The patchwork deal reached at the climate change conference at the Mayan Riviera of Cancun in Mexico saved the UN negotiating process from collapsing rather than agreeing to take measures to keep the Earth from boiling out of control.
The Cancun deal says all countries will cut emissions but unlike the Kyoto Protocol, which imposed binding cuts on developed countries, it has no mandatory clauses. The deal agrees to provide finance for countries that avoid emissions from deforestation and to potentially provide $30 billion for developing countries to adapt to climate change now and up to $100 billion later. The money will come from developed nations.
It also agrees to a new UN climate fund run largely by developing countries, easier transfer of low carbon technology and expertise to developing countries, inspection of actions of all major emitters, and scientific review of progress after five years.
That negotiators from about 200 countries failed to agree on how far global emissions should be cut will set the world on course for 3.2 C warming, 1.2 C above the red mark. Despite that, most of the negotiators hailed the deal as a breakthrough. Perhaps the most interesting comment came from Chris Huhne, Britain's energy secretary, who said the deal would give industry more confidence to invest in low-carbon economies.
The only voices of reason were that of Bruno Sekoli, chair of the 54 nations' least developed block, and Pablo Solon, Bolivia's ambassador to the UN. Solon summarized the deal aptly: "This is a hollow and false victory imposed without consensus, and its cost will be measured in human lives The experts know that we are right. This agreement won't stop temperature from rising by 4 C and we know that 4 C is unsustainable." But Solon's voice was drowned in the din of cheer that arose in the plenary hall after the deal was struck.
Many may see Solon as pessimism personified. But what has optimism from the Rio de Janeiro conference in 1992 down to Bali in 2007 and Copenhagen in 2009 yielded?
Thanks to WikiLeaks, we know how the United States brokered the "Copenhagen Accord" last year after accusing China (and India) of holding the world to ransom. US diplomatic cables reveal how it launched a secret global diplomatic campaign to destroy opposition to its Copenhagen Accord. Hammered out in the dying minutes of the Copenhagen conference and hailed as a "great success", but not adopted into the UN process, the controversial accord sought to solve many of Washington's problems.
Cancun's $100-billion potential pledge to developing countries should be seen in the light of what happened in Copenhagen, because it is in the Danish capital that the developed countries agreed to raise $100 billion a year by 2020 for the "Green Climate Fund". The Cancun conference just made it part of the UN process and, by default, put the stamp of "savior" of the planet on the US.
The $100-billion pledge has been hailed as the best part of the Cancun deal, especially because developing countries under the auspices of the UN, not the World Bank, will manage the fund. But the promise is only "potential" and comes with no specific pledge of cash. So where will the cash come from, if it comes at all? Well, as the US said, most of it would come from the "private sector".
Let's travel back in time to Rio de Janeiro 1992, where developed countries promised to pay damages for their past sins. But did they? No. They kept negotiating to defer their obligations. So what is the guarantee that they will keep their word this time, when the pledge is potential, not binding?
There is vital link between Chris Huhne's remark that the deal would give industry more confidence to invest in low-carbon economies and the US' statement that most of the climate fund would come from the private sector. The global economic crisis is not yet over and the world, developed countries in particular, are looking for a profitable way out of it.
Mitigation of climate change, like the mitigation of any crises, has become a game of profit. The private sector will contribute to the climate fund only if it is certain of making a profit from its "investment". And if it does invest and make a profit, it would want the climate crisis to continue. Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek puts this game in the right perspective in his book, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce: " far from endangering capitalism, a widespread environmental catastrophe may well invigorate it, opening and hitherto unheard-of spaces for capitalist investment."
Billions of people across the world have been cajoled into believing in the "eco-friendly" activities of multinationals and big industries, which in fact have caused, and are causing, the greatest harm to planet Earth. Corporate houses know the advantages of "going green". A "green tag" helps them to fool the people into believing they are the saviors of the environment and to continue making more profits.
"The bourgeoisie (capitalism) cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society ," Marx said. "The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere."
But capitalist pundits say Marxism is dead. Even if it is, "the naked emperor continues to haunt us in new clothes, chief among them ecologism", says Zizek. It is to counter this "ecologism" (or environmentalism) that capitalism is trying to "nestle" on climate change, because, as Zizek says: " the ideological version of radical capitalism which is emerging as hegemonic out of the present crisis is that of a socially responsible 'eco-friendly capitalism'." And Cancun has prepared its "nest".
The author is a senior editor at China Daily.