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Published 30 November 2015

A meaningful and just climate agreement must address climate debt, differentiated responsibility, and the right to development for developing nations.

Six years ago, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America condemned the Copenhagen Climate Conference, stating: “We, the developing countries, are dignified and sovereign nations and victims of a problem that we didn’t cause.” As it continued, the statement pointed out that the climate crisis is the result of the “imposition of an absolutely predatory model of development on the rest of the world.”

This year in Paris at the annual polluters’ jamboree called the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP21, it looks to be more of the same. At these climate talks, running Nov. 30-Dec. 11, social movements and ministers will be fighting not over the shape of today – whose contours are set – but the shape of tomorrow.

One can sketch out two general perspectives.

On the one hand are the oil companies, the vanguard of the carbon mafia. Recently, many of them, with the conspicuous exception of ExxonMobil, announced their “shared ambition … for a 2°C future.”

As The Guardian calmly comments, the energy corporations “stopped short of outlining clear goals to limit emissions.” In other words, business as usual (ExxonMobil is in a league of its own, openly accused of “deceiving the American public about the risks of climate change to protect its profits).

ExxonMobil and the other energy companies, as is typical for the energy companies, would have preferred Mitt Romney. But Barack Obama’s proposals for Paris generally fall in line with the needs of his employersno surprise.

The U.S. Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC, or each countries’ plan for reducing emissions) foresees a 17 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2020. Climate Analytics calls this “the least ambitious end of a 2°C global emissions pathway,” meaning that “other countries would have to make more comparable effort than the U.S. to keep the world on that pathway.”

The New Climate Institute insists that such reductions are “already at the limit of what is politically feasible.” They are, of course, fully in line with Obama’s broader climate change plans, which leading climatologist James Hansen has called “practically worthless.” That is the Democratic Party.

And then there is the rest of humanity –  social movements, unions, community groups, farmers alliances and center-left governments –  practicing what ecological economist Joan Martinez-Alier calls “the environmentalism of the poor.”

Among such forces, there are three core areas of agreement. One, climate debt. Two, a right to development. And three, differentiated responsibility.

The Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Delcy Rodriguez, explains that there is a “historic debt and ecological debt from the rich countries, to the poor ones.”

The Bolivian government crunches the numbers, showing that of the 2,000 Gigatons of Carbon Dioxide emitted since 1750, the overwhelming majority has been by Annex I countries – the Global North. As it adds in its NDIC,

Much of the corresponding non-Annex I emissions during historical periods of colonialism and neo-colonialism favored the enrichment of the industrial and imperialist countries; configuring a climate colonialism expressed through the control of atmospheric space.

As a remedy, it calls for the “Adoption of a new model of civilization in the world without consumerism, war-mongering, and mercantilism.” In a proposal that will perhaps not go over well with Lockheed Martin, it adds that the world should “allocate the resources of the military machinery of the imperial powers and the war-mongers to finance the activities of the peoples against climate change” (As a non-Annex I country, Bolivia has no mandatory reductions).

Ecuador, also a non-Annex I country, notes that its climate proposals and development plans are based on a “new vision [which] references sustainable and harmonious management of nature with consideration to its limits and regeneration cycles.” The document notes that “In this context … Ecuador establishes itself as the first country worldwide to recognize the rights of nature in its 2008 Constitution.”

The government plans to “reduce its emissions in the energy sector in 20-25 percent below the BAU [Business As Usual] scenario. However, a potential for reducing emissions even further in the energy sector, to a level between 37.5 and 45.8 percent with respect to the BAU baseline has also been calculated. This potential could be harnessed in light of the appropriate circumstances in terms of availability of resources and support offered by the international community.”

Such plans make clear, against the accusation of extractivism, that the country is doing its best to promote the decarbonization of its energy resources, while still attending to the desperate human needs of its population. Such proposals put the debt and the responsibility for accelerating this process on the global North, through technology grants.

There is also a strong focus on the agricultural sector: “Strengthening the resiliency of vulnerable communities with a focus on food security,” and “identification of areas vulnerable to drought and land degradation in order to promote sustainable land management practices and water catchment systems.”

With a slightly different emphasis, the peasant international La Via Campesina calls in the runup to Paris for food sovereignty, “based on peasant agroecology, traditional knowledge, selecting, saving and sharing local adoptive seeds, and control over our lands, biodiversity, waters, and territories.” It insists that this “is a true, viable, and just solution to a global climate crisis caused largely” by transnational corporations.

Such policies require “comprehensive agrarian reforms, public procurement of peasant production, and an end to destructive free trade agreements (FTA’s) promoted by TNCs” in order to develop properly. “In short,” Via says, “we need justice – social, economic, political, and climate justice.”

This is in line with the group’s vision of small-peasant farming to cool the planet, since, as GRAIN estimates, “the current global food system, propelled by an increasingly powerful transnational food industry, is responsible for around half of all human produced greenhouse gas emissions.”

Those are the peasants and the proposals of the governments who have – at least on paper – some of the planet’s more progressive climate policies.

But the fact is this. As Maxine Combes of ATTAC-France notes, “The mandate states have for Paris is to keep global warming under 2°C (or even below according to us, around 1.5°C) ; the INDCs are leading us on a 3°C (or on a more than 3°C) pathway.” The conclusion is simple: this “emission gap is the starting point for new and for more climate crimes around the world in the coming years.”

As former Bolivian climate negotiator Pablo Solon observes, “The position of developed countries in general tends to water down the difference between developed and developing countries, promoting more the use of ‘all parties; (134 mentions in the text). On the other hand, developing countries want to keep the firewall between developed and developing countries.”

In addition to the social movements and explicitly leftist governments, there’s also an important group of developing countries most exposed to climate change: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Barbados, Bhutan, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Kiribati, Madagascar, Maldives, Nepal, Philippines, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and Vietnam.

They have suggested that the common number of two degrees Celsius is already too high, and may demand a lower limit, jamming up the treaty-drafting machinery currently warming up in Paris.

History has given us, and more importantly, them, a chance to intervene in the chain of events caused from corporate profit maximization and voluntary emissions targeting to climate disaster and mass death. With foreknowledge that this slow-motion massacre is happening, history has given us a chance to prevent it.

That would be a good outcome, for in Solon’s words, “If the current text is to be the basis of that future, we will have none of which to speak.”

Max Ajl is an editor at Jacobin and Jadaliyya.

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