Ultimatum for the Earth

Posted on 12 December 2009 by editor

Hopenhagen. Credit: Servaas van den Bosch

Hopenhagen. Credit: Servaas van den Bosch

By Ignacio Ramonet, from Paris *

COPENHAGEN (IPS/TerraViva) If Earth were the size of a football, the thickness of the atmosphere would be about two millimetres. We have forgotten the incredible thinness of this layer, which we tend to believe can absorb an unlimited quantity of toxic gases. As a result, we have created around our planet a filthy gaseous blanket that captures heat and literally functions as a greenhouse.

Global warming is an unmistakeable reality that has been confirmed by some 2,500 international scientists, members of the Intergovernmental  Panel on Climate Change.

Since the Climate Change Convention was issued at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero 1992 and the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997, CO2 emissions have increased faster than in preceding decades.

If urgent measures are not taken, the average temperature of the planet will rise by at least four degrees. If this happens, the face of the planet will be transformed: the poles and glaciers will melt, the sea level will rise, deltas and coastal cities will be inundated, entire archipelagos will be erased from the map, droughts will grow more severe, deforestation will spread, the number of hurricanes and typhoons will increase, and hundreds of species of animals will disappear.

The primary victims of this tragedy will be the already vulnerable populations subsaharan Africa, south and southeast Asia, Latin America, and islands around the equator. In certain regions, harvests may shrink by half and shortages of drinking water may grow more severe. This will lead to an explosion of “climate refugees” who are seeking asylum in less affected areas, and subsequently the proliferation of “climate wars”.

To avoid this ominous cascade of disasters, the collective international scientific community recommends an urgent 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. This is the only way of keeping the situation from spiralling out of control.

With this in mind, there are three central themes that must be tackled in Copenhagen:

1: determining the historic responsibility of each country for the current environmental degradation, with the knowledge that 80 percent of CO2 emissions are produced by the most developed countries (which account for only 20 percent of the world population), and that the poor countries, least responsible for the climate crisis, are those suffering the brunt of the consequences.

2: assessing, in the name of climate justice, a financial compensation such that the countries that have inflicted the greatest damage on the environment will contribute a significant amount of aid to the countries of the South that will enable them to mitigate the effects of the climate catastrophe. This is one of the major areas of disagreement: the rich countries are proposing too little aid, while the poor countries are demanding a higher, and just, compensation.

3: defining a politically and legally-binding timeline that will require all parties -developed countries as well as other powers (China, Russia, India, Indonesia, Mexico, and Brazil) to progressively reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Neither the United States nor China (the main polluters) accepts this idea.

Beyond these specific issues, there is a phantom that haunts the discussion tables in Copenhagen: the need to change the dominant global economic model. There exists today a fundamental contradiction between the logic of capitalism (uninterrupted growth, greed for profits, and unrestricted competition) and the new austerity necessary to avoid a climatic cataclysm.

The Soviet system imploded because of, among other factors, a method of production that valued most the political benefit of companies (they created workers) without concern for the economic cost. Similarly the current capitalist system values only the economic benefit of production without taking into account its environmental costs.

Thus, for today’s system, hungry for profit alone, it doesn’t matter whether a given product must travel thousands of kilometres -and causing the release of tonnes of CO2- before reaching the consumer, despite the fact that this approach is endangering humanity itself.

On the other hand, the current system is colossally wasteful of natural resources. At present, the earth is incapable of regenerating 30 percent of that which is consumed each year by its inhabitants, the number of which continues to grow steadily.

Thus the urgency of adopting measures to block our rush over the edge of the cliff. Thus too, given the cynicism of many world leaders, the fury of the thousands of ecological militants from all over the planet converging on Copenhagen streets and bellowing two slogans: “Change the system, not the climate!” and “If the climate were a bank, you would have saved it!”

Ten years have passed since the massive protests of the “Battle of Seattle”, which gave birth to the “another world is possible” movement. In Copenhagen a new generation of activists and protesters are initiating a new cycle of social battles in the name of environmental justice. A huge number of people has mobilised. It will be a great struggle. The survival of humanity is at stake.

(*) Ignacio Ramonet is the editor of Le Monde Diplomatique in
Spanish. (Copyright IPS)

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