Friday, September 25, 2015

Will Republicans Scuttle the Paris Conference?

Today I have some larger, even civilizational thoughts on my mind. Inspired by the Pope's speeches to Congress and the UN (and the renewed attention to his climate encyclical), and also by the polemic cited by George Monbiot in yesterday's Guardian about the eco-modernists (about whom I have written several times), I'm feeling that the climate question is becoming the occasion for some really interesting examination about just what the values of our civilization are or should be. Big questions--and I do intend to tackle them very soon.

First, though, I want to signal a question which, though crucial to the success of the Paris conference, is much more straightforward--even simple. Here are the basics, drawing on this dispatch from Reuters:

  • Many of the world's poorer or less 'developed' countries hold the wealthy, industrialized nations responsible for the climate crisis--logically enough, since those mostly Western, fully 'developed' nations are the ones who emitted most of that pesky greenhouse gas over several centuries.
  • Therefore, in the course of the UNFCCC process and notably at Copenhagen 6 years ago, the less developed nations insisted that the wealthy ones take responsibility for funding a Green Climate Fund to assist the poorer countries in energy conversion and adaptation measures which they would otherwise find difficult to pay for. The US, like other G-8 nations, signed onto that agreement.
  • The actual numbers: the Green Climate Fund is to be funded at $100 billion/year by 2020, with a gradual ramping up of funds starting now. The US pledged $3 billion between now and 2020, of which $500 million is overdue. Other nations are behind in their pledges, but the US is the major deadbeat at this moment.
  • Republican members of Congress are adamant that the US not meet this obligation, and have tried to create legislative roadblocks that would prevent ANY payment to the Green Fund or anything like it.
  • If this problem persists until December, the Paris conference may fail altogether to reach any agreement. The small island nations, threatened with imminent inundation, the bigger ones like Bangladesh who need major adaptations to avoid catastrophic flooding and vast forced migrations--these nations who need the Fund aren't interested in hearing about the insurmountable political problems of the world's wealthiest nation. They need adaptation, and they need the Fund.
  • If Congress continues on this trajectory, this breach of trust will very likely keep many of the nation-parties from signing any agreements in Paris. The whole process will founder--which is exactly what Republican members are hoping. They want to destroy the climate movement, and ultimately the earth, in order to ... do what exactly?
Does it matter if the Maldives, or even Bangladesh fail to sign on to the UNFCCC document? Or if they fail to reduce their very small carbon footprints? Maybe not, but their insistence on acknowledging the rich/poor divide, and the failure of the US especially to do its part, will surely encourage bigger players--think India, Turkey, Indonesia--to hide behind that disagreement. The whole idea of shared 'differential' responsibility will unravel--and the world-historical opportunity to resolve a global crisis on a global scale will collapse. That's the frightening stake in this struggle. The venue is the US Congress. The time is right now.

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