How to cure the post-Copenhagen hangover

Protesters in Newcastle,December 20, 2009. Photo by Rising Tide.

By Patrick Bond, Durban

December 23, 2009 -- In Copenhagen, the world’s richest leaders continued their fiery fossil fuel party last Friday night, December 18, ignoring requests of global village neighbours to please chill out. Instead of halting the hedonism, US President Barack Obama and the Euro elites cracked open the mansion door to add a few nouveau riche guests: South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, China’s Jiabao Wen (reportedly the most obnoxious of the lot), Brazil’s Lula Inacio da Silva and India’s Manmohan Singh. By Saturday morning, still drunk with their power over the planet, these wild and crazy party animals had stumbled back onto their jets and headed home.

The rest of us now have a killer hangover, because on behalf mainly of white capitalists (who are having the most fun of all), the world’s rulers stuck the poor and future generations with the vast clean-up charges – and worse: certain death for millions.

The 770 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere envisaged in the "Copenhagen Accord" signatories’ promised 15% emissions cuts from 1990 levels to 2020 – which in reality could be a 10% increase once carbon trading and offset loopholes are factored in – will cook the planet, say scientists, with nine out of 10 African peasants losing their livelihood.

The most reckless man at the party, of course, was the normally urbane, Ivy League-educated lawyer who, a year ago, we hoped might behave with the dignity and compassion behooving the son of a leading Kenyan intellectual. But in Obama’s refusal to lead the global North to make the required 45% emissions cuts and offer payment of the US$400 billion annual climate debt owed to Third World victims by 2020, Obama trashed not only Africa but also the host institution, according to leader Bill McKibben: "he blew up the United Nations."

Economist Jeffrey Sachs charged Obama with abandoning "the UN framework, because it was proving nettlesome to US power and domestic politics. Obama’s decision to declare a phony negotiating victory undermines the UN process by signaling that rich countries will do what they want and must no longer listen to the `pesky' concerns of many smaller and poorer countries."

The accord is "insincere, inconsistent, and unconvincing", Sachs continued, "unlikely to accomplish anything real. It is non-binding and will probably strengthen the forces of opposition to emissions reductions". Moreover, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s "announcements about money a decade from now are mostly empty words. They do not bind the rich countries at all."

As Naomi Klein summed up, the accord is "nothing more than a grubby pact between the world’s biggest emitters: I’ll pretend that you are doing something about climate change if you pretend that I am too. Deal? Deal."

South Africa destroys African unity

A handful of technocrats must also shoulder blame, including two key South African officials. A week earlier, before the politicians arrived, Pretoria bureaucrats Joanne Yawitch and Alf Wills were already criticised by leading Third World negotiator Lumumba Di-Aping for dividing the global South’s main negotiating group, the G77. Yawitch then forced a humiliating apology from Di-Aping for his frank talk (to an African civil society caucus) about her treachery. On December 18, Zuma did exactly what she had denied was underway: destroyed the unity of Africa and the G77.

The South African government team went to Copenhagen empowered by endorsements from the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace – alongside gullible climate journalists – who took at face value a vaguely promised 34% emissions cut below anticipated 2020 levels, even though absolute decline would only begin after 2030. Tristen Taylor of Earthlife Africa begged Pretoria for details and after two weeks of delays, learned Yawitch’s estimates were from a "Growth Without Constraint" (GWC) scenario.

According to Taylor, "GWC is fantasy, essentially an academic exercise to see how much carbon South Africa would produce given unlimited resources and cheap energy prices". Officials had already conceded GWC was "neither robust nor plausible" eighteen months ago, leading Taylor to conclude, "The South African government has pulled a public relations stunt." WWF and Greenpeace owe an explanation for their incompetence.

Then came December 18, 2009, which George Monbiot compared to the 1884-85 Berlin negotiations known as the "Scramble for Africa", which divided and conquered the continent. The African Union was twisted and U-turned to support Zuma’s capitulation by the man appointed its climate leader, Meles Zenawi. In September, the Ethiopian dictator claimed, "If need be we are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threatens to be another rape of our continent."

But he didn’t walk out, he walked off his plane in Paris on the way to Copenhagen, into the arms of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The fateful side deal, according to Mithika Mwenda of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), is "undermining the bold positions of our negotiators and ministers represented here, and threatening the very future of Africa".

