Excellent news from Copenhagen: Capitalist politicians exposed, foundations laid for mass movement

By Daniel Tanuro 

December 19, 2009 -- International Viewpoint -- We knew the United Nations summit in Copenhagen would not conclude with a new international treaty but a simple statement of intent – just one more. But the text adopted at the end of the meeting is worse than anything we could imagine: no quantified objectives for carbon-emissions reduction, no reference year for measuring them, no deadlines, no date!

The text included a vague promise of US$100 million yearly for adaptation in developing countries, but the formulas used and various comments lead us to fear that these will be loans administered by major financial institutions rather than true reparations paid by those responsible for the mess.

The document is totally incoherent. Heads of state and government recognise that “climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time”, but at the closing of the 15th conference of its kind, they are still incapable of taking the slightest concrete measures to meet this challenge. They admit – this is a first! – the need to remain “below 2° degrees Celsius” temperature increase, hence the need for deep cuts in emissions “according to science, and as documented by the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report”. However they are incapable of endorsing the quantified conclusions drawn by climatologists: at least 40% cut by 2020 and 95% by 2050 in developed countries. They emphasise their “strong political will” to “cooperate in achieving” (this goal of less than 2°C temperature increase) but have nothing to propose beyond a hodge-podge of proposals, with each country communicating to the others what it intends to do, by February 1, 2010.

Trapped by the hyper-mediatisation they orchestrated themselves, the powerful of our world found themselves in the spotlight, with nothing to show beyond their sordid rivalries. Thus, the representatives of 26 major countries booted out the NGOs, sidelined small states and scribbled a text whose major purpose is to convey the impression that there is a political pilot in the plane. But there is no pilot. Or rather, it’s an automatic pilot: the race for profit among capitalist groups rushing into the trade war for world markets.

Obama and the European Union promised to the high heavens that business would have to pay for their emissions rights. Snake oil! At the end of the day, most companies received these rights free of charge and are making profits on them, selling them off and billing consumers for them! The rest is in keeping. Don’t touch the money, that is the watchword.

Race for profits

This so-called agreement is oozing impotence from every pore. You can’t just tell the climate to stay below 2°C. If this can still be possible, there are drastic conditions to fulfil. These involve definitely consuming less energy, thus transforming and transporting less matter. Less must be produced and at the same time human needs must be met, in particular in the poor countries. How can this be done? This is the key question.

It isn’t so hard to solve. We could stop producing weapons, eliminate advertising budgets and do away with many types of useless production, activities and transport. But this would come up against capitalist productivism, the race for profits than requires growth. A sacrilege! That is taboo!

And the outcome of this race? While world greenhouse gas emissions have to be cut 80% by 2050 at the latest, although developed countries are responsible for more than 70% of warming, the only concrete measure specified in the agreement is a halt to deforestation… which only concerns the global South and represents 17% of carbon emissions. Ecological headway? No way! “Protecting” tropical forests (by expelling the people who live there!) is the cheapest way for polluters to buy the right to keep on producing (weapons, advertising, etc) and to pollute … thus to keep on destroying forests via warming. This is how the law of profit corrupts everything it touches and changes everything into its opposite.

Rank-and-file victory

Fortunately, in the face of this total collapse at the summit, Copenhagen was a magnificent rank-and-file victory. The international demonstration on Saturday, December 12, brought together some 100,000 people. The only precedent for such a massive mobilisation on this issue was were the different simultaneous marches that brought together 200,000 Australian citizens at once, in November 2007. But this was a national mobilisation and Australia was being hard-hit by the impact of warming. This is not (yet) the case in the European countries, where most of the demonstrators came from, flocking to the Nordic capital to cries of “Planet first, people first”, despite ferocious police repression.

Copenhagen symbolises this new consciousness. It was the expression of participation of social movements that until very recently were on the sidelines of ecological issues, and sometimes even suspicious of them: women’s organisations, peasant movements, trade unions, North-South solidarity associations, peace movements, global justice movements.

Indigenous people are playing a key role by struggling against forest destruction (in a power relationship worthy of David confronting Goliath!), symbolising at once resistance to the dictatorship of profit and the possibility of another relation between humanity and nature. Yet all these forces count more on collective action than on lobbying, so dear to major environmental associations. Their coming onto the scene has radically moved the centre of gravity. From now on, the struggle for an ecologically effective and socially just international treaty will play out in the street – more than in the corridors of summit meetings – and will be a social battle – more than a debate among specialists.

