December 27, 2011

Communists call for urgent action on climate change

Rebel Youth report

Climate change is "a question
of life or death"
The topic of climate change and the Kyoto protocol has been an issue of attention to some Communist and Worker’s Parties as COP17 2011 UN Climate Conference took place in Durban this December. This has included a proposal for a special conference of Communist Parties on climate issues to be held in South Africa.

Climate change is an important struggle for all progressive youth in Canada. The YCL-LJC Canada debated the question of climate change at it’s 25th Central Convention of the YCL last year (to read the final resolution click here and scroll down to Part 5) and resolved to make the environment, and especially climate change, of particular concern to the League.

The Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol (1997) is essentially an international courtesy rule or guiding chart. It is part of the larger United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Both are aimed at fighting global warming.  Kyoto generally sets 1990-level emission goals for Green House Gases (GHG) and expires next year.  Almost exclusively, the goals have not been met.

To implement Kyoto three flexible mechanisms are outlined in the Protocol that fit within the frame-work of the global capitalist economy: 1. Trading in emission rights; 2. Joint implementation and; 3. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

The United States never signed Kyoto.  This December, following the COP17 meeting, the Harper Conservative government also formally withdrew Canada from the Protocol.

COP 17

In an editorial article in The Morning Star  noted that legal measures for a new legally binding treaty on global warming by 2015 were watered down on the pretext that countries could not sign up to negotiate a legally binding deal without knowing if it would be fair to poorer countries (The Morning Star is one of the few English-language socialist newspapers in the world which continues to publish a daily print edition. It is politically linked with the Communist Party of Britain).

“That's a perfectly reasonable argument on the face of it, but there's much more to it than that,” the editorial said. “[I]t's largely not countries that pollute, it's companies” they added, noting two basic questions: can developing countries can afford to forgo industrial development? and, could they control the big transnationals even if they wanted to? Furthermore, “international legally enforceable agreements also raise the question of just how they would be enforced.”

Are these conferences “set-up to fail” the writers asked?

Life or death

The Communist Party of Australia (CPA), in their intervention to the 13th International Meeting of Communist and Worker’s Parties (IMCWP) in Athens this December, spoke directly to what is at stake with these negotiations.

Quoting Bolivia's President Evo Morales addressing the Copenhagen Climate Change summit in 2009, the CPA said it is a struggle of "the culture of life and the culture of death” where “The culture of death is capitalism, its highest and most dangerous form, imperialism. The culture of life is that of the Indigenous peoples, the South, and all the oppressed and exploited people on our planet.”

Likewise, The Morning Star said that “One can only feel for countries such as Grenada, whose delegate made the telling point that ‘while you are debating, we are dying.’ The Star quoted one speaker at the conference who warned that “action against climate change in 2020 will come a decade too late for poor people on the front line - they urgently need it now. Their lives are already ravaged by floods, droughts, failed rains, deadly storms, hunger and disease and we know that these disasters will get worse and more frequent as climate change bites.”

Ecology or social progress – a false dilema

Another of the communist parties to recently address the Kyoto question was The Progressive Party of the Working People of Cyprus (AKEL), which is currently the leading force in the ruling coalition of Cyprus making it the only communist-led government in the European Union.

In a statement issued shortly before the Durban meeting and the 13th IMCWP, AKEL noted that there is a wide range of opinions about future obligation periods with developing countries wanting to extend the Protocol for the developing countries, with funding for emerging and developing countries (for example to upgrade GHG emitting technologies), while developed countries are demanding a new agreement which includes commitments from all countries on the planet (especially China, India and Brazil).

“The dilemma between the need to protect the environment and combating poverty, between combating climate change and economic development is a false dilemma and only when we realise this, will there be a solution” the AKEL concluded.

The real question is the market vs the environment

AKEL also criticized capitalism’s solutions to the environmental crisis.  “[P]olicies which seek to regulate the problem through the mechanisms of the market, such as the Pollution Trading System, which with its implementation has not only not recorded progress but has created a pretext for those responsible for great emissions to continue polluting without reductions, cannot offer a solution to the problem of climate change - as they cannot offer a solution to the problems of poverty, unemployment and so many other social problems the peoples of the world are facing” they said.

A similar point of view was made by the Australian communists who noted that, in response to the growing environmental crisis, “the Australian Government has played a leading role in trying to replace the Kyoto Protocol with a political agreement” – for example adopting a carbon tax to enable big Australian corporations to participate in global carbon markets, “to buy the right to pollute at the expense of the development of poorer nations” the CPA said.

“The carbon tax has served as a diversion from taking serious measures to reduce Australia's carbon footprint, the largest per-capita in the world,” they said. Instead, “Government support for market-based policies has stifled almost all voices that question this policy and effectively ruled out the planning, regulation and legislation for the necessary measures to ensure a sustainable future.”

