Conference of Parties 16 (COP16), United Nations Global Warming Summit Cancún, Mexico, 2010
Hardly a lunar landscape, the Moon Palace resort in Cancún, Mexico, boasts material opulence cum tropical paradise, complete with its own skull-like circumference of militia to protect the world's most revered gray matter – or should I say green matter? Slated between the dates of November 29 and December 10, this meeting of minds attracted over 20 heads of state, coupled with environmental ministers representing 193 countries. The impetus of their gathering: to settle their differences and patch together some kind of an agreement over what should be done to address climate change on a global scale. Following the flatlining of 2009's Copenhagen Accord, which European Union President Herman Van Rompuy regarded as an “incredible disaster,” those in attendance this year were far from interested in any ecologically sustainable outcome. With such blue-chip corporations as HP, Coca-Cola and Dow Chemical Company prowling the event in search of easy prey, this was no ordinary climate convention. Just as Lockheed-Martin engineered the razing of Iraq and Halliburton received the contract to build it back up, as thousands of swarming NGO's turned post-earthquake Haiti into a lucrative aid state, Milton Friedman's apostles of disaster capitalism have now surrounded the world on fire with matches in hand. Where there is crisis, there is profit.
In what some have declared a new low for climate profiteering, one of the agreements outlined in Cancún was the establishment of REDD. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) pays farmers to protect their forests as carbon sinks instead of cutting them down. A Cree Native American named Clayton Thomas-Muller, who is the official tar sands campaigner for the Indigenous Environmental Network, had this to say of the REDD program: “We're specifically calling out the World Bank and its attempts to co-opt the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change with its REDD readiness initiative … This program is nothing more than a market scheme aimed at privatizing the lands of indigenous peoples in the Global South and turning them into commodities to be bought and sold on the International Forest Carbon facility. This type of market-based mechanism will enable industrialized nations of the North, investors in the World Bank, to continue to expand the fossil fuel regime and prop up the fossil fuel-based economy.”
Another initiative proposed at Cancun was the “Green Climate Fund,” which promises monetary compensation for poor nations affected by climate change. Industrialized nations are squandering the resources of the world's indigent population, global climate change only exacerbating the economic disparities. Former Irish President and Honorary President of Oxfam International and former Head of the High Commission on Human Rights Mary Robinson has said that the Green Climate Fund is “the biggest human rights issue of the 21st century.” Despite lofty ambitions, there is currently no money in the World Bank-backed fund. Developed nations have promised to donate 30 billion dollars by 2012. Half of this money will be donated by Japan, whereupon they have promised to increase their funding to 100 billion by 2020. Ironically, Japan has also declared that it will not extend the Kyoto Protocol past its expiration date in 2012.
With relatively no mainstream buzz, a happening never swallowed by the nets of Newscorp, these talks remained floating in the abysmal sea of media, never to be brought ashore and to your dinner table. It would not be surprising if this were the first you're hearing about them. Beyond the fortified skull of the Moon Palace, a smiling face was displayed for all who dreamed of geopolitical reprieve for environmental lashings. But while these corporate-sponsored biocide apologists sip martinis on the Moon, the foot soldiers of dissent began their march upon the Palace gates. This homegrown revolt crescendoed on December 7, 2010, when La Via Campesina, the world's largest federation of peasant and smallholder farmers, held what they called the “1000 Cancún Global Day of Action for Climate Justice.” With 30 actions in the US and Canada and more than 100 worldwide, these protests sought to challenge the corporate profiteering taking place inside. One hundred ninety-three countries agreed to the Cancún Agreements. Even those most affected joined: the African Union and the Association of Small Island States. The only country in attendance that refused to sign was Bolivia. Representing Bolivia at the Cancún Agreements, Bolivia's Ambassador to the United Nations Pablo Solón left the Moon Palace to join La Via Campesina's protest.