Not only did Zuma and Zenawi surrender on greenhouse gas emissions cuts, but also on demanding full payment of the North’s climate debt to the South. "Meles wants to sell out the lives and hopes of Africans for a pittance", said Mithika Mwenda. "Every other African country has committed to policy based on the science."

Climate debt

Clinton and the US team refused to acknowledge the North’s vast climate debt, owed not only for climate damage but for excessive use of environmental space. Huffed Washington’s chief climate negotiator, Todd Stern, "the sense of guilt or culpability or reparations -- I just categorically reject that."

Bolivia's ambassador to the United Nations Pablo Solon replied, "Admitting responsibility for the climate crisis without taking necessary actions to address it is like someone burning your house and then refusing to pay for it. We are not assigning guilt, merely responsibility. As they say in the US, if you break it, you buy it."

Stern’s aversion to "culpability" translates into rejection of his own government’s straightforward "polluter pays" principle as well as the foundational concepts of the Superfund, responsible for cleaning toxic waste dumps across the US.

Worse, if the Copenhagen Accord is widely endorsed by February 1, 2010, much of the promised funding would flow via notoriously corrupt Clean Development Mechanism projects, which often do great damage in local settings. According to the accord, "We decide to pursue opportunities to use markets to enhance the cost-effectiveness of and to promote mitigations actions."

But carbon markets continue failing, as long predicted by the Durban Group for Climate Justice and more recently by The Story of Cap and Trade. On December 17, the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme anticipated the feeble Copenhagen outcome – including a defunct forest offsets deal – by dropping 5%. The benchmark price is just 13.66 euros, less than half the peak of mid-2008, far lower than required to attract renewable energy investments.

According to European Climate Exchange director Patrick Birley, "We were hoping that a deal in Copenhagen would open up new opportunities for emissions trading. That expectation has now faded."

Accomplices in climate crime

This leaves South Africa and the others as accomplices to an historic climate crime that cannot be covered up. The claim that post-apartheid Pretoria only looks after itself has often been made elsewhere on the continent. For example, former president Thabo Mbeki’s nickname at the World Economic Forum’s mid-2003 meeting in Mozambique was "the George Bush of Africa", as the Sunday Times reported.

Climate damage to Africa will include much more rapid desertification, more floods and droughts, worse water shortages, increased starvation, floods of climate refugees jamming shanty-packed megalopolises, and the spread of malarial and other diseases. Ironically, Obama’s and Zuma’s own rural relatives in Kenya and KwaZulu-Natal will be amongst the first victims of the accord.

Did Zuma know what he was doing, acting in Copenhagen on behalf of major mining/metals corporations, which keep South Africa’s ruling African National Congress lubricated with cash, "black economic empowerment" deals and jobs for cronies, and which need higher South African carbon emissions so as to continue receiving the world’s cheapest electricity, and which then export their profits to London and Melbourne?

Perhaps, but on the other hand, two other explanations – ignorance and cowardice – were, eight years ago, Zuma’s plausible defence for promoting AIDS denialism in 2000. He helped Mbeki during the period in which 330,000 South Africans died due to Pretoria’s refusal to supply anti-retroviral medicines (as a Harvard Public Health School study showed). To his credit, Zuma reversed course by 2003, as public pressure arose from the Treatment Action Campaign and its international allies. That’s exactly what the main local activist network, Climate Justice Now! South Africa, must repeat, or otherwise permit Zuma to remain a signatory to a far worse genocide.

In the US, given that Obama’s counterproductive cap-and-trade legislation is gridlocked in the Senate, the logical response – if he cares a whit about the climate – is to compel the Environmental Protection Agency to start shrinking greenhouse gas emissions by the worst polluters through its recent "endangerment" finding, to locate serious resources (e.g. through Third World debt cancellation) to pay carbon debt damages that can finance adaptation for climate victims and to formally decommission the nascent US carbon markets, which delay the needed structural change towards a post-carbon economy. None of these strategies need congressional authorisation.

In South Africa, Zuma should do exactly the same. Neither will, of course.

Uncivil society's antidote

So uncivil society will have to take up the slack and apply direct pressure, starting with the slogan "Leave the oil in the soil, the coal in the hole and the tarsand in the land!". Indeed the most effective antidote to the post-Copenhagen hangover came from environmentalists – most visibly, Greenpeace – stretching from Australia to Africa to Appalachia to Alberta.

