UN Climate Talks Go Nowhere, Again


 “The smell of inaction” is how Dipti Bhatnagar, Friends of the Earth Mozambique’s international program director for climate justice and energy, summed up the atmosphere inside the giant Narodowy Stadium after the first week of the latest round of international climate negotiations, Conference of the Parties, otherwise known as COP 19, taking place Nov 11-22, 2013, in Warsaw.

Given that this is the 19th consecutive year of annual negotiations and with a meaningful global treaty more distant now than it was almost two decades ago, Bhatnagar’s olfactory deduction seems likely to be highly accurate.

As the pervasive smell of inaction seeped like a suffocating gas throughout the inside of the conference, outside, the choking effects of coal smoke waft from all corners of a country that obtains 90 percent of its electricity from coal and whose government has pledged to keep it that way until 2060.

As if to emphasize the point, just on the other side of the banks of the VistulaRiver, a stone’s throw from the international climate negotiations, another conference is being held at the Polish Ministry of the Economy. Intent on sending a none-too-subtle message to government negotiators at COP 19, coal industry executives have gathered at the International Coal and Climate Conference, November 18-19, to discuss the future of coal in light of climate change.

If this were a rational system set up to benefit humanity, one might think that, as coal burning releases more carbon than other fossil fuels in addition to small particulates that infiltrate and cause chronic lung damage as well as other toxic chemicals that increase the risk of cancer and cause acid rain – coal industry leaders might be discussing how to shift their investments, to phase out coal and transition to alternative energy production methods that don’t rely on burning such a noxious substance.

In reality, the conference was put on for precisely the opposite reasons. Attendees, with the blessing of the Polish government, were there to argue for the future of “clean coal.” This technology is known as CCS (carbon capture and storage). And although it seeks to trap and bury carbon emissions from coal plants, it doesn’t exist in any meaningful commercial form. Even some supporters harbor increasing doubts that it ever will be made to work on the scale necessary. But, nevertheless, it is being touted as the way to “safely” continue burning coal.

Even the head of the delegation of one of the most conservative and pro-business environmental NGOs at the conference, Tasneem Essop of the World Wildlife Fund, commented,

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>Chris Williams, a frequent contributor to Climate & Capitalism, is the author of Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis (Haymarket, 2011). He is chair of the Science Department at Packer Collegiate Institute and adjunct professor of Chemistry and Physical Science at Pace University. 

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