“The only way to change the course of the negotiation is through the mobilization and organization of the people of the world. Here we are negotiating human lives. Because if there are no emission reductions that are substantive, what is going to happen is that the temperature will increase by more than 4 degrees Celsius and many people are going to die. Actually, already, more than 300,000 persons are dying because of natural disasters that have to do with climate change per year. This figure can even go to 1 million by the year 2020,” said Solón in an interview with Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman, one of the few journalistic jarheads hoisting her fist at the forefront of this War on Tierra. He went on to say, “we responsibly cannot follow a text that firstly doesn't guarantee a second commitment to the Kyoto Protocol and which, even worse, establishes that there will be a rise in temperature of more than four degrees centigrade. This would make us responsible for a situation which my president has described as genocide … we have lost one-third of our glaciers in our mountains. We'll lose, in the next decade, the other one-third. And this has terrible consequences for water, for agriculture, for biodiversity. In other areas of Bolivia, there is already almost no water. In the rivers, we begin to see that the temperatures have went very down and we see fishes that have freeze in regions where that nearly never happen. So we're already suffering the consequences of climate change … That's not acceptable for us.”
Blocked from even entering the summit, Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network and fellow protester had this to say about the climate talks, “… the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change is the WTO of the sky … You know, there's institutions, there's financiers, the governments of the North – they're all invested in a carbon market scheme. And here in Cancún, the United Nations climate meeting is selling the sky to the highest bidder, using indigenous peoples' forests to soak up their pollution instead of reducing emissions at its source. And the future of humanity is at stake. And the voices of truth are being censored so the world can be deceived. Freedom of speech has been assassinated at this Cancún climate summit.”
Another comrade, Rogelio Alquisiras Burgos from the National Union of Regional Autonomous Peasant Communities, expressed his concerns. “The strategies that the governments and these transnational corporations have presented for the climate change crisis are false – for example, continued use of biofuels, transgenic crops and continuing to pollute the planet with greenhouse gases. And all the while they're taking no responsibility for the cause and effects of the contamination. The villagers of the world are the ones most affected by global warming. We are the most affected by the loss of our harvests. We have to deal with the effects of hurricanes, floods, droughts and with the changing climate.”
Is this what is happening? Is the REDD program a giant land-grab? Will the Green Climate Fund be used to bribe potentially vulnerable nations into complying with developed world policies? If indeed these politicians and authorities did gather in December to propagate trade initiatives and privatize natural resources away from the hands of indigenous peasants, then it is no wonder why the media was kept at bay. Managing to breach the silence and surface within the lips of media at roughly the same time was a summary of a different climate conference altogether. One year in the making, we see an eerie foreshadowing of what has become of the Cancún Summit.
Conference of Parties 15 (COP15), United Nations Global Warming Summit – Copenhagen, Denmark, 2009
A quarter of a million official US diplomatic cables were released to transparency journalists at WikiLeaks over the past several months regarding last year's Climate Summit in Copenhagen. Spying, threats and promises of aid formed part of the US diplomatic offensive to establish the controversial Copenhagen Accord. Great Britain's The Guardian newspaper has published many of the cables related to the Copenhagen Summit and unquestionably verifies that the United States government used intelligence to obtain vital information about those countries opposed to its approach to tackling climate change, and used whichever aid money or development projects to persuade these countries in opposition to sign the Accord. Below, I will highlight several of the documented cases of coercion revealed by WikiLeaks:
United States of America:
Naming specific countries of interest, including China, France, Japan, Mexico, Russia and the European Union, one government cable sought the biographical details of individuals such as credit card and frequent-flyer numbers of the prominent UN diplomats of these countries.
In December 2010, businessman George Soros proposed that developed countries return their Special Drawing Rights (foreign exchange reserve assets) to the International Monetary Fund, a sum amounting to roughly $150 billion, providing the funding for the mitigation and adaptation to climate change within developing nations. These SDRs could function as another form of loan guarantee, though with questionable utility.
European Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard and US Deputy Climate Change Envoy Jonathon Pershing discussed what they call “fast-start” funding, a facet of the Copenhagen Accord promising $30 billion in aid for the poorest nations hit by global warming they had not caused. She said some countries like Japan and the United Kingdom will press the inclusion of loan guarantees as part of the package, so as to avoid all funding being cash. She went on to ask whether the US will need to do any “creative accouting” to fund the pledges of aid, asserting, “$30 billion had been promised – it cannot be lent.” Pershing said the US government anticipated this need and budgeted funds for Fast-Start in 2010 and 2011. He said some US funding would be directly applied for mitigation and adaptation, while other sources would be indirect, such as funds from various private agencies, as well as the funds allotted for food security.
