When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose

by nathan thanki

It is the sometimes orthodoxy that any deal is better than no deal, that by degrees we can overcome the climate crisis. It is "common sense" that you take what you can get and live to fight another day. But all this piecemeal haggling simply moves us, degree Celsius by degree Celsius, toward an unlivable and somehow even more unjust world.

Let's have a new orthodoxy.

The increasing sense of panic is evident: this morning representatives from the "Brand" NGOs – Oxfam, WWF, Greenpeace etc – including Kumi Naidoo made it clear that without mitigation, without money, and without equity, the outcome of COP18 will be without the support of civil society.

They were merely echoing what has been coming out of Southern-based social movements, made tangible in a letter to ministers and negotiators. The red lines have been drawn. They are red lines not in terms of what we actually want to see as a response to climate change – that would essentially require a total dismantling and rebuilding of the current social and economic framework – but what we can get from this UN process. They were minimal asks: crossing them, going beyond the pale, forces us to condemn you.

The demands are not much: a strong second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, comparable mitigation efforts by other developed countries who are shamelessly no longer bound (or, in the case of the US, never were) to legal cuts, and new, adequate money for mitigation and adaptation in the developing world.

This means having a ratifiable amendment to the annex of the Protocol, inscribing emissions reductions of at least 40% below 1990 levels. Not a promise to increase ambition later. It means closing loopholes like the trading of "hot air." It absolutely does not mean allowing access to the "benefits" of the protocol – the carbon markets – to those countries that have caused climate change and then refused to continue Kyoto. Nobody should profit from false solutions. It means providing, as a matter of restorative justice and trust-building, the means of implementation for developing countries to adapt to the climate change that we've already locked in as a result of decades of listless inaction. It means scaled up, new and additional money, distinct from development assistance, that can be measured and verified. Real money, not loans. And a schedule of how to get to the (already insufficient) $100b promise. Adaptation has limits, though, so we also demand a mechanism to address loss and damage – a way for devastated countries to be rehabilitated and compensated.

Real mitigation and real money from the industrialised countries. Anything else is unacceptable.

But as the final texts are dropped upon us, it's becoming clear: the red lines have been crossed. On almost every front, we have lost. The UNFCCC risks becoming a big carbon market circus with a small sideshow of tokenistic efforts to manage and stop climate change. We know which way the wind blows: broken promise after broken promise from the rich nations. New obligations for the poor countries, without the help to keep them.

But if we have nothing, then we have nothing left to lose. Civil society cannot accept this outcome; it would make us complicit in climate induced genocide.

We stand in solidarity with developing countries like the Philippines and others who are putting their heads above the parapet by insisting on justice. We know the pressure they must endure from the old (and new!) colonial masters. This whole process is rife with blackmail and bullying from the likes of the EU, Australia, Canada, and the US. But they must stand strong. The social movements from the South have made it clear: you cannot sell us out. We cannot accept piecemeal solutions and kowtowing to donors and political masters. If not, you too will be condemned for allowing the injustice to pass.

And the rest of us, civil society, we know our responsibility. Today the youth delivered a call to arms, a call to mobilize for climate justice both domestically and internationally. There is much work to be done, and let's not forget that in the fire and fury. 

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