On December 20, on a bridge leading to the world’s largest coal port, in Newcastle, Australia’s Rising Tide activists blocked a train for 7.5 hours, with 23 arrests.

In South Africa, groundWork, Earthlife and the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance are amongst the country’s serious environmentalists trying to keep coal in the hole, by protesting the recently announced $3.75 billion World Bank loan to South Africa's electricity producer Eskom (which helps fund the vast Medupi coal-fired plant), increased coal exports from Richards Bay, ultra-cheap electricity for aluminium smelters and mines, filthy operations of Sasol oil-to-coal, a new dirty oil refinery near Port Elizabeth and a proposed Durban-Johannesburg pipeline, which will double fuel flow to Africa’s least sustainable city.

On West Africa's Atlantic Coast, the climate’s and the people’s main ally is the militancy which keeps Niger Delta oil in the soil. The Port Harcourt-based NGO Environmental Rights Action, led by visionary Nnimmo Bassey, links local destruction to global climate chaos. Sabotage of oil extraction is the consistent tactic of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, which ended a two-month ceasefire by attacking a Shell and Chevron pipeline six hours after the Copenhagen Accord was signed.

In Appalachia, West Virginia’s Climate Ground Zero activists have, according to a December 19 report by Vicki Smith, "chained themselves to giant dump trucks, scaled 80-foot trees to stop blasting and paddled boots online into a 9 million-gallon sludge pond. They’ve blocked roads, hung banners and staged sit-ins. Virginia-based Massey Energy claims a single 3 1/2-hour occupation cost the company $300,000."

And in Canada on December 20, anti-tarsands environmentalist Ingmar Lee climbed a flagpole at the British Columbia parliament to protest carbon crimes by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, provincial premier Gordon Campbell and their ally Tzeporah Berman from the corrupted NGO ForestEthics. At the Canadian High Commission on London’s Pall Mall last week, Camp for Climate Action activists offered solidarity to Alberta’s indigenous Canadian tarsands victims by cutting down the maple-leaf flag, drowning it in crude oil and then locking onto an upstairs balcony.

So if only two things were accomplished in Copenhagen, they were the unveiling of Pretoria, Delhi, Beijing and Brasilia as willing criminal accomplices to the Washington/Brussels/Tokyo/Canberra/Ottawa axis, and the rise of Climate Justice Action, Climate Justice Now!, and parallel movements whose hundreds of thousands of protesters swarmed streets of the world’s cities.

The next question is whether in 2010, before the next fiasco in Mexico City, the latter can cancel the former. We all depend upon an affirmative answer.

[Patrick Bond was in Copenhagen during COP15. He directs the UKZN Centre for Civil Society in Durban, South Africa.]



By Brian Tokar

Detailed accounts from participants in the recent Copenhagen climate summit are still coming in, but a few things are already quite clear, even as countries step up the blame game in response to the summit's disappointing conclusion.

First, the 2 1/2 pages of diplomatic blather that the participating countries ultimately consented to "take note" of are completely self-contradictory and commit no one to any specific actions to address the global climate crisis.  There isn't even a plan for moving UN-level negotiations forward.  Friends of the Earth correctly described it as a "sham agreement," British columnist George Monbiot called it an exercise in "saving face," and former neoliberal shock doctor-turned-environmentalist Jeffrey Sachs termed it a farce.  Long-time UN observer Martin Khor has pointed out that for a UN body to "take note" of a document means that not only was it not formally adopted, but it was not even "welcomed," a common UN practice.

Second, the global divide between rich and poor has never been clearer, and those countries where people are already experiencing the droughts, floods, and the melting of glaciers that provide a vital source of freshwater expect to find themselves in increasingly desperate straits as the full effects of climate disruptions begin to emerge.  Not to mention the small island nations that face near-certain annihilation as melting ice sheets bring rising seas, along with infiltrations of seawater into their scarce fresh water supplies.  Especially despicable was the changing role of the governments of the rapidly developing "BASIC" countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China), who claim to speak for the poor -- in their own countries and around the world -- when it is convenient, but mainly seek to protect the expanding riches of their own well-entrenched elites.

