WASHINGTON - The United States' delegation at the 17th annual Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UN FCC) in Durban, South Africa has come under heavy fire from civil society leaders and activists around the globe for standing in the way of real solutions to climate change.
Between 15,000 and 20,000 farmers, unionists, teachers, peasants, students, garbage pickers, transport workers and other indignant citizens gathered outside the U.N. consultation chambers in Durban on Saturday calling for "system change, not climate change".
Many of these protestors marched to the U.S. embassy, demanding that the "world's biggest polluter" start supporting climate solutions that benefit the 99 percent.
In solidarity with their African counterparts, citizens in 20 cities across the U.S. rallied against the eco-destructive actions of the "one percent" as part of the Dec. 3 global day of action to save the planet and "occupy the climate".
Spearheaded by the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJA), a national network of grassroots organizations, along with the North American chapter of the 200 million member international farmers' movement, La Via Campesina, Saturday's events were an attempt to draw together disparate climate-related struggles under one banner.
"We are mobilizing to denounce quick fix solutions being promoted by governments and corporations – like carbon markets, REDD++, and geo- engineering – all of which are just creative ways for corporations to continue profiting at the expense of the people and Mother Earth," said Dena Hoff, a Montana-based member of the National Family Farm Coalition.
"As stewards of the land, feeding the world's people, we can't stand by as our ecosystems are destroyed for corporate greed," she added.
"U.S. government and corporations are the one percent responsible for the majority of pollution affecting the 99 percent of the world," Francisca Porchas of the LA-based Labor Community Strategy Center, said Saturday. "We demand that the U.S. immediately reduce carbon emissions to 50 percent of current levels by 2017, and stop obstructing progress towards paying climate debt and forging an internationally binding deal."
Actions in the U.S. kicked off Friday, when a delegation representing leaders from hundreds of Native American tribes presented President Barack Obama with the Mother Earth Accord, a document stating their opposition to the development of the bitterly contested TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline through Indian country.
"Recognizing that the pipeline would stretch 1,980 miles, from Alberta, Canada to Nederland, Texas, carrying up to 900,000 barrels per day of filthy tar sands crude oil," the Accord roundly condemned the project as "suicidal" for scores of Native communities and sacred sites as well as for the Ogallala Aquifer, which currently sustains millions of people and irrigates huge swathes of farmland throughout the heartland of the United States.
The U.S. government's indecision on the project, despite reported evidence of numerous spills and irrefutable data on the pipeline's impact, is indicative of its overall indifference to social movements and civil society's demands, activists say.
The U.S. delegation in Durban, led by special envoy Todd Stern and his deputy Jonathan Pershing, have remained immune to civil society pressure by continuing to push its agenda of promoting new "climate financing" systems to mitigate the impacts of carbon emissions and global warming.
This, despite the fact that a 2011 World Bank report, prepared for this year's G20 meeting in France and leaked to the British Guardian in September, confessed that global carbon markets are in deep trouble.
"The value of transactions in the primary CDM market declined sharply in 2009 and further in 2010 … amid chronic uncertainties about future mitigation targets and market mechanisms after 2012," the report said.
The failure of financial markets to regulate themselves, much less the climate, notwithstanding, Stern and Pershing have blocked even the most watered down proposals on the negotiating table in Durban, such as the establishment of a Green Climate Fund, endorsed by most developing nations as well as the Eurozone.
"The U.S. is putting the cart before the horse in terms of the climate fund by refusing to sign onto something before the details have been worked out," Jen Soriano, communications coordinator for the Durban delegation of the GGJA, told IPS. "In fact, nothing can be concretized until countries like the U.S. commit to the fund in the first place, so this is the perfect stall tactic."
"It reflects the administration's total inability to take the lead, even over a proposal that would essentially be managed by (controversial) for-profit actors like the World Bank," she added.
"The U.S. delegation also told a gathering of NGOs in Durban yesterday that they would absolutely not re-ratify an updated version of the Kyoto protocol until 2020… proving that there is no scientific basis to the U.S.'s agenda," Soriano said.
In fact, every noteworthy document on climate change, from the landmark Cochabamba People's Agreement signed last year in Bolivia to the U.N.'s own Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN IPCC) 2011 report, predict catastrophic results if industrial countries don't limit global warming to less than two degrees Celsius and follow the basic conditions laid out in the Kyoto protocol.
The signatories to the Cochabamba Agreement stressed, "Between 20 percent and 30 percent of species would be in danger of disappearing, large extensions of forest would be affected, droughts and floods would affect different regions of the planet, deserts would expand, and the melting of the polar ice caps and the glaciers in the Andes and Himalayas would worsen.
"Many island states would disappear, and Africa would suffer an increase in temperature of more than three degrees Celsius. Likewise, the production of food would diminish and the number of people in the world suffering from hunger would increase dramatically, a figure that already exceeds 1.02 billion people."
Meanwhile the 220 scientists who comprise the U.N.'s IPCC noted last month that "extreme weather events" would likely suck billions out of national economies and destroy millions of lives, particularly in Africa.
"We have to think not only in terms of loss of life but also climate displacement, the loss of homes, separation from families and poverty," Jill Johnston, programs coordinator of the Southwest Workers Union, told IPS.
In fact, the World Bank said back in February that an additional 44 million people were pushed into poverty this year as a result of rising food prices and millions more could be hungry by the end of 2012 if current trends continue.
"Viewed against this backdrop, the U.S. has been incredibly irresponsible at these talks. Its negligence in finding real solutions to the climate crisis often borders on criminal," Johnston added.