There was much media fanfare about the G8’s decisions on climate change, intended to be a step towards global negotiations in Copenhagen in December.
Leaders tried to spin the line that their agreement to keep temperature rises to 2 degrees was “historic” progress. But the commitment will amount to literal hot air. Even The Economist had to admit that the other much-reported promise to cut emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 was “conveniently beyond the life expectancy of most of the leaders at L’Aquila.”
The summit’s “commitments” don’t lock the world’s richest nations into any action to achieve these cuts. There was no agreement on short term targets, despite the fact that the next ten years are recognised as the most crucial to prevent runaway warming.
Rudd—along with counterparts Gordon Brown and Barack Obama— proved unwilling to take the lead, putting the blame for a “negotiations deadlock” on developing countries like China and India. Yet it is the US, UK and Australia that are the world’s highest per capita carbon emitters. The carbon emissions of countries like India and China are largely produced by Western multinationals exploiting cheap labour to manufacture goods for the West.
With their eye on the Copenhagen summit, the G8 leaders sent a clear message that Western nations won’t risk their competitive position for the sake of the planet. Rudd’s only contribution was to promote his push for “clean coal”, in the form of the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute—but so far the only thing that has been captured and stored by the project is taxpayer billions for the coal industry.
Obama went to the G8 fresh from successfully passing a new climate bill through the US Congress. Like Rudd’s CPRS, it offers only an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and huge payments to the big polluters.
Breaking Obama’s election promise, 85 per cent of emission permits will be given out for free and there is $10 billion for “clean coal”. Reduction targets can be reached through the purchase of “offset credits” from abroad.
The bill was enthusiastically backed by big corporations like Shell, BP and DuPont. Wall St traders quoted in the Wall St Journal celebrated the “new playground” being created by the ETS.
The Copenhagen summit will rightly be a focus for demonstrations to demand action. But, it would be a mistake to put any hopes in a meaningful deal at Copenhagen. The summit won’t deliver one.
Rudd was caught at the G8 meeting whispering to the Danish Prime Minister that he doubted a deal would be struck. Governments will not seriously shift toward renewables unless there is mass political and industrial pressure.
Our job in Australia is to build a movement capable of forcing change from Rudd—and this fight will certainly not end at Copenhagen. Recent polling shows support for the CPRS at 64 per cent. Most mistakenly see it as a step forward on climate change—and there is still confusion within the movement about the merits of the CPRS.
Blowing apart these myths is central to mobilising and cohering the movement in the coming period. Exposing the myth of the CPRS and market solutions to climate change needs to be front and centre of climate campaigning—on the campuses, at MP’s offices when the CPRS goes to the vote, at the Climate Camps and through to the Copenhagen actions in December.
We also need to be clear that solutions to climate change are about social justice—improving people’s lives, not ruining them. A green transition could create millions of jobs. And a recent report by the UTS Institute for Sustainable Solutions found that “greener” electricity and services could be much cheaper.
Winning this transition means seriously orienting to the working class. The recent efforts of climate activists in Melbourne to show solidarity with striking workers at Hazelwood power station is a good start. The power of workers to literally halt production boosted the anti-uranium campaign in the 1970s. It will be crucial if we are going to stop the construction of more coal-fired power stations. This is what can win a green, publicly controlled transition—one for people, not profit.

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