ALBA, social movements push to avoid cop out at COP21

December 3, 2015

“We, the developing countries, are dignified and sovereign nations and victims of a problem that we didn't cause.”

This statement was made six years ago, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) at the Copenhagen Climate Conference.

An anti-imperialist political and trade bloc founded in 2004 by Cuba and Venezuela to challenge US hegemony and promote solidarity-based trade, ALBA now involves 11 Latin American and Caribbean nations.

ALBA's statement to the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen pointed out that the climate crisis was the result of the “imposition of an absolutely predatory model of development on the rest of the world”.

In Paris, at the annual polluters' jamboree called the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP21, it looks like more of the same. At these climate talks, running November 30-December 11, social movements and government representatives will be fighting over the shape of tomorrow. One can sketch out two general perspectives.

On the one hand are the oil companies, the vanguard of the carbon mafia. Recently, many of them, with the conspicuous exception of ExxonMobil, announced their “shared ambition … for a 2°C future.”

As The Guardian calmly noted, the energy corporations “stopped short of outlining clear goals to limit emissions”. In other words, business as usual. ExxonMobil, meanwhile, is in a league of its own, openly accused of “deceiving the American public” about the risks of climate change to protect its profits.

US President Barack Obama's proposals for Paris generally fall in line with the needs of these energy companies – no surprise.


The US's Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC, or each countries' plan for reducing emissions) foresees a 17% cut from 2005 levels by 2020. Climate Analytics calls this “the least ambitious end of a 2°C global emissions pathway”. This means that “other countries would have to make more comparable effort than the US to keep the world on that pathway”.

The New Climate Institute insists such cuts are “already at the limit of what is politically feasible”. They are, of course, fully in line with Obama's broader climate change plans, which leading climatologist James Hansen has called “practically worthless”. That is the Democratic Party.

And then there is the rest of humanity – social movements, unions, community groups, farmers alliances and left governments – practicing what ecological economist Joan Martinez-Alier calls “the environmentalism of the poor”.

Among such forces, there are three core areas of agreement. One: the climate debt to the developing world must be paid. Two, the poor have a right to development. And three, there is differentiated responsibility between rich nations – responsible overwhelmingly for the crisis - and poor nations.

Venezuelan foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez said there is a “historic debt and ecological debt from the rich countries, to the poor ones”.

The Bolivian government has crunched the numbers and shown that, of the 2000 gigatons of carbon dioxide emitted since 1750, the overwhelming majority has been by Annex I countries – the global North.

Much of the corresponding non-Annex I emissions (from poor nations) during historical periods of colonialism and neo-colonialism actually came from activities that enriched the global North corporate interests and imperialist countries. This amounts to a climate colonialism expressed through the control of atmospheric space.

'New model'

As a remedy, Bolivia calls for adopting “a new model of civilisation in the world without consumerism, war-mongering, and mercantilism”. It adds that the world should “allocate the resources of the military machinery of the imperial powers and the war-mongers to finance the activities of the peoples against climate change”.

Ecuador, also a non-Annex I country, notes that its climate proposals and development plans are based on a “new vision [which] references sustainable and harmonious management of nature with consideration to its limits and regeneration cycles”.

The document notes: “In this context … Ecuador establishes itself as the first country worldwide to recognise the rights of nature in its 2008 Constitution.”

The government plans to “cut its emissions in the energy sector 20-25% below the BAU [Business As Usual] scenario. However, a potential for cutting emissions even further in the energy sector, to a level between 37.5-45.8% with respect to the BAU baseline has also been calculated. This potential could be harnessed in light of the appropriate circumstances in terms of availability of resources and support offered by the international community.”

Such plans make clear that the country is doing its best to promote the decarbonisation of its energy resources, while still attending to the desperate human needs of its population. Such proposals put the debt and the responsibility for accelerating this process on the global North, through technology grants.

There is also a strong focus on the agricultural sector: “Strengthening the resiliency of vulnerable communities with a focus on food security.”

It pushes the “identification of areas vulnerable to drought and land degradation in order to promote sustainable land management practices and water catchment systems”.

For its part, the international peasant group Via Campesina calls for food sovereignty, “based on peasant agroecology, traditional knowledge, selecting, saving and sharing local adoptive seeds, and control over our lands, biodiversity, waters, and territories”.

The group, which represents about 200 million farmers and is often described as the world's largest social movement, insists that this “is a true, viable, and just solution to a global climate crisis caused largely” by transnational corporations.

It says these policies require “comprehensive agrarian reforms, public procurement of peasant production, and an end to destructive free trade agreements promoted by [transnational corporations]” in order to develop properly.

“In short,” Via says, “we need justice – social, economic, political, and climate justice.”

This vision in a context where farming NGO GRAIN estimates, “the current global food system, propelled by an increasingly powerful transnational food industry, is responsible for around half of all human produced greenhouse gas emissions.”

Emissions gap

Despite such proposals, Maxine Combes of ATTAC-France notes, “The mandate states have for Paris is to keep global warming under 2°C … the INDCs are leading us on a 3°C (or on a more than 3°C) pathway.”

The conclusion is simple: this “emission gap is the starting point for new and for more climate crimes around the world in the coming years.”

Former Bolivian climate negotiator Pablo Solon observed: “The position of developed countries in general tends to water down the difference between developed and developing countries, promoting more the use of 'all parties' (134 mentions in the text).

“On the other hand, developing countries want to keep the firewall between developed and developing countries.”

As well as the social movements and left governments, there is an important group formed by developing countries most exposed to climate change: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Barbados, Bhutan, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Kiribati, Madagascar, Maldives, Nepal, Philippines, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Vietnam.

They have suggested that a 2°C rise is already too high and may demand a lower limit.

History has given us a chance to intervene in the chain of events caused from corporate profit maximisation and voluntary emissions targeting. Solon notes: “If the current text is to be the basis of that future, we will have none of which to speak.”

[Abridged from TeleSUR English.]

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