Originally posted at the Huffington Post on December 18, 2014 by Asoka Bandarage.
‘Change the System, Not the Climate!’
The latest round of United Nations climate change negotiations known as COP 20 (Conference of Parties) was held in Lima, Peru from December 1-14. Delegates from 196 countries gathered and deliberated on the agenda to be presented at the United Nations climate treaty conference to be held in Paris in December 2015. Notwithstanding all the fanfare and anticipation, the outcome at Lima was not progress, but a dangerous backslide.
The Kyoto Protocol adopted in 1997, though never fully implemented, committed parties to internationally binding emission reduction targets. Recognizing that developed countries are principally responsible for the high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, it placed a heavier burden on developed nations based on the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.” In contrast, the Lima Conference produced a draft climate pact which leaves every country to decide its own cuts in pollution (so-called “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” -INDCs”) according to its own criteria. It provides no clear, measurable targets, no accountability, no legal obligations. Given global economic competitiveness, hardly anyone expects countries to do much for climate protection under this arrangement.
The Lima outcome contradicts the findings of the fifth assessment report of the United Nations’ own Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released on Nov. 2014. According to the Report, the world is likely to be 3.7 degrees warmer by 2100 if emissions continue to rise at the current rate. Sea levels are expected to increase as glaciers and ice sheets melt, and oceans warm and expand. Rising emissions are also predicted to affect how much rain there will be in different parts of the world. Climate change is already contributing to problems like flooding, food supply disruption, and species extinction. Expecting climate change to impact every corner of the globe in one way or another, the IPCC states that countries will have to make “substantial cuts” to their emissions by the middle of the century: “The longer the world leaves it, the greater those emissions cuts will have to be”.
The IPCC assessment Report is unequivocal that the biggest cause of rising emissions is the burning of fossil fuels. Beholden to oil producing countries and corporations, the COP negotiations in Lima failed to set limits on fossil fuel extraction and to provide greater support for alternative renewable sources of energy. Notwithstanding the climate emergency, companies and governments are extracting and burning more and more fossil fuels today: in the arctic, in the amazon, in shale gas fracking and coal mining. Under the much touted but not legally binding U.S.-China Climate Deal, eighty per cent of energy in the two countries is still expected to come from fossil fuel. China will be able to continue building coal plants until it reaches peak emissions in 2030.
Frustration is increasing among representatives of grassroots organizations that are marginalized by the COP deliberations and the hierarchical global political and economic structure. At so-called ‘side-events’ of the parallel People’s Summit in Lima, indigenous people, youth, women and residents of island states faced with climate related disasters (for example, Tuvalu and the Philippines) criticized ‘Corporate Takeover’ of the UN Climate Summit and called for system change. Their motto is:‘Change the System, not the Climate’. Groups such as Leave it in the Ground are calling for a moratorium on fossil fuel extraction; activists from the global North and the South working together, especially the youth, are calling on governments to provide subsidies for renewable energy instead of the fossil fuel industry. Indeed, as scientists point out, clean, efficient and renewable sources, such as, solar and wind can provide all the energy the world requires. The grassroots activists are also calling for the development of public transportation, community-based agriculture and food security emphasizing systemic change needed to tackle the interrelated issues of environmental sustainability and social justice.
A series of mobilizations involving civil disobedience, boycotts and creative community alternatives are being planned to lay the groundwork for the People’s Global Climate Strike in December 2015 to coincide with the Paris UN Climate conference. The stated objective is to halt the engines of ‘economic and ecological destruction’ and replace them with ‘community-based solutions that put people and the planet over profit’. The success of such non-violent social movements depends on broadening consciousness and social engagement including moral and financial support from greater segments of the world’s population.
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