The Copenhagen climate conference, known as COP 15, was one of the most complex in the world. Thousands of delegates, from almost 200 countries. The bureaucrats, the heads of state. Thousands more from NGO’s – plus up to a hundred thousand protesters. Multi multi media cranking out instant reports 24/7.
And we’re still not sure what happened.
We know what didn’t happen. Not a single carbon atom was banned from the sky. Humans acknowledged a problem, but failed to solve it.
Promises were made. The leaders tried to set an upper level to global warming, of 2 degrees Celsius of average warming over the world. They were unable to leave the building before scientists and technocrats reported 3 degrees C was unavoidable.
A few billion dollars were launched in trial balloons, tied down by countless strings of if’s and conditions.
The assembled people noticed Africa. The big powers sewed up a deal, as the United Nations broke down. Somehow, President Barrack Obama ended up with both the glory and the blame.
We’ll hear many points of view, including clips of Obama, James Hansen, John Schellnhuber, Lumumba Diaping, Gwynne Dyer, Bill McKibben, Jeff Luers, George Monbiot, The Stimulator, Sam Hummel, Jan Lundberg, Phil England, and a cast of … thousands.
The Radio Ecoshock Copenhagen wrap up edition. You be the judge.
I’m going to start with President Obama’s remarkable speech to the Plenary. You may have heard it, but give it a second ear. Is it honest realism? Just a speech? Or something darker?
The man can talk. But many at the conference, especially in the developing world, reacted with fury. Why? First of all, Obama is raising the same cold-war problem of verification. The Chinese leader, feeling his sovereignty pinched, left the building. Lesser countries felt a blunt threat – take the deal originated by just 5 major polluters, or get nothing at all.
The Sudanese representative said the 2 degree deal sealed the fate of Africa – calling up the image of the Holocaust. We’ll get to that.
But first, is the hammer-head criticism of Obama justified? I want to read you some quotes from a remarkable article posted in Salon magazine, and then on the Grist discussion board. It’s by Sam Hummel, who works for a non-profit organization trying to get universities to involve the climate in their curriculums and operations. As far as I can tell, this is Sam’s first notable publication.
Filed on Grist on December 22nd, 2009 Sam titled it: 5 common mistakes in the coverage of the Copenhagen Accord. He was there, staying up all Friday night as the Copenhagen Accord was debated by the nations. And he backs up some claims with online footage and documents, all quite helpful.
Sam feels the media coverage was awful, as though the reporters hadn’t watched events unfold.
I quote, while editing for length:
Fallacy #1—The “Copenhagen Accord” text preempted a better agreement from being adopted at COP15.
For Venezuela or Cuba or Nicaragua or Sudan or Tuvalu to suggest that continuation of the deadlocked plenary with the negotiators of the 193 countries could have produced an adoptable document contradicts the evidence of the last two years and two weeks of negotiations. According to what I heard negotiators saying, many proposed texts had been floated but nothing had achieved the kind of support that would make it signable. …As the COP15 began its last day, there was *no deal* of any kind ready for the many world leaders present that day to sign. Why any reporters or commentators would give air-time to the suggestion that the UNFCCC negotiation process had produced something better, I’m having a hard time understanding.
I think the Norwegian diplomat said it best when speaking to the full plenary of negotiators saying (I paraphrase) that the negotiators as a group needed to be able to be self-critical and recognize that after two years and 2 weeks of negotiating *they* had failed their heads of state, and the world, by failing to have something ready for their leaders to sign when they came to Copenhagen
Fallacy #2—The poor countries of the world rejected the Accord.
The claim I’ve seen in some early articles that “the poor countries of the world rejected” the deal is totally inaccurate. It is deeply unfair to throw all the developing nations in an undifferentiated block like this. Sudan, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Cuba and Tuvalu quite vociferously opposed the Accord on both procedural and content grounds. But among the dozens of developing nation representatives that took the floor Friday night, they were in a clear minority.
