Ottawa culprit in Copenhagen fiasco

by Barry Weisleder

For the Canadian government, the 12-day Copenhagen climate change summit in December 2009 was a public relations disaster – deservedly so, as the Stephen Harper Tories slavishly followed Washington’s lead, even trying to scupper the weak legacy of the Kyoto Accord.

Environmentalist activists at Copenhagen ‘awarded’ the daily Fossil of the Day to Canada, on its own, or as one of a group of countries, ten times — more than any other state present. Toronto Mayor David Miller, followed by Ontario and Quebec’s representatives, condemned the Harper regime. A leaked cabinet document suggested the emissions from Alberta’s oil sands will rise 165 per cent in the coming years. And an elaborate stunt by social media pranksters exposed Ottawa’s perfidious position to the world media.

Still, Prime Minister Harper maintained that his government’s insistence on ‘realistic targets’ was vindicated by the bargaining process at Copenhagen. The result, of course, was no enforceable agreement on emission reductions, and only offers of inadequate aid to less developed countries, to be meted out via imperialist financial institutions. It’s a case of finding ‘vindication’ in an elite-crafted failure.

Canada is the only country to ignore its international obligations under the previous Kyoto climate treaty. At Copenhagen it blocked all attempts to reach a new treaty to significantly cut carbon emissions.

“Canada is the dinosaur at these talks,” said Canadian David Cadman, president of ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, an international association of local governments that hosted a Mayor’s Conference on climate change.

“They are all about protecting Canada’s fossil fuel sector instead of protecting the interests of the Canadian public,” Cadman told TerraViva.

Canada is “throwing a spanner into the works wherever it can”, agreed Dale Marshall of the David Suzuki Foundation, a Canadian environmental group. “They are even blocking agreement on the use of 1990 as the base year,” Marshall said in an interview.

It’s not hard to understand why. Not only are Canada’s emissions 34 percent higher than the 1990 baseline and rapidly growing, its massive Alberta tar sands production is believed to be the world’s biggest single industrial source of carbon emissions.

The emissions cut offered by Stephen Harper’s government is just three percent under 1990 levels by 2020 – less than the Kyoto obligation of cutting six percent by 2010. Scientists have repeatedly warned that to have any chance of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (which is likely insufficient to avoid eco-catastrophe), industrialized countries must cut emissions 25 to 40 percent by 2020 compared to the baseline of 1990.

Canada also lobbied hard alongside the U.S. to abandon the Kyoto Protocol process entirely, to the outrage of developing countries. Ottawa expects them to make significant emissions reduction commitments despite Canada’s unwillingness to live up to its legal obligations from 1997.

The poorer countries, represented in a bloc known as the G77, want the Kyoto deal extended past its 2012 deadline. China, India, Brazil and South Africa called on rich countries to take on targets under an extended Kyoto plan that would cut emissions by 40 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020.

New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton said “despite the support of Canadians for a real plan to cut emissions, Harper has sided with the big polluters”.

He’s right. Unfortunately, Layton’s solution is a ‘carbon trading’ scheme, which British environmentalist author of “Heat”, George Monbiot, says is like the medieval Catholic Church selling indulgences. It might make some people feel better about their sins, but it won’t reduce carbon emissions.

Representatives of Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia hit the mark squarely when they argued at Copenhagen that the real obstacle to the cutting of emissions is the global capitalist system, which profits from the destruction of nature.

Consider the scope and trajectory of the problem. How can a system that has consumed more resources and energy in the last 50 years than all previous civilization be made to stabilize and reduce its rate of resource depletion and pollution emission? How can such a wasteful, poisonous and unequal economic system be compelled to introduce technologies, consumption patterns and radical income redistribution, without which sustainability is only a cruel joke?

The reason there is no capitalist solution to climate change is simple. Capitalism is made up of thousands of corporations, all competing for investment and profits. There is no “social interest” in capitalism – only separate interests. If a company decides to invest in cutting emissions, its profits will go down. Investors will move capital into more profitable investments. The ‘green’ company goes out of business. “Grow or die” is the motto of the private enterprise economy. Capitalist anarchy, its social irrationality, is not accidental. It is not the product of a ‘market failure’. It is the very nature of the beast.

The solution lies in the direction of less, not more reliance on the market. Society needs more social control, more economic democracy. Only public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy makes that possible. The place to start is the energy industry: Nationalize Big Oil. Then make the corporations that produce greenhouse gases pay the full cost of cutting emissions, end all subsidies to fossil fuel producers, and re-direct the billions of dollars now being spent on wars and debt into public transit, into retrofitting homes and offices, and into renewable energy projects.

Changing from fossil fuels to other energy sources will require massive spending, which in the short run will be unprofitable. Carbon emission reductions must be global. Air and water do not respect borders. Change must be all-encompassing. In every economic sector Capital will resist. Only the expropriation of Capital, followed by the institution of democratic economic planning by workers and communities, can overcome the anarchy of production under capitalism.

Revolutionary Cuba has shown that it is possible, even in a poor country suffering under a 50-year embargo by the world’s dominant power, and even after the loss of its major trade partner, to reduce the carbon footprint while defending and raising health and education levels for the population as a whole, and building an egalitarian and highly participatory society.

A century ago the great socialist leader Rosa Luxemburg predicted the future for humanity would be “socialism or barbarism”. In light of the fiasco at Copenhagen, and the deepening crisis of climate change, we are compelled to revise the slogan to read: “Eco-socialism or extinction”.