Thursday, December 10, 2015

U.S. Offers Vulnerable Nations a Deal, But They Can Never Ask for Climate Money Again


"Those who are despoiling the earth do so for personal gain, believing they can use their privilege to escape their fate" –Chris Hedges (full-size image; source).

by Gaius Publius

Shameful. If the these reports are true, the U.S. is offering a deal to the poor and climate-vulnerable on the planet, as well as to emerging nations like India, and it's not a good one for them. Here's the shape of the deal in five easy pieces (quotes are from Mark Hertsgaard at The Nation and KC Golden at Climate Solutions).

1. Two degrees is too much. KC Golden:
Two [degrees warming] is too much. A 2 degree C. increase in the global average temperature – the working redline for climate catastrophe – would mean a “significantly different planet,” disrupting food and water supplies, inundating coastal cities, obliterating island nations… Look at what 1 degree is doing already, as extreme record rainfall reports come in almost daily.
2. Poor and climate-vulnerable nations will suffer enormously under two-degrees warming — they're suffering already under one degrees warming. Golden:
Climate justice advocates, led by the world’s most vulnerable nations, are pushing in Paris to move the target to 1.5 degrees C. Science, sanity, and moral responsibility are with them, but rarely are those enough to win the day. Sober COP-watchers gave the drive for 1.5 little chance to prevail, as Big Fossil continues to box the negotiators.
The cost of climate-change adaptation for these nations is more than they can bear. ("Adaptation" is climate-speak for what you do to protect yourself from the climate "storm." Adaptation includes, for example, building sea walls for future sea level rise. Adaptation, naturally enough, costs money, and some of the poorest nations, like Bangladesh and low-lying island states, are the most vulnerable.)

3. But if the target of two degrees is lowered, emerging nations like India will have to go to capital-intensive energy projects like solar almost immediately, bypassing coal and oil, since the remaining "carbon budget" will be almost zero if a target like 1.5°C is adopted. (That "budget" is actually zero now, but for the sake of this discussion, let's pretend along with the UN that this isn't so.)

It's very expensive to finance capital-intensive projects in places like India. Yet making sure all power facilities, including new facilities, are emissions-free is critical for mitigating future effects of climate change. ("Mitigation" is climate-speak for what you do to soften the future climate "storm," to make it less powerful. Mitigation includes conversion away from emissions-causing power, for example, at the fastest possible rate, so the climate stabilizes at a less damaging place. Like adaptation, climate mitigation also costs money, especially for emerging countries like India.)

4. John Kerry and the U.S. team are reportedly floating an offer — they will back a 1.5-degree target. Hertzgaard:
Entering the closing 48 hours of the global climate negotiations, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday that “we will not leave the most vulnerable nations among us to quite literally weather the storm alone.” Speaking an hour before newly updated negotiating text was released, Kerry also referenced the surprising news from Monday that a temperature limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius—“or as low as we can go” beneath 2 degrees, he said—might be included in the final agreement.
5. But the U.S. wants a price. Climate-vulnerable nations get paid once for their trouble, then never get to ask for money again by claims for compensation and liability. Hertsgaard (my emphasis):
But representatives of developing nations complained that behind closed doors, the US was demanding a deal-breaking quid pro quo: in return for referencing the 1.5 C target, poor and vulnerable nations must agree to never again raise the issue of “liability and compensation” for the climate impacts bound to increasingly afflict those nations in the years ahead.
In addition, even though the offer includes backing a more aggressive 1.5°C warming limit (as opposed to the current 2°C warming limit), the cost of financing mitigation in places like India are reportedly entirely absent from the proposal. Hertsgaard again:
Second, the US has refused to provide the financial assistance poor nations need to pursue a development path consistent with a 1.5 C target—for India, for example, to forego coal-fired power plants in favor of wind and solar.
And that's the deal on offer.

Blackmail With a Twist

If true, this is a form of blackmail for places like Bangladesh and the island nations. The poor and vulnerable will get a more climate-friendly international ceiling and a small, certainly inadequate, one-time settlement from the U.S. and presumably, other rich nations backing the U.S. offer (Hertsgaard) ...
In an uncharacteristically animated speech, Kerry made news by announcing that the US will double its funding for vulnerable countries’ adaptation to climate impacts to $800 million a year by 2020.
... so long as they never ask for money to alleviate their suffering again. And nations like India are shut out of the compensation game altogether, despite the lower warming limit.

And the ironic twist is this: What does the U.S. offer in exchange? To back a tighter standard — to try to keep global warming below 1.5°C — when even the current standard can't be met by any of the rich nations' commitments. Bhaskar Chakravorti, Assoc. Dean of International Finance at Tufts, writing in the Washington Post (my emphasis):
Looking ahead, the forecast calls for overcast skies. A Paris climate deal is already framed by an impossible goal: a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius, the collective target for warming set by the 2009 Copenhagen Accord. The concern is that increases beyond this could amplify the many negative effects of climate change: a decline of crop yields, famines, extreme weather events with greater frequency, the break-up of the major ice sheets in Greenland and in Antarctica and locking-in rises in sea levels by at least 20 feet.

Even if countries keep to their commitments anticipated in Paris, warming will exceed the 2 degree Celsius cap during this century; to make matters worse, the commitments are voluntary and are, thus, vulnerable to political and economic realities back home.
The U.S.-led offer appears to be entirely empty (perhaps even cynical, but that goes to motive), an offer that can never be met under the current commitment plan. It's no wonder Hertzgaard calls the quid pro quo "deal-breaking."

It's Always Going to Be About the Money

This shameful offer — and I blame Barack Obama for it — is just another instance of the rich, in this case, the wealthiest nations on earth, protecting their wealth from humans whose suffering they cause in acquiring it. The entire climate crisis is always about the money, always was, always will be.