Third, even the meager and contradictory progress of the past 17 years of global climate talks is now at risk, as is the flawed but relatively open and inclusive UN process.  After the 2007 climate summit in Bali, Indonesia, the Bush administration tried to initiate an alternate track of negotiations on climate policy that involved only a select handful of the more compliant countries.  That strategy failed, partly because its figurehead was George Bush.  Now that the Obama administration has adopted essentially the same approach, with the full collaboration of the "BASICs," the utterly substanceless "Copenhagen Accord" can be seen as this coercive strategy's first diplomatic success.

As I wrote just as the Copenhagen meeting was getting underway (see my "Repackaging Copenhagen"), the US had planned for some months to attempt to replace the quaint notion of a comprehensive global climate agreement with a patchwork of informal, individual country commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and undertake other appropriate measures.  If the Copenhagen document means anything at all, it establishes that process as a new global norm for implementing climate policy.  Nothing is binding, and everything is voluntary, only to be "assessed" informally after another five years have passed.  (Pages 4 and 5 of the "accord" actually consist of a pair of high school-caliber charts where countries are free to simply write in their voluntary emissions targets and other mitigation actions, nominally by the end of January.)

The document was hammered out in a back room, WTO-style.  It hedges all the important issues and appends loopholes and contradictions to every substantive point that it pretends to make.  While discussions will nominally continue under the two UN negotiating tracks established 2 years ago in Bali, the "accord" provides a justification for leading countries in the process -- which Bill McKibben has termed the "league of super-polluters," plus a few wannabes -- to continue subverting and undermining those discussions in the name of a more efficient and streamlined process to continue business as usual for the benefit of the world's elites.

As some have pointed out, it could have been worse.  A useless non-agreement may be better than a coercive agreement that entrenches insufficient targets and destructive policy measures, such as expanding carbon markets.  But the potential loss of an accountable UN process could prove to be an even worse outcome than that.  The US, of course, has always tried to undermine the United Nations when it couldn't overtly control it, but replacing the processes established under the 1992 UN climate convention with a cash-for-compliance, anything-goes circus that more closely mirrors the World Trade Organization's discredited mechanisms doesn't bode at all well for the future.

Did anything positive happen in Copenhagen?  For climate justice activists around the world, Copenhagen may have been a long-sought Seattle moment.  It was a unique opportunity for activists and NGO representatives from around the world to gather, forge personal ties, and begin raising the global profile of an essential climate justice agenda.  Independent journalists, most notably Amy Goodman's DemocracyNow! team, helped amplify the voices best able to explain how climate disruptions are no longer an abstract scientific issue, but one that is already impacting the lives of those least able to cope.  Even the mainstream US press featured some notable stories of people around the world who are struggling to live with the effects of climate chaos.  More than ever before, people are coming to understand that the only meaningful solution to the climate crisis is to "leave the oil in the soil, the coal in the hole, and the tar sands in the land," following the slogan raised by campaigners against oil drilling in Ecuador's endangered Yasuni National Park.

It was also a pivotal moment for the ALBA countries of Latin America -- most notably Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela -- which continued to the very end to stand up to intimidation from the US and other powerful countries and refused to buckle under last-minute pressure to approve the vapid and destructive "Copenhagen Accord" as an agreement of the assembled nations.  This is in stark contrast to the role of the European Union, which once stood for a strong worldwide agreement on greenhouse gas emissions, but has now fallen in line with the disruptive strategies of the US.  Another positive income is that there was no new bone thrown to the world's financial elites, who were banking on a Copenhagen agreement to help inflate their artificial market in tradable carbon allowances.  Carbon prices in Europe have begun to decline, which may help prevent the enshrinement of carbon markets (so-called "cap and trade") as the primary instrument of climate policy in the United States.

So now the struggle returns to the national and local levels, where people may be best able to create examples of just and effective ways to address the climate crisis.  There is no shortage of positive, forward-looking approaches to reducing excess consumption and furthering the development of alternative energy sources, especially ones that can be democratically controlled by communities and not corporations.  But the power of positive examples is far from sufficient to address the crucial problem of time.  A few years ago, climate experts shocked the world by saying we had less than ten years to reverse course and do something to prevent irreversible tipping points in the global climate system.  The disastrous outcome of the Copenhagen conference makes it harder than ever to feel confident that it isn't too late.

Brian Tokar is the current director of the Institute for Social Ecology, author of The Green Alternative and Earth for Sale, editor of two books on the politics of biotechnology, Redesigning Life? and Gene Traders, and co-editor of the forthcoming collection, Crisis in Food and Agriculture: Conflict, Resistance and Renewal (Monthly Review Press).  He works with Climate SOS and the Mobilization for Climate Justice.

