Energy and Climate Policy Institute

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Enerzine No 16. Beyond Global Green New Deal and UN Climate Regime
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   Enerzine No 16.pdf (110.7K) [6] DATE : 2011-12-21 12:07:19
[Durban COP17 People's Space Paper]

Beyond Global Green New Deal and UN Climate Regime

— Lee, Jung-Pil (Researcher, Energy and Climate Policy Institute)

1. Dual Front Lines of Green Capitalism

The international climate regime is faced with a crisis concerning two aspects. First, UNFCCC is collapsing as the post-Kyoto system agreement is delayed and international regulations on mandatory reduction of greenhouse gases weaken. Second, the global new deal that was promoted as a means to overcome the economic crisis all over the world fails to function properly and the future of the global green new deal is not optimistic under the crisis of a neoliberalistic globalization. The UNFCCC and the global green new deal have complementary relationship with each other with the purpose of reorganization into green capitalism. The global green new deal attempts to be transformed into the green economy through the growth of green industrial capital and expansion of green employment. On the other hand, the UNFCCC tries to be converted into the carbon economy through expansion of financial capital faction that wants the carbon market to settle down and green industrial capital. The future of the UNFCCC and the global green new deal is unclear in that green capital factions have not yet grown enough to gain the hegemony of fossil capital factions and their power bloc. The ground on which green capital grows fast has not yet been provided while undergoing difficulties in powerful reduction agreement.

Not only such a front line of interests of competition among capitals but also another front line has been formed. The hostile frontline called climate justice reflects the relationship between climate debtor nations formed centering on climate debt and climate creditor nations, between climate debtor classes and climate creditor classes. Even though there are some vague views on green capital, the climate justice and the just transition movement look straight at the limitations of green capitalism and explore the possibility of system transition in many ways. Under these circumstances, this paper is a proposal that discusses the struggle direction and strategy that climate justice should examine in the situations of Durban COP17 and Post COP17

2. Just Transition  Strategy beyond Global Green New Deal

1) Appearance of Global Green New Deal Paradigm

Faced with complex crisis such as economic crises, employment crisis, and ecological crisis, the new paradigm called the ‘global green new deal’ was presented. International organizations such as the UN, OECD, and major countries have disseminated such discourses competitively and published several policies. Some countries are making efforts to vitalize the economy while the environment through green economic stimulus plans and major nongovernment organizations are participating in these efforts. The gist of policies of such green races is to allocate at least 1% of GDP to ‘Green New Deal Initiative,’ or ‘Green Growth.’ It is measures to increase employment and reduce environmental influence by investing intensively in environmental improvements such as railroad, electric network, wastes, green construction, recyclable energy green transport, and CCS. The terms, green economy, and carbon economy have now become common sense.

2) Types of Green Growth

In fact, this is not a new paradigm. This is an extension of ‘ecological modernization’ of major European advanced countries in the 1980s and ‘sustainable development’ that was fashionable in the 1990s. From the point of view of the political economy, it means a new accumulation strategy and is an infrastructure type of capitalist system defined as ‘green capitalism.’ As the green economy and carbon economy through ‘environmental fix’ or ‘climate fix’ have been expanded all over the world, it means nature called ‘ecology’ and ‘climate’ has begun to be taken into capital on a pseudo basis. Just as neoliberalism emerged in diverse forms depending on the respective countries, green capitalism can also be divided into several types.

First, advanced countries try ecological restructuring within the capitalist system by accepting and transforming the concepts of ecological modernization and sustainable development within the framework of neoliberalistic welfare state. It has been promoted by Northern and Western Europe and they are transforming into a ‘green welfare state’ by advocating an ideology called sustainable capitalism.

Second, the green new deal in Korea represented by low carbon green growth has been promoted in the new accumulation strategy of a strong neoliberalistic reform. However, its substance is ‘gray growth’ and ‘civil engineering green fascism’ in which the focus is on civil engineering economy and fossil/nuclear energy, while the green industry including recyclable energy is treated secondarily.  Similarly to Korea, late developing countries in the periphery such as BRICS try to adopt neoliberalism actively and maintain an export-oriented economic growth model. This is nothing but glossing over ‘green GDPism’ with green, giving birth to ideological effects of manipulating green symbolically.

On the other hand, the poor or (poorest) countries belonging to the periphery under the neocolonial international order have no resources with which to promote green growth policies. Some resources-rich countries are even unable to pull themselves up out of ‘the curse of resources.’ In this sense, green growth has the conservative nature of maintaining and reproducing the existing growth- and consumption-oriented world economic models diplomatically.

