A glimmer of hope from Warsaw – another failed climate summit

By Christina Prentice

Anyone keeping one eye on the UN climate negotiations in Warsaw could be forgiven for concluding that the, now routine, spectacle of international bickering is messy but, on the whole, is guiding the world to hold back climate change. Politicians attend, they tell the world’s media that there have been difficult negotiations – even staying up all night. And at the last minute a deal is struck and we are told there has been great progress. It’s all a sham of course.

We are now 21 years on from the first UN climate conference: the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. Emissions are 60-70 per cent higher than they were then and are rising every single year. We’re not on track to keep temperatures under 1.5-2 degrees rise (compared to pre-industrial levels). Because countries are not delivering on emissions reduction pledges, we are on track for 3.7 degrees of warming.

But what was different and actually inspiring about Warsaw was to see the socialist countries of Latin America, semi-colonial countries and China acting together more decisively than ever before and agreeing to pre-meet ahead of the next summit to consolidate their position and bring civil society organisations into the alliance.

Scientists are warning that the next few years will be the most decisive in human history. The rise in emissions needs to stop by 2015 and then fall consistently. If we do not achieve this, it will be incredibly difficult to avoid being locked into more than a 1.5-2 degree temperature rise at which point scientists say the impact on the climate, seas and ecosystem we rely on is likely to spiral out of control.

Every tonne of climate change emissions causes more damage, every restriction on the fossil fuel industry and unsustainable agribusiness is urgent and worth fighting for. We have the technology. We need to shift rapidly to a low carbon, more efficient economy, but so far the imperialist countries in particular do not have the political will to break with the corporate vested interests.

Despite the urgency of the situation, Warsaw was perhaps the most craven summit yet with Canada, Japan and Australia brazenly renouncing their climate commitments and the hosts flooding the venue with fossil fuel corporate sponsorship, sacking their environment minister and hosting a summit for the coal industry alongside.

In response 133 developing countries, including China, stood up to the rich imperialist countries as an organised group, refusing to accept their attempts to roll back on responsibilities and started to assert a new way of achieving progress. The 133 walked out en masse from the ‘loss and damage‘ section of the talks when the US, Australia, Canada and other industrialised countries refused to take financial responsibility for some of the damage caused by extreme weather in far poorer nations with low carbon emissions.

The whole of the civil society section of the summit too lost patience and walked out as a block pledging ‘volveremos‘ (we will return). They declared their intent in Spanish because it is notable that it is some of the most politically advanced socialist countries in Latin America that have been providing the leadership in the negotiations and offering a new way forward. While China is making huge strides domestically in tackling pollution from its coal industry, advancing renewable energy, and for the first time starting to de-coupling growth from carbon emissions, it is Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba politically leading at a global level.

Venezuela will hold a ministerial meeting of 40 or 50 leaders on 15-18th October ahead of the next global summit in Peru in December 2014 to consolidate the alliances made in Warsaw at a governmental level and with civil society.

As Venezuela’s chief negotiator Claudia Salerno remarked “next year will host the first formal social consultation of every single social movement involved in the climate change agenda, with three preparation processes in advance of that pre-COP [UN climate summit]. And then, for the first time, instead of having ministers listening to each other’s the same statements and stubbornness, we are going to have ministers listen to their people about what is the kind of ambition and the kind of agreement the world wants to have—but the world’s side, not the governmental approach.”

This more assertive consolidated alliance under the leadership of some of the politically most advance counties in the world is the glimmer of hope from Warsaw and for the future of 7 billion people. All those who consider themselves progressive should now work out what they can do to support the ‘pre-COP’ in Venezuela and help get the foot of the fossil fuel giants and their lackeys in imperialist governments off the neck of the fragile planet we all depend on.