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Profit comes before planet

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Issue 1724

At climate summit

Profit comes before planet

THE GLOBAL warming summit in The Hague was due to end this week with no sign of any agreement that will meet the urgent need to tackle the threat of climate change.

The United States has 4 percent of the world’s population but is responsible for a quarter of the total emissions of carbon dioxide. Its leaders are against any real restrictions on US firms’ rights to pollute the world.

US negotiators say the way forward is for them to do nothing in the US itself but instead to buy up carbon dioxide emission quotas given to Third World countries.

The European Union states are unhappy with this plan, and are trying to pose as the defenders of the planet.

But they are doing nothing to tackle the fundamental problem-that capitalists are putting profits first. Britain is still the world’s sixth biggest culprit for carbon dioxide emissions. Thousands of people demonstrated last weekend against the summit leaders’ refusal to put people and the planet before corporate power.

ANDREW STONE was on the protest and sent this report to Socialist Worker: “ON FRIDAY of last week, as 400 British students packed their placards, banners and a diverse array of themed costumes for the protest against climate change, the Guardian was characteristically dismissive.

It wrote, ‘There is still widespread public apathy [about the issue]. There are no mass Seattle-style protests mustered at the convention now taking place in The Hague.’

Saturday proved the Guardian wrong. Over 6,000 protesters from more than 25 countries marched to the conference centre. Activists came in big delegations from Britain, France, Germany and Denmark.

Some, from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, had spent three days travelling. There were even protesters from the US and Australia. They were all there to demand action on the growing threat of environmental destruction.

The conference had been in session for a week but was making about as much progress as a snail on valium. Like the Earth Summit of 1992 and the 1997 Climate Change Conference, the Hague summit has rated high on lofty rhetoric but low on positive action.

Few politicians attempt to deny the reality of climate change any more. Ten of the warmest years on record have been since 1985, and the Arctic ice shell is thought to have thinned by 40 percent, with drastic consequences for the sea level.

A study published recently suggests that average temperatures could rise by up to 6 degrees centigrade in this century. But the will to effect the necessary change is consistently less than the enticements of the fossil fuel lobby.

For example, in the US fossil fuel multinationals donated $12 million to the Clinton/Gore administration. As a result the US Senate voted against ratifying ANY climate change reform.

Since the 1997 Kyoto summit US emissions have risen by 1.3 percent per year. Like Kyoto, even if the Hague conference does set high targets, the decisions will not be binding.

The rapid and fundamental reorganisation needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent has been passed over for a system where countries such as the US can buy “carbon credits”, effectively the right to pollute, from poorer countries.

Rather than invest in renewable energy-such as wind, water and solar power-the dangerous option of nuclear power has been resurrected. Increasingly volatile weather threatens people all around the world.

Before Saturday’s protest Carlos from Honduras spoke about the hurricane which hit his country in 1998: ‘It pulled our country 50 years into the past. The poverty is terrible. Many people are homeless. Around 11,000 people died.’

But anything that threatens the needs of profit has been put off the agenda.”

Protest makes a mark

“PROTESTS Make A Mark On World Trade Leaders” was the Financial Times headline about a protest outside the Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) meeting in Cincinnati in the US last weekend.

Hundreds of protesters defied police repression to demonstrate against the businessmen from the US and Europe that TABD brings together.

The corporate chiefs are clearly shaken by the mood against them. They spent much of two days debating how best to sell free trade to the public. George David, the US co-chair of TABD, said, “We would be foolish to fail to listen to these demonstrators and their views.”

THOUSANDS of people demonstrated outside the School of the Americas in Georgia in the US this week (see picture above). The school trains the military from Latin America in repression and torture.

Sane voices about an insane system

TO HIGHLIGHT the threat to the planet, the protesters built a dike round the conference centre (see picture above). It was 360 metres long and made up of 70,000 sandbags.

Haydn from Oxford University believed that “more than anything the Americans need to change. Kyoto means nothing to them. It’s all about profit.”

It also symbolised the wall between the unaccountable politicians and lobbyists, and the majority of ordinary people who suffer from their decisions. Impressive as this symbolic act was, many people were disappointed that the action was not more militant.

One Warwick student wondered, “Couldn’t we blockade them properly?” The sort of action taken at Seattle could have found a real resonance. Joe Diffie, a student from Arkansas, came to The Hague “to represent the unrepresented majority of Americans”.

Many protesters saw climate change as part of a much wider system. Baly, a member of the French Green Party, who came as part of a convoy of six buses, believed that environmental destruction was part of “an economic war”.

He said, “If we want to reduce carbon emissions that’s a world problem, and we must have a world solution. This fight links in with the way neo-liberalism smashes economic protection and refugee rights.”

New anti-debt campaign

NEW MOVEMENTS are being created in the worldwide anti-debt campaign. A wider debate is also developing about the politics needed to throw off the debt shackles.

The Jubilee 2000 movement, which pulled anti-debt campaigns together, is due to disband at the end of the year. The British office is still scheduled to shut. But the scale of the task that remains has forced Jubilee 2000 leaders to propose a new organisation to carry the arguments forward.

A joint statement from Ann Pettifor (director of Jubilee 2000 UK), Kwesi Owusu (head of the Jubilee Africa Initiative) and Liana Cisneros (a leader of Jubilee 2000 Latin America) says:

“In the South there is a strong determination to continue until the burden of unpayable debts is completely lifted. There is also disappointment and considerable anger at the perception, as they see it, that some groups in the North are about to give up on the struggle. It is now time to focus our concentration to the root causes of debt. We want to create Jubilee Plus International.”

The anti-debt campaign should continue. Despite all the grand announcements by British chancellor Gordon Brown and others, only 11 countries have begun to receive debt relief (reduction on their debt repayments).

Only one country-Zambia-has received actual debt cancellation. The 11 “lucky” countries will continue to pay more in debt than they spend on health.

A clear mobilising focus for the anti-debt movement is the G7 summit of the leaders of the richest countries in Genoa, Italy, from 20 to 22 July next year. The Italian Jubilee 2000 campaign (Sdebitarsi) and several leading members of the present Jubilee 2000 coalition are set to launch a Genoa Project to build for this event.

  • Jubilee 2000 “Light the Flame” rally, Saturday 2 December. Assemble 3.30pm outside Westminster Abbey, London.

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