A new era of Carbon Colonialism

by Graham Reeder

Say goodbye to equity.

That was the sour taste we were left with as the COP president gavelled through 'agreement' after 'agreement' at 5am on Sunday morning. I will let others describe the scene on that night, what I want to focus on is what I see as a new step in contemporary colonialism.

The UNFCCC laid out several core principles when it was first written, these were negotiated as the guiding set of values that would determine how countries would tackle climate change together. They included historical responsibility (almost all of the greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere were created by a handful of wealthy nations that used up more than their fair share of the space in the atmosphere, they are therefore more responsible for cutting their emissions than anyone else), common but differentiated responsibilities (in 1992, as is even more the case today, there was a huge disparity between rich countries and poor countries, while the poor are responsible for attempting to develop responsibly in a low-carbon manner, the rich are more responsible for cutting their emissions, and financing the clean development of others), and Polluter Pays (Tuvalu didn't make this mess, Canada did). These principles, ever since they were laid out, have been undergoing a continuous brutal onslaught by those who will profit from their obliteration.

When the Kyoto Protocol was designed, the United States and a handful of other rich countries crafted it to make climate change mitigation profitable. Their rhetoric touted carbon markets as a scheme to finance clean development in the global south while avoiding destabilizing the ever-so-fragile rich economies. Since then, the Clean Development Mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol has wreaked havoc across the global south, it has been accused of supporting false offsets, double counting, major loopholes, exclusion of indigenous peoples, and human rights violations. They have effectively opened the door for rich companies to barge in and do their resource extraction with a greenish twist, and to get carbon credits for their countries for doing so. It's through schemes like the CDM and REDD+ that we can claim that Brazil has turned around Amazon deforestation despite continuing to cut it down and turn in into palm tree farms (read:not a forest).

As if that wasn't bad enough, the Durban outcome will be ushering in a new era of carbon colonialism. The principles of the convention have suffered a huge blow in a new Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. The ADP is meant to replace the AWG on Long-term Cooperative Action and the Bali Action Plan with a new roadmap for a treaty that will include all parties equally, whether rich or poor. The way that parties will be considered under this treaty is not yet defined, but you can bet your bottom dollar that it wont be based on equity, the principles of the convention, or per-capita emissions. In fact, a minister overheard Todd Stern (US special envoy on climate change) saying "If equity's in, we're out" in a last minute huddle to battle it out over some options on the legal form of the mandate. The US position on a new treaty is that they will not negotiate anything they can't pass domestic legislation to support. Given the current state of politics in the US, we can now be sure that the US will block anything with even remotely close ambition to avoid temperature rise of up to 6 degrees. What they wont block, however, is a massive shifting of responsibilities from their shoulders to the shoulders of the world's least responsible for climate change: the poor. India has 1.2 billion people, 37% of which lives below the poverty line, emits 1.4 tonnes of carbon per capita per year (145th of 215 listed), and has a per capita GDP of  $1,300 (140th out of 189 listed). They are now to be considered the same as Canada, which has a population of 34 million and manages to produce 16.4 tonnes of carbon per person per year and which is currently undertaking the world's largest industrial project in the world (tar sands) with absolutely no intention of stopping for the sake of the climate. When civil society called for a fair, ambitious, and legally binding treaty, I don't think this is what they meant.

I've read most of the wrap-up stories from most of the world's major newspapers with dismay as they fall into the familiar narrative of how great the EU is for brokering a deal that reconciles the US, India, and China. I find it disgusting that those three countries, with such dramatically different patterns of consumption, histories of emission, and current economies are put into the same category. While ignorant journalists write off India and China as big bad polluters who are desperate for nothing more than a cash-grab from the benevolent global north, they ignore that in the new pledge and review system that the Copenhagen Accord started, the Cancun Agreements legitimized, and the Durban Disaster brought to legal life, developing countries total pledges amount to MORE mitigation than developed countries, they also ignore that the new system thusfar has no way of differentiating between the UK and Cameroon. The world has turned upside down. Once again, after the global north used up whatever they could, they have shifted the cost, consequences, and the burden of responsibility onto the shoulders of the global south. We've seen this countless times on the global scale, but I fear that this new form of colonialism is going to prove even deadlier than the rest.


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