Socialist Worker

Rulers’ plans will let planet burn

We need grassroots action to get climate justice, not more hot air from politicians, writes Dave Sewell

Issue No. 2279

There will be mass demonstrations outside the United Nations (UN) climate summit in Durban, South Africa, next month.

“The impact of climate change in Africa is already a matter of life and death,” explains South African climate activist Rehad Desai. “Extreme weather is the norm—and it’s here to stay.”

World rulers claim that UN summits develop solutions to stop climate change. They don’t.

Instead politicians fight to promote the needs of their national ruling classes. Their agreements have done more harm than good—and are geared towards benefiting the rich.

So the Kyoto climate agreement that came into force in 2005 gave countries very modest targets for emissions cuts. And the country that pollutes the most, the US, refused to sign it.

Politicians claimed that projects like the EU Emissions Trading Scheme would give firms financial incentives to cut emissions.

Instead trading schemes let companies buy the right to emit even more—and gave windfall profits to polluting industries.

The EU and US have also promoted biofuels—crops grown for energy as an alternative to fossil fuels.

But growing, processing and burning biofuels emits almost as much carbon as producing fossil fuels does.

And diverting crops towards energy has pushed up food prices—hitting the world’s poorest people.

Rehad says that battles to control land for profit has made climate change worse. He says, “The problems in Africa are exacerbated by landgrabs.

“The majority of landgrabs today take place in Africa and the majority are for biofuels. We’re losing forests. And small farms are being replaced with carbon intensive industrial agriculture.”

One proposal that could be finalised in Durban is a $100 billion Green Climate Fund. Like the International Monetary Fund, it will lend money to countries in need—but with strings attached.

Rehad says, “Imagine if your neighbour sets your house on fire and says ‘I won’t help because it’s not my responsibility’.

“He’ll lend you the money to fix your house, but only if you spend it where he tells you.

“This is what countries with historic responsibility for climate change are doing with the Green Climate Fund. They say that they will only help if their capitalists benefit.”

Moves to get real action to tackle climate change have come from ordinary people. Tens of thousands protested outside climate negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009.

Hundreds of thousands more protested around the world. In London, 100,000 people joined “The Wave” demonstration that year.

Many hoped that newly elected US president Barack Obama would push for real change.

But he cut a deal with the governments of China, India, Brazil and South Africa to veto any binding targets on emissions cuts.

Now the “sceptics” who try to rubbish the science of climate change have regained confidence.

But opinion polls show that most people are still worried about what climate change means for the future.

It has been harder to build a mass movement for the environment in the context of economic crisis.

But now millions of people around the world are questioning the rule of governments, banks and corporations.

These institutions are also responsible for climate chaos.

“That’s why our climate justice march will be leaving from near the camp at St Paul’s cathedral on 3 December,” Martin Empson from the Campaign Against Climate Change trade union group, told Socialist Worker.

“The solutions to climate change cannot be separated from the questions of economic and political justice.

“We have to link our movement to all those fighting for the 99 percent against the 1 percent.”

The demonstration will be part of an international day of action.

In South Africa a mass demonstration will march seven kilometres to the conference.

Delegations from the Cosatu trade union federation and civic organisations from dozens of townships will join it.

At Durban, politicians will fail to take action that can save the planet.

But the protests will show the potential to build a movement to challenge that system and raise the question of organising society differently.

As Rehad puts it, “The environmental movement needs to become a lot more political.”

Stand up for climate justice demonstration—Saturday

3 December, assembles 12 noon near St Paul’s Cathedral. Go to

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Article information

Tue 22 Nov 2011, 18:25 GMT
Issue No. 2279
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