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Carbon trade is opium trade: Durban deal promotes status quo

Written By Krishna on Wednesday, December 14, 2011 | 10:44 PM

The deal promotes status quo

By Gopal Krishna

The 17th session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) failed to acknowledge that carbon markets are encouraging a reliance on fossil fuels and a monetisation of the atmosphere. As a consequence, small island states, coastal people, indigenous people, local communities, fisherfolk will suffer without any legal remedy. Lack of wisdom and sense of history of free trade among those who gathered made them connive at the carbon trade even in the second commitment period. This is akin to the opium trade.

Not surprisingly, Durban revealed the failure in stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere that is required at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system, which includes the totality of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere and geosphere and their interactions. Sadly, it is sought to be done through carbon offsets and carbon trade which was incorporated in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol — an amendment to the 1992 UNFCCC — on the insistence of the US which wanted to sell it to the US Senate as “economically effective”, but to no avail. The American lifestyle was not negotiable and is still not so.

Like previous sessions of the UNFCCC, which had the mandate to achieve a reduced pollution level within a timeframe sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner, the Durban exercise also remained caught in the narratives of nation states. For instance, it is insincere on the part of developing countries like India to argue that carbon trade leads to poverty alleviation in the same breath as it seeks permits for survival emissions and Nano cars.

As long as carbon offsets and carbon trade remain part of the text of the climate treaty no amount of verbiage can disguise the fact that it is not good for the developing countries which are imitating the industrialised countries.Some 130 species of birds have become extinct since the 17th century because of alterations in climate, landscape and their food sources. Collapse of bee hives is quite widespread. Agricultural production depends on them but this does not seem to matter to companies and visionless nation states especially from the industrialised countries; it is the people in developing countries who will suffer the most.

The continued failure of developing countries in getting rid of false solutions from the negotiations due to their incestuous relationship with carbon credit-earning companies will lead to resource conflicts. This is akin to pushing the client states towards agreeing to discuss climate crisis in the UN Security Council, which has already been attempted on two occasions. Developing countries must revise their strategy by the next major UNFCCC Conference during November-December 2012 before it is too late for course correction.

Gopal Krishna is Convener, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)

Outcome is good, if not best

By Sunita Narain

The Durban outcome may not be the ideal one for for developing countries, per se. But it is as good a deal as they could have got in the circumstances where the developed world is keen to renege on commitments and the developing world is deeply divided on what should happen. Let us be clear: the Durban agreement only reflects the fact that the world is far from bridging the gap on emission reduction to avoid catastrophic climate impacts. This is because the developed world that has contributed to the bulk of emissions historically is not keen to take on the burden of reducing emissions.

Therefore, the Durban conference reflected this obduracy of the developed world to act. But it also came after a period when global media and civil society had successfully changed the nature of the climate discourse — moved it away from the fundamental question of equity in distribution of the global commons — to the crisis of climate change and the need for all countries, including India to act. It is in this backdrop that countries like India arrived in Durban, cornered by the powerful Western public opinion, which could only see their growth as the problem for the world.

Worse, as the world has not acted decisively to cut emissions, the crisis of climate change has grown. In all this, the poor are getting divided and turning against each other. On one hand, island nations — from Maldives to Granada — believe, rightly so, that the world has not delivered on its promise to cut emissions and is today jeopardising their future. But they do not have the power to fight the powerful interests. So, this powerful coalition — the voice of climate victims — has turned against their partner developing countries, targeting India, for instance, for inaction. This is when the per capita emission of most island states is more than countries like India.

As I see it, India and key developing countries showed some spunk at Durban. They fought back, as best as they could, given the power of the rich countries and the loss of ground of the poor countries in the years before. What they got was an assurance that the future agreement will take into account their need for development and this agreement will be created under the Framework Convention on Climate Change. This will protect the differentiation between developed and developing and provide equity as the basis of mandatory emission targets, which the world desperately needs to take to avoid climate change.

Climate change is real, the threat is urgent. The world needs to act. We have to build power in our voice to make sure, in the next round, expected in Qatar in 2012, that the world wakes up and listens to our message that the world is running out of time, not because of the intransigence of the poor, but because of the selfish actions of the rich. We want hard and tough action to reduce emissions because we are vulnerable. But this action must be built on our right to development — not the right of the rich to pollute.

Sunita Narain is Director, Centre for Science & Environment (CSE)

15 December, Op-ed, The Asian Age & Deccan Chrocicle
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