If the climate were a bank, they'd have saved it by now


The formal outcome of the Copenhagen climate summit was a huge fiasco. It confirmed the world's corporate rulers were simply unwilling to act in defence of people and the planet.

Human civilisation stands at a precipice. The level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is already too high for a safe climate. Remaining fossil fuels must be kept in the ground and replaced with renewable energy sources at emergency speed.

More emissions will further disrupt the Earth's ecological balance, threatening the lives of billions with dangerous climate change.

Yet the rich countries, including Australia, went to Copenhagen to defend their stakes in the capitalist world economy ahead of all else.

Each of these nations' so-called world leaders spoke passionately to the cameras about the need to fight climate change. In practice, they worked to wreck hopes of a meaningful agreement.

The wealthy countries refused to discuss the real measures needed to avert dangerous climate change. Carbon markets, adaptation funding and empty words were on the agenda. Rapidly phasing out coal, oil and natural gas were not.

As the summit closed, United States President Barack Obama put forward the Copenhagen Accord with the help of the Chinese, Indian, Brazilian, Ethiopian and South African governments — a document that sidelined the concerns of most of the world's nations without discussion.

The accord is not legally binding and set no emissions goals. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's claim that it was a "big step forward" should fool no one. As REDD-Monitor.org's Chris Lang pointed out on December 22: "The only step that the Copenhagen Accord takes is over the edge of the abyss."

"They didn't seal the deal", wrote the Independent's Johann Hari on December 19. "They sealed the coffin for the world's low-lying islands, its glaciers, its North Pole, and millions of lives."

But the rich nations didn't get everything their own way. Inside the summit, protests and dissent from the poor nations could not be ignored.

Delegates from the Group of 77 bloc of 132 poor nations staged a number of walkouts to protest the dirty Copenhagen deal. "We will not die quietly", they chanted.

The brave stand of the Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu was especially noteworthy. Despite huge pressure from the rich countries, Tuvalu, together with Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Sudan, stood firm to reject the Copenhagen Accord outright.

Outside, climate protesters took over Copenhagen's streets for days. This included a protest of 100,000 people — Europe's biggest climate demonstration ever.

Inside the summit, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez repeated two key slogans raised by the protesters: "Change the system, not the climate" and "If the climate were a bank they would have saved it by now".

The unofficial counter-summit, the Klimaforum, attracted 25,000 activists to discuss and debate how the people can force political change. Klimaforum issued a radical People's Declaration on Climate Change, which was everything the Copenhagen Accord was not.

It called for the development "of a global movement of movements dedicated to the long-term task of promoting a sustainable transition of our societies".

The failure at Copenhagen showed the climate action movement cannot rely on lobbying efforts at future international climate summits to make the breakthrough. Such summits can only reflect political changes that have already occurred inside each country.

The climate movement in Australia and other rich nations is not yet powerful enough to make the corporate politicians fearful. Building this movement so it becomes an unstoppable force is the most important task of all.

The most hopeful thing to come out of Copenhagen is the evidence that this radical movement against climate change has arrived and is growing.

The next task of the movement — a people's movement that exploded onto the scene both inside and outside the summit — is to gather strength and grow, until it can indeed defeat the corporate criminals and the governments that now do their bidding.