Doha Climate Talks: First Farce, then Tragedy

The lead-up to COP18 which started in Doha, Qatar this week, would have been farcical, if not for the tragic reminder from Hurricane Sandy that climate change is deadly, and is already upon us.

But for a moment, let’s appreciate the ironies:

Rio+20, “The Future We Want,” summit in June of this year was declared a failure on almost all counts. The tepid commitments, all voluntary, sound exactly like the future fossil fuel industries want. But in Doha, under the mandate of the UNFCCC, parties will agree on issues like finance, carbon markets, and REDD+.

Protester in Rio, June 2012.

Sounds reasonable? Think twice- COP18 is in Qatar, an OPEC nation with some of the highest emissions per capita that has been barely involved in climate negotiations. International campaigners Avaaz posted, “having one of the OPEC leaders in charge of climate talks is like asking Dracula to look after a blood bank.”

At least we can turn to our “climate leaders,” like the EU. Turns out the debt crisis has our European friends a little distracted from their climate commitments. Spain, Germany, Italy, the U.K. and France have all cut aid to renewables.

Well there are some “easy” issues to resolve in Doha, like fund transfers from wealthy countries to developing countries for mitigation and adaptation, right? But the farce continues- just in time for the conference to start, an international report finds that most wealthy countries are falling embarrassingly short of their commitments thus far for fund transfers. So much for the easy stuff.

Okay, at least they off-set their emissions! 25k metric tons of carbon was “eliminated” in the CDM carbon market to off-set 10,000 participants traveling to Doha. Yet this comes amidst mounting evidence that the carbon markets are broken, with the value of credits in the CDM plunging 93% in two years, and the EU system failing to reduce emissions. (I’ll spare the gory details of CDM’s social injustice.)

Yet, somehow in the fracas, carbon speculators are optimistic for Doha. Unlike the negotiators, they’ve figured out they can still make a handsome profit even if emissions don’t drop. In the rush to appease and appeal to business interests, negotiators have bought into a “Green Economy” narrative, where climate solutions are reduced to financial and technological fixes. REDD+, CDM, and other carbon offsets allow industrialized countries to avoid shifting their economies off fossil fuels, and speculators in new carbon markets reap the rewards.

The Doha skyline.

The choice of some climate justice groups to skip the trip to Doha is looking better and better.

So is the COP system broken? Can we expect anything out of Doha? With Sandy barely behind us, and more storms on the horizon, a meaningful U.N. process may feel like our last hope. However most major decisions are mapped out in preparatory meetings, such as those in Bonn and Bangkok this year.  While the presence of critical voices is important, so far the COPs have proven to leave out indigenous peoples, youth, and others most impacted by climate change.  We can’t count on negotiators to broker our future with fossil fuel corporations.

The recent position paper from Focus on the Global South offers a critique and an alternative: “The capitalist system is seeking to get out of this economic crisis through a process of reconfiguration that implies a new process of exploitation of humans and nature… …To confront the interests and power of corporations, our struggle must have as starting point the daily life of the people affected by climate change and not the UNFCCC negotiations.”

Around the world, more and more people are connecting the dots and challenging the root causes of climate change and false solutions. From the Tar Sands Blockade in Texas, to First Nations in British Columbia, to indigenous communities impacted by REDD+ in Mexico, people are taking a stand for their communities and ecology. As Hurricane Sandy showed, if we aren’t already, we all may soon be on the frontlines of climate change.

As Focus on the Global South writes, “A ‘one size fits all’ model like neoliberalism or centralized bureaucratic socialism is not the answer. Instead, diversity should be expected and encouraged, as it is in nature.” Real solutions come from the grassroots.

Natural Gas and Oil Frontlines: First Nations Lead the Way

This post originally appeared on the blog of the Population and Development Program, based in Amherst, MA, which works at the intersection of reproductive freedom, environmental justice and peace.

American environmentalists are declaring victory over the announcement that the United States will research alternate routes for the Keystone XL pipeline.  While Obama’s announcement was an encouraging gesture, U.S.-based activists are in danger of missing the forest for the trees.  We must look north, the source of tar sands oil, where First Nations people in Canada are directly confronting the accelerating fossil fuel expansion on their land, as we plan the next steps in our movement.

Indigenous Assembly Against Mining & Pipelines, November 2011

The Keystone XL pipeline is just one in a massive network of pipelines branching out from the oil fields of Alberta, illustrated by this map.  The trade magazine Pipelines International reports on this extensive infrastructure of, as they call them, “energy lifelines.”  While the tar sands (or oil sands) have received international attention since the protests against Keystone XL lit off this summer, pipeline expansion is occurring on many fronts in Canada: tar sands oil, conventional oil and natural gas which is being pumped out of Canadian soil. American activists have shown their mettle in facing down the importation of tar sands oil into the U.S., but where do they stand on the dozens of other pipelines that make up this spiderweb?

