Durban Climate Talks: Criminal Inaction and the Imminent Danger

by Orpheus Reed  

Representatives from 195 countries are now meeting at the 17th UN-sponsored climate talks in Durban, South Africa. Meetings run through December 9. Since 1992, these UN climate conferences have talked about addressing the urgent problem of climate change—but nothing of substance has been done to stop the problem. Instead, the situation has gotten worse and worse.

Even before the Durban conference began, the representatives of the most powerful countries that control this whole process had announced to the world that we should have no expectations for any major deals to address climate change.

A New York Times headline said the Durban meeting concentrated "urgent issues but low expectations." In fact, according to the UK Guardian, "The UK, European Union, Japan, U.S. and other rich nations are all now united in opting to put off an agreement to limit emissions."

From Copenhagen to Durban

Leading up to the global climate talks in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2009, expectations were raised that finally a real deal would be made with binding commitments to cut greenhouse gases that are the cause of global warming. The accord that was actually signed did nothing to cut emissions of greenhouse gases and was not even a beginning of a serious plan to do so. Instead, a criminal deal with no serious intention of doing anything was passed mainly at the initiative of the U.S., and then crammed down the throats of the majority of other countries. (See "Copenhagen Climate Summit Accord: A Crime Against the Planet," Revolution #188, January 10, 2010, online at revcom.us.)

Copenhagen was not an urgent gathering of scientists and others to solve this problem. What took place was the leaders of the world’s most powerful countries fighting among themselves to force the other to make compromises while viciously pursuing their own interests and leaving the planet and its people to face the approaching global disaster.

When the Copenhagen talks produced nothing of substance, the world was promised that a new climate treaty could be made within a year. Then the time frame became 2-3 years. And now, the major imperialist players say no treaty should be expected until 2016—and that treaty wouldn’t even take effect until 2020.

If such a decision is what happens—if such decisions and the power to make them remains in the hands of these capitalist powers—this will spell disaster for the world’s ecosystems. The reality is that the world does not have this much time. Leading climate scientists are increasingly warning that emissions must be cut drastically—starting now—if catastrophic global climate changes are to be avoided.

Nothing again came out of talks last year in Cancun, Mexico, except for do-nothing promises to create a fund for the rich countries to pay for technology and projects for the poor countries to supposedly take steps to mitigate climate change. And even this has amounted to nothing, with Saudi Arabia and the U.S. pulling out in the weeks before the Durban talks.

Barack Obama and other U.S. representatives claimed that Copenhagen was a real success and set a framework for progress. The agreement said nations would set their own goals to cut greenhouse emissions and that this voluntary approach would achieve real progress. This was, and is, a cruel hoax that is exposed by the facts.

The Evidence from Science

The U.S. Department of Energy revealed recently that in 2010, the global output of carbon dioxide (the predominant greenhouse gas) had risen 6 percent over the year before. John Reilly of MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change said, "The more we talk about the need to control emissions, the more they are growing." Carbon emissions from the U.S. and China accounted for over half of the increase in emissions, and this was despite a global economic crisis. According to Tom Boden of the Oak Ridge National Lab, these figures mean the actual situation in the world is outstripping even the worst-case projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC-a panel of world scientists and leaders that study climate change). The IPCC has projected that under its worst-case scenario, global temperatures will rise between 4 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. This scenario would spell a holocaust by drought, crop failure and water shortages in Africa; inundation of island nations and huge swaths of low lying nations like Bangladesh and parts of Egypt; a generalized destruction of large numbers of the world’s species; and countless other disasters worldwide.

The World Meteorological Society just released figures showing that carbon dioxide levels in 2010 reached their highest level in recorded history, at 389 parts per million. Previous studies have documented that these levels are not only rising, but that their rate of increase is also going up.

The science and facts make it unmistakably clear. Climate change resulting from human-caused warming of the planet is underway and threatens to become a full-fledged catastrophe. The very future of life for many of our planet’s species and possibly humanity itself is in danger. Studies show that 2010 was the warmest year on record. And a new report from the World Meteorological Organization says that 13 of the warmest years for earth’s average temperature in recorded history have occurred in the last 15 years.

Studies are increasingly documenting a link between global warming and the trend to more extreme weather events—more intensive droughts in some areas, more intense rainfall and flooding in others, more powerful storms, and unprecedented heat waves. The Arctic ice cap and seas—the center of rich ecosystems crucial to the planet as a whole and central to earth’s climate system throughout humanity’s existence on earth—have been melting to unprecedented levels over the past decade. Scientists studying these developments describe this situation as "reinforcing the notion that the Arctic sea ice is in its death spiral."

Year after year, for decades, the alarm has been sounded and grown louder and louder—shouting out in scientific study after study; underwritten in a million ways in changes in the behavior, patterns, and movement of nature’s inhabitants; and announced in increasingly destructive storms, killing heat waves and the changed face of our planet.

And year after year, the screaming chasm between the heightening danger and the criminal inaction and incapability of the world’s major powers to address this danger sharpens. This criminality is so extreme in the U.S. that in ruling circles and official public opinion, doing anything of meaning about this problem or even confronting its existence in any real way has been ruled off the map.

The question is what are we, world humanity, going to do?

Revolution will have further coverage of the Durban conference. But this much is already clear: The ruling classes and representatives of this system are incapable of saving our planet—not simply because of their greed for profit, but because of the very workings of the system of capitalism. Under capitalism, everything is turned into a commodity and everything must be done for profit; production is privately owned and driven by the commandment of "expand or die"; and there is a great divide between the imperialist and oppressed countries. (See "Are Corporations and Banks Corrupting the System, or Is the Problem the System of Capitalism" by Raymond Lotta.) There is no reason to think this system and its representatives are capable of addressing global climate change in the manner and time required. If economic and political power remains in their hands, humanity faces the real danger of a coming global environmental collapse.

But things do not have to be this way. There is an actual framework and approach, laid out in Revolution special issue "Global Emergency" (online at revcom.us/environment) and the Constitution for a New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal), that could move to address the climate and overall environmental crisis, by establishing through revolution a new system that would have at its foundation a sustainable economic approach that would preserve and maintain natural ecosystems. A system that would have a fighting chance to lead the world to combat environmental catastrophe as a critical element in the fight to emancipate all of humanity.

This article originally appeared on revcom.us.