CarbonEquity | |


Climate Action Centre Briefing Note

21 December 2009

Prepared by David Spratt and Damien Lawson

QUOTE: ''In biblical terms it looks like we are being offered 30 pieces of silver to betray our future and our people … our future is not for sale.'' Ian Fry, Tuvalu negotiator

QUOTE: "This is a declaration that small and poor countries don't matter, that international civil society doesn't matter, and that serious limits on carbon don't matter. The president has wrecked the UN and he's wrecked the possibility of a tough plan to control global warming. It may get Obama a reputation as a tough American leader, but it's at the expense of everything progressives have held dear. 189 countries have been left powerless, and the foxes now guard the carbon henhouse without any oversight." Bill McKibben,


QUOTE: ""The city of Copenhagen is a crime scene tonight, with the guilty men and women fleeing to the airport. There are no targets for carbon cuts and no agreement on a legally binding treaty. It is now evident that beating global warming will require a radically different model of politics than the one on display here in Copenhagen." John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK


QUOTE: "So that's it. The world's worst polluters – the people who are drastically altering the climate – gathered here in Copenhagen to announce they were going to carry on cooking, in defiance of all the scientific warnings. They didn't seal the deal; they sealed the coffin for the world's low-lying islands, its glaciers, its North Pole, and millions of lives. Those of us who watched this conference with open eyes aren't surprised. Every day, practical, intelligent solutions that would cut our emissions of warming gases have been offered by scientists, developing countries and protesters – and they have been systematically vetoed by the governments of North America and Europe."  Johann Hari, The Independent, 19 December 2009


QUOTE: "I think that our prime minister has played an outstanding role ... He's been working very hard for the last few months... and he's just been fantastic all the way, he just shines at it... he's been really important through these meetings". Tim Flannery, ABC news, 19 February 2009


The Copenhagen Accord could not be further from what civil society, along with most developing countries sought to achieve at this conference. There is no Fair, Ambitious and legally binding deal.

Instead it is a non-legally binding three page document, drafted by United States, China, India, Brazil, Ethiopia and South Africa that says little beyond what had been discussed at previous international meetings. 

Yet US President Obama and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd both held press conferences announcing the accord before it had been completed and attempted to spin the document as a historic achievement.

But the Conference of the Parties [COP15] at Copenhagen decided only to "take note" of its existence and some countries including Tuvalu strongly repudiated the document. The COP15 agreed to continue negotiating on an extension to the Kyoto Protocol and a new agreement on "long-term cooperative action." The next full meeting is scheduled for late November in Mexico.

The specifics of the accord include:

Dangerous support for two degrees "We agree that deep cuts in global emissions are required according to science, and ... with a view to reduce global emissions so as to hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius, and take action to meet this objective consistent with science and on the basis of equity." It entrenches further the dangerous goal of two degrees, with the goal of 1.5 degrees, now supported by over 100 countries, only given lip service in the final paragraph which discusses a review of the accord.

No peak emissions target: just says emissions should "peak as soon as possible".

No 2020 targets: the accord will just list voluntary targets by developed and developing countries, in Annexes to the accord. Countries are asked to provide their target by February 1. So there are no binding targets, just a totting up up of country promises and not even a target or goal for 2050. Based on current assessments of country promises the 2020 targets will head us towards 3.5-4 degrees, which would be a catastrophe.

No 2050 targets: there is no reference to any 2050 targets

Markets: statement supports using a variety of methods for pollution cuts, "including opportunities to use markets"

Adaptation and deforestation: General statements about need for adaptation, development and end to deforestation. There is no concrete deal on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, although this may be a good thing as the direction was towards offset loopholes.

Financing for Developing world: "commitment by developed countries is to provide new and additional resources, including forestry and investments through international institutions, approaching US $30 billion for the period 2010 – 2012."  "A goal of mobilizing jointly US $100 billion dollars a year by 2020", "Funding will come from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance." Statements by US negotiators including Hillary Clinton implied that you needed to "associate" yourself with the accord to be eligible for funds. The funds could also explain why many countries subsequently and prior to the accord very critical have acquiesced in its creation.

