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Patrick Bond: Rio+20 official meetings a bust as green market mechanisms prove a failure

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

Rio+20 is on, 20 years since the what was supposed to be groundbreaking global summit on what to do about the environment and climate change. And the question I guess many people are asking is: where is the sense of urgency that seemed to have been developing at least a decade ago?

Now joining us from Rio is Patrick Bond. Patrick is the director of the Center for Civil Society and professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. He’s also the author of the recently released books Politics of Climate Change Justice and Durban’s Climate Gamble. Thanks for joining us, Patrick.

PATRICK BOND, INST. FOR POLICY STUDIES: Great to be with you again, Paul.

JAY: So you’re in Rio. What’s the mood and what are the expectations?

BOND: In the streets it is urgent and it’s vibrant and it’s very militant. And in the Rio [‘sÉœntrÉ™] official negotiating session, as it’s gotten going, it has, according to the insiders, felt stagnant and stultified, with very little real power, the power, of course, being at the G-20 held this week in Mexico. And so without money, all we have is Hillary Clinton flying in today to announce a small fund for African energy, but very little else, perhaps some new sustainable development goals. I think the action really will be in the streets, given the paralysis of the elites and the need for the 99 percent on the planet to really step up the pressure.

JAY: Now, what do you make of what’s happened and the arc of this? When President Obama was elected, of course, the economic crisis was sharp and apocalyptic, we were told. But there was a lot of talk about how the two work together, that the kind of building of a new green economy was also going to be a form of solution to the crisis. You barely hear the words climate change anymore out of President Obama’s mouth, and certainly not out of Romney’s mouth. But it’s not just them. There used to be, it seemed, a lot more sense of urgency in Europe about this, and that also seems to have dissipated. What’s your take on this?

BOND: Well, it’s that the economic crisis has given much less room for maneuver on the kinds of financial commitments required, for example, to dramatically change our energy, our transport, our agriculture, our production, our consumption, our disposal systems. And without that surplus to spread around and subsidize some renewable energy, public transport, of course neither Europe or the U.S. or even Asian countries are doing enough on the issue.

And I would say as well, Paul, that the attempts to use the markets and private corporations to solve problems created by the markets are failing, and there’s no question about it. Even this week, the World Bank closed down one of their carbon trading funds, a major fund of $150 million, because the price in Europe where these Third World investments are traded—they’re called clean development mechanisms—has plummeted down to about €3 per ton of carbon—the lowest ever. And that just means that the strategy called the green economy, which is to try to invoke a market fix to a market problem, to internalize externalities to get the prices right, as all of the rhetoric has it, it’s simply not working. And so it’s a very depressed scene if you’re an elite, because you know you’re not really going to do much more than give some hot air here, but maybe some new sustainable development goals to replace the Millennium Development Goals.

JAY: I mean, is part of the problem here is that when this thing was sort of catching on and you had, like, the Stern report coming from England and there was a lot of talk about how serious climate change was, that the sort of financial oligarchy jumped on this as another way to have more financialization and more financial instruments and another way just to make money out of this problem through various forms of speculation, and then when the financial crisis hits, the steam kind of goes out of that? My point being is it never for them was anything really about any basic change in the way we produce and do business; it was a scheme, and now they’ve got another scheme.

BOND: Well, that’s true, and the evidence of that is in Chicago, where the Chicago Climate Exchange closed down and the man who founded it, Richard Sandor, is being sued by his former associates for fraud. And so you see the sort of thieves splay out the knives on each other.

Meanwhile, those who probably meant well by promoting the green economy in its early days—for example, where I was ten years ago, Rio+10, Johannesburg, we saw the first signs of this, of the sort of green economy rhetoric, Type II partnerships, public-private partnerships. Water privatization was all the rage. Carbon trading was getting into swing. Those people like Al Gore, who went to Kyoto in 1997 and said, look, the U.S. will support this climate initiative if you allow us to trade and our corporations to keep polluting if they can buy somebody else’s right—and, of course, the U.S. Senate voted 95-to-nothing against, leaving Gore rather embarrassed. But even major environmental groups are continuing. Last week, WWF and Greenpeace even launched a report to promote carbon trading to try to save the European scheme. So it’s gotten a lot of people down a slippery slope to believing that the green economy is efficient and effective, when in fact the market investments that we’ve seen require huge subsidies and still aren’t delivering the goods.

And that means the people in the street, Paul, I think, are quite correct to say we’re fed up. And we’ve had about 30,000 people out protesting a couple of days ago. And, in fact, the night before, a warm-up protest that was very militant, by the movement of the landless workers (MST it’s called here in Brazil), they had about 3,000, and throwing eggs filled with red paint at the white headquarters of Vale, the huge Rio-based mining company. We’ve also seen, at the opening session, indigenous people marching up, 500. And they weren’t allowed in to have representatives—it took quite a long time of negotiating. And then we had the first Occupy summit, led by youth from Canada, Bill McKibben of there. And that’s the kind of pressure we need, both—a little bit on that inside, but I think more and more to give up on the inside and to do things on the outside where the real power has got to be built.

