Lima climate talks betray future

January 29, 2015

From the January-February 2015 issue of News & Letters

The world’s governments met once again Dec. 1-14 to talk about climate change and once again succeeded—in talking. The 20th “Conference of Parties” was held in Lima, Peru, and, rather than action, issued a “Call for Climate Action” without binding commitments or effective monitoring. Even the voluntary goals begin in 2020, the year science says emissions must start to decline.

The U.S. and other nations as good as admitted the bankruptcy of capitalism by arguing that binding commitments had no chance of being adopted, so the approach must be to let each nation-state formulate its own intentions. Then all can feign surprise when the intentions, even if carried out, turn out to total less than half of what is needed to meet their long-stated goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

However, 50 countries advocated zero carbon emissions by mid-century and nearly 100 countries by 2100.

Photo by Chris Eaton.

Photo by Chris Eaton.

From its beginning in the 1992 Earth Summit, the UN climate change process has been trapped in the limits of the “politically feasible.” President Obama, far from being the exception, is the epitome of this pragmatic mindset. He is laboring under the illusion that an infinite series of tiny steps—as many backward as forward—will someday lead us out of the wilderness.


In reality, climate scientists have warned for years that most fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground if humanity is to avoid disaster. The latest study, showing that the vast majority of coal reserves, as well as much of the oil and gas reserves, must remain untouched, had no effect on negotiators—as if politics and science inhabited two separate worlds.

On the streets outside, over 15,000 people marched “in Defense of Mother Earth.” This was coordinated with an alternative Dec. 8-11 People’s Summit on Climate Change that explicitly denounced “the capitalist patriarchal system” and called for an alternative form of development.

Many participants of the People’s Summit and the march were Indigenous activists from Peru and neighboring Ecuador and Bolivia. The high stakes were illustrated by the discovery of the bound and tortured body of José Isidro Tendetza Antún, an Indigenous leader from Ecuador who fought a major mining project there. He had planned to attend the summit.


His comrades who did attend were harassed by Ecuador’s army, which even confiscated their bus. Peruvian marchers also spoke of a spate of murders of activists who had been resisting illegal logging and mining operations on Indigenous lands.

The divisions erupted right within the People’s Summit over an invitation to President Evo Morales of Bolivia to speak. While Morales is a hero to much of the international Left, Nilda Rojas, an Indigenous woman of Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Markas del Qullasuyu, protested that her community faces state violence on his watch. After opposition to having government officials speak spread, including disruption by youth from the Ecuadoran group YASunidos of a speech by the mayor of Lima, Morales did not speak.

It is true that ambivalence surfaced within the alternative events, including the juxtaposition of anti-capitalist declarations with appeals to governments and corporations. The overriding truth remains that the UN process driven by states and capital is a dead end, and the only alternative is uprooting the whole system from below to establish truly human forms of development.

—Franklin Dmitryev

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