The promises of finances are woefully small, much lower than the demands of developing countries and civil society groups. For example, the African countries had sought sought $400 billion in short term financing, with an immediate amount of $150 billion. In the longer term they say 5% of developed country GNP is needed (approx. $2 trillion)

Governance of finance: Creation of a Copenhagen Green Climate Fund. The accord also suggests funding can be delivered through "international institutions" possibly code for the World Bank and IMF and the promise of a new fund. Civil society had campaigned for funds to be administered by the UN.

Technology: decided to create a Technology Mechanism to accelerate technology development, but with no further details.

1.5 degrees delayed: assessment of accord by 2015 including scientific need for 1.5 degrees.

The only possible concrete achievement of the whole conference was the refusal to include carbon, capture and storage within the Clean Development Mechanism, staving off another loophole for rich countries to keep on polluting.


The United States won. Killing the Kyoto Protocol (KP) as the primary international climate policy instrument has been their intent for years,  so the impasse which flared at COP15 has deep roots on the long road to Copenhagen

In early October, US climate negotiator Jonathan Pershing announced: “We are not going to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. That is out”. The USA set out to destroy it at COP15, actively supported by the Annex 1 bloc, with Australia in the lead behind close doors. Obama’s climate position was described by Bill McKibben of as a "A lie inside a fib coated with spin". 

Developing nations accused Australia of "trying to kill Kyoto". Australia appeared to be saying one thing in public and another privately, with the chief negotiator for China and the small African nations accusing Rudd of lying to the Australian people about his position on climate change. 

Months ago the G-77, a loose coalition of 130 developing nations, accused the US and other developed countries of trying to "fundamentally sabotage" the Kyoto Protocol (KP). They were right in their fears. Instead of enforceable targets in an updated KP, the Copenhagen Accord (CA) contains only voluntary, non-binding, self-assessing targets which amount to "pick a figure, any figure, and do what you like with it" because you will face no penalty for blowing it.

COP15 failed because the US and the major economic powers did not want the KP renewed and the climate action movements within those nations did not have the power to stop them behaving this way. China appeared not to care too much what happened one way or the other. With central planning of their booming green/climate sector, they have no need of global agreements or carbon prices to drive their industry policy; they may even have a competitive advantage in seeing the process fail. 

Climate multilateralism may already be dead. It is reported that US officials were boasting privately that they are "controlling the lane". Most developing nations are deeply unhappy that the CA is outside the climate convention framework, but they were bribed to sign on by the USA with threats that poor nations who refused would loose their share of the $100 billion that rich countries have (theoretically) pledged to compensate for climate impacts the rich countries themselves have caused.  Unless every country  agrees to the US terms, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton explained, "there will not be that kind of a [financial] commitment, at least from the United States."

The majority COP participants -- the world's small and poor nations -- were well supported by the activist movement  in making heard their views about historic responsibility and the scientific imperative for deep emissions cuts, undertaken first and foremost by the developed world. At COP15, those poor nations embarrassed the rich, who have a powerful interest in a new voluntary international climate agreement  without the need of the formal support of the developing nations, who will not accede to a suicide pact.  

So the big polluters have reason to move the real decision-making out of the UN forums, and with the CA having exactly that status, the major emitters have an opportunity to keep it there (while leaning on the UNFCCC Secretariat to do the office work). 

What happened at Copenhagen is probably the start of a process where the real politics of  international climate policy-making becomes the perogative of the G20, and similar forums, where the big developed and emerging polluters can pretend to save the world (by talking 2-degree targets) while acting for 3-to-4-degree targets, and selling that as a success at home without those pesky developing nations causing trouble. 

The suicidal assumption of the rich nations is that those with money can adapt to 3 degrees or more. This delusion is strongly built into the current debate at every level, from government and business to many of the NGOs in their advocacy and support for actions that are a long way short of what is required for 2 degrees, let alone a safe climate. 

What has happened exposes the smouldering contradiction at heart of the international process:  while the science leads to 0-to-1-degree targets, the large emitters refuse to commit to actions that will leads to less than 3-to-4 degrees  because it challenges their "business-as-usual", corporate-dominated approach. The best commitments on the table at COP15 would produce a 3.9-degree rise by 2100.

