From 7th-18th December, the worlds governments came together to try and agree a 'climate deal' that will shape our climate future. Current science is predicting that global carbon emissions must have peaked by 2015 if we are to prevent runaway climate change, which is leading some to say that this was the last chance we had to stop runaway climate change.
You might have heard of the Kyoto Protocol? That global climate agreement was formed in 1997 at the third Conference of Parties (COP3) - the meeting in Copenhagen in December was the fifteenth in that series of UN climate talks, and is known as the COP15. It brought together ministers and officials from 192 countries, NGO pressure groups (under the umbrella ‘Climate Action Network’) and a huge business lobby.
The Kyoto Protocol was a significant turning point in climate negotiations - and for all the wrong reasons. Up until that point, countries had agreed to make extremely limited but real emissions reductions. The US refused to agree to any form of concrete action, and instead made a take-it-or-leave-it offer built around a number of market-based mechanisms to 'tackle' the problem, 'carbon-trading' and 'offsetting'. Given that a climate deal without the US (a country responsible for more than 20% of the worlds carbon emissions) wouldn't be worth waking up for, the rest of the countries agreed to the proposal. (The US ended up pulling out of the deal after all, but only after having hugely reduced the capacity to affect any real change!)
Since the Kyoto agreement, a huge amount of international effort has been put into trying to make carbon-trading a viable method for reducing carbon emissions. Hugely encouraging? Well, not really. The trouble is that carbon-trading hasn't reduced carbon emissions, in fact, emissions have risen year on year since the agreement was made. One thing carbon-trading has been good for is making money for people that are already rich. A handful of companies, including the power giant E-on (who are trying to build the new coal-power station at Kingsnorth), made billions of dollars in windfall profits from the first phase of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. Unfortunately the off-set idea, which became known as the Clean Development Mechanism, didn't fair much better... some of the most polluting industries in the global south raked in enormous amounts of money to do emissions reduction or avoidance projects that were being planned anyway.
So now we know that carbon-trading and emission off-sets are only good for making money, and are completely ineffective at actually preventing climate change, surely we can all relax in the confidence that the COP15 will scrap them? Well, no, actually. Rather than introducing measures that will really make a difference, the world's leading industrialized governments seem to be adopting the 'if the horse is dead, then keep flogging it' approach. At the recent COP15 warm up talks in Bonn, rich developed nations called for *more* carbon-trading and *more* off-sets! The rich will keeping getting richer, but what about the 4 billion people vulnerable because of man-made climate change?
Governments might say that international summits are the last chance to tackle climate change - but they aren't acting like it. Politicians across the world remain an intrinsic part of the problem. Influenced by big business and careers they are unable to act on the climate crisis because they are at the heart of the capitalist system that has created it. If we want real solutions to climate change, it's up to us to make it happen. The alternative lies in creating new ways of organising societies, working together co-operatively towards exploring and implement solutions, using forms of self management and organisation to create new processes and work towards building awareness and solidarity, to support and empower people to take action in their lives on climate change. It's time for us to act.