Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Durban Climate Talks - Professor Patrick Bond

When I spoke to Patrick Bond, it was very hot in Durban. But it was 36 degrees C in neighboring Zimbabwe. Bond predicts another wave of "heat refugees" will flee Zimbabwe into South Africa.

Durban is the site of the next Conference of the Parties, known as COP-17, starting November 28th, 2011. It is the grand gathering of the countries of the world, under the United Nations, trying to prevent serious climate damage on Planet Earth.

Thank heavens the Copenhagen climate conference failed! That's the view of our Radio Ecoshock guest, Patrick Bond. He is a professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and director of the Centre for Civil Society there.

Dr. Bond has worked for the South African government, especially in the Reconstruction program. He advises several international journals, and has a history of civil rights activism. Patrick just returned to Durban from a European conference and lecture tour.

Before we get to the upcoming Durban climate meeting, known as COP-17 - let's handle some previous business. In late 2009, many climate activists in Europe and North America were crushed by the failure to find a meaningful agreement, at the Copenhagen climate conference.

Bond says there are really two streams of environmental thought and action regarding the ongoing United Nations climate talks, known as the "Conference of the Parties" (to the Kyoto Protocol).

The first, like Climate Action Network, really hoped the industrial countries and the developing world could use climate financing and market mechanisms (like carbon trading) to work towards a lower emissions world.

The second, now more widely known as the "Climate Justice Movement" - rejects actors like The World Bank, and capitalist intervention using tools like carbon trading. They also question the REDD agreement banking carbon credits in forests, especially tropical forests - because it takes rights away from the indigenous inhabitants.

Dr. Bond wrote a short paper where he summarizes the objections of the Bolivian negotiating team to the proposals at Cancun, Mexico after Copenhagen:

"The Bolivian delegation was the only sensible insider team, and they summed up the summit’s eight shortcomings:

• Effectively kills the only binding agreement, Kyoto Protocol, in favour of a completely inadequate bottom-up voluntary approach.

• Increases loopholes and flexibilities that allow developed countries to avoid action via an expansion of offsets and continued existence of ‘surplus allowances’ of carbon after 2012 by countries such as Ukraine and Russia, which effectively cancel out any other reductions.

• Finance commitments weakened: commitments to ‘provide new and additional financial resources’ to developing countries have been diluted to talking more vaguely about ‘mobilising [resources] jointly’, with expectation that this will mainly be provided by carbon markets.

• The World Bank is made trustee of the new Green Climate Fund, which has been strongly opposed by many civil society groups due to the undemocratic make-up of the Bank and its poor environmental record.

• No discussion of intellectual property rights, repeatedly raised by many countries, as current rules obstruct transfer of key climate-related technologies to developing countries.

• Constant assumption in favour of market mechanisms to resolve climate change even though this perspective is not shared by a number of countries, particularly in Latin America.

• Green light given for the controversial Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) programme, which often ends up perversely rewarding those responsible for deforestation, while dispossessing indigenous and forest dwellers of their land.

• Systematic exclusion of proposals that came from the historic World Peoples’ Conference on Climate Change, including proposals for a Climate Justice Tribunal, full recognition of indigenous rights and rights for nature.

That ends a quote from Dr. Patrick Bond.

This is Radio Ecoshock. I'm Alex Smith with Professor Patrick Bond from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa. Patrick Bond predicts failure at COP-17, and explains why in the interview.

In addition to the problems above, he adds intellectual property limitations on transferring renewable technology to developing countries.

Bond compares the climate emergency to the case of HIV/AIDS medicine for Africa. With the big pharmaceutical companies charging $15,000 a year for treatment, it was a death sentence for Africa. Bond says 55% of South Africans test positive for the HIV virus.

In response, with support from some large countries, the World Trade Organization, at it's DOHA round in 2001, made an exception for these drugs, allowing the production of generic versions, vastly cheaper.