With these aid pledges in mind, the Maldives Foreign Minister, Ahmed Shaheed, wrote to the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, expressing eagerness to back the controversial Accords.
Initially fierce about the possibility of their island being submerged, saying they would never cave around the issue of global warming, documents suggest that the US paid the Maldives Islands tens of millions of dollars in aid to sign the Copenhagen Accord, which they promptly did following discussions.
The WikiLeaks cables reveal that on February 11, 2010, two months after the Copenhagen talks, Pershing met Hedegaard in Brussels, where she told him, “the Alliance of Small Island States countries “could be our best allies, given their need for financing.”
In a meeting between Pershing and the Maldives' Ambassador to the United Nations Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed on February 23, 2010, Ghafoor stated that Maldives would like to see that small countries at the forefront of the climate debate receive “tangible assistance” from countries with wealthier economies. Noted in the cable was the observation that other nations would then realize “the advantages to be gained by compliance” with the Accord. Ghafoor referred to several projects in the development phase, funding for which could be used for harbor deepening and strengthening sea walls, costing approximately $50 million in total. Pershing encouraged Ghafoor to provide concrete examples and specific costs in order to increase the likelihood of bilateral assistance and Congressional appropriations.
Ghafoor proposed to Pershing that President Obama deliver a speech on climate change from the Maldives when he next visits the region, an area of the world that he believes would provide a dramatic backdrop and draw further attention to the environmental challenges small island nations will face.
Bolivia and Ecuador:
Several of the memos addressed Bolivia's opposition to the US-backed Accord. Hedegaard met with Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economic Affairs Michael Froman at the United States Embassy in Brussels last January to discuss this very topic. In a US diplomatic cable from February 17, 2010, Froman was quoted as saying “we need to neutralize, co-opt or marginalize these and others such as Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador.” Hedegaard noted “the irony that the EU is a big donor to these countries.” Soon after this statement, both Bolivia and Ecuador were denied development aid by the United States after opposing the Copenhagen Accord. Under the State Department's original request to Congress for international climate aid, Bolivia had initially been promised $3 million and Ecuador $2.5 million. In response to this deliberate act of blackmail, State Department Envoy Todd Stern told The Washington Post, “There's funding that was agreed to as part of the Copenhagen Accord and as a general matter, the US is going to use its funds to go to countries that have indicated an interest to be part of the Accord.” “They are playing a pretty hard line,” warned Alden Meyer, climate change director for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “It has the potential to be a counterproductive strategy. To cut off adaptation aid to countries suffering the impacts of climate change that are largely the result of past emissions from the US and other industrial countries risks making them look like the bad guys in a morality play. It is not a strategy that is going to play well in the developing world.”
Shortly after the release of these documents, Democracy Now! journalist Goodman interviewed the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, to get his response to this explicit threat. “In terms of Cuba, Nicaragua and Ecuador being a danger, if we have massacred millions of people in Iraq, in Afghanistan, if we've invaded other countries … what could we have done?… imperial foreign affairs have their own tendency, and that's an extreme-right group. Even though the formal power changes hands, the actual power remains within those extreme-right groups, huge representatives of huge corporations or fundamental religious groups and they who see ghosts where there are no ghosts and they know that there are no ghosts, but they want to create those ghosts in order to justify their brutality and desire for hegemony. The thing is that we are not afraid of them and we are not interested in what they're doing.”
Bolivia's President Evo Morales is also criticized in the leaked cables for organizing the World Peoples Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in April.
As of this year, Ecuador supports the REDD initiative, whereas Bolivia still does not.
BASICs (Brazil, South Africa, India, China):
The BASIC countries, led by India, are being heavily courted by the United States and Europe to ratify the Accord. Lula da Silva's Brazil was thought to be the most easily persuadable regime out of this voting bloc. In June 2009, the embassy in Brasilia declared a “clear opportunity to nudge the development of Brazil's negotiating position in a more positive direction,” having been persuaded by money.
