Debate: If Only Our Climate Were a Bank…

Is Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez right when he says: “If the climate were a bank, the United States would have already saved it”?

Chavez made this bold statement at COP15 last week — a meeting that will perhaps go down in history as having been the most divisive of major international summits. The West versus BRIC, industrialised versus developing, rich versus poor countries, etc.

In fact, the wrangling began before any of the thousands of delegates boarded planes to Copenhagen. But in the months leading up to the summit there was hope that rich countries — having spewed massive amounts of CO2 on their way up the industrialisation path — would do what their poorer global cousins were demanding: pay up and set serious reduction targets. Wasn’t there?

Of course we all now know how it ends. Somehow negotiations got off course and certain world leaders felt compelled to swoop in to directly negotiate the details of the Copenhagen Accord.

“Developing countries are very disappointed because they’ve invested a lot of time in the documents they’re negotiating here,” Martin Khor, director of intergovernmental think tank the South Centre, said at the summit’s close.

And in the aftermath, the finger pointing has only just begun. Blame the UN. Blame China. Blame the small group of countries that would not sign up to the Accord. Blame the US Senate. Blame Obama.

Is anyone blameless?

Despite it all, those like Gordon Brown and Barack Obama are happy to point out how the Accord — although failing to specify carbon emission cuts — does pledge US $30 billion for short-term adaptation aid for countries in need while also agreeing to set up a $100 billion-a-year fund by 2020.

Ten years to set up a fund! The irony is that just a year ago the US found $700 billion to unconditionally bail out Wall Street. Even sadder, global annual military spending is over $1.46 trillion a year.

What do you think? Is there something wrong with the choices made by rich nations?

Are they prioritising military spending and propping up a dysfunctional financial system over treating an already-ailing climate before it gets sicker?

Is this all just realpolitik? And if so, are you satisfied?

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Debate 2.0: If Only Our Climate Were a Bank… by Carol Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Author

Carol Smith

Carol is a journalist with a green heart who believes that presenting information in a positive and accessible manner is key in activating more people to join the search for equitable and sustainable solutions to global problems. A native of Montreal, Canada, she joined the UNU communications team in 2008 while living in Tokyo and continues to collaborate from her current home in Vancouver.

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  • BrendanBarrett

    It is a real shame that COP15 really did not deliver on the big issue – that of how to ensure emission reductions. Of course, it could be that this is part of a longer process, of gradual modifications that results in the achievement of the same goals.

    I have heard a lot of people complain about the idea of emission reduction targets. But lets see if other ideas or proposals can actually make a difference this time.

    It seems that at the end of the day it is almost impossible for the world’s leaders to put collective concerns before national interest.

    If the science is correct, then it will be our children who will have to cope with the failings of our leaders at COP15.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Citt-Williams/582033429 Citt Williams

    Being at COP15, I had a little excitement for the prospects of an “unprecedented” heads of state meeting over environmental crisis. However, it occurred to me we were witnessing yet another colonialisation of natural resources, this time commodification of the planet’s air.

    Its sad that the dominant industrial paradigm enforces the only way we can actively preserve or curb destructive behaviour is by bolstering a commodities market. Furthermore, we are unwittingly going to leave this in the hands of the same unregulated free market that crashed the finance system 6 months ago? A multi-tiered carbon market is realistically a livelihood trickle for the Dayak people of Indonesia, and in case you cannot see it from your window, the finance bubble is growing again today, and we may soon get another painful shock. John Kay of Financial Times suggests a shock that may jolt western serfs into questioning the power structures of our current capitalist system (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/375f4528-c330-11de-8eca-00144feab49a,s01=1.html?nclick_check=1).

    Positively, from the international stories, media propaganda and white papers floating around in and outside the Bella centre, I think the writing was on the wall a long time ago: the green revolution is local. People of all colours and languages were doing the best they could, showcasing projects of climatic adaptation, providing evidence that transitions are first taking place in backyards not in their parliaments. But how can this be leveraged?

    One of the scariest dimensions of the movement though, eco-refugees and below the poverty line communities need serious help. And if international meetings and pressure like this are failures, then will NGO groups have enough support and political legitimacy to influence local environmental and human rights policy… particularly in China or India? The right to development is fair but perhaps it will bring about a bleak systematic outlook.

  • meatmarket

    Is Chavez right? of course he is. But many people in the West don`t want to entertain that thought because it`s Chavez. And Chavez is associated with socialism, and everytime someone from the left talks about a new system being possible, people get scared and think of Stalin, rather than creatively about what we as the human race can achieve together. A new system is possible but first of all you have to step outside the box of capitalism to see inside. The record might look good if you consider economic growth for one, maybe two generations. But if your yardstick is human civilisation and protection of the planet then rich nations have failed. None of them are sustainable.
    And many people are justifiably worried about their jobs, while governments are scared of big companies/or are the same as big companies.
    I`m putting my money behind higher oil and energy prices spurring real decreases in emissions down the track. In the meantime, everything else from the developed world in particular is just talk so maybe we shouldn`t take is so seriously, and instead get on with making our own communities better.

  • meatmarket

    Is Chavez right? of course he is. But many people in the West don`t want to entertain that thought because it`s Chavez. And Chavez is associated with socialism, and everytime someone from the left talks about a new system being possible, people get scared and think of Stalin, rather than creatively about what we as the human race can achieve together. A new system is possible but first of all you have to step outside the box of capitalism to see inside. The record might look good if you consider economic growth for one, maybe two generations. But if your yardstick is human civilisation and protection of the planet then rich nations have failed. None of them are sustainable.
    And many people are justifiably worried about their jobs, while governments are scared of big companies/or are the same as big companies.
    I`m putting my money behind higher oil and energy prices spurring real decreases in emissions down the track. In the meantime, everything else from the developed world in particular is just talk so maybe we shouldn`t take is so seriously, and instead get on with making our own communities better.