Patrick Bond suggests the same sort of emergency action for solar, wind, and other technologies are now required to save our climate.

For example, China and the U.S. are now engaged in a "Solar War" over intellectual property rights.

The second major road-block is the developed country use of environmentally damaging technologies to cover their energy short-falls. Bond includes such things as the Tar Sands, Shale Frackin, and especially dangerous geo-engineering schemes. He notes the latest experiment with British scientists to test injecting pollution into clouds has been delayed.


The host of the Durban Climate Talks coming up at the end of November has been very quiet about them. Unlike the World Cup soccer, which was promoted as an international event four years previous, few South Africans know a conference that could determine their fate is being held in Durban.

I ask Professor Bond whether NGOs and interested individuals will be able to protest freely and safely in Durban. That is an open question, as there have been recent instances where South African police have shot protesters. I'm not talking about rubber bullets. Shot them.

Bond and others have been pressing the South African authorities to recognize the long tradition of non-violence established there by Gandhi, when the Mahatma lived in S.A. up until 1914, and developed his methods. But we can't be sure.

South Africa is set to release it's own climate action plan at the Durban conference. But the COP-17 host has little to brag about. Through the largest ever World Bank loan, worth several billion dollars, South Africa has constructed the world's third and fourth largest coal plants. Emissions are climbing rapidly with no end in sight.

Further confusing the situation, the big mining and industrial companies, like BHP Billiton and Anglo American (which were begun in South Africa, but now reside in Australia and the UK respectively) - arranged a sweet-heart electricity price as part of the negotiations to end Apartheid.

While these big corporations get power for pennies, sometimes as cheap as 2 cents a Kilowatt hour, poor South Africans on a pension pays as much as 28 cents a KWH. If they can get power at all. A reported 40% of South African homes have no electricity.

There have been angry protests as poor South Africans have been disconnected from electrical services, and the big corporations get a virtually free ride.

Two of the country's biggest polluters, Sasol and Eskom, are on South Africa’s COP17 negotiation committee. The South African environmental group Earthlife is protesting their inclusion.

As we all know, the European Union is under tremendous financial stress. Europe is considered a leader in renewable energy, and funding safe energy in developing countries. Now that all seems in doubt. We discuss the impact of the economic crash on climate negotiations.

Bond considers the $100 billion offered by Hilary Clinton at Copenhagen for a climate fund - is likely dead.

Yet he notes there was plenty of money to bribe and blackmail country delegations in the Denmark talks, as revealed by the Wikileaks U.S. State Department cables. The cables say $50 million was paid to the Maldives to get their support, while millions were yanked from Ecuador and Bolivia when they refused to sign the weak "voluntary" Copenhagen Accord.

Speaking at a climate justice seminar in Johannesburg South Africa last week, Bernarditas Muller, the chief negotiator for the G77 developing countries said, quote "Durban will not be the burial ground of the Kyoto Protocol".

Professor Bond says Kyoto will likely pass away in 2012, except for the emissions trading schemes which capitalists can use for profit.


Despite doubts about any worthwhile agreement at COP-17, and I agree a real solution looks hopeless at this time, I still see two positive reasons to give a damn about the Durban climate conference.

The first goes back to those NGO's and youth organizations who will attend. I think a lot of networking and drive will come out of the Durban meet-up, even as the politicians dodge their responsibilities. The real show is the side show.

My second reason for refusing to let hope die, is this: we have no other choice. Eventually, driven by horrible climate events, humans will have to meet, agree, and act - or go extinct.

Remember the decades required by many movements. The fight against slavery and apartheid took generations. Nobody had the luxury of giving up.


During the interview, Patrick talks about a new book from the ETC Group on Geoengineering. He calls it "Land Grab" but the actual title is "Earth Grab - Geopiracy, the New Biomassters and Capturing Climate Genes"

Listen to this wide-ranging 23 minute interview with Professor Patrick Bond.

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