While the official summit gave birth to a scrap of paper, social mobilisation and the alternative summit laid the political foundations for rank-and-file action to carry out in the coming months: “Change the system, not the climate”, “Planet not profit”, “blah blah blah Act Now”, “Nature doesn’t compromise”, “Change the politics, not the climate”, “There is no PLANet B”. Despite its limitations (particularly in terms of the role of the United Nations), the Klimaforum09’s declaration is a good text, rejecting the carbon market, climate neocolonialism and offsetting emissions by planting trees, or other phoney techniques. More and more people understand it: climate degradation is not the outcome of “human activity” in general but of a an unsustainable mode of production and consumption. And they draw the logical conclusion: the climate can’t be saved only through changing individual behaviour; on the contrary this will take deep structural changes. It means putting the onus on the race for profits, because this race inevitably leads to an exponential growth in production, waste and transport of materials, thus of emissions.

A disaster?

Is the summit’s failure a disaster? On the contrary, it is excellent news. Excellent news because it is time to stop this blackmail claiming that in exchange for fewer emissions, it would take more neoliberalism, more markets. Excellent news because the treaty that governments could conclude today would be ecologically inadequate, socially criminal and technologically dangerous. It would provoke a rise in temperature between 3.2 and 4.9°C, a rise in ocean levels from 60 cm to 2.9 metres (at least) and a headlong rush to sorcerer’s apprentice technologies (nuclear power, agrifuels, GMOs and “clean coal” with geological sequestration of billions of tonnes of CO2). Hundreds of millions of poor people would be the main victims. Excellent news because this failure clears up illusions that “world civil society” could, via “good governance”, in partnership with “stakeholders”, arrive at a climate consensus among antagonistic social interests.

It is high time to see that there are only two utterly counterpoised strategies out of fossil fuels: a transition piloted blind by profit and competition which takes us straight into the wall; and a consciously and democratically planned transition based on social and ecological needs, independent of the costs, which means involving the public sector and sharing wealth. This alternative path is the only means of averting disaster.

The King is dead. The system is incapable of responding to the gigantic problem it created without inflicting irreparable damage on humanity and nature. To avert this, the time has come for the broadest possible mobilisation. This is everyone’s concern.

Planetary warming is much more than an “environmental” issue: it is a huge social, economic, human and ecological threat, which objectively requires an ecosocialist alternative. The heart of the matter: capitalism, as a system, has exceeded its limits. Its capacity for social and ecological destruction clearly exceeds its potential for progress. Let this observation help to foster convergence of the struggles for another society. The Copenhagen demonstrators have opened the road. They invite us to join them in taking action: “Act now. Planet, not profit. Nature doesn’t compromise”.

[Daniel Tanuro, a certified agriculturalist and eco-socialist environmentalist, writes for La gauche, (the monthly of the LCR-SAP, Belgian section of the Fourth International). This article first appeared on the web site of International Viewpoint, the magazine of the Fourth International.]

Copenhagen: A turning point for the movement

By Terry Conway and Thomas Eisler

December 21, 2009 -- Socialist Resistance -- On Saturday, December 12, 100,000 people demonstrated in the streets of Copenhagen outside the COP15 summit, demanding urgent action against global warming -- more than double the numbers that organisers had predicted -- or even dared expect. While of course a high percentage of demonstrators came from Denmark itself and from neighbouring countries, Sweden and Germany (where there is somewhat of a tradition of mobilising for each other’s events), this was a truly international demonstration.

One of the biggest delegations from outside Denmark was the 850-strong special train organised by the Belgian organisation, Climate Social Justice, which brought activists not only from Belgium but from France and Britain too in an epic journey that took more than 12 hours each way but facilitated a broader participation -- and more international discussion -- than would otherwise have been possible.

While the delegations from the countries from the global South were necessarily smaller than those from the Europe their presence was warmly welcomed -- and the popular slogan of "Climate Justice Now!" was clearly seen by most protesters as meaning the leaders of the rich countries need to listen to the demands of the global South -- and was also seen as one of the essential demands of the day.

Indeed, the radicalism of the slogans that dominated a mobilisation thath involved most of the large non-governmental organisations as well as more radical sections of the climate justice movement was noteworthy.