While recognizing the many short-comings of the Accord, one developing nation after another pleaded with the countries mentioned above to drop their opposition so that the Accord could be adopted. This pleading was truly heart-wrenching….
Sam Hummel says that because of a tiny minority of intransigent countries, and the United Nations need for a total consensus – the Copenhagen Accord could not be formally accepted, but only “noted”.
Fallacy #3—The Accord came out of an undemocratic backroom deal that minimized the voice of developing nations.
Initially, the strongest and most compelling argument raised by the handful of nations actively opposing the adoption of the Accord was that the Accord had come out of an undemocratic, non-representative backroom deal that had circumvented the UNFCCC process. They are without-question correct on one of those points: it is true that the Accord was brokered outside of the UNFCCC negotiating process by a body made up of less than the 193 countries assembled. With the COP15 in total deadlock (according to many of the negotiators who spoke last night) and with many heads of state on the scene, the President of the COP, Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, invited 28 heads of state and their lead negotiators to a series of “Friends of the Chair” meetings to try to break the impasse. Obama was a participant in some of these meetings.
According to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who also participated in many of those meetings, the 28 nations selected were intentionally representative of all the major UN negotiating groups, the major carbon emitters, the major economies, diverse regions and the majority of the world’s population. I can’t find a complete list of the participating nations online anywhere but the representative of Grenada listed 23 in her remarks:
1. Sweden (outgoing President of the EU)
2. Spain (incoming President of the EU)
3. Saudi Arabia (head rep for OPEC)
4. Russian Federation
5. Norway (leader in climate funding)
7. Lesotho (head rep for LDCs)
8. South Africa
10. Algeria (head rep of the Africa Group)
11. Denmark (COP15 President)
12. Mexico (COP16 President)
16. Ethiopia (head rep for the African Union)
19. China (largest national population)
20. India (2nd largest national population)
21. US (3rd largest national population)
23. Grenada (head rep for AOSIS)
The convening of the Friends of the Chair meeting does not represent an undemocratic process. The role of the nation convening an international conference is to do everything possible to make the conference a success. With the conference on the verge of total failure, it was entirely appropriate for the Prime Minister of Denmark to convene these heads of state and try a new strategy for producing a document that could be adopted.
Fallacy #4—The Accord is a worthless “sham” and failure.
“Consider this for a moment: Would the President of the Maldives and representatives of so many other nations have spent hours begging the dissenting nations (listed above in Fallacy #2) to unblock the passage of the Accord if it were truly worthless? True, it is not nearly the agreement we need. Everyone, from the COP President himself to Ban Ki-Moon to Obama to every single negotiator on the floor last night acknowledged as much. Critically important things did not make it into the text, such as legally-binding reduction targets and a commitment to reduce emissions quickly enough to possibly achieve a less than 1.5 degrees Celsius warming. And the funding that is pledged in the Accord is paltry when compared to the recent bank bailouts (a common refrain heard in the debates over funding). But when the conference was about to end with absolutely nothing, it’s foolish to say it would have been better to adopt nothing. That would have been truly worthless.”
I’ve been reading from an article by Sam Hummel. Sam explains that the recognition by developing countries, including China, Brazil and India, that they too must help control carbon emissions, helps knock out the argument used by opposition in the United States for the last 12 years. From the Senate to the Republican Party, American leadership was unwilling to cut national emissions, unless other countries were held to the same standard. More on that as we develop this story.
Finally, Sam Hummel tackles Fallacy #5 – Obama is to blame!
“I have hardly read a positive word about Obama in regards to the Accord. On the right, Obama is being trashed for having agreed to spend billions of dollars, going along with the “global climate hoax” and taking his eye off the economy for 10 seconds. On the left, activists are calling Obama a sell-out and an underminer of the UN. In the case of progressive activists, I think the critique shows a sincere misunderstanding of where the hold-up is when it comes to getting the US to act on climate issues. The hold-up is and has been in the US Senate for nearly two decades.”
