COP17 – the 17th annual Conference of Parties, aka the Conference of Polluters – began on Monday in Durban, South Africa. The Kyoto Protocol, to which most attendee nations (but not the U.S.) are signatories, is widely acknowledged to be in its death throes.
As in previous U.N. climate conferences, civil society organizations are mounting a counter-summit, a step that is particularly important given the significant reduction in the number of NGOs allowed to register for the conference. But will global civil society be able to exert any influence on the powerful nations of the world? How much traction can a radical anti-capitalist critique of over-development gain under current conditions of global economic crisis? Will rising inter-imperial competition between nations such as the U.S., China, and Brazil spell the end of the Kyoto Protocol and a complete abandonment of all attempts to regulate the world’s increasingly chaotic environment?
Sitting waiting to sort out housing after arriving on a red-eye flight to Durban, I met Dr. Landry Mayigane, a young veterinarian from Rwanda who is one of the organizers of the youth delegation to COP17. He said that the young people from around the globe whom he helps to organize are feeling very pessimistic about the current meeting.
According to Landry, there is little hope that any substantial forward progress is going to come out of a meeting held under the current global economic downturn. The point here is pretty obvious: global elites are taking the current economic crisis a pretext to impose austerity rather than – as they should – an opportunity to facilitate a just transition to a truly sustainable society. One way that such a transition might be effected is through a Million Climate Jobs initiative – a campaign being spearheaded, at least in organizational site, by a guy I ran into last night: Jonathan Neale.
He also talked about how disillusioned many civil society organizations became after the Copenhagen climate summit. The huge mobilization resistance groups engaged in there failed to produce any meaningful movement, and, it could be argued, the situation has deteriorated significantly in terms of international negotiations since then. For example, Landry noted that just two days ago, the Canadian government announced that it is going to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol.
The evening ended with me sitting bleary-eyed through a meeting of the Climate Justice Network as they debated whether to back a press conference to be organized by five prominent groups (e.g. Friends of the Earth – Africa). There was quite a lot of debate about whether to move forward with this initiative given the fact that many in the People’s Space cannot get into the conference; significant numbers of people expressed concern about the impact on the People’s Space of holding meetings “inside.” Where, some wondered, would “outside” be if “inside” was so sanctioned? This debate I think underlines how marginal social movements (and the 99% in general) are to the entire UN process as presently constituted.