JAY: And what kind of specific demands, then, are people making for solutions if the things like carbon trading and all the various financialization of this is—not only is the steam out of it, but it was probably a dead-end to begin with, in terms of really solving the problem. What specific proposals are people making?

BOND: Well, if you go to any one of the different environmental sectors, for example, saving species from extinction; halting the fresh water privatization, led by the Council of Canadians’ Blue Planet Project; or ocean and marine, saving the marine; or, for example, in the climate, Cochabamba Climate Justice Conference of April 2010 still being, I think, a very, very strong statement; up-to-date demands to close the carbon markets and demand instead financing through a climate debt mechanism—something, by the way, that Hillary Clinton had sort of promised in Copenhagen and isn’t following through on.

The U.S. delegation here, by the way, is notorious, even worse, people are saying, than George Herbert Walker Bush (in 1992, you may remember, he said the American way of life is not up for negotiation), and even worse than George W. Bush. And the reason is that with such an economic crisis, it appears that Obama’s chief negotiator here, Todd Stern from the State Department, has really been pressured, perhaps by the Treasury, just to not give any grounds on the equity area; and the whole phrase from the first Rio, which is for more equity and differentiated—a common but differentiated responsibility, the U.S. is resisting.

And I think that means that the kind of crowd that we’ve been seeing developing critiques, especially at a huge [inaud.] summit—there must have been tens of thousands of people from all over the world coming through this alternative [“crÉ”pÉ™lÉ™dəʃ’proÊŠÉ‘s] held in central Rio—that really is where a sort of much richer spirit that transcends any of the rather stale and irrelevant negotiations going on in Rio center—that really is where the future is being built, it seems to me, Paul.

JAY: But at the state level, there had been some division, a north-south division, that the southern countries, especially those most affected by climate change, you know, wanted something real. And is there any of that kind of fight taking place now in Rio?

BOND: Well, I must be frank that, state-to-state, those who are dissidents, for example, Bolivia, under a lot of pressure, have pulled back. And in Durban, Bolivian delegation, without their former chief negotiator, Pablo Solón, was much, much weaker than before. But, you know, thanks to Bradley Manning, allegedly, and Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks documents have shown us just how pernicious the U.S. State Department can be, and that [it] is bribing small countries like the Maldives, about to go underwater, with just $50 million to do a U-turn and support the U.S. position, the so-called Copenhagen Accord. Same for the Ethiopian (Meles Zenawi) leader: again WikiLeaks revealed, the State Department cables suggest, very easily manipulated. So we shouldn’t really expect third-world elites, because they’re basically co-opted from all the evidence so far.

And it may be that there is some internecine struggles going on between the BRICS—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. But as we saw again in the G-20 in Mexico, they all line up fairly clearly behind the Washington-Brussels project. That was particularly evident in terms of the bailout of the IMF $430 billion that the IMF is now receiving, including $100 billion from the BRICS. So I don’t really see any break in interstate tensions, although there are obviously a lot. I mean, the most important, perhaps, is that the green economy may not proceed as far as northern corporations would like, because southern governments—and China is especially strong—have put a little bit of resistance. But I think I could conclude, Paul, by saying that the green economy rhetoric will be with us for quite some time.

And it’s so crucial for us to distinguish between those progressives who want the debt that the North owes the South for taking ecological space, carbon space, polluting too much, to be paid—that is, for massive damage the North is doing to the South to be paid. And that could be through states, but also directly. And that’s a lot different than the way in which the green economy is being posed, which is payment for environmental services.

JAY: I mean, Patrick, when you use the term green economy, you’re using green free-market economy. Some people are using the term green economy to mean public investment in developing green economy.

BOND: And, indeed, that’s where the money should go if there were justice. And if we had a movement for genuine green jobs, we’d see the labor movement really backing a shift out of fossil-fuel addicted industry. Unfortunately, there’s a very small group—there’s the Million Climate Jobs campaign in Britain, also in South Africa; it’s just getting started in the U.S. But these are still on the margins. And, unfortunately, this whole rhetoric of green economy, payment for environmental services, and financial securitization of nature, selling rights to pollute, effectively, that’s still being controlled by the elites.

And so this countervailing pressure that we see on the streets in Rio and we see in all manner of experiments is still only beginning to eat away at the problem. And all I can say is that the solutions that the elites have, that is, with the market answer to the kind of crises really created by the markets, that’s simply not working and it’s not going to work. And so that means we’ll all be, I think, increasingly pressured, on one side or the other of this huge divide of whether nature should be subject to market forces, to take a stand. And for those in the South, I know they’re saying the North must pay the ecological debt. But Northern corporations mustn’t be able to invoke landgrabs or patented, you know, biopiracy or capture of the commons, privatization, and so forth. That’s the kind of green economy that a corporate might have in mind but that people will persist.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Patrick. And we’ll come back to you, I guess, towards the end of Rio and catch up on where things are at then.

BOND: Great to be with you. Thanks, Paul.

JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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