The United Nations has organized twenty Climate Summits since the Rio Summit of 1992, and the progress made since then to halt the gradual increase in the average temperature of the earth, which threatens all life on the planet, has been minimal. Now, there has been some progress, because in the early years there were many countries that denied the existence of climate change. Recently it was discovered that Exxon Mobil, a major US oil company, knew what the consequences would be of burning its product back in the eighties, but instead decided to ignore them to safeguard their profits. Many governments chose to believe in their business for too long.
In 1997 the Kyoto agreement, in which developed countries pledged to lower their levels of CO2 emissions, was reached. This was achieved by outsourcing many of the polluting industries to China and other countries. In 2009 the conference in Copenhagen failed. Now, in 2015, almost no one denies that the climate has “gone crazy” and this November in Paris, governments are hoping to reach a binding agreement for the 195 countries of the Conference of the Parties (COP). However, there has been so little progress in the preparatory sessions, that it has already been decided that Paris will be a starting point, not an end.
Why is it that no significant and effective agreements have been reached between governments regarding this topic, which seems to be in everyone’s best interest?
First, there is a strong conflict between countries who want to blur the lines of distinction between developed and less developed countries and those that emphasize keeping “common but differentiated responsibilities”, such as Chile. It is not surprising that the most “developed” countries demand equal accountability for all. At the COP20 in Lima, John Kerry said: “We don’t have time to talk about responsibilities. It is everyone’s responsibility, because carbon emissions don’t respect boundaries”. Less developed countries do not accept this discourse on an equality that for them has never existed.
Secondly, developed countries prefer to focus on measures to reduce (mitigate) emissions, as these are easier to measure and compare, while developing countries are demanding to incorporate the same level of adaptation plans, technology transfer and a roadmap for funding these processes. The poorest countries are those most affected by climate change and need financing in order to adapt before deciding on how much mitigation they can commit to.
Third, there is a common view among politicians that climate change can be halted by the same economic system that created it. Many, including representatives of the Chilean government, envision a shift where the market for renewable energy overtakes the fossil market, in much the same way as the mobile phone has overtaken the traditional phone. It is a commitment to a future of capitalism that is both sustainable and green, but without changing market mechanisms.
In social movements, which always get together in summits conducted in parallel to the official COP summits, since it has long been known that climate change is not just about CO2, but rather about an economic paradigm that is based making profits for a minority group, which in turn creates inequality and poverty for the majority. . “Change the system, not the climate” was the motto of the Peoples’ Summit in Lima 2014. This growing movement wants politics to be put at the service of an economic system that stops worshipping the Market God, and to turn its wonder to the planet itself with its splendor of free life. It seems that now the only real prospect that may bring about change comes from there: from people like you and I to organize ourselves to care for and defend our common home.
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