Freedom Rider: Rich countries subvert climate change talk

There is no dispute in the scientific community. The world is getting hotter and humans are to blame. To be precise, the extraction of fossil fuel as a means of producing energy is the cause. The production of the greenhouse gas C02 is making the earth hotter and millions of people will suffer and die because of it.

One would think that reversing the damage already done would be something that every country in the world would agree to do but that isn’t the case. The fossil fuel producers are rich and don’t want to give up their money. Most heads of state hold that title in name only. The rich people tell them what to do and making less money is never on their agenda.

That is why the United Nations recent twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) was such a colossal failure. While people around the world live in hope that the climate change catastrophe can be averted, the talks in Paris ended with an agreement to keep heating up the planet. The United States, European Union, China, India, Russia and other nations all took part in the sleight of hand. They say they want to reverse fossil fuel emissions and yet they agreed to what amounts to a 3-degree Fahrenheit temperature increase. This may seem like a small change but the result is drought, floods, crop failure and a wide variety of weather extremes.

The agreement doesn’t even take effect until 2020. Countries have five years to continue pumping green house gases into the atmosphere as much as they like. In addition, the agreement is not even binding. Any nation can decide to ignore the pledges it made in Paris without repercussion.

The means of increasing carbon production while claiming to reduce it are numerous. India and China use semantics. They claim they will cut “carbon intensity” which means they will use coal more efficiently, not that they will use it less. Other countries play games because they were allowed to use 1990 as the date to measure carbon reduction. That doesn’t mean much for Russia because its economy collapsed in the 1990s. Going back to the high water mark of 1990 means they can actually increase carbon production over and above current levels.

The United States and the European Union also choose dates selectively. The United States says it will cut 2030 emissions by 26% as compared to 2005. But emissions now are lower than 2005, so the promise is a hollow one and the actual cut would be just 15%, assuming the U.S. actually lives up to its promise.

Just as in Copenhagen in 2009, the United States took a lead role in deceiving the world. Once again Barack Obama made a personal appearance and added his usual bizarre diatribe about American superiority. He said nothing about the United States refusing to consider compensating poor countries for damage done by rich countries. The final document states that “any discussion of loss and damages does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation.

The story from the Paris climate conference encapsulates everything that is wrong and unjust in the world. The rich write the rules and the poor have to live with them. The Kyoto accord provided a mechanism for aid to poor countries but the amounts promised have never materialized and the Paris agreement doesn’t even mention numbers.

The sham gets even worse. Carbon emissions from aviation and shipping aren’t counted in the emission reduction goals. The carbon offset hoax is still alive and permits offenders to buy their way out of destroying other countries.

These climate conferences are awaited with euphoria but always conclude with abject disappointment. The result is inevitable in a world where money talks more loudly than anything else.

The road to progress always leads to the proverbial race to the bottom. In this case, the race is to “develop” and that means creating more carbon emissions at the expense of every living creature on the planet. The most developed nations reached their exalted positions through theft and exploitation. Now they want others to tread lightly where they plowed ahead in total disregard of everyone else. It isn’t hard to understand why India and China are skeptical of Western lecturing on this issue.

But everyone is suffering. Sea levels are rising, heat and drought are displacing millions of people. The same system which created this calamity cannot undo it. The next race to the bottom will be quite literal in a world where life itself is at stake.

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)

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