Over 45,000 people from all over the globe – many from countries where livelihoods and life itself are severely threatened by climate change – went to Copenhagen in December 2009 in the hope that a new global agreement on climate change would be reached there. However what emerged from the conference in which 192 countries participated was only an acknowledgement that the US and five other countries had struck a deal!
The summit was characterised by sharp inter- imperialist rivalries, several protests by negotiators of various countries against the attempts to sidestep most of them and hand over the limelight to “important” ones instead, demonstrations by thousands of activists on the streets of Copenhagen which were brutally suppressed, and tortuous parleys to come up with something “acceptable” to the diverse interests. The failure of the Copenhagen summit to come up with an internationally enforceable accord underscores the fact that solving the environment crisis within boundary conditions imposed by capitalism is impossible.
The UN Agreement on Climate Change which was signed in Kyoto in 1997 bound 38 industrial nations to cut down their greenhouse effect gas emissions to a certain percentage in comparison with those of 1990. The European Union countries committed to 8% as of 2005, the year when most of the signatories had already ratified it. However the agreement was rejected by George Bush, then President of the United States, which is the largest greenhouse effect gas producing country in the world and which is responsible for one-fourth of such emissions. With the US effectively rejecting the Kyoto protocol, it was very difficult to convince the governments of the emerging imperialist powers to respect it.
Meanwhile, efforts to attempt to study and deal with the problem of climate change have continued. It is evident by now that a major catastrophe is threatening our species; it is amply clear that unplanned development based on the insatiable greed for profit causes irreparable damage to the environment and is putting individuals, societies, nations and indeed the entire world at the brink of environmental disaster. According to the imperialist world view, a tiny elite oligarchy of owners of capital and their political establishments must have absolute political power to decide the direction of the planet, while the peoples must be content to play a lively yet ineffective role if they choose to oppose them. The various schemes which have been suggested by the imperialists - carbon trading, carbon taxes and other so-called green initiatives – are a cover for them to continue milking and destroying the natural resources to secure their profits and serve to further consolidate the power and privilege of the ruling elite and sideline the peoples.
Long before the Copenhagen Summit began, doubts were expressed from various quarters as to whether it would be successful. On the one hand, the established imperialist countries, which have consolidated their power through centuries of colonisation, war and looting of the lands and labour of peoples all over the world do not wish to give up their privileges or make amends. They want the burden of the environmental crisis to be shared by all countries, including those which have not developed industrially. On the other hand, the bourgeoisie of countries with imperialist ambitions such as India and China have been claiming that it is now their turn to industrialise and “develop” in the same manner that the established imperialist countries have, effectively saying that it is now their turn to degrade the environment for their own “progress”.
Climate change and the irreparable damage to the environment are however being regarded by more and more ordinary people around the world as serious issues needing immediate resolution. But the imperialists and those who wield power in the capitalist countries wish to “solve” the problem through deals with each other which recognise the rights of each other to continue the plunder of land and resources of the peoples. They wish to keep the peoples of the world out of the decision making process on matters related to climate change, as they are excluded from participating in deciding on other matters of public interest. The protests related to the urgency of acting to save the environment are in consequence at the same time protests in which people seek to be empowered to take decisions concerning the fate of their land and planet.
Consequently, thousands of activists from various countries staged massive demonstrations on the streets of Copenhagen, protesting against the exclusionary tactics which kept them out of the venue of the conference. They shouted slogans such as “Reclaim power!” “Join the people’s assembly” and “Respect indigenous people’s rights” while several Native Americans drummed and chanted songs. Hundreds were arrested but and beaten up by the police. The protesting group that came from inside the Bella Centre, venue of the Conference was supposed to converge with a much bigger group of protesters that marched toward the conference centre from Taarnby, a suburb of Copenhagen a few kilometres away. But when the two groups tried to break the police cordon to meet each other, police used tear gas and batons to stop them.
This just served to underscore the fact that the entire process at the Copenhagen summit was undemocratic. The reluctance of the imperialist countries to cut down on their privileges was so blatant that the German chancellor openly criticised pledges made by other industrial nations as insufficient and said the US offer of an emissions cut of four percent “is not ambitious enough.” Procedurally, the summit was a farce, with the hosts trying to hurry things along so that a conclusion could be reached, bringing protest after protest from some of the other countries that had presumed everything on the table would be properly negotiated. Suspensions of sessions became routine. Delegates from less industrialised nations rejected Danish proposals to select small negotiating groups to storm through the draft texts, saying the process had to be fully inclusive.
When it became obvious that hundreds of hours of protracted negotiations were leading nowhere, and the Conference was doomed to ignominious failure, US President Obama whooshed in like a comic superhero trying to save the day. After a “constructive” meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, Obama is reported to have barged into a meeting of the BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) group to strike a deal with them. The accord calls for limiting the global temperature increase to 2oC and a method for verifying the reduction of emissions by industrialised nations. After intense wrangling, the conference delegates passed a motion taking note of the deal, without formally adopting it. The offer of USD 10 billion by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was denounced by several countries and by people world over for the fraud it was; the imperialist state that is spending trillions of dollars on arms and weapons was offering peanuts to an “aid fund” to divert from its own role in destroying the environment!
The rivalry and dog-fights at Copenhagen, between various imperialist blocs and the leaders of established powers and emerging imperialist powers has made it clear that those who have caused enormous damage to the environment in their insatiable greed for profits cannot provide solutions to the problem. The serious problems confronting the environment cannot be solved in a capitalist framework which seeks to maximise profits rather than the well-being of the peoples. In order to safeguard the environment, the toiling people of India clearly cannot rely on their government which has also indulged in murky deals with the USA and other imperialist powers to safeguard and further the interests of the tiny minority of the rich in India. In addition to opposing every move to degrade and devastate the environment at home and abroad, the Indian working class needs to make the toiling people conscious of the fact that there can be no solution to the serious problems confronting the environment in the present system. It needs to organise the people to step up the struggle to overthrow the man-eating and environment-destroying capitalist system in India.