He goes into an explanation of the roles of the Executive Branch versus Congress. Then, according to multiple news stories, Obama’s actual role was not as the central leader, but one in a roomful of leaders, all playing a role. The details of who did what are in found 35 minutes into the final press conference, as described by Robert Orr, UN Assistant Secretary for General Policy and Planning, in response to a question by Andrew Revkin of the New York Times.
Incidentally, Andy Revkin, a fixture on the climate reporting scene, has now left the New York Times, although he may continue his blog, known as Dot Earth. I expect a book will come out from Revkin eventually, on his trials and tribulations following American climate science and politics.
Sam Hummel ends up by listing the many ways this conference left him hopeful. Like the pledged made by many national leaders, regardless of the outcome in Copenhagen. Or the way politicians appear finally to have grasped the science. He finds hope that 133 heads of state showed up at all.
Most of the NGO’s who had worked, lobbied, demonstrated, or were beaten and arrested, were bitterly disappointed. Despite world-wide actions by Greenpeace, Bill McKibben’s 350.org, Avaaz, and many more – no binding emissions reductions were set. The political machine may have moved, but the atmosphere continues to be polluted. No future child or city was saved.
The European press was particularly savage. In the Independent newspaper, 20th of December, Joss Garman called Copenhagen a “Historic failure that will live in infamy.”
“The most progressive US president in a generation comes to the most important international meeting since the Second World War and delivers a speech so devoid of substance that he might as well have made it on speaker-phone from a beach in Hawaii. His aides argue in private that he had no choice, such is the opposition on Capitol Hill to any action that could challenge the dominance of fossil fuels in American life. And so the nation that put a man on the Moon can’t summon the collective will to protect men and women back here on Earth from the consequences of an economic model and lifestyle choice that has taken on the mantle of a religion.
Then a Chinese premier who is in the process of converting his Communist nation to that new faith (high-carbon consumer capitalism) takes such umbrage at Barack Obama’s speech that he refuses to meet – sulking in his hotel room, as if this were a teenager’s house party instead of a final effort to stave off the breakdown of our biosphere.
Late in the evening, the two men meet and cobble together a collection of paragraphs that they call a “deal”, although in reality it has all the meaning and authority of a bus ticket, not that it stops them signing it with great solemnity.”
End quote from Joss Garman in the Independent.
I’m Alex Smith, wrapping up the Copenhagen climate conference, December 2009.
Now I’d like to look at a couple of under-reported stories, starting with the militarization of climate change. During the all-night fight to get the Accord ratified by all nations, Lumumba Diaping came out with terrible accusations. Diaping at times represented the group of 77 developing nations, plus China. But on this occasion, he appeared to speak for his home country, Sudan. Here is what set things on fire, as he denounced the Accord, then known as L-9:
Here is the famous Diaping quote:
“This document threatens the lives, and the livelihoods, of millions of people in developing countries, and the existence of the African continent.
You have relentlessly, and single-mindedly decided to advance, through this document, with the Circle of Commitment, and those who have agreed. The heads of states, the heads of government behind this document, to accept a solution that is based on a 2 degrees Celsius, which will result in gross violation of the right to existence of the African and the African continent.
L-9 [the “Danish Accord”] is murderous. It condemns and turns Africa into a furnace. Because 2 degrees Celsius becomes 3.5 degrees, according to IPCC AR-4 Regional Report, Working Group Number Two.
L-9 asks Africa to sign a suicide pact. An incineration pact. In order to maintain the economic dominance of [a] few countries. L-9 is devoid of any sense of responsibility, morality, and it is a solution based on values – the same very values in our opinion, that turned six million people into furnaces.
Mr. Prime Minister, no one, no Obama, or yourself, can force Africa to destroy herself. And I want to say this on record. There is nobody – no African President or Prime Minister, has been mandated, or given a mandate, to destroy, or aid and abet, in destroying Africa.”
That was Lumumba Diaping from Sudan.
I have three observations. Number one, he is likely speaking the truth, as far as scientific prediction for his continent. Speaking to climateradio, George Monbiot thinks Diaping is the real hero of the conference.
