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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 1 New Delhi December 26, 2015

In Paris Summit Rich West evaded responsibility for Global Warming

Saturday 26 December 2015, by Soma S. Marla


The 21st Conference of Parties (or CoP 21) has just ended. Signed by negotiators from nearly 200 countries a legal agreement has set ambitious goals to limit temperature rises and hold govern-ments to account for reaching those targets. Perhaps the goal of 1.5° C is a big leap from the 2° C agreed six years ago at the Copenhagen Summit and also for the first time rich countries, rising economies and some of the poorest countries have agreed to work together to curb emissions. Rich countries have been forced to agree to raise $ 100 bn a year by 2020 to help poor countries transform their economies. On the whole, the agreement has been hailed around as a landmark one cutting fossil-fuel emissions to trim global warming.

It appears that the rich Western nations, backed heavily by international petroleum, automobile giants, banks and other multinational corpo-rations, have intelligently hijacked the summit agenda by manipulating the ambitious tasks of reduction of emissions with no commitments (legal) for financial and technical assistance to the developing nations. On the whole the Paris agreement is weak and unambitious, as it does not include any meaningful targets for the developed countries to reduce their emissions. Also the agreement reached did not consider the historical responsibilities of the rich nations. It does not operationalise equity and the term carbon budget didn’t even find mention in the text. This will end up furthering climate injustice. The very mention of ‘historical responsibility’ has been erased from the agreement and this weakens the obligations of the developed countries to take action because of their past emissions. It incorporates commitments from 187 countries to reduce emissions, and the overall agreement is legally binding, but some elements are without historical responsibility—including the pledges to curb emissions by individual countries and the climate finance elements. Equity will now be interpreted only through the words ‘respective capabilities and national circumstances’ further removing differentiation between the climate actions of the developed and developing states.

True, the agreement sets out procedures for review at regular intervals to deepen emission cuts, but with countries aiming to peak global greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, and then rapidly scale these down in the second half of this century, the accord clearly lacks teeth bereft as it is of a regulatory supervisory authority under the United Nations. Also the signed agreement would not allow hundreds of million people living in low-lying coastal areas and small islands to question and seek appro-priate compensation from the ‘historically responsible’ nations, as the US negotiators demanded the exclusion of any language that could allow the agreement to be used for a legal liability claim against climate change.

Scientists have for a long time been warning that we have arrived at a turning-point in human history and unless the current generation acts to control the damage, there won’t be any turnaround or simply we are nearing the end of our human civilisation. It evidently shows how capitalism has been squandering the earth’s resources to feed the treadmill of mass production driven by profit impulses without regard to the natural limits on growth set by the biosphere. For example, today we have in India more than a crore of mobile phones, though half the population is malnourished and lacks even a toilet in their homes. This impulse makes the process of capital accumulation inherently unsustainable and anti-ecological.

 Big Polluters refuse to Accept Historical Responsibility

According to the IPCC’s Synthesis Report, by 2050, the temperature is likely to rise by 2° C, accumulating 1136 Gigatons of CO2 (one giga ton is equal to 100 crore tons) and other gases into the outer atmosphere. This is called Carbon Budget. Out of which already 667 Gt has been emitted into the atmosphere, which is responsible for the current 0.8° C rise in temperature resulting in global warming. It means that for keeping the planet now practically left with 650 Gigatons of carbon below 2° C, the world nations should drastically make cuts in the release of emissions so as to go back to the 2005 levels of emission release. During the last 150 years of industrialisation, the USA alone is the major polluter with 28.8 per cent of total emissions. It is interesting to note that with just five per cent of the world population, the USA consumes nearly 30 per cent of natural resources and stands out as a major polluter with a majority of carbon footprints. To undo the damage Western nations, especially the USA, is skirting responsibility for its acts of pollution and has offered negligible cuts in gas emissions.

Neoliberalising Nature

Till recently resources in nature such as rivers, mountains and forests, were under state owner-ship and freely accessible to public. But the neoliberal ideology, promoted during the last 30 years, is actively converting our beloved and life-sustaining nature into a market commodity. Value is tagged to rivers, mines and forests and brought to markets so as to facilitate easy plundering of resources by major multi-nationals. On another side, these are taking a toll on the livelihoods of millions of poor forest- dwellers and also forcing the common people to pay for the water they drink in the market.

 Renowned scientist and environmental Marxist economist John Bellomy Foster, while describing Karl Marx’s ‘metabolic rift’, convin-cingly explained how capitalist production alienates man from nature and breaks the existing equilibrium arising from unprecedented plundering of resources for big profits.

An Alternative

Everybody knows that to maintain a livable planet we should immediately cut the present fossil energy budget. But it is sad that the Paris Summit completely failed to discuss and evolve an alternative industrial production plan for transition from the current fossil energy-based system to an alternative one relying on renewable energy. Unformately at the Paris Summit, there was no mention of a plan for transition from energy-inefficient production (depending on high fossil energy sucking combustion engines) to environment-friendly and many times efficient industrial production. In a recent study, Stanford researcher Mark Jacobson from the United States stated that the industrial capacity exists for transition to entirely renewable sources of energy within a matter of a few decades or less and also nearly 2.5 times efficient than the present industrial manufacturing system. Deliberations at the present summit awfully lacked suggestions for a level of planning and coordination on an international basis needed to implement such a transition from fossil fuels to recycled and eco-friendly energy based production systems both in agriculture and industry. The rich nations are not ready for such environment-friendly production transition simply because it threatens the profits of hydrocarbon and automobile cartels and the accumulated capital with major world banks.

Discussing soil degradation and environmental problems way back in the mid-1850s Karl Marx, in the context of metabolic rift, argued that a sustainable solution to the global environmental rift requires a society of “associated producers” under collective ownership accompanied by least expenditure of energy in a rational way. That means we need an alternative environmental management strategy that transforms the present energy-hungry production system into one which collectively owns nature and serves the requirements of society by borrowing only how much is available from mother narture and sustaining and enriching it for future generations. A wonderful example is Cuba. Struck with hydrocarbon shortages in the early 1990s it adopted nature-friendly production strategies and technologies and could thereby successfully tide over its production problems. Today Cuba stands first in the world as the only one with the lowest carbon footprints. Leading scientific environmental journals, even the World Bank, applaud Cuba for its transition to a nature-friendly production system.

After 21 years of failed conferences to tackle the problems of global warming, to save livelihoods of millions of youth and workers, there is an urgent need to shift to an alternative low energy consuming, nature-friendly production system. This simply demands fighting for the reorganisation of society on the basis of human needs, not private profit.

Dr Soma S. Marla is the Principal Scientst, National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi.

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