World Rainforest Movement

Climate Change Convention: First time impressions of a suspecting hopeful

“To prevent the climate change, we have to change” [COP 10 motto]

The possibility of observer status to the 10th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Climate Change held in Buenos Aires this past December immediately created conflicting expectations in me.

Knowledge of the disappointing record of the past nine such conferences to address the gravity of change in global climate due to the actions of industrial civilisation, anticipated the ‘business [sic] as usual’ outcome of the international process –admirable in its inventiveness in propagating inaction. On the contrary, the glimmer of hope in the possibility for change stubbornly refused to comply with reason.

It would not have been realistic to expect a re-evaluation of the conviction to rely on market forces to curb carbon dioxide emissions. Nevertheless, I did expect the controversial last minute inclusion in COP 9 of genetically modified tree plantations in the Clean Development Mechanism, considering their potentially devastating effects on biodiversity, to provide an interesting issue of debate.

To the stunned surprise of any ‘observer’, inside the Conference, this very important issue (see http://www.wrm.org.uy/subjects/GMTrees/text.html) was silenced in the most audacious manner. The NGO FERN which had made an application for an official in-conference side event on GM trees had its application lost by the organisers and was not allowed to reapply.

How was it possible that all intra-state negotiations, reinforced by the input of many ‘experts’, would not even touch on an issue that could allow scientists to insert fish genes into eucalyptus trees to be planted over millions of hectares? This absurdity does not even implicate the ample evidence of human rights violations against local communities because of large scale tree plantations, nor their ensuing environmental consequences. (http://www.wrm.org.uy/plantations/carbon.html)

The answer seems simple to the casual in-conference outsider. Firstly, contrary to intuition there was not much open discussion between country delegates to be heard. Most of the crucial talks happened in small working groups which were not obliged to allow the attendance of non-participants. When all these working groups joined to ‘vote’ on their decisions the picture that one encountered was a half-full room and summary voting procedures whereby ‘voting’ was understood as the absence of objections from any of the (absent) delegates. The USA (though its intentions for not joining the Kyoto Protocol are clear) was allowed to interrupt and demand changes in wording that they felt uncomfortable with. Why was it possible for non-participants to the protocol to influence negotiations and not for civil society and indigenous people’s organisations that are in every aspect participants of its consequences?

Secondly, it was painfully apparent that for the majority of the participants climate change was synonymous -if not tautologous- with buying and selling ‘commodities’. The stall area was lined up with consultancy firms, environmental businesses, “business for sustainable development” groups flashing the newest laptop and G5 mobile telephony technologies.

Private companies that see the profit potential in the new born multi-billion dollar carbon market at least did not proclaim to be representing anything but personal ambitions. However, country delegations to the COP represent and are financed by the peoples of their countries. On a personal note when I attempted to make contact with the Greek delegation to find out about “our” Greek position in this forum, I was surprised to hear to they did not have any knowledge on GM trees. The same issue that one year before the same delegation had not voted against in the same forum. Surely not all delegations are equally unknowledgeable, but how many of the delegations of the 134 signatories have no idea of the issues they passively vote in favour?

From a more social perspective but connected to the political economy of the COP 10, the first impression when arriving in the conference complex is an involuntary induced feeling of secret pride. The exclusivity of participants to this global international meeting and the facade ambient in which it takes place, play on deeply imbedded human feelings of self worth in a way as to take attention off the unjust structures that form its base. It is noticeable that the overwhelming number of people employed to attend the participants (security guards, restaurant attendants, information staff, etc.) were young women in a forum where power is almost exclusively concentrated in male hands. Was this a purposeful strategy to make the conference environment more ‘friendly’ towards the latter?

The tax money spent by the Argentinean people’s government for the two week conference was assumingly large though suspiciously obscure. Contacting every imaginable person from the External Relations Officer for Intergovernmental and Conference Affairs of the Climate Change Secretariat to the Argentinean government’s in-conference offices, the same expressions of bewilderment and ignorance towards the logistic costs of the conference were encountered. Finally, I was unable to discover how much money had been spent on this international meeting, a meeting that moreover ignored the social and environmental implications of decisions there adopted.

Before participating in the conference, knowledge of the disappointing record of previous COP’s played against my hopeful expectation that change is always possible. On departing it was apparent that these are not conflicting expectations. Global processes such as this one are not meant to undo the social, political and economic injustices that have brought them to being; they are meant to maintain them.

Hope for change lies in the alternatives that people and communities are practicing and inventing, by changing themselves, their ways of life and the relations within their communities and between them and their environment, alternatives that can readily be found outside the conference walls. It would be good that government officials learned from people the true meaning of the COP’s official motto: “To prevent the climate change, we have to change”.

By: Antonis Diamantidis, e-mail: antonis@wrm.org.uy

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