The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

The climate change conference:
Hot air about global warming

Dec 12, 2005

The U.N. conference on climate change, with 10,000 participants, just ended in Montreal. It was the most important conference on the climate since the Kyoto conference of 1997, which drew up an agreement that theoretically went into effect last February.

For countries agreeing to it, the Kyoto agreement set targets for the reduction or limitation of greenhouse gases. The role of greenhouse gases in climate change is complicated and difficult to measure, but there is no doubt they have an important impact. These targets are supposed to be attained in 2012.

Supposedly, the recent conference was called to examine what had been carried out. But since the United States refuses to accept the Kyoto agreement, and U.S. companies are not forced to restrict their production of these gases, the Kyoto targets obviously cannot be met. After all, the U.S. is the biggest greenhouse gas producer on earth, responsible for a quarter of all pollution.

But other countries that agreed to the Kyoto standards won’t make their goals either. For example, Canada, the host country of the Montreal conference, was supposed to reduce its greenhouse gases by 6%. But, due to the reluctance of its industrial companies, its pollution has actually increased by 24%.

Scientists have issued clear warnings about what global warning means. Right before the Montreal conference opened, Martin Rees, the head of the British National Science Academy, pointed out the extreme consequences of global warming: “Floods, droughts and hurricanes attain levels which justify comparing them to weapons of mass destruction.” And he estimates that, if nothing is done, the U.S. coast on the Gulf of Mexico will become uninhabitable. But, he declared, “Those in charge are worried more about the costs of action rather than the consequences for the planet of doing too little, too late.”

Too little and too late is exactly what the U.S. government had in mind. Nothing is being done.

Just to make its point, the United States caused a flap at the conference: its top negotiator, Harlan Watson, walked out in protest when the conference agreed to discuss future emission standards. Former President Bill Clinton may have shown up to give a speech, undoubtedly to embarrass the Bush administration; but that was just window dressing. Clinton had three years after Kyoto was written to get it passed in the U.S. Senate. He didn’t even try to do it.

Even for the countries that agreed to the Kyoto agreement, the loopholes turn the agreement into a joke. A country or a company that produces less than the full amount of pollution it is allowed can sell the rest of its pollution allowance. The country or company can claim it is meeting the Kyoto limits while giving another company or country the right to create MORE pollution – and get paid for this “pollution credit” at the same time.

Look what a good deal the French company Rhodia worked out for itself. It is selling its “emission credits” to Brazil and South Korea. Rhodia spent 16 million dollars reducing its pollution, but expects to sell its pollution credits for about 300 million dollars! What a profit – but where is the reduction in global pollution?

Under capitalism, all problems – and global warming isn’t a small one – clash with the law of profit. Governments, whether or not they signed the Kyoto agreement, won’t put any real pressure on industrial polluters. And corporations take only those measures they find in their economic interest.

The Montreal conference ended with the U.S. finally agreeing to new talks. But these talks will be “open and non-binding” and “will not open any negotiations leading to new commitments.” It shows we can expect nothing with respect to preserving the planet from those who lead the capitalist world.