Consider: In a just world, who should pay when California loses its agriculture industry, when south Florida returns to the sea and real estate values collapse, when storms and floods make increasing millions homeless and vulnerable to disease, starvation and chaos? How is the answer not Exxon, the Kochs (Koch Industries is privately owned), Chevron, Total and Shell Oil, the sheikhs of Saudi Arabia, and all the rest?

How are the thieves, the top financial predators, not responsible for the poverty and suffering around them? Yet what is David Koch's primary goal on earth? To keep his share of the Koch fortune — $100 billion and counting — to never give a dime to those he despoiled, and to acquire yet more at the fastest rate he can before he dies. If you want to pay for the damage done to the poor by the rich, justice says, "Take back from the rich to finance it." And the rich of the earth know that better than anyone. Thus Kerry's, and Obama's, (yes, cynical) deal.

It's always about the money and it always will be. Barack Obama, speaking for the U.S. and other wealthy nations, want the poor to take a small settlement, pennies on the dollar for their woes, then suck it up and never bother them again. It's what the rich always want, be to left to enjoy the spoils. It's left to us not to let them.

Will the Destruction Be Total This Time?

Sometimes when you loot the town, you can return to your castle and enjoy what you took in peace. But if you burn down the wheat fields as well, everyone starves. This kind of behavior, Kerry's and Obama's, in the face of a real global emergency, makes rants like this sound reasonable:
Apocalyptic Capitalism

The charade of the 21st United Nations climate summit will end, as past climate summits have ended, with lofty rhetoric and ineffectual cosmetic reforms. Since the first summit more than 20 years ago, carbon dioxide emissions have soared. Placing faith in our political and economic elites, who have mastered the arts of duplicity and propaganda on behalf of corporate power, is the triumph of hope over experience. There are only a few ways left to deal honestly with climate change: sustained civil disobedience that disrupts the machinery of exploitation; preparing for the inevitable dislocations and catastrophes that will come from irreversible rising temperatures; and cutting our personal carbon footprints, which means drastically reducing our consumption, particularly of animal products. ...

The global elites have no intention of interfering with the profits, or ending government subsidies, for the fossil fuel industry and the extraction industries. They will not curtail extraction or impose hefty carbon taxes to keep fossil fuels in the ground. They will not limit the overconsumption that is the engine of global capitalism. They act as if the greatest contributor of greenhouse gases—the animal agriculture industry—does not exist. They siphon off trillions of dollars and employ scientific and technical expertise—expertise that should be directed toward preparing for environmental catastrophe and investing in renewable energy—to wage endless wars in the Middle East. What they airily hold out as a distant solution to the crisis—wind turbines and solar panels—is, as the scientist James Lovelock says, the equivalent of 18th-century doctors attempting to cure serious diseases with leeches and mercury. And as the elites mouth platitudes about saving the climate they are shoving still another trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), down our throats. The TPP permits corporations to ignore nonbinding climate accords made at conferences such as the one in Paris, and it allows them, in secret trade tribunals, to defy environmental regulations imposed by individual states. ...

The elites, trained in business schools and managerial programs not to solve real problems but to maintain at any cost the systems of global capitalism, profit personally from the assault. They amass inconceivable sums of wealth while their victims, the underclasses around the globe, are thrust into increasing distress from global warming, poverty and societal breakdown. The apparatus of government, seized by this corporate cabal, is hostile to genuine change. It passes laws, as it did for Denton, Texas, after residents voted to outlaw fracking in their city, to overturn the ability of local communities to control their own resources. It persecutes dissidents, along with environmental and animal rights activists, who try to halt the insanity. The elites don’t work for us. They don’t work for the planet. They orchestrate the gaiacide. And they are well paid for it.
In sum, for Hedges (my emphasis):
Those who are despoiling the earth do so for personal gain, believing they can use their privilege to escape the fate that will befall the human species. We may not be able to stop the assault. But we can refuse to abet it.
Resistance is not futile, not yet anyway. But we do have to resist, we have to use force, because no one, from the rich to those who serve them, from David Koch to Obama, is going to solve this for us. Their goals are not your goals, and they never were.

I'm actually more optimistic than this guy, but sometimes you have to be willing to make a few changes.

One place to start — Bernie Sanders, who actually gets it on climate, now holds a double-digit lead over Clinton in New Hampshire. You might give him a hand (adjust the split anyway you want at the link).


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At 11:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I stopped reading at the reference to $800 million (that's with an "m," as in murder) a year ... BY 2020!?!?!

The US is TRULY exceptional ... in its arrogance, treachery, contempt and depravity.

(Well, I skimmed to the end: I'd suggest that the admonition for "cutting our personal carbon footprints, which means drastically reducing our consumption, particularly of animal products" should be changed to "particularly of the fossil products of Exxon and the Koch Roach brothers."
They wouldn't be in their justifiable position of liability if WE hadn't enriched them.)

John Puma

At 6:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with John Puma. The vast majority of Americans would not do these things if they were not manipulated by FOX and its ilk into allowing them. The real evil is coming from those for whom greed has become extremely profitable, and for whom FOX ceaselessly toils.

I am reminded of the verse in Wooden Ships where two survivors -one from each side- encounter each other and have to ask "Who won?". There won't be any way to know.

At 10:34 PM, Anonymous anver said...

this is the great article, thank you for sharing

At 2:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To anon @ 6:05PM:

I'm referring to an economic system based on greed, which mandates a culture of ever increasing acquisition and that offers its individuals not much more of a purpose other than “consumer.”

FOX certainly has its crimes but it is hardly the prime instigator of the insanity that demands the impossibility of "growth, growth, growth" in a physically finite environment.


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