The dominant placards on the march were those distributed by Greenpeace -- though they didn’t carry that organisations logo -- or reflect their politics! The organisation conducted an unusual experiment and asked people to suggest slogans via its website and then produced the most popular. These included: “Nature does not compromise”, “There is no PLANet B”, “Blah Blah Blah .. Act now”, “Change the Politics not the Climate” and “Climate Justice Now”. There were also loud chants led from the platform against the greenwashing of offsetting, while slogans raised by the radical left such as “Our planet not your profits” received a warm response well beyond our ranks.

Political parties, trade unions and peasants' organisations were also present in this colourful, radical and truly internationalist demonstration through the bitterly cold streets of Copenhagen to the fortress of the Bella Centre, where the summit was taking place. If the majority of the official negotiators seem to have no answers to the threat of climate chaos, those on the streets have many.

Police repression

The repression of protesters by the police has become a big issue. During Saturday's march, almost 1000 demonstrators were encircled by police and prevented from moving. Many had to wait up to five hours seated directly on the tarmacbefore being taken to the detention centre. All but a few of those arrested were released without charge within few hours.

Actions by a small group of “Black Bloc” supporters was used by police as justification for their action. At the former stock exchange and the ministry of foreign affairs stones and fire crackers were thrown. But the police intervention happened almost 1 kilometre further along the route of the demonstration making it completely arbitrary who was in fact detained. The Danish parliament had hastily approved the “Scoundrels Act”, a package of new laws that include right for the police to hold people for 12 hours (it was previously six) in preventive arrest without the right to appear before a judge in the run up to the summit.

People’s climate summit – klimaforum 09

COP15 also became the occasion for the convergence of many thousands grassroots activists to debate the challenges and solutions to global warming. The main centre for the debates is the Peoples Climate Summit.

A common declaration was been agreed to. In the same way as the slogans of the demonstration, the declaration also poses a radical approach to climate change, as shown by its title System change – not climate change. It points toward the need for “a just and sustainable transition of our societies to a form that will ensure the rights of life and dignity of all peoples and deliver a more fertile planet and more fulfilling lives to future generations”. It takes a stance against market mechanisms such as carbon trading and offsetting and for at least a 40% reduction in emissions by the developed countries by 2020.

The protests – as well as the crackdown by the police and the lack of answers from world leaders continued since December 12 but smaller numbers of activists took part in these direct actions. Not only did more arrests follow, but some activists from Greenpeace and Via Campesina in particular had their passes from the Bella Centre withdrawn for attempting to organise acts of solidarity between those inside arguing for binding limits of 1.5 degrees Celsius warming – and for climate debt to be paid for by the North – and the protesters outside.

Inside the Bella Centre, Hugo Chavez from Venezuela echoed much of what has been raised by the activists and saluted them for being on the streets. “If the climate were a bank, they would have bailed it out already”, was one of his most pertinent comments, in a long and powerful speech which drew applause from many who heard it. The Bolivian delegation also made a strong and powerful intervention from the inside.

But it is what happened on December 12 that sums up the real change for the movement for climate justice. That mobilisation itself was of course preceded by significant demonstrations in many individual cities and countries across the globe as the summit began on December 5.

But certainly the number of demonstrators on the streets of Copenhagen is a proof positive that it is possible to develop mass mobilisations on the issue of global warming.

Given that it was the largest demonstration on any question in Denmark for more than 20 years, it will undoubtedly give a massive boost to what has been up until now a relatively weak movement on the question of climate change in that country. Other demonstrations on this question have only involved a few hundred people.

But beyond this, at an international level, it shows that there is a new movement being born and being radicalised across the globe. Naomi Klein, in an article for US Nation on December 12 entitled “Copenhagen: Seattle Grows Up” makes many comparisons between the movement for climate justice and the battles against free trade symbolised by Seattle and what came after. But she also makes the crucial point that what weakened that movement was that while it was clear what it was against it was less sure what it was for. She is right – climate justice activists are clear – there is an alternative and we are determined to build it!

[Terry Conway is one of the editors of International Viewpoint and a leading member of Socialist Resistance, British Section of the Fourth International. Thomas Eisler is a member of the national leadership of Denmark's Red-Green Alliance as well as the leadership of SAP, Danish Section of the Fourth International. This article first appeared on the Socialist Resistance website.]