On the Copenhagen UN climate summit or why you need more than butter to bake a cake
So it seems that for once everyone agrees on something: the UN climate summit in Copenhagen was a spectacular failure. That is quite an achievement in itself, since consensus seems a rarity in these times.
Some preferred to call it a promising first step and others a sham. Some blamed the UN framework and others pointed their fingers at either the US, China, the EU, the Latin American ALBA block, or the Danish summit presidency (some surely even felt tempted to blame it on the boogie). Some compared the negotiation process to parallel worlds in The Matrix, some talked of a suicide pact and still others claimed the final agreement amounted to a coup d'état against the UN Charter.
Even my neighbour, who is about 80 years old and for whom climate equals the daily weather forecast, told me earnestly today that 'all this stuff looks no good' referring to the climate talks. I guess she could be rightly described as a member of civil society, and her opinion seems not to be far away from that of UN officials, government representatives, the media, civil society organisations, and even some industry leaders.
Was it all that bad, after all? Did we get out of the cooked-up Copenhagen deal anything else than the recipe for a Brunsviger? (See end of article.) The false market-based solutions to climate change still prevail and its associated markets keep experiencing the effect of baking-powder as we speak. The struggle for climate justice is more necessary than ever, but keeping this in mind and without becoming self-satisfied, we shouldn't lose sight either of all positive outcomes amidst the negative noise.
Bolivia: 'Jallalla Pachamama' or for the life of mother Earth
While most country delegations stuck to the usual short-sighted demands that tend to focus on the issues raised by scientific assessment reports (centred on temperature targets devoid of promised action to reach them or the level of emissions reductions by such or such a date), Bolivia came to the negotiations with genuinely innovative proposals.
One of them is the establishment of an International Climate Justice Tribunal to prosecute and sanction those countries breaching their commitments and destroying the planet. Those who feel tempted to dismiss the idea, arguing that such a mechanism could not effectively work, could maybe refer to the Dispute Settlement Body of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which seems to have been quite successful in implementing many of the cases brought to it.
Bolivia, together with other countries, has also put on the table the concept of 'climate debt', based on the notion that industrialised countries have used too much atmospheric space. According to the Bolivian chief negotiator, Angelica Navarro, 20 per cent of the population in rich countries has emitted more than two thirds of the global historic emissions. Developing countries would then not beg for aid or charity, but demand rich nations fulfil their obligations and pay reparations for the climate crisis. How could they do that?
The first and most obvious would be actually reducing their emissions domestically, without the possibility of resorting to market mechanisms such as offsets or tradeable permits. But even the most 'ambitious' emissions reductions demands of 40-45 per cent by 2020 are, according to Bolivia, still too weak. Developed countries should, in fact, deliver negative emissions and pay, for example, climate reparations from public funds on the basis of factors such as equity and historical responsibility. This is not just a numbers or money game, but a question related to political decisions and paradigm changes. However seeing Bolivia putting on the table something more than the peanuts rich countries are offering would definitely help advance the debate.
A third and promising proposal coming from Bolivia is the adoption of a Universal Declaration of Mother Earth Rights, first launched by president Evo Morales at the UN General Assembly in April 2009, and already backed by nine countries of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA). “I know that this task will not be easy”, said Morales that day. “Many people, in particular lawyers, are going to say that only human beings have rights. I know that our proposal is difficult to accept (…) but I know also that in the end reason, sensibility, and reality will prevail. Because human life is not possible without our Mother Earth”.
Positive outcome 1: The issue of justice was firmly put on the table.
United we stand or 'no nos moverán'
Nobody –except maybe mainstream media journalists who have watched too many Hollywood movies with happy endings and who unjustly dominate the media landscape– really believed that developed countries were going to Copenhagen to negotiate anything. Words such as dialogue and exchange have long been deleted from rich nations’ dictionaries.
The plot of the Copenhagen film was far more murky than the kind of Mary-Poppins-happy-family-set, even though the technical language in the conference rooms had nothing to envy the famous supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
Rich countries came to the meeting with the deal they wanted hidden in their pockets, played the good cop role for a while, leaked some documents such as the Danish text– a secret document devised by a handful of powerful nations granting new powers to richer countries to combat climate change– to heat up the already warm atmosphere, used divide and rule tactics against their adversaries and finally tried to impose a document drafted by 25 countries on an assembly made up of 192 sovereign nations. All this was done with the corresponding smiles and hand shakes . Universities have taught diplomats something, after all.
This is nothing new to international negotiation forums. Many, in fact, claimed the climate talks resembled WTO dynamics. But this time around, just like in any good film, something unexpected happened in the end: a group of nations, including Bolivia, Cuba, Sudan, Venezuela, and Tuvalu stood up to say they refused to sign an unfair deal and denounced the undemocratic and exclusive nature of the conference process. And they wouldn't budge, to the point that the Conference of the Parties could just –resorting to an innovative formula pulled out of thin air– “take note” of the Copenhagen Agreement.
