By Rehad Desai
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From small beginnings

This article is over 10 years, 1 months old
The Kyoto Protocols are set to become an empty shell following the 17th meeting of the UN Convention on Climate Change ("COP 17") in Durban.
Issue 364

The limited progress since 1997 towards achieving a legally binding agreement on carbon emissions will be scrapped in favour of a voluntary pledge and review process that to date has only resulted in increased carbon emissions.

Those who have historic responsibility for the devastation being wreaked on the world have decided to scupper the only real chance they had to reach a relatively equitable deal in an attempt to cool the planet. To add insult to injury the Green Climate Fund is being blocked by those developed nations that are only willing to contribute if they can see direct economic benefit for their own capitalists.

At present, whole chunks of the planet are set to become wastelands, especially in Africa, which is set to burn like no other time in history. Famine is again ravaging Somalia, which created a staggering three and a half million climate refugees. The drought in the Sahel region over the past five decades has, according to climate scientists, been fed by global warming.

Grazing land that is critical for the survival of pastoralists is being lost. Deadly conflicts have become commonplace among competing tribes, whose migratory patterns in search of water are now escalating ethnic and national rivalry over borders that were previously accepted as highly porous.

Maize yields are set to decrease by 30 percent and the cost of grain to increase by 180 percent over the next 15 years. By 2050, with the business as usual scenario, 180 million subsistence farmers are set to perish, as will many urban dwellers who depend on rural food supplies.

Our government, a major polluter in its own right, is reluctant for South Africa to be seen as the place where COP was buried. So they seem happy to participate in the Orwellian word charade being mooted by the EU where, despite the heart being ripped out of the international protocol, it continues in name – possibly focused around the false solution of carbon trading.

In South Africa, our climate justice movement is still relatively small, but it’s awake to the massive impact of the global economic and climate crisis. It is made up of civic groupings in South Africa’s industrial heartland near Johannesburg, communities around the oil refineries of Durban and, more recently, farm workers, fishing communities and shack dwellers in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. In short, those who have been hardest hit by industrial pollution, and who have long traditions of self-organisation.

These people have been joined by those who have been at the forefront of the fight against the commodification of electricity and water. It’s relatively easy for these communities to make the connection between their government’s inability to provide affordable electricity and water, housing and – most importantly – jobs and an international system that ruthlessly exploits the resources of our planet regardless of the consequences. Many of these groupings are aligned with the Democratic Left Front (DLF) network, which is a newly established anti-capitalist movement, committed to eco-socialism.

Two years ago, at the Copenhagen summit, South Africa made a commitment to reduce its massive carbon emissions by 42 percent by 2025. But this year it started building two of the biggest coal-fired powered stations in the world, so it will fall far short of its emission targets.

The announcement, shortly after the Fukushima disaster, of plans to build six nuclear power stations brought things into sharper focus – particularly when it became clear that both projects involve shady dealings through which the ruling party would see its coffers benefit. The movement is now cohering around opposition to a government energy policy that puts its economic self-interest above all else.

Perhaps more important is soaring unemployment standing at 60 percent, and an authoritarian response to township-based protests that continue to flare up around huge price hikes in electricity. Electricity prices are set to increase by another 125 percent over the next four years to pay for the new stations, and to subsidise electricity for big industrial users. South Africa’s unique position as both a victim and perpetrator of climate change opens up the possibility of breaking this mould.

The Million Climate Jobs campaign has galvanised the main trade union federation COSATU to make the issue one of its five campaign areas, calling on its membership to support the global day of action in the province where COP 17 is taking place.

The campaign’s strength is that it draws our focus squarely towards our own government’s reliance on the market to create employment, including green jobs, has resulted in an increase of about a million to the already huge army of unemployed over the past two years. The campaign shifts the narrative away from being about sacrifice to more of one of the world we have to gain.

Thousands will participate in the global day of action. It will represent an important moment in the renewal of independent left wing politics that, if patient and non-sectarian, has the potential to gain the centre ground in the fight against global warming, and for a rational alternative based on need. And for a government that, unlike its predecessor that threatened the destruction of our world, is accountable to the people rather than the mineral energy complex.

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