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Patrick Bond: Carbon markets failing and Durban Green Climate Fund doomed – up to activists now

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. The COP17 climate change negotiation conference that was in Durban is now over. Canada just a few days ago announced it’s actually pulling out of the Kyoto agreement, and Russia then came out and backed Canada’s move. So where now goes the public policy, international policy dealing with climate change? Now joining us to talk about all of this is Patrick Bond. Patrick is the director of the Center for Civil Society in South Africa. He’s also a professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. But right now he’s traveling in China and he joins us from Chongqing. Thanks for joining us, Patrick.


JAY: So, first of all, what in your mind came out of Durban?

BOND: Well, a zombie emerged, really. You know, the heart and the soul [incompr.] if you will of the Kyoto Protocol, which was to get binding agreements and deep cuts in the second round, those objectives were not achieved, and the the sort of [incompr.] commitment to be negotiated over the next period. But there will be a round that’ll go [incompr.] 2018. But, you know, Paul, the [incompr.] thing for the Europeans who put this deal together at the last minute was to keep carbon markets [incompr.] The piece of the Kyoto Protocol that Al Gore [incompr.] vice president in 1997, he [incompr.] part of a deal to allow Northern polluters to continue, and then he said, well, the U.S. will sign. Of course, the U.S. didn’t sign. [incompr.] 95 [incompr.] in the Senate against the protocol, and now Canada following Russia, Japan dropping out. And that probably killed pretty much everything that you’d want from a Kyoto Protocol, a fully binding agreement that will really get the deep cuts that the world desperately needs. And so that part is dead. And yet what is stumbling along, tripping, and maybe crashing, even, this week would be the carbon market piece, which is 140 billion [incompr.] a year, mainly in the European markets–nothing to sneeze at–a little market here in Quebec. A new one might start in California, maybe Australia in a couple of years, [incompr.] China. But, you know, these are small–.

JAY: A new market’s just been opened, announced, in Quebec, Canada. Quebec, in spite of the Canadian government pulling out of Kyoto, which the government of Quebec denounced, they announced their own cap and trade program in Quebec.

BOND: It’s a bit of its a distraction. It’s good to see Quebec, as ever, fighting the insanity of the Conservatives in Ottawa, but on the other hand, this for at least the [incompr.] years since we’ve had the Kyoto Protocol proved a terrible distraction–a privatization of the air that’s so [incompr.] with [incompr.] and then instability, volatility. You know, carbon is like a commodity, and we’ve seen how they’ve been up, down. And then this week the carbon markets themselves showed [inaud.] much they thought of the old Durban platform, all of the work over the two weeks in Durban, by [incompr.] Union Bank of Switzerland is saying down to EUR 3 a ton. Don’t forget, Paul, the peak was around EUR 33 five years ago, and then, going into the Durban meeting, around EUR 8. And so the anticipation–in fact, the futures market today is around [incompr.] euros a ton. This is calamitous if you believe that the markets can solve the market problem.

JAY: So why have the prices drop so much?

BOND: Partly, Paul, it’s the oversupply. I mean, of course, the context is crucial. The world elites have shown for the seventh time they aren’t serious about cutting emissions. [incompr.] if you emissions and get that cap on to get the trading [incompr.] underneath the cap, it won’t work. And the most important thing is–idea is on the supply side. In other words, to try and get the carbon markets to–so expansive that even forests or soil [incompr.] in Africa can be funded through carbon markets has been the agenda. But when you [incompr.] adding all of the supply that that implies, then you oversupply, you glut an already glutted market. And that’s what people are fearing, that things like REDD, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, would have that effect. But, Paul, a crucial point here that the [incompr.] the green climate fund, especially [incompr.] the design team, the South African [incompr.] crucial figure in the politics of climate governance, they anticipated half of that green climate fund, which Hillary Clinton in 2009 said should be $100 billion a year, would come from the carbon markets. But now it appears that’s just a fantasy. There’s no chance at all of the biggest fund in history–five times as large as what the World Bank lends each year–could actually be funded probably. And that means, well, maybe you have to go back to the public accounts. And, of course, with countries like the U.S. and Canada and many Europeans in this austerity fetish, there’s just [incompr.] there. So the whole framing of global climate governance, the promise made in Copenhagen, that sort of bribe, if you will, of a green climate [incompr.] that’s all falling apart. And that means we really have to look at the [incompr.] and [incompr.] local activists to pick up the slack where the sort of 1 percent [incompr.] convention center completely failed us.

