‘Climate’ talks marked by capitalist rivalries
BY BEN JOYCE
Representatives from underdeveloped nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America staged a walkout for several hours December 14 at the UN-sponsored summit talks on climate. The action by the nations, known as the Group of 77, highlights the real purpose of the meeting in Copenhagen—rivalry between the imperialist powers and their economic dominance of the so-called developing nations.
The stated aim of the talks is to adopt an international treaty that would mandate countries to reduce levels of greenhouse gas emissions, a byproduct of burning fossil fuels like oil, gas, and coal.
Europe vs. America
Some capitalist rulers, in the United States in particular, have opposed such regulations, saying the added costs of investment in technology and equipment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would cut into their profits. They also argue that they would be at an unfair disadvantage without imposition of stringent regulations on the industries of semicolonial nations.
Western European delegations, on the other hand, are pushing for the most restrictive emissions guidelines. Capitalist industries in Europe are less dependent on fossil fuels since they have turned substantially to nuclear power as a source of energy. Nuclear power accounts for 76 percent of the energy needs of French industries, 53 percent in Belgium, 42 percent in Sweden, and 28 percent in Germany.
The European Union will likely commit to a 30 percent reduction in emissions, according to the London Guardian. The New York Times reports that many European governments support an enforcement mechanism in the treaty that penalizes countries that fail to comply.
One draft document calls for “developing” countries to reduce their emissions by 15 to 30 percent by 2020.
Semicolonial countries are home to 76 percent of the world’s population, while they account for only 42 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and 19 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. The group of most developed countries makes up 19 percent of the population, while producing 51 percent of emissions and holding 75 percent of the GDP. The United States has 5 percent of the population with 20 percent of emissions and 30 percent of the GDP.
A major component of the conference has been a U.S.-led campaign against China and its ability to compete in international trade. The delegation from Washington said December 14 that it would not support any deal that did not include a verification mechanism for China’s emissions levels, which Beijing has rejected. Being able to compete with Chinese industry is a major concern for the U.S. rulers and the so-called climate debate is one place this becomes sharpest.
In June the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on climate and energy policy that “allows for the imposition of tariffs on goods from countries that do not constrain their carbon output,” according to the New York Times. A group of 10 senators wrote to President Barack Obama warning that the Senate would not ratify any treaty that did not “protect American industry from foreign competitors who do not have to meet global warming emissions limits,” said the Times.
Washington’s actions are similar to the stance it took around the 1997 Kyoto treaty. That treaty imposed goals for emissions reductions for the developed countries but was optional for underdeveloped nations. The U.S. government refused to sign because the added costs to accommodate these changes by U.S. companies, they argued, would make underdeveloped countries more competitive in the world market.
During the Copenhagen conference several protest actions have taken place, the largest drawing tens of thousands of activists. Some of the actions have been organized to press for strong regulations, while others have sought to prevent the conference from taking place as planned. A rally held December 12 attracted 40,000 according to police accounts, or nearly 100,000 according to organizers.
Police told the Associated Press that they had arrested 968 people in a “preventive action” at the demonstration. Leading up to the conference, the Danish government passed a law granting police sweeping powers to make “preemptive” arrests. According to the Guardian, “the new powers of ‘pre-emptive’ detention would increase from 6 to 12 hours and apply to international activists. If protesters are charged with hindering the police, the penalty will increase from a fine to 40 days in prison. Protesters can also be fined an increased amount of 5,000 krona (US$978) for breach of the peace, disorderly behaviour, and remaining after the police have broken up a demonstration.”