Copenhagen and Carbon Trading: Why the commodification of Nature will not solve climate change

Published on Socialist, by Mary Thibodeau, August 2010.

As the Yes Men hoax of the Copenhagen negotiations and environmental justice movements expose Canada’s shameful position on climate change, we are faced with many possible takes on the climate change issue. The Yes Men hoax illuminated Canadian inaction through a fake Environment Canada press release stating that Canada is “taking the long view on the world economy” and reversing its previous woefully inadequate positions on climate change, thereby acknowledging the need to take full responsibility for emissions. Later it emerged that Canada was not, in fact, acknowledging its climate debt to poor nations, and that tar-sand development would continue on as usual. As climate justice movements and the climate debt agents mobilized around the indebtedness issue, others saw ‘hope’ in Obama’s presence at the negotiations … //

… Conclusions: 

It is evident that financialized solutions to climate change are problematic due to the vulnerability of the financial system to crises of fictitious capital, a vulnerability that is magnified with the impossibility of regulation of the financial system. Not only does the financial system encourage increased inequality as an intensified form of accumulation, it also displaces policy decisions to investor interests.

The flexible mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol are part of a wider trend of neoliberal deregulation, commodification of the commons, and increased financialization. They represent a shift in the relationship of capital to the environment in an effort to ‘internalize the externalities’ – a change in accumulation strategy. Clearly the move to create a fictitious capital market for carbon will have disastrous effects on the environment, as projects will not be funded on the basis of environmental benefit, but in
the interests of profit. As the Copenhagen negotiations have illustrated, the wealthy countries and the ruling elite within India, Brazil and China that lead the negotiation process are refusing to take responsibility for the climate change problem yet are eager to achieve ‘consensus’ in a non-committal agreement. Yet not only is the Accord non-commital, it further continues along the path of market-based solutions to climate change. It is necessary to look for alternative agreements and actions that do not justify the commodification of the environment as a necessity for its salvation, such as the environmental groups involved in the Durban Declaration on Carbon Trading and the environmental justice movements opposing the Copenhagen negotiations.

The Durban Declaration on Carbon Trading came out of a meeting that occurred in Durban, South Africa in October 2004 of representatives from organizations and peoples’ movements. The declaration condemns carbon markets for encouraging a reliance on fossil fuels and the commodification of the biosphere, in that the commodification of carbon will lead to increased inequality through the transformation and enclosure of environments into ‘carbon dumps.’ The burden of carbon dumps will disproportionally fall to “small island states, coastal peoples, indigenous peoples, local communities, fisherfolk, women, youth, poor people, elderly and marginalized communities.”22

It is imperative for environmentalists to reject reformist politics and attitudes such as ‘it’s better than nothing,’ as clearly, the financialization of carbon will lead to worse consequences than ‘nothing.’ Yet there is also growing opposition to carbon trading from groups such as the Durban Group, the Indigenous Environment Network, the Mobilization for Climate Justice, and Carbon Trade Watch, among others. These network of groups argue that climate change is a human rights and environmental justice issue, as those least responsible for GHG emissions will be the most effected by their impacts. Clearly there is mobilization that continues on after Copenhagen, and a growing recognition of the problem of market-based approaches to climate change. As the Yes Men hoax and the climate justice movements illustrated, not only is Canada’s position on climate change shameful and inadequate, but the whole process of international climate change negotiations is flawed with the continued reliance on a financial system that brought the world to ruin with its collapse. R. (full long 5 pdf-pages text).

(Mary Thibodeau is an independent researcher and activist living in Victoria, BC).

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