For years, the "2-degree fudge" has been developing:  countries could (and continue to) talk 2 degrees so long as they don't have to commit to enforceable actions consistent with a 2-degree target (and they haven't had to do that since 1997!).  This contradiction has been obvious for years: from Stern to Garnaut, who were both explicit in saying that 3 degrees was the best that could be achieved politically, because doing more would be too economically disruptive. Even at Bali two years ago, the supposed 2 degree emissions reduction range for Annex 1 nations of 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020 was relegated to a footnote.

Even as they propose actions which will lead to 4 degrees, they still talk 2 degrees. That is Rudd's strategy.

And we know that 2 degrees is not a safe target, but a catastrophe. The research tells us that a 2-degree warming will initiate large climate feedbacks on land and in the oceans, on sea-ice and mountain glaciers and on the tundra, taking the Earth well past significant tipping points. Likely impacts include large-scale disintegration of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice-sheets; sea-level rises; the extinction of an estimated 15 to 40 per cent of plant and animal species; dangerous ocean acidification and widespread drought, desertification and malnutrition in Africa, Australia, Mediterranean Europe, and the western USA.

As Postdam Institute Director Schellnhuber, who is a scientific advisor to the EU and to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, points out, on sea levels alone, a 2 degree rise in temperature will be catastrophic: "Two degrees ... means sea level rise of 30 to 40 meters over maybe a thousand years. Draw a line around your coast — probably not a lot would be left." Recently published research on climate history shows that three million years ago — in the last period when carbon dioxide levels were sustained at levels close to where they are today — "there was no icecap on Antarctica and sea levels were 25 to 40 metres higher," features associated with temperatures about 3 to 6 degrees higher than today.

COP15 shows that  international processes cannot produce outcomes substantially better than the sum of the national commitments of major players, and in the present case a lot worse. On the latest science and carbon budgets to 2050, none of the Annex 1 countries have committed themselves to actions consistent with even a 2-degree target, so it is unrealistic to think/hope they would do so collectively in the short term, and until the domestic balances of forces change.

It is a challenge to see how they could come back in a year and make serious, legally-binding 2-degree commitments at COP16 in November in Mexico, since on equal per capita emission rights to 2050, the carbon budget for 2 degrees demands Australia and USA go to zero emissions by 2020, Europe before 2030.  By dumping the multilateral approach, they have a way of avoiding that embarrassment. 

We cannot blame the COP15 process for this disaster. Australia did not go to COP15 with even a 2-degree commitment on the table, for which we share responsibility. Those NGOs who tied Australian action (and the CPRS) to a successful COP15 outcome have shot themselves (and us) in the foot. The struggle now returns to the national stage. 

There are disturbing parallels in the approaches some advocacy groups took to both the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) and Australia's role at COP15: deliberately and systematically avoiding the conclusions from the most recent science and instead advocating a soft, incremental, 'business-as-usual" approach to policy-making. And that's what we got from Obama.  By continuing to play the game of the 2-degree fudge, the talks were structured to fail, even with a "good outcome". 

Urging world leaders to get together again ASAP is pointless at present with the current framing of the debate and the balance of forces, because we will only get more of the same. The dilemma is as gross as it is simple: the G77 will never accept a 3-degree deal, Annex 1 won't commit to actions consistent with a 2-degree enforceable target, and only a a safe climate target of close to a zero-degree increase will keep the planet liveable for all people and all nations. 

Here in Australia, the problem we face is obvious. In 2010, much of debate is likely to be framed between no action (federal opposition/deniers) and incremental action (Labor/some eNGOs), and it is murky because both the CPRS and the Copenhagen Accord which are indefensible will be used by the opposition to whack Labor, while the Climate Institute and its NGO associates will dutifully spend the year mine-sweeping for Rudd. 

How do we define and move the debate to occupy the space between incrementalism and the large, urgent, economy-wide transformations that the science demands? We can only start by putting the science first and not negotiating with planet, recognising that politics-as-usual solutions are now dead and that only heroic, emergency action has a chance of succeeding. The time for dinky, incremental policy steps has run out: it's not all or nothing, and we must be saying so loud and clear at every opportunity and organising and gathering popular support around the only strategy that can actually succeed.

It's the 1936 moment in Britain: appeasement or urgent mobilisation, Chamberlin or Churchill. 


So now they know who are the biggest emitters, and by knowing where it came from, I hope they came up with a good solution on how to reduce these emissions. It's not just a matter of knowing who did it, but what's more important is to resolve the situation even before it worsen.