JAY: So the point here is that the market mechanisms that were supposed to be the answer, the market mechanisms are falling apart and failing. So you’ve got–just for people that are not on top of this story, explain a bit about how carbon markets are supposed to reduce carbon emissions.

BOND: Well, you see, instead of just imposing a cut as a government should–and we do have a great precedent for that in chlorofluorocarbons, CFCs, that created an expanding [incompr.] ozone [incompr.] and then they phased out he CFCs. Now, because of the vested interest in Kyoto, and especially the U.S. saying, no, no, we don’t want to do a rules-based regulatory system of phasing out greenhouse gases, we’ll try and reduce the total, but within that we’ll trade and let the companies buy the right. And that means [incompr.] let somebody in the north buy somebody in the south’s right to pollute is one of the kind of classic cases [incompr.] more efficient [incompr.] buy the right from less efficient. And that way the market logically find the most painless way to adjust to the need to get rid of greenhouse gases so the planet won’t be [incompr.] and the idea is the market solution works when you have a market problem. You call this externality by internalizing it. Those are the phrases economists came up with. Well, we believed them, or many did, anyway, the environmentalists who bought into the European Union. U.S. never played ball. Canadians were ambiguous. And now it looks like the markets, just like we’d expect, the bankers [incompr.] the financial [incompr.] that. And would you give them the next responsibility, saving the planet? This is now beyond absurd.

JAY: So a coal-firing plant that creates electricity, now, because the price of these carbon credits is so low, it doesn’t really mitigate their carbon emission at all. They can pick up some cheap credits and carry on doing what they’re doing. But the second piece of this, you were saying, is this green climate fund that came out of Durban, which is supposed to be one of its achievements, doesn’t actually have any way, really, to be funded now.

BOND: It appears so. It’s just an empty bank account. You know, [you] really need these carbon markets to be hitting EUR 50, EUR 60 a ton. At that [incompr.] you could expect some incentive [incompr.] some switches away from fossil fuel energy, away from private [transport], and you get your public transport, your renewable energy, your new production systems, your new disposal systems. All of these could conceivably work if the price was much higher. But you can tell they’re just not [incompr.] to do that. The will of the politicians, the 1 percent, the delegates, negotiators, was to basically serve the interests of [incompr.] own business elites, and fossil fuel industry is amongst those.

JAY: But in the United States, much of the environmental movement, green movement is still demanding some kind of carbon trade system. So if that really isn’t effective, at least not as we’ve seen it, what should people be demanding?

BOND: Well, I think [incompr.] the mainstream and big environmental movements, the delusion of the big environmental groups [incompr.] you could argue that it’s just an intellectual problem they have understanding the markets don’t work. They shouldn’t have that problem anymore, not after 2008. Also a money problem, that they were getting the estimates round $300 million in 2009, 2010, especially from Washington, to push cap and trade. [inaud.] really have to [incompr.] that absolute distraction of the carbon markets and go to [incompr.] grassroots. I see in the Niger Delta the environmental [incompr.] keep the oil in the soil or the Yasuni Park where [incompr.] have been making very strong proposals and doing activism. In North America as well, I mean, the Canadians and the tar sands stopping Barack Obama, 1,250 arrests in Washington, 200 in Ottawa, protests in [West] Virginia to stop mountaintop removal, some early successes there, Sierra Club [incompr.] getting a hundred and [incompr.] coal-fired power plants turned off before they’re even started, using [litigation] and community [incompr.] And those are the kinds of activities. There’s a great group, Grassroots Global Justice [incompr.] activists all over to keep the oil in the soil, leave the coal in the hole. That’s the first defense strategy. Other activists are working on new transition strategies [incompr.] transition. We had a wonderful set of meetings with labor. They’re very slow to come on board climate justice. But [incompr.] well, 1 million climate jobs in places like Britain, South Africa, those campaigns are up and running and hoping [incompr.] America as well some of the better trade unionists are going to join in and make this a genuinely labor community and environmental coalition [incompr.] patently obvious, Paul, that you just cannot trust the politicians now.

JAY: Okay. Thanks very much for joining us, Patrick.

BOND: Good be with you again.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And don’t forget, we’re in the midst of our 2011 $200,000 challenge fundraising campaign. So if you click this donate button over here now, every dollar you donate will be matched. Thanks again for joining us on The Real News Network.


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