Positive outcome 2: You can't always impose the will of a powerful minority.
When I say 'reclaim' you say 'power'
While the talks at the official Bella Center had nothing to do with climate and everything to do with financial and economic figures, the real discussions on genuine solutions to climate change were to be found at the People's Climate Summit KlimaForum and on the streets of Copenhagen.
Coalitions, organizations, networks, platforms and any other kind of formal or informal grouping one can think of, made up of indigenous peoples, peasant farmers, women, environmentalists, students, anti-capitalists, independent activists and any other label one might want to use to try to describe the plurality of voices and views gathered outside the official talks, were the ones defining the “historic moment” the media stubbornly wanted to attribute to the formal negotiations.
The KlimaForum held around 150 panels and talks, 50 exhibitions and 30 artistic events, many of which focused on the false and dangerous market- and technology-oriented solutions put forward by many corporations, governments, and international financial institutions, including nuclear energy, agrofuels, carbon capture and storage, Clean Development Mechanisms, geo-engineering
and reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation schemes (REDD).
On Saturday 12 December, 100,000 people flooded the streets of Copenhagen in an unprecedented peaceful march to demand 'system change, not climate change' and 'climate justice now'. The nearly 1,000 'preventive arrests' by the Danish police that hit the headlines –and which were only possible through a contested brand new ‘law package’ that allowed police to act as if they could undermine protesters’ civil rights– do not account for the real powerful message sent by the world that day, but only to the brutal and shameful police tactics throughout the summit.
On Wednesday 16 December, it was the time of theReclaim Power action. More than 3,000 people gathered to peacefully march towards the Bella Centre, where official negotiations where being held, to denounce and de-legitimise the anti-democratic process at the UN, reject the false solutions being ‘negotiated’ inside, and hold a people's assembly on real solutions. At the same time, around 300 delegates attending the negotiations walked out of the official convention centre to join the assembly outside. Both groups were happily greeted with police truncheons, as well as pepper spray, dogs and cages.
But besides mass mobilizations and demonstrations, the streets of Copenhagen witnessed an incredible amount of smaller and inspiring decentralized actions targeting a wide range of 'climate criminals', such as the agro-export industry and other big corporations that are trying to jump on the 'green capitalism' train, as well as the Ministry of Defence, in solidarity with climate refugees. People nolonger buy the 'this is all about nature' discourse; the real roots of the climate crisis and the demands of a paradigm change to save the planet are here to stay.
Positive outcome 3: People will not remain idle while powerful elites destroy the planet.
No man is an island
It is true that Copenhagen did not deliver any real deal to fight climate change. But using the words of the Climate Chronicle newspaper editors: “Any seal is better than a bad deal”. Without a real structural change in our economic and political model, the world will gain nothing from these ‘deals’.
Copenhagen has nevertheless given a new momentum to global justice movements that put the multiple climate crises at the centre of the wider convergence of social, economic, political, and governance crises. The climate debate has hopefully forever abandoned the realm of classic environmentalism –if that ever existed– and the type of let's-save-the-whales iconography. It is no longer the monopoly of scientists and technocrats. Climate debate has probably now more than ever become an issue of capitalism, labour and class, migration, gender, militarism, energy models, and food production, to mention but a few.
In this context, we are seeing the rise of new –or rather newly visible– inextricable cross-links amongst struggles for justice around the world, and renewed solidarity discourses and actions that transcend maniqueist nation- or single-cause-based approaches. John Donne explained it in a definitely more illustrative manner in his celebrated lines, which are particularly appropriate because of their reference to what he probably might never have imagined we would call 'rising sea levels': “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were (...) any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee”.
Positive outcome 4: Climate change is no longer only an environmental issue.
As a conclusion: let's bake the cake
Copenhagen has not only been the failure everyone seems to blame on others. It has also delivered positive outcomes –surely more than the four we have gone through in these lines and that others, better-prepared commentators, will surely bring forward– that we would do well than just “take note of”. And while the UN kitchen seems closed to baking real solutions, we at least got the recipe to cook a Brunsviger (roughly pronounced as brünzbier), a piece of classic Danish baking tradition, courtesy of the kind cooks that catered for KlimaForum volunteers at Café Mandela.
7,5 dl milk
150 gr yeast
450 gr butter
120 gr sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1,5 kg flour
450 gr butter
450 gr brown sugar
1. Stir the yeast into warm milk.
2. Add sugar, salt and flour, and beat well.
3. Add the melted butter, and beat again.
4. Flatten the dough out into a large pan, and let it rise for about half an hour in a warm place.
5. Deflate the dough and push it into a baking pan; leave to rise again for another half hour.
6. Dimple the now risen dough.
7. Fill: Melt the butter and stir in the brown sugar, and drizzle over the dimpled dough.
8. Bake in a preheated 180ºC oven for 20-25 minutes.