Durban’s conference of polluters, market failure and critic failure by Patrick Bond

The United Nations climate negotiations have failed to address what scientists agree is the world’s greatest-ever threat to the human species and much other life on Earth. In Durban, South Africa, the December 2011 summit yet again turned to failing market mechanisms to address emissions cuts, without advancing beyond unambitious 2009 Copenhagen Conference of the Parties targets. As a banker remarked, the Durban deal was like ‘a Viagra shot for the flailing carbon markets’, but a commentator rebuffed, ‘The problem with Viagra, of course, is that it only lasts for a couple of hours’. Carbon markets continued to fall for weeks after the COP17. Tragically, state delegations from the most adversely affected areas failed to speak up when it became apparent no climate-saving deal was possible (as had happened in Seattle and Cancun against harmful trade deals, thus slowing multilateral neoliberalism). And those in civil society observing the planned ‘genocide’ and ‘ecocide’, as Durban was appropriately described by the former Bolivian ambassador to the UN, were themselves (ourselves) implicated in the overall failure, insofar as inadequate analysis, strategies and tactics characterized both local and international climate activism. Only regroupment at the scales of national and subnational governments (for regulatory advocacy) and direct action against greenhouse gas emitters – as, after all, the climate justice movement has been pursuing for several years – offer better prospects for transforming the present market, state and social failures into system-wide structural change.

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