5°C – the temperature at which the world burns

The world is once again girding itself for disappointment from the latest climate change talks, this time in Durban, South Africa. COP 17, or the Conference of Polluters, as some protesters are calling it, is likely to produce little in the way of good news for the global poor, who will suffer most from global warming. Most of the developed countries, the historic C02 emitters, are either not doing enough, or are rejecting the Kyoto protocols , which expire next year.

Leading the pack is the United States. They are demanding that cuts should be only voluntary, severely weakening the Kyoto protocol negotiated in the 1990s. More than this, the US is only offering cuts of 18% by 2020, with a baseline set at their 2000 omissions. Most countries with an ounce of integrity – and sense -want the baseline kept to the 1990 figures. The majority of scientists believe that if this is the outcome, then global temperatures could rise by 5°C by the end of the century.

So what is the problem with the US? Does the Right and Big Energy not believe the science? In public they are cast as doubters. The reality is that most of them do believe in climate change. They do believe in the predictions of the 5°C rise. And they do believe that many millions will either die or become climate refugees. But they just don’t care. They believe the rich will be able to ride out the 5°C rise by forcibly grabbing the resources – oil, food and water – by force of arms. And that they will continue to find enough allies within the global elites to ensure that the poorest countries are kept subdued.

There is, of course, an alternative. The past two climate conferences have seen some Latin American countries co-ordinating a different set of demands. Bolivia has led the way, with countries like Nicaragua joining them. In mid-November the ALBA countries met to hammer out a common position for the Durban negotiations (see here).

Their negotiating position includes:

  • setting a target of a 1.5°C rise in global temperatures, though ideally at 1°C
  • setting a tax on international financial transactions, to raise $400 billion a year to tackle climate change
  • rich countries committing $100 billion a year to support developing countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change (a figure which was set at the last meeting, but for which commitments are sadly lacking)
  • calling on rich countries to commit 1.5% of their GDP for international assistance (current aid from most rich countries is below the 0.7% target set by the UN, and far less than the 1% of GDP needed to tackle climate change suggested by the Stern report half a decade ago)
  • rejecting forests being used as off-sets and in carbon trading, which is currently promoted by the REDD

This co-ordination of demands shows the increasing willingness of countries to work together, and for the ALBA bloc to gently move other countries to more radical positions. In Octoberthe ALBA b loc, the African Union and the Group of Least Developed Countries met in Panama to strengthen links. This weekend finally sees the launch of CELAC, postponed from July because of Hugo Chavez’ illness. It includes all the countries of the Americas, except the United States and Canada (see here).

The US reponse? Apparently President Obama is busily pandering to the Right within the Republicans and his own party, ringing up other Western leaders about what to do about the Nicaraguan elections, whilst members of Congress and the Senate line up to call on Obama not to recognise the results (see the Miami Herald). As US officials say that the Organisation of American States needs reform, they have not noticed, or are unwilling to recognise, that the OAS is fast becoming a thing of the past.