[Monbiot on Diaping, from climateradio.org]
Personally, I wouldn’t accept any comparison to the Holocaust of World War Two, as a type of genocide, from a representative of Sudan. Isn’t that the country that just armed it’s warriors to commit genocide on the helpless people of Darfur? Isn’t the rest of the world helping to feed the millions left in hopeless refugee camps, when aid can get past the Sudanese militants?
This will be the coming challenge of trying to measure the impacts, and deaths, of Africans from climate change. The continent already suffers from deadly mis-rule, and genocidal acts. Like the South Africa denial of the AIDS virus, and real treatment for the millions dying. Like the Rwandan tribal genocide. None of this, nor the wild surge of over-population, can be laid at the feet of car drivers in Europe or North America.
But we can be sure that climate will be blamed for almost everything. That is my third reason why I think this Sudanese speech bears watching. Remember also that Sudan is opposed to the United States, and was a safe harbor for Osama Bin Laden.
We can easily see a coming trend to teach young militants to hate the West because of climate change. I also realize some people hate the West, for reasons that are partly just. But these same people find mass murder of relative innocents as their only strategy. I expect eventually, some person or group will mount a terrorist attack on the West, using climate change as their excuse. That’s going to muddy the waters of environmentalism, and action on climate change, in a way we can barely predict, other than it won’t be good.
Right now, such a justification would be insane. Nobody should kill people for predicted future deaths. We don’t know the future for sure.
But 20 years from now, after real devastation from a damaged climate has become evident, it seems unlikely people will just lie down and die, or lose their country, without complaining in blood. If we do nothing, we may accept their judgment of us.
The Pentagon knows this, the threat we can hear from Diaping of Sudan. Here is a clip from the famous Canadian war reporter, Gwynne Dyer, from a speech I recorded in Vancouver on the 6th of December, 2008:
[Dyer quote re military units all over the world planning for climate change hostilities]
On the other hand, all the U.N. and U.S. climate negotiations completely leave out the American military’s giant carbon foot-print. Just as the assembled nations left big carbon pollution by airplanes and ships out of Kyodo, the American military gets a free pass. Yet they are the largest single greenhouse gas polluter in the world! According to an article by Sara Flounders at iacenter.org – the official figure is 320,000 barrels a day for the American military. But that doesn’t include all the fossil fuels consumed by contractors – often as numerous as the troops – or the greenhouse gases generated by the arms industry. Just the Iraq War emits more than 60 countries. Check out that article.
The pretense that the American military machine doesn’t need to be included in damage to the atmosphere is typical of the illusions humans allow themselves. Reality is not fooled at all. Just more climate damage.
Meanwhile, the Australian climate scientist Andrew Glikson has gathered facts showing the $10 billion dollar climate aid pledge by Europe is:
0.5 % of global entertainment spending, 0.7% of the U.S. military expenditure for 2008, and 1.4% of the U.S. bank bailout. The gambling industry takes in over $100 billion a year.
So we can hardly take the Copenhagen climate aid figures seriously, and obviously neither the leaders nor their population think capping climate disruption is as important as warring, gaming, or watching television.
Is the money offered just a bribe? Will we in the West pay the people of low island states in the Pacific to move? What is the cost of destroying cultures thousands of years old? Will we transplant their fabulous animals and plants? Where?
Are you ready to take your share of 100 million people displaced from Bangladesh as the seas rise?
I doubt it.
On another topic, UK columnist and author George Monbiot has repeatedly chastised Anarchists in Europe. He doesn’t see any revolution soon, and thinks governments must implement solutions. But even Monbiot seems downcast about the political outcome at Copenhagen:
[Monbiot on the failure of governments.]
