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COP15: From San Anto to Copenhagen, Con Amor

Marisol Cortez
Climate Justice Organizer, SWU
cortez.marisol@gmail.com

We’ve heard a lot about climate change in the past few weeks, from the climategate hooha to the release of an update to the last IPCC report on climate change which finds that flooding and melting and all of that bad stuff is going down much, much faster than originally predicted by climate scientists.

And then there’s COP15 — or, the 15th annual Conference of the Parties — which begins today and runs until December 18. Originally held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference is the biggest and most visible meeting of minds around the problem of global warming, and high hopes have been pinned to this year’s meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark.

At stake is a new treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, from which the U.S. notoriously recused itself; news that Obama plans to attend Copenhagen on the final day of the conference rather than on December 9 has rekindled hopes that world leaders can finalize a legally binding agreement to stabilize climate change by cutting carbon emissions to safe enough levels, while at the same time ensuring that poorer countries have the financial means to comply with such an agreement.

Aside from the obvious protest by climate scientists and green-minded folks broadly — namely, that Obama’s pledge to reduce carbon emissions by 17 percent of 2005 levels won’t do enough to bring levels of atmospheric carbon close to the magic number of 350 ppm — this tension between the global North and the global South over who bears primary responsibility for the present climate crisis has become a key issue in the buildup to COP15, and points to the importance of talking about global warming in terms of climate justice as well as climate change.

A recent article by Naomi Klein, for instance, elaborates on the notion of climate debt. This is the idea that although climate change is a crisis precisely because it affects the entire planet, not everyone is equally responsible for creating the problem, nor will the problem be experience by everyone equally. The relative wealth of the global North, for instance, has been created through historical processes of industrialization, driven by combustion of the carbon-intensive, dirty energy sources now causing global warming.

Yet the global South — less a literal geographical space than a metaphor for those parts of the world colonized by the North in order to extract at little to no cost the resources and labor necessary to make industrialization not only possible, but profitable — has largely been excluded from these benefits, and yet is affected first and worst by climate change. Climate debt thus refers to the idea that responsibility for addressing climate change should fall primarily on the shoulders of the global North, both in terms of cutting emissions and helping poorer countries pay for the infrastructural changes that will be necessary to help them not only cut current emissions but “leapfrog” over coal and oil in the course of development.  

It’s worth pointing out that this unequal distribution of both risk and responsibility around climate change is true not only on a global scale, but here in the U.S. as well. We saw this with Hurricane Katrina, and we see it here in San Antonio — in the refusal of city officials to prioritize simple efficiency measures that would lower utility bills as well as cut emissions over expensive, capital-intensive, inflexible, and risky technologies like nuclear. In this context we might arguably position San Antonio as part of the global South as far as discussions of climate change go — or, at least, the largely poor and working class residents of San Antonio whose utility bills and health would subsidize private gain (and which have already subsidized private shenanigans ala CPSgate).

What will it take for Council and CPS to wake up to the realities of the links between what’s going on here in San Antonio and what’s going on globally — between STP and Copenhagen? To incite just such a rousing, and with the kind permission of the Current, Southwest Workers’ Union have hijacked Queblog for the next two weeks in order to deliver the latest Copenhagen news and gossip to SA, con amor. These blogbacks are courtesy of two youth leaders affiliated with SWU, Diana Lopez and Jill Johnston, who will be in Copenhagen for the fun and pickled herring all this week and next. To coincide with Obama’s attendance at COP15, those of us not in Copenhagen are also planning some kind of informational action for Friday, December 18, details TBD.

So, watch this space for news from Copenhagen! And contact Southwest Workers’ Union (210-299-2666) if you’d like to take part in planning for the 18.

Posted by gharman on 12/7/2009 11:41:28 AM
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