First they put the planet in square brackets, now they have deleted
it from the text. This is no longer about saving the biosphere: now
it's just a matter of saving face. As the talks melt down, everything
that might have made a new treaty worthwhile is being scratched out.
Any deal will do, as long as the negotiators can pretend they have
achieved something. A clearer and less destructive treaty than the
texts currently being discussed would be a sheaf of blank paper, which
every negotiating party solemnly sits down to sign.
This is the
chaotic, disastrous denouement of a chaotic and disastrous summit. The
event has been attended by historic levels of incompetence. Delegates
arriving from the tropics spent 10 hours queueing in sub-zero
temperatures without shelter, food or drink, let alone any explanation
or announcement, before being turned away. Some people fainted from
exposure; it's surprising that no one died. The process of negotiation
is just as obtuse: there's no evidence here of the innovative methods
of dispute resolution developed recently by mediators and coaches, just
the same old pig-headed wrestling.
Watching this stupid summit
via webcam (I wasn't allowed in either), it strikes me that the
treaty-making system has scarcely changed in 130 years. There's a wider
range of faces, fewer handlebar moustaches, frock coats or
pickelhaubes, but otherwise, as the world's governments try to decide
how to carve up the atmosphere, they might have been attending the
conference of Berlin in 1884. It's as if democratisation and the
flowering of civil society, advocacy and self-determination had never
happened. Governments, whether elected or not, without reference to
their own citizens let alone those of other nations, assert their right
to draw lines across the global commons and decide who gets what. This
is a scramble for the atmosphere comparable in style and intent to the
scramble for Africa.
At no point has the injustice at the heart
of multilateralism been addressed or even acknowledged: the interests
of states and the interests of the world's people are not the same.
Often they are diametrically opposed. In this case, most rich and
rapidly developing states have sought through these talks to seize as
great a chunk of the atmosphere for themselves as they can - to grab
bigger rights to pollute than their competitors. The process couldn't
have been better designed to produce the wrong results.
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I have spent most of my time at the Klimaforum,
the alternative conference set up by just four paid staff, which 50,000
people attended without a hitch. (I know which team I would put in
charge of saving the planet.) There the barrister Polly Higgins laid
out a different approach. Her declaration of planetary rights invests
ecosystems with similar legal safeguards to those won by humans after
the second world war. It changes the legal relationship between humans,
the atmosphere and the biosphere from ownership to stewardship. It
creates a global framework for negotiation which gives nation states
less discretion to dispose of ecosystems and the people who depend on
Even before this new farce began it was beginning to look
as if it might be too late to prevent two or more degrees of global
warming. The nation states, pursuing their own interests, have each
been passing the parcel of responsibility since they decided to take
action in 1992. We have now lost 17 precious years, possibly the only
years in which climate breakdown could have been prevented. This has
not happened by accident: it is the result of a systematic campaign of
sabotage by certain states, driven and promoted by the energy
industries. This idiocy has been aided and abetted by the nations
characterised, until now, as the good guys: those that have made firm
commitments, only to invalidate them with loopholes, false accounting
and outsourcing. In all cases immediate self-interest has trumped the
long-term welfare of humankind. Corporate profits and political
expediency have proved more urgent considerations than either the
natural world or human civilisation. Our political systems are
incapable of discharging the main function of government: to protect us
from each other.
Goodbye Africa, goodbye south Asia; goodbye
glaciers and sea ice, coral reefs and rainforest. It was nice knowing
you. Not that we really cared. The governments which moved so swiftly
to save the banks have bickered and filibustered while the biosphere