So, in case you haven’t been paying attention, something pretty awesome happened last week. Negotiators at the UN Climate Summit in Cancun, Mexico, managed to salvage a negotiations process that nearly fell apart in its early stages to come up with a new accord detailing global efforts of climate change mitigation and adaptation.
From BBC’s Earthwatch Blog:
In the late morning of the final day, I came across Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh explaining to a couple of delegates that “this process is dead”.
Yet half a day later, Cancun produced almost global consensus on words that spell out a need to step up, urgently, action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
The agreement here “affirms that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time”.
It “recognises that deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required according to science”, and that countries should “take urgent action” to meet the goal of holding the increase in global temperatures below 2C, measured against pre-industrial times.
It establishes mechanisms for transferring funds from rich countries to poor and helping them to spend it well on climate protection, acknowledging the rich world’s historical responsibility for climate change.
It sets out parameters for reducing emissions from deforestation and for transferring clean technology from the west to the rest.
I was pretty excited to hear this. It isn’t perfect, of course. Without some mechanism to make the agreement legally binding, there is a significant risk that the whole thing could be forgotten a month from now. But it did make some serious progress. Given that certain regressive countries seemed to want to kill Kyoto entirely, leaving the world with no climate agreement at all, it is quite remarkable that this conclusion was reached. The general narrative of the meeting from my perspective seems to be that of a process that has been rescued.
Another important step was the commitments of wealthy countries to establish a $100 billion dollar global climate fund to help fund adaptation efforts in developing countries. $100 billion is not nearly enough, of course, but it’s a big enough number that if has the potential to save a lot of lives if allocated with any sort of competence. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.
So there I was, enjoying that short period of satisfaction following the recognition of a small step in the right direction before efforts have to produce further, larger steps must be redoubled, when this stupid shit came across my twitter feed:
The document, which was deemed “imperfect”, “flawed” and “okay” by spokespeople from a number of nations and civil society groups, was passed minutes before the closing of Senor Frogs, allowing for a last call rush of delegates to chug margaritas, Coronas and celebratory tequila.
The agreement, deemed a “modest plan”, does not ensure the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol, or require signatories of that agreement to complete the targets they agreed to under the Protocol. For those who may not remember, Kyoto was another piece of paper, also lauded for the roadmap it laid out to mitigate climate change. It was ignored, with the majority of signatories failing to come close to their pledged targets.
Meanwhile, in communities across the globe, Climate Justice activists rolled their eyes and shrugged, many unaware that politicians and business leaders had righted the ship and were solving the climate crisis. There are also reports that other communities have not been informed that climate solutions are on the way. Communities, such as those downstream of the Alberta tar sands and in the coalfields of Appalachia, as well as those living in the Arctic, on small island nations and all across the Global south, are reported to be continuing to fight for the protection of their life, land and livelihoods, despite a “modest” plan for stopping planet wide environmental catastrophe.
If you haven’t caught on by now, this is sarcasm.
On a serious note, isn’t it about time that climate activists stopped celebrating when we achieve “better than nothing” because “what we need” isn’t politically practical?
Given that recent weeks have been marked by total failures of the mainstream media to report effectively on wikileaks and the British Tuition Protests, I really really really hate to defend them against their alternative counterparts, but the writer of this piece really gives me no choice.
Every grassroots political movement tends to have two wings: the militants and the negotiators. Militants can be thought of as the soldiers of a social movement. They tend to state their position in the strongest possible terms and use radical tactics with the goal of achieving nothing less than the unqualified fulfillment of their ideals. By contrast, the negotiators are more like the movement’s diplomats. They seek to compromise with their opponents and persuade those in power to take small steps towards their eventual goal. Working in tandem, these two groups can accomplish far more than they ever could on their own. Militants act as a kind of political wrecking ball which forces those in power to contend with the issue at hand, while the negotiators facilitate productive discussion and action in the wake of the confrontationalists’ opening of the issue.
On the climate issue, the militants are the kind of people who blockade coal ports, while the negotiators are the kind of people who attend the COP16 meeting to oversee and contribute to the negotiations. These are both useful: without radical direct action, the discussions might not be happening at all, but it is difficult to assist in the creation of a global agreement when you’re sitting in an inner tube.
The problem with this arrangement is that it is almost impossible for any one person or organization to simultaneously be both a militant and a negotiator. It is difficult to hold meetings with politicians who you will be burning in effigy the next day. This leaves open a dangerous possibility of infighting between the two wings of the movement. The militants tend to accuse the negotiators of compromising with the enemy, while the negotiators can accuse the militants of tilting at windmills. They’re both right, in a way, but it is counterproductive for them to waste time fighting over tactics. An entire movement can descend into useless self-criticism if this goes too far.
So while radical climate justice advocates have every right to demand a significant drop in Carbon emissions to improve the situation in Bolivia, if this was the only side of the environmentalist cause, there would likely be no drop at all. This is the fatal mistake of the story in the Dominion. Its author has drawn a false dichotomy between “what we need” and “nothing at all”. The former is the best-case scenario, but if it cannot be achieved, then surely some intermediate position is better than the latter. That intermediate position cannot be attained without diplomats who are willing to make compromises.
So, radical climate justice organizers: Do not let up with your demands for total climate justice. The world needs you. But no number of peoples’ summits and banner drops will singlehandedly get the world’s largest emitters to change their behaviour. World governments hold all the keys, and so it must fall to someone to engage with them on their own, admittedly flawed, terms. Therefore, please also recognize the accomplishments of those who take this middle path. The world needs them, too.