3) The Limitation of Green Capitalism and Just Transition Strategy

Then, is green capitalism inevitable? Is it desirable? In addition, what role can it play in the system shift strategy? It may not be a wrong criticism that the green capitalist economy is a commercialization of nature or a quantification of value system. What is produced from a too narrow point of view focus on the immediate need to reduce carbon emission massively while attaining economic stability. It fails to recognize periodical instability that is inherent to the dynamics of capitalism and unproductive speculation impulse existing at the core of capitalism. Moreover, the current economic crisis expanding globally is such that it is difficult to resolve by means of the global new deal. Even if the green new deal is successful to a certain extent, it will have the effect of delaying the instability and crisis of the current system temporarily rather than of fundamentally overcoming them.

Then, are we left with choosing either ‘cowboy green capitalism’ or green Keynesism (or ‘green welfare state’)? The concept of ‘Just Transition’ and strategy presented by climate justice camp including the international confederation of trade unions can be our starting point. Even though it is vibrating somewhere in green capitalism up to now, it becomes a powerful weapon to shift into another world beyond green capitalism. It can provide the base on which to build a counter-hegemony without settling in green capitalism in the manner of weakening the inner dynamics of the system through ‘non-reformist’ reform or ‘ecological socialistic’ strategies. What we need now is to radicalize and popularize the climate justice movement and to develop diverse practice and alternatives of the people’s movements globally in the form of red-green alliance and disclose its prospects. Our future cannot be designed as a completed blueprint; nevertheless, it should be a panorama evolving continuously with struggles and experiences. This is our realistic goal and strategies that we consider inevitably desirable.

3. Triple Strategies beyond UN Climate Regime

1) Rise in COP Skepticism

The outcomes and limitations of the Kyoto protocol was carried into action with the contents considerably retreated from the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); they can be evaluated accurately after one year. However, most people were unable to conclude if the Kyoto protocol was ever fair and effective in climate change. Meanwhile, the UNFCCC Conference of Parties(COP) in Bali (2007), Poznan (2008), Copenhagen (2009), and Cancun (2010) have made even the prospects of the post-Kyoto system uncertain. As was confirmed in the course of preliminary negotiation in 2011, the conclusion at the Durban COP17 (2011) might have been already drawn. On the other hand, the forces of the CJN-based climate justice movement contributed to touching off the popular movement. It developed into the 2009 Copenhagen climate justice march, the 2010 Cochabamba people’s conference (world people's conference on climate change and the rights of mother earth), and the Cancun climate justice march. Indeed, the “Anti COP” contention is gaining ground either for psychological reason or for implementing a movement strategy. Meanwhile, as the Copenhagen Accord and the Cancun Agreement were enforced under the circumstances where people talk about the uselessness of UNFCCC, it is rather a natural phenomenon. On the other hand, alternative forces (including some countries) of climate justice are unable to demonstrate sufficiently their strengths in the international order known as the UN climate regime. Accordingly, contentions arise, as some believe 'it is better not to negotiate than to do bad negotiations, but then people propose many possible solutions.' Certainly, this is not wrong. However, it would create embarrassment if rejection were the only thing that the climate justice movement could take.

2) UNFCCC Internal and External Dual Strategies

Thus, at one point COP has become the ‘Satanic Mills.’ Therefore, by extending the Kyoto protocol, there is no other choice but to extend the life of the UNFCCC as well. Even if formal agreement, known as the Kyoto protocol, is reached to prevent extreme situations where mandatory reduction occurs, it is not enough to prevent skepticism about the UN climate regime. Nevertheless, a state of emergency on climate change cannot be resolved immediately by discarding COP and engaging in the second Seattle struggle and the second Occupy struggle. It is because if the anti-neoliberalism struggle is a movement to reject neoliberalism and the international order (WTO) that supports it and desires another world, then the climate justice struggle is a movement that creates a new international order preventing climate change. Up to the present, the UNFCCC has not ended its mission so that it can take negative struggle methods. Specifically, it should be expressed as a clear opposition to the conservative goal of the Kyoto protocol and a deregulation of the carbon market mechanism. In this regard, the appropriateness of the dual strategies both inside and outside COP is easily agreed. In other words, COP is the space that climate justice struggles should not overlook but cope with strategically. The climate justice movement is possible only when it breaks away from the passive ways through institutionalized lobbying and enters the public movement domain.