Traditional environmental leaders, Indigenous environmentalists and youth came together in unprecedented ways during the Keystone fight; now we must move forward with our eyes on the frontline. The untold story of fossil fuel expansion in Canada is its toll on Indigenous communities, or First Nations.  First Nations in Canada in active resistance show paths forward, as fossil fuel companies only intensify their development efforts.
On the same weekend that 12,000 protesters encircled the White House, the 2nd Indigenous Assembly on Pipelines and Mining took place in Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories The Indigenous Assembly over the weekend of November 5th, issued this call to action:

Indigenous communities from across the province are gathering in Vancouver Unceded Coast Salish Territories to oppose this conference and those corporations who profit off the destruction of the land. No mining, no pipelines, no resource extraction on unceded native lands! Defend the people, protect the land!

The Assembly hosted No Mining on Native Land!, a march through downtown Vancouver on November 6th. The pipelines, notably the Enbridge oil pipeline and the Kimimat Summit Lake gas pipeline (or Pacific Trails), endanger the lands of Indigenous people who are dependent on trapping and hunting for survival.

Tribe members block PTP from entering unceded land.

The Pacific Trails pipeline would lead to a new liquefied natural gas (LNG) port at Bish Cove, an ecologically pristine beach, on the Western cost. The Enbridge and Pacific Trails pipelines would run alongside each other near the Morice River.  The proximity of gas and oil pipelines to each other is particularly dangerous, though the companies have made no statement on this risk.  Many tribal councils and governments have approved one or both pipelines, in large part due to promises of jobs, but among Indigenous residents on the land, resistance is fierce.

The same week, Likhts’amisyu and Unist’ot’en clans of the Wet’swet’en nation confronted officials from Pacific Trails pipeline (PTP), who were attempting to illegally enter their territory to move drilling equipment.  This nation is one of many in Canada on land unceded to the Canadian government.  The nation owns the land and PTP was not authorized to enter.   Tribe members blockaded the access road, and formed an encampment until the company removed all equipment and vehicles several days later.

The Unist’hot’en clan has also built a cabin on Wet’suwet’en territory in the path of the Enbridge pipeline, PTP and one other pipeline, to prevent construction.  They intend to defend the cabin and halt illegal construction on their land.  Mel Bazil of the Lhe Lin Liyin (The Guardians), which support the Unist’hot’en Wet’suwet’en writes,

A delay could benefit their [Transcanada and other companies’] plans to assist in what we consider the systemic scope of the Tar Sands expansion activity. Tar sands may require offsets to operate, and proposed pipelines that acquire tenure through band chiefs and councils, and through treaty agencies … could make deals without the input or involvement of grassroots and indigenous peoples, who experience the environmental damage and pollution.

American activists must link to the struggle of First Nations people resisting Enbridge, PTP and other pipelines.  The Keystone XL pipeline, once considered a no-brainer for approval by industry and legislators, now stands in limbo.  That is a success for American activists.   However, fossil fuels are an international industry, and NAFTA and other treaties have deeply linked the American and Canadian economies.  The frontlines of fossil fuel in the U.S. are inherently connected to the struggle unfolding in Canada as part of a global supply chain.

As collaboration between major environmental NGOs and Indigenous environmental leaders deepens and expands, we must not allow Washington insiders to define the terms of victory.  There is no victory until Indigenous communities, and all frontline communities, are safe from the indignities of fossil fuels.

Read Martha’s previous coverage of Tar Sands oil extraction, activism to stop the Keystone pipeline, and Indigenous organizing in the US and Canada in Resisting the Tar Sands: Bridging Communities & Struggles, published in October, 2011.

Stand against the “Greening of Hate” for the Movement we Believe In

Wednesday, September 22, I attended a meeting at Hampshire College of Western Massachusetts environmental organizers hosted by the Center for New Community of Chicago.  Rebecca Poswolsky of CNC presented to the group about the rising trend of anti-immigration rhetoric being pushed into the environmental movement.  Videos and advertisements portrayed the messaging of anti-immigration groups vying for an environmental audience.

In one, a line of men in sweatshirts and jeans, baseball caps pulled down, snakes through desert brush in the hidden camera footage.  The voice-over in this Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) film describes the actions of the “illegal aliens,” “They walk, but some get tired.  A few sit and snack. Likely the snack packages will become litter… … more people, more paths, more trash.”

No one likes litter, especially those espousing to be environmentalists.  The narrative of this film is easy to follow.  Immigrants = trash = ruined wildlife = environmental disaster.

It’s a simple argument to pull apart; consumption levels of people in America are astronomically higher than those of our southern neighbors and historically the U.S. accounts for a disproportionate amount of carbon emissions.  Upon entering the U.S. one doesn’t immediately increase their consumption; factors of class and wealth are much better indicators of consumption.  Since the Environmental Justice movement took off in the early 1980s, more and more immigrants and people of color have contributed their voices and values to the fight for the environment and climate.  In short, immigrants aren’t the problem. Continue reading ‘Stand against the “Greening of Hate” for the Movement we Believe In’


Martha Pskowski


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