There is no Planet B

Copenhagen saw the ongoing face-off between the US and China, writes Eddie Ford

As the Copenhagen climate conference draws to a close, the talks were predictably deadlocked. Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations general secretary, gloomily told reporters that “time is running out”, with “potentially catastrophic consequences”. The UK climate secretary, Ed Miliband, has admitted that the talks “could still fail” - as has his boss, Gordon Brown, who fears that “failure is a possibility”.

The prospects of any meaningful deal at Copenhagen seemed even less likely after the sudden and totally unexpected resignation of the conference’s president, Connie Hedegaard of Denmark, on the afternoon of December 16. She was unceremoniously replaced by the Danish prime minister, Lars Loekke Rasmussen - who on attending his very first plenary session was shouted down by angry and bewildered delegates.

So in the time remaining until December 18, when the conference officially ends, the various world leaders and delegates congregated in Denmark will presumably go without sleep (the usual stupid and macho ordeal of all such grand talks) in order to seal some sort of ‘accord’. But an accord aimed at doing what exactly, and when?

After all, Barack Obama has already openly stated that no binding agreements or deals will be made at Copenhagen - this will not be Kyoto 2, which itself was, of course, grossly inadequate (unsigned as it was by the US). Indeed, as revealed last week in leaked documents, an inner circle - the so-called ‘circle of commitment’ of the core developed nations like the US and UK - have been conducting their own private ‘members only’ conference as part of a plan to dump the aims and targets of the Kyoto Protocol altogether, by trying to force the developing countries to concur to specific emission cuts and measures that were not part of the original UN agreement. Naturally, the existence of this conference within a conference - the rich men’s exclusive club - has been a continual source of friction throughout the Copenhagen talks.

In fact, so great was the suspicion amongst the representatives of the developing countries that the rich countries were essentially ganging up on them - carving up Copenhagen to suit their own narrow designs - that on December 14 they staged a five-hour walkout. They only returned when their key demand, that separate talks should be held on the Kyoto Protocol, was granted - with Hedegaard trying to reassure them that the developing countries were not trying to kill off Kyoto, whatever the leaked (and undisputed) documents might say. This bloc of the ‘official’ least developed countries (LDCs) is adamant that the rich countries must commit themselves to the emission cuts as outlined by Kyoto - that is to say, they advocate the “twin-track” approach whereby the signed-up countries keep to their existing Kyoto targets, with the US and the major developing nations adding their own carbon pledges under a new ‘post-Kyoto’ deal.

After the slight drama of the Monday walk-out, Tuesday December 15 saw the beginning of the ‘high-level’ phase of the talks - with the arrival of the big boys and girls like Gordon Brown, Nicolas Sarkozy, Ban Ki-Moon, a team of top US negotiators and so on. Obama himself is due to make his big, Superman-like entrance on Friday, and, of course, this will be his second trip to Scandinavia in recent weeks - having nipped off to Oslo to fetch his Nobel Peace Prize (which had a distinctly surreal element to it, seeing how Obama is a self-confessed “war president” who has just escalated the US military presence in Afghanistan).

To date, the key unresolved issues remain essentially the same: the size of the emissions cuts or targets to be made by the developed countries; the method of raising and allocating climate finances, and perhaps most fundamentally - and contentiously - of all, the question of whether any (non-mandatory) deal cobbled together at Copenhagen should seek to prevent global temperatures rising by any more than 2ºC or, alternatively, 1.5ºC. Unsurprisingly, the rich countries are quite happy to settle for the less ambitious target of 2ºC - a figure which the representatives of the developing countries, quite understandably, feel is more the product of selfish self-interest than any genuine concern as to the technological/scientific or political-economic plausibility (or viability) of such a target.

Hence Ban Ki-Moon - who has frequently been accused of being an agent or apologist for the rich countries - came under heavy fire from many of the developing countries for asserting in a BBC interview that any Copenhagen deal must “put us on the path of limiting global temperature rise within 2ºC”. Loud protest ensued from the developing countries that consider themselves especially vulnerable to climate change, such as obviously small island states, and who therefore want a limit of 1.5ºC. Expressing this generalised frustration, the Lesotho delegate, Bruno Sekoli - who chairs the LDC group - starkly declared: “It is simply a true fact: if temperatures get to 2ºC, that spells disaster and almost doom to our countries.”

The debate around funding has also become acrimonious, to put it mildly. Thus the developing countries have demanded that a majority, if not all, of any future monies they might receive for clean technology and energy - and to cope with the rising sea levels and increasingly extreme temperatures - should come from public funds of various sorts. Billions of dollars of it. Furthermore, and with eminent logic, the African bloc at Copenhagen has steadily maintained that, since it is the rich countries that are overwhelmingly responsible for the current climate conditions - and crisis - then it should be they who effectively pay for the damage that is wreaking disproportionate ecological and environmental devastation on their continent.

