The COP Cover Up

by Milap Patel

On the opening day of the COP 17 climate change talks in Durban, Canada[1] announced it would make no commitment to further bring down its carbon emissions under any post-Kyoto Protocol treaty. Further, it sees no need for a binding convention. To observers of the shambles that international climate negotiations have become, this comes as no surprise. From reports that the proposed Green Climate Fund will be run by an unaccountable institution controlled by developed countries[2] (as with all other major ‘multilateral’ institutions such as the World Bank and IMF), to the divide-and-rule tactics that surfaced in previous COP summits,[3] it is possible to detect a systematic trend to undermine shifts in the prevailing political and economic paradigm, that are necessary to achieve sustainable environmental goals.

Canada’s path over the last twenty years is instructive and symbolic of the developed world literally stealing the right of developing countries to grow in the future. Canada has increasingly hitched its economic and environmental destiny to the development of its noxious and massively polluting tar sand resources, abetted by the other main culprits in environmental crime. European penalties on these tar sands have been secretly undermined by the UK [4] and American backers of Keystone XL, only temporarily deterred by the Senate deferment decision, are contemplating attaching a hastened approval measure to the payroll tax cut and unemployment extension bill expected to pass Congress before the end of 2011.[5] At a time of unprecedented economic hardship in the West, these measures, taken ostensibly[6] to safeguard jobs, are at the forefront of the dismantlement of environmental regulatory frameworks. It is these frameworks that offer some of the scant hope we have for a sustainable future.  Their undermining serves to validate the Occupy Wall Street theme: the 1% short-selling the future of the 99%.

For those looking for clear developed/developing countries divides on environmental compromise, any factory closed, or shiny wind mill erected, by the recession-weary West, is negated by the hundreds, the thousands, of Chinese and Indian coal plants popping up every week. And there is some justification to this point – who benefits from the dominant mode of development and under what structural system?

For far too long, the economic paradigm in developing countries has been the blind aping of bad decisions using the fig-leaf of the ‘low per capita emitting peasant.’ The Indian villagers being turned off their land for a mega coal plant in Barmer, Rajasthan[7] – to pick one among many similar flashpoints across the country – will not end up ‘developed.’ And while China may have a better record of delivering on basic services to its poor, the fact remains that the country which claims a high seat at the G-7 table and is courted by broke Europeans to bail out their profligacy,[8] can hardly then don the garb of the simple ascetic when it comes to climate negotiations.  Once again, the interests of a privileged few are allowed to take precedence and usurp those of the majority.

Moving back to Durban and coming full circle, certain truths have become evident:

–        The ability of national governments to make decisions based on the common good is being eaten away by entrenched interests, weakening the foundations of international cooperation

–        The right of developing countries to economic growth is being used in two ways: for the West to point to and do nothing and for local elites to point to and do nothing

–        The game of climate negotiation is rigged under present international power and inequality dynamics where the weakest and poorest developing countries are divided and bribed to preclude any meaningful resolution

–        The effects of global warming will be felt by people whose interests are currently not being served in any way by those who claim to in Durban this week. And this leads to the realization that for most of the ‘global 1%’ adapting to climate change will be a costly but doable scenario whereas the rest, who played very little part in bringing about this state, will suffer the most.

Milap Patel is a Columbia MPA graduate working in renewable energy development in New York City

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