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Bali Ballyhoo

Kyoto's Successor May Be Little More Than a Carbon and Rainforest Market…

Reprinted with permission from Dr. Glen Barry of the Earth Meanders BLOG http://earthmeanders.blogspot.com/ Paying nations to be green diverts attention from necessary resolute actions based upon what is right and sufficient to minimize climate change

I have been an obstinate supporter of the Kyoto process; whose weaknesses, including non-universal participation and inadequate emission targets, are well known. Short of revolution, I do not believe alternative international political processes exist at this late date to enable nations to cooperatively and successfully reduce emissions. Kyoto and a possible successor beginning to be negotiated now in Bali provide the basis and mechanisms for binding emission cuts that can be tightened.

I do not see how emissions can be cut by the necessary amount (> 80%) in the requisite period of time (ASAP, for sure by 2050) other than through difficult international negotiations. If Kyoto were abandoned, any successor international negotiating process would be equally hobbled by competing political and economic interests, and decades more wasted.

This assumes a certain level of goodwill and commitment to address the climate crisis through adequate solutions exists on the part of all parties. Sadly, this may be lacking, as there are serious deficiencies in policies being promoted at Bali. This essay discusses how increasingly the international climate focus has become financial trickery rather than achieving shared, binding and adequate commitments to reduce emissions. The climate conference in Bali appears to be mostly about money and growth and development and not about meeting the needs of the Earth, ecosystems and most vulnerable citizens.

The Bali meetings seem far more interested in establishing markets for carbon and rainforests than committing to climate policy that is truthful and scientifically merited. Yes, there is some fine rhetoric from the United Nations, Europe and (gulp) Australia regarding the extent of the crisis and need for urgent actions as a solution. Yet a sad denial permeates the negotiations, as an emphasis upon growth -- including building new carbon reduction and rainforest protection markets -- shrouds the need to respect the biosphere's limits.

Huge and misguided efforts are going into creating the illusion that climate and rainforests can be saved even as we continue their destruction to grow our economies, population and consumption. There are many things that must be done to protect the environment that do not contribute to national development and do not make money for the elites. Rainforests and their species, and of course an operable atmosphere, have value and a right to exist other than for carbon profits. Their protection is about way more than money.

The focus of the Kyoto process has gone from establishing binding commitments to reduce emissions to making money from looking like you are doing so. Very few leaders appear willing to push for binding emission targets as their priority because it is the just and necessary thing to do. Policies receive national support only if it benefits narrow definitions of their economic interests. This by definition is lack of leadership, as failure means global ecological collapse and an end to economies and society.

Doesn't anybody do anything anymore because it is the right thing? Both rich and poor nations want to eat their cake and have it too - to continue polluting and cutting while being paid for not doing so, or doing it more carefully. What is next? Paying nations to not go to war? Not wage genocide? Educate and provide health care to their citizens? Cutting carbon is a requirement for survival of the Earth, humanity and all creatures -- this should be payment enough. The whole effort to craft international climate change policy, and recent efforts to attach rainforest protection to the issue, is beginning to look more like a business opportunity and less like setting limits upon the human endeavour in order to maintain natural global ecosystem processes; thus ensuring a just, equitable human future.

There are moral and ecological obligations to protect all rainforests and end all fossil fuel emissions that go well beyond getting paid to do so. Rainforest and climate policy making should not primarily and foremost be about making money. Harnessing markets and providing business incentives may be part of the strategy for addressing these climate and other global eco-crises, but it cannot be the main focus if it is to be successful.

As long as economic growth is the measure of humanity meeting its aspirations, as long as fossil fuels are burned rather than left in the ground, as long as cutting ancient rainforests for any reason is seen as desirable, there is no hope for the Earth. Some element of policy to maintain a livable biosphere is going to have to be for non-monetary reasons, because it is right and necessary to do so. This implies shared sacrifice at the national and personal levels.

Glen Barry

4th July 2014