3) Threefold Strategy beyond UNFCCC

We think it is necessary to present clearer alternative strategies to intervene in the international climate regime strategically after COP17. We should try every means possible to create a new framework that can reverse the unbalance of power of the international climate regime. Consideration of the core solutions to responding to climate (e.g., climate debt and financial transactions) has already been made. However, with regard to deciding on this matter, there are diverse thoughts also within the climate justice camp. The situation requires a critical mind that goes beyond the dichotomy of thoughts of lobbying and monitoring inside UNFCCC as well as the struggles and isolation outside. In this sense, we present three strategies for climate justice intervention. These strategies aim for multilayer approaches of watching inside the UN climate regime, struggling outside, making it possible from above, and constructing below.

First, a democratic strategy through changes in decision-making methods of UNFCCC. The current decision-making methods are changed from all member representative systems based on current nominal multilateralism to voting based on climate debt stakes founded on climate justice. In inverse proportion to historical emission, they make decisions on major agenda. This includes binding reduction target by guarantying climate debt stake to the poorest countries, small island states, and developing countries. It is the scheme to realize decision-making methods such as ‘climate justice court’ and ‘people’s vote on climate change’ advocated at the Cochabamba people’s conference. It is the appropriate method to revive the UN’s role to cope with climate change and to institutionalize climate justice.

Second, strategies for radicalizing and popularizing climate justice and just transition movement. As revealed in COP16, Cancun, without resolving the unbalance of power even to a smallest degree, any decision-making methods cannot be changed. For the democratization within the UNFCCC at least, and in order not to be buried in institutional reform at least, the climate justice front should be formed by supporting the current struggles and promoting the emergence of new movements. Therefore, efforts should be exerted to reinforce solidarity among climate justice as diverse as rainbow colors and discourses of just transition and practices.

Third, the strategy of constructing alternatives from below like Cochabamba people’s conference. This is similar to watching the fundamental limitations inherent to the UN, as it witnesses the greenwashing behavior of environmental groups affirming (uncritically) carbon trading while claiming climate justice. The position of climate justice confronted with climate change through system change makes it clear that climate catastrophe cannot be avoided even by carbon economy and a global new deal; it can only be delayed. Accordingly, the UN system maintaining and reproducing the current system is the place of struggles, while alternative models should be built by continuously promoting many spaces like Cochabamba worldwide.

Such contention is only an opinion about strategic thoughts to vitalize the climate justice movement that is open to diverse opinions. So far, the winners of climate politics have been developed countries and the rich, while the losers have been poor countries and the poor. Forms (climate negotiations) have maintained the status quo but the contents (climate action) have regressed. ‘Politics as usual’ should not be left as it is. Politics of system transition are required in regions, countries, and international society. Now is the time to keep expanding alternative space while radicalizing and popularizing climate justice

4. COP17, People’s Space into Spaces of Hope!

Since ‘Bali Roadmap,’ the international mechanism dealing with climate change has rapidly collapsed. The alchemy such as the Copenhagen Accord and Cancun Agreement cannot prevent climate disaster currently happening, as they are expected to bring about more catastrophic results. If nothing changes, the earth’s average temperature which will rise 4–5 degrees cannot be prevented. The fate of the UN climate regime represented by climate science (IPCC), the principle of equitable treatment (common but differentiated responsibilities), and the means of international laws (Kyoto Protocol) will be decided in Durban. Under the circumstances where agreement on post Kyoto system can hardly be expected, the extension of the Kyoto protocol term presented as an alternative also appears to be impossible to solve the contradiction and conflicts inherent to the UNFCCC. Under the circumstances where deregulatory methods of voluntary reduction like ‘pledge and review,’ breaking away from multilateral regulatory methods called mandatory reduction, the basis of the UNFCCC is shaking. This is more of a blatant neoliberalistic approach than the carbon market of the Kyoto mechanism.

Even if dual strategies inside and outside the UN and COP are still good, more radical strategies are needed in Durban. That is to occupy COP17 and keep on making people’s space into spaces of hope. This does not mean a narrow sense of occupation that physically occupies a ‘conference of polluters.’ What is more important should be to obtain global hegemony on climate change carrying the flag of climate justice on capital and power on climate liabilities together with the responsibilities of advanced countries and the rich. What we should do in COP17 held in Africa that is hardest hit by climate change and in Durban where climate justice movement was born is popularization and radicalization of climate justice. For 99% of seven billion people rather than 1%!


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