and timetables that are multilaterally-negotiated, science-based, and internationally-binding.
Similarly, the North’s financing pledges in the Accord do not have the force of legally-binding targets and can be ignored at will.
The Accord also preserves the existing system of climate change finance dominated by the market for carbon offsets, Northern aid agencies, and the World Bank through which most of the money flows. It means the UNFCCC will continue to have little control over climate funding, and that developing countries will have to keep begging for the funds they are entitled to get.
The responsibility for this unjust and disastrous outcome lies squarely on Northern governments.
Two years of negotiations passed with no developed country offering the numbers for emissions cuts and finance needed to seal an effective deal. They single-mindedly refused to honor their historical obligations and unjustly insisted on passing their responsibilities on to the South.
During the summit, the North used underhanded tactics to force developing country delegates into accepting their weak offers. As the conference faded with no deal in sight, the United States with the help of the Danish government went behind the back of the conference to stitch up the Copenhagen Accord with a handful of developing country governments committed to the status quo (Brazil, South Africa, India, and China). In the early morning of 19 December, the Danish prime minister dropped the Accord on the delegates who had been kept in the dark about this deal’s existence.
We share developing countries’ indignation over this blatant show of power and contempt for transparency, multilateralism, and the equality of nations, and laud them for fighting to block the Accord’s adoption as the official outcome of the summit.
While we continue to fight alongside developing country governments for greater commitments from the North within the UN process, we believe that the UNFCCC is fatally flawed, and the 2009 climate summit has only exposed this more fully.
This is because it does not tackle the prevailing organization of ownership, production, and consumption at the root of man-made climate change – the highly unequal and unsustainable, growth-centered and profit-driven capitalist system.
The UN process has become a venue for competing elite interests to negotiate the terms on how to share among themselves future growth under a climate-constrained world. This finds expression in the struggle between states with the greatest stakes in the global growth economy – the G7 on one hand and emerging powers on the other – which has come to define global climate politics.
Corporations have hijacked official climate policy both at the international and national levels. Nearly all solutions on the table are about managing climate change through market and technology quick-fixes such as carbon trading and offsetting, agro-fuels, nuclear power, “clean coal”, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), to name a few.
These false solutions further the unsustainable profit system by creating new profit opportunities, and expanding corporate and elite control over resources (privatizing the atmosphere, transforming forests and soils into private sinks or agro-fuel plantations, etc.)
Moreover, institutions more powerful than the UN such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank (WB), and World Trade Organization (WTO) sponsor the free reign of corporations and the expansion of their ecologically damaging but also highly unequal practices such as industrial agriculture, fossil fuel extraction, mining, logging, and unfair trade.
The power of corporations and elites over the UN process shows that arresting climate change requires no less than fundamental social transformation. Our societies need to abandon the pursuit of limitless wealth and profit, and this requires putting people and communities back in control of our shared resources.
The UNFCCC’s bankruptcy contrasts with the dynamism and vitality present in the movements who mobilized hundreds of thousands of people in Copenhagen and across the globe to demand a just deal, real solutions, and system change.
They prove that solutions lie in the peoples’ hands – in the movements of workers, farmers, and communities to reclaim power over their livelihoods, resources, rights, and cultures that they have lost to the North, corporations, and elites both in the course of causing climate change and in the false solutions to it.
We call on peoples, communities, and social movements to take our struggles forward, in their local contexts and internationally, and mobilize along the following platform for action set out in the Peoples’ Protocol:
Deep, rapid, and sustained emissions reduction based on binding domestic cuts by the North (95%-100% by mid-century), and the end to fossil fuel use, carbon-intensive activities, (production, extraction, and wars) and all investments thereto;
Full reparation of climate debt owed by the North and elites to the South and the poor through unconditional and mandatory transfer of technology and finance without the involvement of IFIs, aid agencies, carbon markets, and large private financial institutions;
Rejection of false solutions that allow the North and corporations to continue inflicting social and ecological harm, provide new and greater opportunities for profit, and expand corporate control over natural resources and technologies;
System change based on people-centered, democratic, cooperative, and community-based control of production, natural resources, and institutions; and
Movement building across sectors (farmers, workers, women, fisher folk, youth, indigenous people, etc.) around the people’s agenda for climate justice and social change.
Peoples’ Movement on Climate Change (PMCC)
06 January 2010