On the other hand, though Ed Miliband (who has co-chaired the talks on finance) has conceded the need for “significantly scaled-up public funding”, the developed countries have been insistent that a substantial share - perhaps the majority - should come from levies on the prospective global carbon market. In other words, leave it to market forces - mostly. If you can get away with it.

Keen to dampen down the growing passions and tensions over the finance question, Brown has taken a leading role in these negotiations - hoping to broker a financial settlement/package that will please, or at least appease, the LDCs. To this end Brown has held intensive talks with Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian prime minister and representative of the African group of states, both in Copenhagen and in London. Zenawi has claimed, maybe more in hope than expectation, that there was “near total understanding” within the European Union for the African/LDC position, and is about to put forward proposals at Copenhagen that in the words of Brown provide a “framework within which developed and developing countries can work together”.

In turn, Britain and other EU governmental leaders have been working to increase the finance on offer. So far, the most likely looking deal is a plan from Norway and Mexico that envisages drawing on a mix of private and government funds of up to $40 billion (£25 billion) a year to help developing countries, and would go ‘live’ from 2013. If implemented, this would be considerably more ambitious than the short-term fund of $10 billion a year currently lying on the Copenhagen table and would be a step towards the $100 billion a year by 2020 as proposed by Brown and the EU. In the view of Camilla Froyn, a Norwegian ministry of finance official, it is “absolutely necessary” to get the funding above the original $10 billion a year target - way above, as the developing countries “will not sign on to anything if we do not have a scaled-up plan for climate funding”. More simply still, “financing is the key for everything” - as Juan Rafael Elvira, Mexico’s environment secretary, put it.

However, it is more than possible that Zenawi - and the proposed finance deal as a whole - could face a backlash from some or many of the developing countries believing that it is a compromise too far. Primarily, they argue, on the grounds that all but the poorest LDCs would be obliged to contribute monies to the putative climate fund and due to a perfectly valid fear that the carbon market is far too volatile - and inherently unstable - to act as a steady or reliable source of funds. So India, China and Brazil have already ruled out mandatory contributions to the climate fund and numerous representatives from the poor countries - most notably South Africa - have made clear their anger about the pressure being piled upon them to sign up to a deal, and agenda, masterminded and dictated by the rich countries. In the words of one anonymous source, “No-one wants to be the country to be accused of collapsing the talks” - but, having said that, “we fear that a political statement that is contrary to our interests may be imposed without real consultation” (The Guardian December 16).

Inevitably, Copenhagen saw the ongoing face-off between the US and China about mandatory target-setting - and ‘carbon imperialism’ in general. The US continues to insist that any ‘post-Copenhagen’ commitments should be legally binding, while China is equally insistent that any targets should be voluntary, as they currently are under the Kyoto Protocol. As made quite clear by a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, the US should “shoulder its historic responsibilities and obligations suitable to its national development level” - and therefore to demand that a developing country like China should reduce its own carbon output is grossly unreasonable, if not a virtual act of aggression.

As is to be expected, China is also virulently opposed to the notion that emission curbs and targets should be subject to a regime of international verification - something that many members of the US Senate, in a bit of old-fashioned cold war-type politics, seem to regard as absolutely essential if they are to sign up to carbon capping and binding targets.

But, of course, for all its self-righteous rhetoric aimed at the Chinese and others, the US is historically the number one culprit when it comes to greenhouse gases - still pumping out an estimated 30% of all the CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere. In that sense, the US lies at the heart of the climate change problem. However, the signs are not good - indeed, the rather grim reality is that the US shows no genuine commitment to kicking its gas-guzzling addiction and thus will continue to pollute and despoil the planet on an ever increasing scale: aided and abetted, of course, by the likes of China which economically is virtually a US semi-colony. Yes, Obama’s spokesman, Robert Gibbs, might have said “We can get an operational agreement that makes sense in Copenhagen” - but do not get too excited. The American negotiator at the conference, Todd Stern, has flatly declared that he did not expect the US to increase its current offer of cutting emissions by about 3% from 1990 levels by 2020 - absolute peanuts compared to the (between) 25%-45% reduction needed from all the developed countries if we are to avert possible ecological catastrophe.

Outside the Bella Centre in Copenhagen many of the demonstrators have been holding banners proclaiming - “There is no Planet B”. Communists thoroughly share this exact sentiment. Capitalism, as a destructive and irrational mode of reproduction, can only bring environmental and ecological disaster to the planet: by definition, its upholders and supporters are totally incapable of ‘saving the planet’ - regardless of subjective good intentions (or not). Retarded technological fantasies aside, there are no other planets to act as a bolt-hole when things get too sticky - or hot - on this one.

So we have to defend and preserve the miracle of life that is Earth. Only a communist world can do this, not the assembled grandees and bureaucrats at Copenhagen or the UN building in New York. Communism alone offers the possibility that humanity can start to reverse the centuries of ecology and environmental vandalism caused by the existence of class society.