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A good climate for business

Sean Farmelo reports from the Lima climate conference and reflects on what the global climate movement needs to learn before the Paris conference this year

February 1, 2015
4 min read

The UN’s annual climate conference (known as COP20 – the 20th conference of parties to the climate convention) was held near Lima in Peru’s ‘El Pentagonito’ military headquarters, a place with a brutal history of torture and the interrogation of political prisoners. Although the setting was more morbid than previous climate change talks, the problems that dogged negotiators were similar. Notably, countries focused on resuscitating the failed carbon markets as a solution to climate change rather than tackling the glaring issue of extraction of fossil fuels.

Decisions taken in Lima aren’t binding, but they will almost certainly form the basis for the Paris 2015 conference, which is tasked with drawing up a whole new climate deal. In their misplaced excitement about the US-China discussions on climate change, commentators went to Lima feeling hopeful. But the conclusion of the negotiations, which were drawn out and held hostage by corporate lobbyists and big polluters such as Australia, Canada, the US and China, is that countries have been left to make their own decisions about what action they should take.

There is no clear international regulatory framework. Countries will make their own commitments and report on them in their own ways, and the UN will pull them together before next year’s summit. So we are now looking at a weak, possibly not even binding, new deal. We have actually gone backwards from the original UN climate deal struck in 1992.

The second big call is for enough funding from industrialised to non‑industrialised countries to help them clean up the mess of climate change, and to support them in developing in non-carbon intensive ways. Rich countries are supposed to be giving $100 billion a year for this by 2020. It’s not enough in any case, but to date only $10 billion over the next five years has been agreed.

Linking labour rights

After the media circus departed and the negotiators headed back to their respective countries, 30,000 people gathered in the Plaza San Martin in the heart of Lima to protest against the signing of Law 30288. The law, creating a new labour regime for 18-25 year olds, has just been passed by Peru’s House of Congress. It liberalises labour rights and strips work benefits such as national insurance, statutory holiday and pensions from young workers under the pretence of protecting jobs. The protest was met by police violence from mounted units. This was the second big march in Lima in a week following the 10 December World March in Defence of Mother Earth – the counter-demo to COP20. The job of the climate movement now is to link these two demonstrations.

Our key message should be that the destruction of natural habitats, consumption and extraction of fossil fuels is inextricably linked with the drive for economic growth and exploitation through capitalism. The fight against Law 30288 is symbolic of the deal youth across the world are getting forced upon them by states and corporations. Groups in Peru already have an understanding of this. The World March was attended by indigenous groups and campaigns from across the Amazon and Andes, along with unions and civil society in what looks to have been the largest climate march in Latin American history.

Acceptable price

It is clearer than ever that those who will suffer the most from climate change are those who are already most oppressed and underprivileged. As Naomi Klein puts it: ‘In Copenhagen in 2009, African governments argued that if black lives mattered, then two degrees of warming was too high. By disregarding this basic humanist logic, the biggest polluters were making a crude cost-benefit analysis. They were calculating that the loss of life, livelihood and culture for some of the poorest people on the planet was an acceptable price to pay to protect the economies of some of the richest people on the planet.’

We now look to December 2015, when COP21 will be held in Paris. Again, the decisions will be based on the priorities of capital and its shareholders who want maximum profit. You can’t have a reasoned discussion with the capitalist system. We can only throw rocks in the gears. Next time we need to focus on breaking the international extraction business rather than wasting time and energy trying to lobby the negotiators.

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