The tumbrils roll for the planet

The ignominious debacle at the Copenhagen summit, so soon on the heels of the global bailing-out of the banks, sends an unforgettable message about who rules the world, in whose interests they act, and how utterly indifferent they are to the powerless. Global leaders have contributed, in grants or loans or guaranteed, at least $3-4 trillions to save the banks from the consequences of their own folly, yet this morning could only commit to $30bn (just 1% as much) to protect developing countries from climactic catastrophe which the latter did not cause but the global leaders largely did. High-flown talk about saving the planet was exposed for the hypocrisy it was as all the requirements to save the planet – emission cuts targets, mechanisms of enforceability, verification, transparency – evaporated into thin air. In the end the conference was shown to be a charade of 2 years of earnest preparation, 2 weeks of non-stop negotiation, and 1 day of reality when the US did a private deal with the big developing country leaders as though the rest of the world didn’t matter. And that’s the rub – in the eyes of the US and China, they (we) don’t.


This conference, like all international conferences, was ultimately about power. It just so happened that the ground on which it was being fought out – the survival of the planet and its human species – was more fundamental than most. But the same dynamics operated. The interest of the most powerful nation was always to get a deal with its chief rival which would preserve, or even enhance, its own power while making no concessions unless its main rival was equally or more disadvantaged. Hence the vacuity of Obama’s speech offering no new proposals or any way forward. Hence the private settlement with China (and a handful of other big developing countries) which was vague, aspirational and completely unenforceable.
Out of the window went a legally enforceable Kyoto Protocol, in came some constraints on America’s main rivals, and the rest of the world was nowhere. The whole parallel two-track process – earnestly trying to save the planet on the one hand and preventing any threat to the new world dyarchy of power on the other – has been exposed for the charade it always was. Significant treaties which change things only come about if the global power brokers can save face (which is why Western withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan will not take place quickly). An extended Kyoto Protocol mark 2 was seen as seriously threatening their economic primacy, so was inevitably rejected, though a face-saving formula was then needed to justify such brutal and heedless vandalism. It is a pity for them that the face-saver in this instance is so unconvincing. But then for them that doesn’t matter anyway.

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