Climate conference has 'already failed'

2011-09-14 22:17

Cape Town - An environmental activist organisation has labelled the UN-sponsored climate talks in Durban a failure as world leaders struggle to reach consensus on a binding climate treaty.

"We're of the opinion that COP17 has already failed. If you consider what's been happening in the talks in the run-up to, which is pretty much where most of the work happens, the most that's going to come out of it is some global environmental fund or facility which, quite frankly, is generally going to be a bad idea," Muna Lakhani, Cape Town branch co-ordinator for Earthlife Africa, told News24.

Climate negotiators will gather in Durban in November to hammer out a climate deal that activists hope will regulate the amount of carbon that countries will be allowed to pump into the atmosphere.

Some commentators have suggested that companies be allowed to trade in carbon to mitigate their pollution and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has proposed a carbon tax for polluting industries in the country.

Lakhani slammed the practice of carbon trading, saying that it would not result in companies reducing their output of greenhouse gases.

Carbon trading

"Carbon trading is the biggest con the planet has ever seen: It's simply a method where capitalists can commodify our atmosphere. There's a difference between trading in carbon and taxing it."

Under the Kyoto protocol, the Clean Development Mechanism was established to allow corporations to invest in projects in developing countries in return for carbon credits.

Authors H Winkler and D van Es of the Energy Research Centre at UCT have said that countries should be discouraged from adopting "perverse incentives" on emissions in their report - Energy efficiency and the CDM in South Africa: Constraints and opportunities.

"Energy efficiency is included as one of the national policies that give advantages to less emissions-intensive technologies over more emissions-intensive technologies," they wrote.

Lakhani said that although the measure of carbon trading was adopted under the Kyoto protocol, it was meant to be temporary in nature.

"All that's happened is that it's a new commodity to trade in. The CDM [Clean Development Mechanism] market in Europe has collapsed at least twice, to my knowledge. So trading in carbon is flawed and focusing on carbon is actually a flaw.

"When you burn fossil fuels, you don't only emit carbon. You're emitting all sorts depending on what fuel you're using: benzene, toluene, sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide - so we're not looking at the toxicity of what we're doing," he said.

Inequitable distribution

He said that the root of the problem was consumption and an inequitable distribution of resources.

"We're focusing on one thing - carbon - but it's a distraction from reality because the fundamental flaw in trying to resolve climate change is that it does not address the systemic issues of over-consumption and over-production.

"Charging the right price is one thing, but trading in the carbon is something else altogether."

Earthlife Africa said that a carbon tax as suggested by Australia could work but would have to include steeper tariffs, particularly for industrial users of electricity.

"So a carbon tax could work. We actually think it's simpler: You just correctly price electricity - and the more you use the higher price you pay in ever increasing steps. That will quickly make industry very efficient.

"Mining in any shape or form could never be considered sustainable, so why push that? When you consider that 36 companies use 40% of our electricity in South Africa, then you must know we have a bad economic model," Lakhani said.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

Read more on:    uct  |  earthlife africa  |  julia gillard  |  durban  |  climate change  |  cop 17

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