December’s international conference on climate change in Bali, whilst demonstrating the indelibly aggressive and destructive character of crisis-stricken US imperialism, also revealed how that same crisis is opening up deep splits within the imperialist camp.
Despite the emptiness of the posturing around a so-called new ‘Bali road map’, the disunity of the imperialist exploiters offers fresh opportunities for the nations of the developing world to advance their own interests.
The conference, hosted by the government of Indonesia, took place at the Bali International Convention Centre and brought together representatives of over 180 countries together with observers from intergovernmental and nongovernmental organisations, and the media. From the outset, it was clear that the US would do all within its power to prevent the achievement of a workable international plan to slow down the global warming which is now treated as fact by most of the world’s scientific community.
Harlan Watson, the US chief negotiator, spoke with blunt cynicism when he said: “The reality in this business is that once numbers appear in the text, it prejudges the outcome and will tend to drive the negotiations in one direction.” And, despite all the ballyhoo about a supposed last-minute change of heart by Washington, the final outcome remained comfortable fuzzy on numerical targets and timetables.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) duly collected its Nobel Peace Prize gong at the exit, but even its modest suggestion of an emissions cut of between 25 and 40 percent for developed countries by the year 2010 (itself calculated to do no more than cap the long term temperature rise at 2 percent of pre-industrial levels – insufficient to prevent the submersion of a number of island states) found itself relegated to the margins.
As Mark Lynas noted in the New Statesman, “Although the final text was widely reported as being a defeat for America, given its eleventh-hour volte-face amid extraordinarily emotional scenes at the concluding plenary, the US did succeed in deleting the EU’s numerical targets. Instead, a footnote refers to three pages of the Fourth Assessment Report, which themselves merely assess various scenarios for temperature stabilisation.” (3 January 2008)
The hypocritical EU wing of imperialism may greet this hobbled ‘agreement’ with some relief, serving as it does the twin purposes of (a) making their version of imperialism seem responsible by contrast with their greedy and rapacious rivals state side, whilst (b) allowing them to go on polluting away with minimum restriction, assisted by a market in carbon emissions quotas that works to the advantage of imperialist profits and at the expense of the world’s neo-colonially exploited economies.
Brussels and Washington played this game before in 1997 in the run-up to the Kyoto agreement. The EU declared virtuously in favour of greenhouse gas emissions of 15 percent by 2010. Under pressure from America, this figure was reduced to 5.2 percent by 2012. Then America moved the goalposts, proposing the establishment of an international market in carbon quotas. The idea was that rich nations should buy their emissions cuts from other countries. This was accepted by the EU and built into the Kyoto agreement – which Bush then refused to sign in 2001!
Then, as now, the irresponsibility of US imperialism was brazen, whilst the hypocrisy of the EU got off scot free, able to avoid making any serious dent in its own contribution to global warming. Indeed, because 1990 was taken as the benchmark year, western Europe was able to expand its pollution horizons by buying up emissions quotas from the former Soviet Union, taking full cynical advantage of the fact that those countries were no longer in a position to use up more than a fraction of their own emissions allowance, now that socialist planning had been gutted by counterrevolution.
Opportunity for the world’s peoples
However, there was more than just theatre in the stand-off between the US (for the moment backed by a submissive Canada and a Japan with an eye for the main chance) and the EU. The sharpening rivalry between Europe and the USA over command of markets and resources is real, as is also the new confidence with which such countries as China, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and Iran are standing up to US imperialism and encouraging others to follow suit.
This latter phenomenon was picked up on by Peter Shield (naturalchoices.co.uk): “The world is changing, the bi-polar cold war moved into the US dominated New World Order briefly, it is now moving to another, multi-polar world with the EU, a much more independent South America, a resurgent China and an assertive India. It is US who should now feel the force of isolation should it continue to plough its own road oblivious of the world in which it lives.”
Observers who compared the shenanigans around Kyoto with the Bali circus, only to conclude that nothing is new under the sun, are wide of the mark. Imperialism is ten years deeper into crisis. America faces defeat in its warmongering oppression of Afghanistan and Iraq, and risks worse if it attacks Iran.