US Deputy National Security Adviser Michael Froman said the following about the BASIC countries: “It is remarkable how closely co-ordinated the BASIC group has become in international fora, taking turns to impede US/EU initiatives and playing the US and EU off against each other. Basic countries have widely differing interests, but have subordinated these to their common short-term goals. The US and EU need to learn from this co-ordination and work much more closely and effectively together ourselves, to better handle third country obstructionism and avoid future train wrecks on climate, Doha or financial regulatory reform.”
Pershing said the BASICs are resisting any changes to the UNFCCC guidelines (under which these developing countries report on their greenhouse gas emissions and actions). African and Latin American countries were looking to turn Copenhagen into a binding agreement, but the BASICs were opposed to this. Pershing goes on to say that the plans to reduce emissions submitted “by some major economies were 'opaque.'” Hedegaard responded by saying, “China's submission was open to interpretation.” Pershing responded by asserting, “Brazil's and India's submissions were as well.”
In a meeting between Brazilian Vice-Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira and the US Deputy Chief of Mission Lisa Kubiske, Teixeira expressed her interest “on the idea of a partnership with the US” involving political dialogue and concrete technical projects related to climate change. She went on to suggest that “the US could send a strong signal about its new commitment to climate change by making a significant contribution to the Amazon Fund.” The US has not yet made a contribution.
With the Copenhagen Summit around the bend in November 2009, the Brasilia Embassy suggested that they are “still willing to come out siding with China and India on key issues. Nonetheless, it … has room to improve its position going into Copenhagen and interventions by President Obama … may help tilt the balance.”
On May 27, 2009, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry met with the Chinese Vice-Premier Li Keqiang. Kerry proposed a deeper cooperation on green technology research, calling it “immediately realistic.” Vice-Premier Li Keqiang responded by saying, “China wishes the US would lift high technology export restrictions.” This would be a boon to Chinese manufacturing industries.
One diplomatic cable quotes James Smith, US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, as saying, “Saudi officials are very eager to obtain investment credits for carbon capture and storage (CCS) and other technology transfer projects…. Saudi officials have suggested that they need to find a way to climb down gracefully from the country's tough negotiating position. More sustained engagement in co-ordination with other governments, particularly if pitched as an effort to develop partnership, may help them do so.”
Saudi Arabia is the only country that openly doubts the reality of human-caused climate change. One cable entitled “Two Faces of Saudi Arabia's Climate Negotiating Position” details the mixed messages coming from their government and brainstorms ways to lure Saudi support for the floundering Copenhagen Accord.
The Dutch government solicited support from those undeveloped countries currently receiving development aid from the Netherlands in an attempt to convince them to “associate with” the Accord.
In a cable from February 9, 2010, the Danish Ambassador to Bolivia Morten Elkjaer told a US diplomat that, at the Copenhagen summit, “Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen spent an unpleasant 30 minutes with [Evo] Morales, during which Morales thanked him for [$30 million a year in] bilateral aid, but refused to engage on climate change issues.”
On February 2, 2009, a cable from Addis Ababa reports that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi expressed to US Under Secretary Maria Otero that he had received word from contacts at the United Nations that the US was not supportive of Ethiopia's proposal for a panel to monitor financial pledges regarding climate change. Otero retorted that the government of Ethiopia's support of the Accord is a “point of departure for further discussion and movement forward.” Zenawi reassured Otero that he would support the Accord, however, he was concerned that a personal assurance from President Barack Obama on delivering the promised aid in finances was not being honored.
As the very nature of WikiLeaks favors the slow dissemination of classified documents, sometimes years after the fact, there is currently no way of knowing whether the 2010 Climate Summit has suffered a similar fate as Copenhagen. The only thing we can be sure of is that there is an emerging market associated with the risks of climate change and many eager heads of state looking to capitalize. In a world ravaged by climate change, even suffering has its price. And if we, the masses, are to burn in the hell of war or warming, surely lifeboat economists will find a way to float with the rising sea. Perhaps the greatest challenge this generation will face is to find a way to climb inside the boats or to tip them over entirely. Passive swimming is compliant drowning.