Take that, Mr. Stimulator! That’s a dig at the fine video and audio podcast called “It’s The End of the World As We Know It”, found at submedia.tv
[Look for “Plan C: Life After Cop15” at http://www.stimulator.tv/]
Here’s The Stimulator’s sample reaction:
[clip Stimulator and Bill McKibben]
I’m Alex Smith, this is the Radio Ecoshock Copenhagen climate round-up. In his latest podcast, the Stimulator brings up another hero of the climate fight: Jeff Luers, now finally released from his draconian prison sentence.
[clip Stimulator and Jeff Luers]
Jeff was originally sentenced to 20 years in prison for torching 3 gas guzzling SUV’s. He was early trying to warn America about the need to conserve energy and stop making climate change. No one was hurt, the cars were refurbished and re-sold, and eventually another judge threw out Jeff’s horrible sentence, reducing it to 10 years. Jeff never stopped his activism, even from jail, and how he’s truly free!
When judging these difficult things, like the Copenhagen climate summit, I try to pay attention to what top scientists are saying.
Quite amazing, the climate scientist who warned the American government back in 1988, came out hoping the Copenhagen climate talks would fail. That would be Dr. James Hansen, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA. Why did James Hansen curse the latest climate talks? Here is an interview clip from a half hour spent with Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now! (blessed be they).
[Hansen, explains his opposition to the Copenhagen deal, as proposed…due to cap and trade, with carbon “off-sets”.]
And sure enough, in my opinion, the cap and trade scheme, with it’s Wall Street derivatives, billions in gifts to polluters, and phony carbon offsets is just a climate slaughterhouse. To get a grip on why, please watch the new video by the creator of “The Story of Stuff”, Annie Leonard. This one’s called “The Story of Cap and Trade” with Annie’s sensible explanation anyone can grasp. That’s free at www.storyofstuff.com/capandtrade/
I say, cap and trade is a scam which will lead us to 6 degrees of more of global warming, before the century is out. I join James Hansen in urging you to look into it.
By the way, Bloomsbury, the publisher of James Hansen’s new book “Storms of My Grandchildren” sent me a review copy. I’m reading it now, and plan to have Dr. James Hansen as our Radio Ecoshock guest early in the New Year. If you have suggested questions for Dr. Hansen, write me at this address: radio [at] ecoshock.org.
I’m Alex Smith. This has been Radio Ecoshock, broadcast by at least 21 radio stations in North America, plus satellite, cable, podcast and download.
Be sure and visit our web site this week, at ecoshock.org. That’s eco shock like an electric shock dot org. I’m going to re-post the speech “Climate Diet” – which has some easy tips for all of us to reduce emissions.
As you can tell, I’ve had it with politicians and big conferences. The bigger the stage, the bigger the failure.
Along with many of you, I know the solutions are up to us personally. I’ve cut my carbon by 40 %. How about you? If we all do it, and all harass our neighbours and family to do the same, we don’t need vague promises from Washington, Beijing, Moscow, Ottawa, or Delhi.
My old friend Jan Lundberg, at culturechange.org, says after the failures of government at Copenhagen, each of us has to take up the burden of change.
“The real state of affairs is truly, “It’s up to us.” From personal lifestyle change that’s openly shared and publicized, to concerted and individual direct action, to local initiatives toward weakening corporate power including via boycott, it’s all up to us. Nations and global institutions have failed to honor life itself, and they’re taking us down — not unlike the uncounted species going extinct daily. It’s hard to face our true challenge when it’s easier to wait until the next election and pretend again that one is doing one’s bit.”
Jan kicked off this Fall’s Radio Ecoshock Show on September 4th, 2009. Our interview was rebroadcast widely, and has been heavily downloaded ever since. The former oil analyst described the monster of climate change meeting the Godzilla of Peak Oil, in a society already weakened by the banking and real estate bubble.
It’s Up to Us. That’s the title of our wrap up song by Jan’s daughter, Spring Lundberg, after her case against Humboldt Country and California law enforcement, where the young singer was tortured with pepper spray. But now, after Copenhagen, we can all see, it’s up to us.
I’m Alex Smith. Thank you for helping to bear the load.
[Song “It’s Up to Us” by Spring Lundberg]