Comprehensive, just and audacious

In the Parliament of Cyprus AKEL also passed a special resolution on the question of climate change. In introducing the resolution AKEL noted that they approach the Conference “with a critical disposition, but at the same time with interest.”

We expect and demand “that the rich countries of the North take a decision and assume their responsibilities towards the poor countries of the South. The drawing up of a binding and Active agreement for the restriction of pollution and the simultaneous provision of substantial assistance - economic and technological - towards the poor countries of the South to tackle and adapt to the climate changes is imperative and not to burden them with more responsibilities” they said.

The resolution called on the UN and member states to push for a comprehensive, international, just, ambitious and legally binding agreement beyond 2012, founded on the international system of regulations of the Kyoto Protocol. Any agreement must have “strict political, economic and legal obligations for the provision of assistance to the developing countries, recalling that the poor countries are the ones most exposed to the impact of climate change and have the least capacity to adapt.”

This is similar to the viewpoint of the Communist Party of Canada which in at its 2010 Central Convention called for deep cuts in the climate emissions by the imperialist countries, “climate reparations” owed to the oppressed people’s of the world, and that climate change agreements “be strong, legally binding, comprehensive, and audacious, and be based on international solidarity, peace and respect for sovereignty, self-determination and democracy, as well as employment and social progress.”

Again, as the CPA has said, “despite their immense wealth and political power, [the corporations] can be constrained. With a massive mobilisation of working people we can begin to take steps towards environmental sustainability and towards the social transformation necessary to complete this process.”

Conference failure shows problems with capitalism

Although the UN announced the conference was a success, many scientists and environmentalists noted that the conference failed to set necessary targets. AKEL agreed. While noting that a positive step in the Conference was Cyprus´ inclusion into Annex 1 of the Protocol (the island country will reduce emissions by 20-30% in relation to today's realities) “yet again it has been confirmed that for the sake of interests and economic profit the big polluters do not make concessions and compromises.”

 “[T]he environmental and ecological crisis is nothing else other than the direct consequence of the ruling world economic model of development” AKEL said.

This sentiment was echoed a few days later at the International Meeting of Communist and Worker’s Parties in Athens by the South African Communist Party (SACP).  Noting that climate change that will impact most severely on continents like Africa and low-lying island states, the SACP said that “Capitalism is a system based on profit and not on social and environmental need [and it] is incapable of resolving the climate crisis - as is apparent from the stance of the major capitalist powers in the current COP17 process.”

“[F]ailure to ratify and extend the Kyoto Protocol or coming out without another alternative binding agreement in Durban has got very serious implications for our planet and the future of humanity” the SACP said in there intervention.

In it’s editorial on the Durban conference The Morning Star quoted World Development Movement policy officer Murray Worthy:

When [...] Worthy said the outcome of the talks had been a ‘spectacular failure’ he wasn't overstating. ‘Developed countries have behaved shamefully, blocking meaningful progress on tackling climate change. They have refused to acknowledge their historical responsibility for the crisis, either by agreeing to reduce their emissions or by providing finance to help developing countries deal with climate change.’ And that hits the issue squarely.

The Morning Star also noted that no sources of money were found for the establishment of a green climate fund to channel billions to poor countries to help them cope with impacts of global warming such as floods and drought, and pursue sustainable development.

Climate change, an important issue for communists

The South African communists called climate justice “another arena of struggle” that the entire left should “take up in earnest” which “will also require that we forge links with both domestic and international progressive ecological movements, also as a crucial component of internationalist working class solidarity.”

Communists and the left “have to navigate a contradiction facing many developing countries like ours, the simultaneous necessities to grow our economies and the destruction to the environment brought about by ecologically unsustainable growth paths” and therefore the SACP is calling for a “climate justice international conference of communist and workers parties in South Africa in 2012” to bring together communist and workers parties to debate and engage matters relating to the climate.

Similarly, AKEL “pledge[d] that we shall continue the struggle and our efforts to safeguard not only the present, but also the future of the planet and our children. The tackling of this environmental and ecological crisis, which is of vital importance, constitutes a component part of the struggle for a more just and peaceful world.”

The sense of urgency was also echoed by the Communist Party of Australia who noted that “Capitalism has always failed to meet the basic needs of hundreds of millions of people. With the climate crisis, it will eventually fail all humanity. The struggle for sustainable development is in essence a struggle to restrain and restrict capitalist corporations and to compel an end to environmentally damaging production processes.”

Similarly, the Australian communists said that “The struggle is to save our planet, for peace, for survival, for basic human rights such as jobs, food, health services, education and clean water. It is the struggle for socialism.”

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