Climate Justice : A Forlorn Hope

By Tortilla Con Sal

The United Nation’s Conference on Climate Change being held this week in Paris has caught the World’s attention. The Summit’s most concrete hope is to reach an agreement on a 15 percent reduction of CO2 emissions by 2020. Prior to this 21st meeting of the Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change, the Second World Summit of the Peoples on Climate Change was held last October in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Over 7,500 representatives of the world’s social and environmental movements took part in that October event. Besides the host President Evo Morales, other heads of state were present such as president Nicolas Maduro from Venezuela and Rafael Correa from Ecuador as well as Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez.

About the importance of reaching an agreement in Paris, Morales commented: “Just imagine, brothers and sisters, what would happen in 20, 30, 40, 50 years if we don’t stop this global warming. It is unbearable already at below one degree Celsius and the G7 is proposing to rise it to two degrees Celsius.” President Correa for his part pointed out that “It is a political problem, and in order to solve it, it is necessary to have an idea of justice, of compensation values and environmental resources, of taking care of Nature.”

At the end of the Conference, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro said: “Now we have another challenge, which is to ensure that the common work product of this huge world event becomes our common voice so that we all courageously materialize in the Paris’ Summit (…) the proposals that were approved here with one voice, the voice of the peoples.” One of the proposals approved in Cochabamba was the creation of an Environmental Tribunal of the Peoples to judge and sanction the developed countries mainly responsible for the contamination that causes Climate Change, so as to oblige them to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases.

Subsequently, during his eventual speech at the start of the Climate Change Summit in Paris, Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa stated various principles common to the majority world countries, but which run entirely counter to the entrenched policies of the countries of North America, Europe and their allies. For example President Correa said, “The planetary emergency, demands, demands! a world treaty declaring the technologies to mitigate climate change and its various effects as global public goods, guaranteeing free access to them.”

Or again, “There exists too an ecological debt that must be paid, although above all it should not continue to grow, and here my fundamental idea for any debate on sustainability is that conservation in impoverished countries will not be possible if it does not generate clear, direct improvements in their populations’ standard of living.”

And perhaps most poignantly, “It’s not good enough for us to have tribunals to protect investments when we do not have tribunals to protect Nature and oblige the payment of environmental debts. Here one is dealing with the perverse logic of privatizing benefits while socializing losses, but the Planet cannot take any more.”

Correa ended his speech by acknowledging that the aspiration to Environmental Justice is negated by the global reality that, as he put it, quoting Plato, “Justice is no more than whatever the strongest find convenient.”

Rafael Correa is strongly supported by his allies in the other countries of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas. Nicaragua and its neighbors, for example, are among the countries most vulnerable to the consequences of Climate Change, as alternate periods of drought and flooding and the incidence of new diseases across Central America have demonstrated. Last October, at the 42nd session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Nicaragua’s Representative, Dr. Paul Oquist, explained that “In his message to the 70th UN Assembly last September, presented by Vice-President Omar Halleslevens, Nicaragua’s president, Commander Daniel Ortega called for a Commitment on Climate Justice to be reached in the COP-21 Conference in Paris”.

“Such a commitment”, Oquist added, “must include a Policy of Compensation in the form of immediate, direct and unconditional cooperation from the countries that have caused the degradation and the dislocations, acknowledging the losses and the needs of recovery of the countries suffering the consequences of Climate Change”.

Later, on Nov. 10 during Nicaragua’s address at the final plenary of the Pre-Cop21 meeting, also in Paris, Dr Oquist said that “the path of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) is carrying us towards the three-degrees inferno. Since this is a global average yearly increase of temperature, in many of our countries the development will be of four or more degrees Celsius. The World Bank already has warned us about the catastrophic consequences this will have for the poorest peoples in its presentation ‘Turn Down the Heat’ … This is savage Capitalism in its worst expression, putting individual and national greed before the interests of Mother Earth and all humanity.”

In order to back up its position of demanding a compensation policy for the effects caused by this worldwide reality, Nicaragua has proposed an Initiative of Climate Compensation for Historical and Contemporary Responsibilities. However, like Rafael Correa, Nicaragua’s leadership is also realistic enough to acknowledge that the negotiation process around such issues is in crisis.

Nicaragua’s main complaint is that the voluntary and universal nature of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions allows wealthy, developed countries to avoid the matter of climate justice in such a way that guarantees permanent failure to reach agreed goals.

Instead of assuming their obligations as the worst environmental predators that they are, the developed countries insist on universal environmental obligations, without differentiating between the predator countries causing climate change resulting from global warming and non-predator countries that suffer the consequences. The most vocal nations defending the predator country position are the United States, Germany, Japan and Sweden. Their governments and those of their allied countries seek to make obligatory the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions in such a way that violates the Climate Change Convention. In return, many countries from the majority world promote the concept of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities.

As Dr. Oquist points out, “Common but differentiated responsibilities are not a mere slogan but a reality. Nicaragua releases 4.8 million tons (Mt) of CO2 while China releases 10,975.5 (25.36 percent); the U.S., 6,235.1 Mt (14.4 percent); the European Union, 4,399.1 Mt (10.16 percent), these last three countries together represent 56.92 percent. After comes India with 3,013Mt (6.96 percent), Russia 2,322Mt (5.36 percent), Japan 1,344.6Mt (3.11 percent), Brazil 1,012.6 (2.4 percent), Indonesia 760.8Mt (1.76 percent) Mexico 723.9Mt (1.67 percent) and Iran 715Mt (1.65 percent). How can there not exist any common but differentiated responsibilities?”

If one breaks down the emissions on a per capita basis, the United States, Russia and Japan are the worst offenders with the United States contributing almost 25 times more emissions of CO2 per capita than Nicaragua and well over twice the per capita emissions of China. Not all the data is up to date but it does fairly reflect the general current trend

Nicaragua, with its sister ALBA-countries and other members of the G77+China group, insist that adopting the principle of Historical Responsibility is the only equitable way to solve the challenge Humanity is facing. However, it is very unlikely that the developed countries will ever acknowledge either their historical or their present responsibility. To the contrary, in the most cynical and irresponsible way imaginable, the corporate elites and their political servants in North America and Europe expect to profit from temporary benefits in their own interests as a result of Climate Change’s short-term effects.

The Paris COP21 will fail because Western elites and their allies are determined to carry out their war against the impoverished majority world to the bitter end. Even if the summit does result in some agreed, face-saving formula, the wealthy elites controlling rich country economies will sabotage its implementation. That is the fundamental meaning of the sovereignty-busting Trans Pacific Partnership, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trade in Services Agreement. All are aimed at completely undermining the UN system developed since 1945 and making irrelevant the UN itself and any agreements within its framework.

Very, very clearly, the Western powers and their allies will never negotiate seriously, in good faith with the majority world countries on whose resources, stolen over centuries of genocidal conquest and enslavement, North American, European and allied countries accumulated their unsustainable prosperity. Only a strategic military or economic defeat is likely to stop their hypocritical and sadistic war-mongering, planet-destroying policies. The only relevant question is whether that much needed defeat will come in time to save Humanity and Mother Earth.


Conclusions of the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Defense of Life
How Bolivia is Leading the Global Fight Against Climate Disaster