In a capitalist market glutted by capital itself, the EU is desperate not to close down potential avenues of investment in Asia and the Middle East by too close an association with aggressive US imperialism. Under such circumstances, Brussels felt obliged to open the door a crack to the group of developing companies, the G77, when it seemed that the absence of such a gesture risked making a mockery of the pretensions of imperialism to speak as ‘the international community’.
In Peter Hardstaff’s breathless New Statesman account of the eleventh-hour turnaround, he writes: “It’s not easy to explain the full story, and also convey the tense and emotional atmosphere in the huge plenary hall, but basically the group of developing countries (G77) proposed an amendment, which was supported by the EU (to much applause). The US then objected to the amendment. What followed was a series of statements from countries across the world with varying degrees of condemnation of the US position. And with the World’s media watching, the United States dropped its objection.” (15 December 2007)
However much showmanship may be discerned in this largely symbolic humiliation of Washington, what lies behind it is a real crisis at the heart of all imperialism, a crisis which opens up the road of anti-imperialist struggle to ever more of the world’s impoverished masses.
From no other perspective, however, are we justified in discerning anything positive in the aftermath of Bali. Least of all can we justify optimism about a ‘greener’ future based on Europe being ‘greener’ than America, or the US Democrats being ‘greener’ than the US Republicans, or a future Washington regime being ‘greener’ than the neo-con cabal currently fronting for US monopoly capital.
Such illusions, of course, are cynically cultivated by the Labour party, as reported by the Times: “Many delegates appear to be negotiating in the hope that President Bush will be succeeded in 2009 by a president more willing to accede to cuts in greenhouse gases. ‘Politics is changing in lots of parts of the world really fast,’ Mr [Hilary] Benn said. ‘This is about not shutting the door on anybody … and in the course of the next two years, well, other things are going to probably change as well.’” (Times Online, 13 December 2007)
And because green reformism, however hard it rails against capitalist excess on occasion, can never quite believe that the leopard is stuck with his spots for good, it cannot help but pick up and relay the same disarming message.
Mark Lynas consoled himself in the New Statesman thus: “But this is the tail end of a dying US administration. In just one year, a new president will move into the White House, with a new climate policy. By the time negotiations conclude in Copenhagen in 2009, the political landscape could look very different, leading to a consensus on long-term targets that includes every government in the world.” (Op cit)
Yet, as George Monbiot pointed out after the Bali conference, the US negotiating team that sabotaged Kyoto ten years ago was led by none other than Al Gore, of green lecture circuit fame. George Bush’s refusal to ratify the Protocol in 2001 was merely a case of the Republicans finishing what the Democrats started.
Monbiot also makes the point that big business greases the palm of Republican and Democrat alike.
“The big polluters favour the Republicans, but most of them also fund Democrats. During the 2000 presidential campaign, oil and gas companies lavished money on Bush, but they also gave Gore $142,000, while transport companies gave him $347,000. The whole US political system is in hock to people who put their profits ahead of the biosphere.”
Monbiot’s conclusions, as ever, do little justice to the arguments that have taken him there: “So don’t believe all this nonsense about waiting for the next president to sort it out. This is a much bigger problem than George Bush. Yes, he is viscerally opposed to tackling climate change. But viscera don’t have much to do with it. Until the American people confront their political funding system, their politicians will keep speaking from the pocket, not the gut.” (The Guardian, 17 December 2007)
The obscene political funding system in America differs only in degree from the endless political corruption in Britain, with cash for questions (Tories), cash for honours (Labour) and now cash for futile deputy leadership campaigns (Hain). Nor does it differ in essence from every other capitalist state on the planet, bound by a million ties to the class of exploiters in whose sole interests it rules.
Unpicking this or that aspect of Washington’s bent lobbying arrangements will do precisely nothing to confront the permanent unelected dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. To do that will require a communist revolution. More than that: without such a revolution, imperialism has already given ample proof of its complete inability to even start to try and solve the climate crisis facing the world’s people – even though it threatens humanity’s very existence.