COP 21: Hope Lies in the Grassroots Not the Summits

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(Source: Malcolm X Grassroots Movement)

If the COP meetings have taught us anything so far is that we cannot leave climate change to the negotiators: The most powerful are also those that created the problem. In a global order, where might makes right and the media plays their soundtrack, the criminals become judges. We can’t give up on an ambitious, equitable, and just climate change agreement, but we also can’t simply wait for it. We must change the system now. Fortunately, the same system destroying the planet, is destroying the majority of our lives. That means we have two reasons to fight this system: ourselves and our planet.

The most powerful - and responsible - countries at the COP negotiations frustrate attempts at an ambitious, equitable, and just agreement on greenhouse gas emission reductions. While the negotiation process is ostensibly consensus based, in practice, developed countries draft an agreement and parachute it for approval by the rest with just a few hours of discussion. The developed countries put great pressure on developing ones to sign on to the agreement by threatening and bribing with financing and aid. Faced against such great odds and pressure, many negotiators settle for scraps such as financing for adaptation.

Countries that stand up are slammed down. As global warming supercharged Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, its leading negotiator made a news with his impassioned plea, “If not us, then who? if not now, then when? if not here, then where?” The following year, he did not return. The US and EU had exerted pressure on the Philippine government. When countries stand up - as four countries (Bolivia, Sudan, Tuvalu, Venezuela) did in the Copenhagen COP in 2009 - they become “obstructors” in the process, their complaints drowned out by the media’s narrative on emissions reductions without note of equity or justice. When these four countries blocked an agreement in Copenhagen, no exposés filled the evening news on how a subgroup of 26 (out of nearly 200) hijacked the process by creating their own agreement and parachuting it to the plenary for approval by the rest with a few hours of discussion.

That’s why Cochabamba happened. Bolivia, one of the four that opposed the Copenhagen Accord, organized a conference so that developing countries and social movements could discuss and unite their voices to intervene in the climate negotiations. While the Cochabamba conference introduced “living well” and the rights of Mother Earth to the climate justice movement, it has still not been enough to counter the great pressure and power of the developed bloc.

While negotiators must fight for ambition, equity, and justice, the rest of us cannot wait for a deal, we must enlist all those hurt by capitalism and change the system now. Even if an agreement were reached, the changes required for drastic cuts in emissions would demand total transformation of the system towards a planned use of natural resources for people’s needs.[ref]http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/21215-beyond-growth-or-beyond-capitalism[/ref] Furthermore, clean technology by itself can’t decrease greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently. The only solution to climate change is system change.

Much of the environmental justice movement that will show up in Paris has little interest in the content of the negotiations. 20 COP meetings is proof enough of the obstruction by developed countries in the path towards an ambitious, equitable, and just agreement. Many environmental movements will denounce the COP negotiations as bankrupt at the COP 21 and take their struggle to directly building a sustainable society.  

According to Renee Vellve of GRAIN, one of the places to start in this struggle is our global food system. By GRAIN’s estimates, the global food system - from the farm to the fork - produces from 45 to 50% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Despite the sizable portion of GHG emissions produced by the global food system, Renee sees little hope in COP changing this. Too many of the culprits are in the talks. The Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture is the only intergovernmental initiative to deal with climate change and agriculture; 60% of the private sectors come from the fertilizer industry.[ref]https://www.grain.org/article/entries/5270-the-exxons-of-agriculture[/ref] Fertilizer provides the largest source of emission from farming.

The solution lies in struggles fighting against free trade agreements that destroy food sovereignty and magnify food miles, it lies in peasant agriculture that not only employs more people but also utilizes less land and is compatible with agroecological practices that nourish the earth. Crises can lead to change or destruction. Solutions for climate change involve projects, campaigns, movements that recruit the masses to fight against a system that is destroying the planet and their lives.

written by Dae-Han Song (chief editor, World Current Report)