Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Climate of change

As the UN climate conference gathers in Poland, Janet Redman considers the prospects for a new deal on the climate

December 1, 2008
5 min read

Bracing themselves against frigid winter temperatures, negotiators from across the globe are gathering for the UN climate conference in Poznan, Poland, this month to discuss a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, whose targets expire in 2012. Two questions will be key to sealing a new climate treaty, which should be finalised in a year’s time. How much are rich countries willing to cut their emissions? And what money will be available to help vulnerable countries adapt to climate change and ensure a transition to low-carbon growth?

Making the cut

Scientists have called for a reduction of at least 50 per cent in global greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050 to stave off disaster. To do this, historically large emitters like the US and European countries will have to curb emissions by around 80 per cent. But conventional wisdom says that the US will not sign a treaty unless China also commits to binding targets. In Europe, Poland, which is heavily dependent on coal for electricity, is leading a nine-member ‘coalition of the unwilling’ to fight the EU’s plan for 20 per cent reductions by 2020. And the UK’s new Climate Change Act, which sets a binding 80 per cent target for emissions decreases by 2050, could see this undermined by allowing industry to purchase limitless offsets from developing countries in place of cutting pollution at home.

The battle over which countries should slash greenhouse gases, and by how much, is one in a larger struggle to define obligations. Through the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’, the UN climate convention attempts to account for countries’ role in causing the climate crisis. It creates a mandate for wealthy countries to provide financial support to poorer nations to cope with adaptation to ‘locked-in’ climatic upheaval and develop clean energy economies. But the existing Kyoto Protocol, which promotes carbon trading to meet this aim, provides richer nations with a means to buy their way out of responsibility instead of tackling their own emissions and over-consumption.

Developing countries will be looking for firm cash commitments from Northern governments on a range of issues, from deforestation to the deployment of low-carbon technologies. In each case, this could lay the groundwork for moving beyond ‘business as usual’ approaches, by promoting small-scale solutions and local, democratic resource control – although there are many potential pitfalls too.

UN climate talks are furthest along on adaptation. In Bali, an Adaptation Fund was established whose executive board has a majority of seats held by developing countries. This could be used by affected countries to exchange the myriad grass-roots adaptation techniques that already exist – such as seed swaps, a return to small-scale irrigation, and new forms of community organising. However, some critics warn that the money could end up being channeled to agribusiness – via new spending on GM crops – and other transnational corporations.

Deforestation, a second ‘pillar’ in the talks, accounts for about 20 per cent of global emissions. A global agreement on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) could channel billions of dollars from North to South, but the question is – who gets the money?

As currently conceived, governments could bank payments from a forest carbon market for keeping trees in the ground even if forests are really conserved by indigenous peoples. Logging companies might also be eligible if the definition of ‘forests’ includes ‘sustainably managed’ plantations.

Alternatively, negotiations could link fighting deforestation with the implementation of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, requiring governments to legally recognise land tenure and territorial rights as a precondition for participating in a REDD scheme.

Financial crisis v climate crisis

The financial meltdown has raised concerns that developed countries will be reluctant to spend money to tackle the climate crisis, although there is potentially a silver lining in new calls to reinvent whole institutions.

Chief among these is the World Bank, which – with the backing of the G8 – has been positioning itself as the leading international agency for tackling the climate crisis. Industrialised countries have pledged $6.1 billion towards the Bank’s new suite of ‘climate investment funds’, but environmentalists argue that these remain skewed towards destructive projects like coal power plants and large dams. The funds have been snubbed by India, China and the G77 group of developing nations, who argue that the loans offered by the Bank for adaptation leave poorer countries to foot the bill for coping with a problem they did not create.

The current economic disorder illustrates the danger of relying on poorly regulated and little understood free market instruments, such as carbon trading, to solve real-world problems. It reveals the importance of new institutions, such as an International Renewable Energy Agency, to provide the 1.6 billion people living without electricity access to truly clean energy. And it compels those working for climate justice to propose alternatives to a development paradigm that pits limitless economic expansion against a resource-constrained reality.

Janet Redman is a researcher for the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism

Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase

Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields

Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton

Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi

A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain

Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank

Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded

West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens

Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age

Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook