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AFRICA 2011: Outside Durban conference

‘People’s Space’ blames climate change on capitalism

Published Dec 15, 2011 9:42 PM

A very important conference on climate change took place in Durban, South Africa, during early December. COP 17 was sponsored by the United Nations and was billed as an event that would bring all states and regions together to hammer out a new agreement for limiting the rapid pace of global warming, which many cite as the cause of the escalating problems of natural disasters, droughts and mounting food deficits.

It was announced on Dec. 11 that a new agreement had been reached, but that it would not be clearly spelled out until 2015 and not implemented until 2020. This outcome of the Durban conference was almost predictable, considering the conflicting interests of the industrialized capitalist states and the newly emerging economies of China, India and Brazil, among others.

Generally not covered about Durban were the mass mobilizations led by trade unionists, community activists and youth who held a “countersummit” in what was called a “People’s Space” on the hill at KwaZulu-Natal University. It was from here that a Global Action Day demonstration was organized, which marched to the COP 17 Conference with a grassroots agenda related to the social concerns of working people and the oppressed.

The People’s Space took up the question of mass unemployment and related it to the need to save the environment. A large number of youth with university educations attended in an effort to get a clearer understanding of why they have been rendered jobless or with low-wage employment.

According to Mike Loewe, writing for Reporting Development Network Africa about the atmosphere prevailing in discussions outside the official COP 17 deliberations: “The issue of climate change is in the air that moves the room. It links everyone and everything. Nobody is allowed to get into their technical box; this is about capitalist psychos, that one percent of greedy, corporate polluters who lord it over the 99 percent, who lobby and bully to prevent any deviation from them keeping their hands on that filthy lucre.” (allafrica.com, Dec. 4)

The conclusion of the People’s Space discussions was that the transnational corporations and the Western capitalist states are to blame for the destruction of the environment and its consequent social impact. Lowe says the activists have noted that “until the masses of people — that 99 percent of humanity — rise up and demand at least 1 million climate-change jobs, the corporates will simply carry on.”

The Durban conference once again raised the issue of creating a fund of billions of dollars to assist the developing countries to work toward cleaner energy sources. However, no firm targets were established.

Impact of climate change on Africa

In East Africa, drought has created famine in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia. These food deficits have escalated tensions inside all these countries and prompted a Kenyan and Ethiopian invasion of Somalia that is supported by the United States, France and Israel.

In West Africa, trees are dying due to lack of rainfall. This impacts water resources, agriculture, food production and distribution. One of the hardest hit areas is the Sahel, which was the focus of a recent study to be published on Dec. 16 in the Journal of Arid Environments. Patrick Gonzalez, lead author of the study, says: “Rainfall in the Sahel has dropped 20-30 percent in the 20th century, the world’s most severe long-term drought since measurements from rainfall gauges began in the mid-1800s. Previous research already established climate change as the primary cause of the drought, which has overwhelmed the resilience of the trees.” (eurekalert.org, Dec. 12)

In this region, people need trees for their very survival. Gonzalez notes, “Trees provide people with food, firewood, building materials and medicine.”

Gonzalez also points out, “We in the U.S. and other industrialized nations have it in our power, with current technologies and practices, to avert more drastic impacts around the world by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. Our local actions can have global consequences.”

Africa’s climate change negotiator at Durban, Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, stressed, “We don’t want Durban to be the graveyard of the Kyoto Protocol,” an agreement setting standards for the reduction of pollutants that was rejected by the U.S. “One billion Africans are suffering from the climate change phenomenon, to which they did not contribute.” (ethjournal.com, Dec. 9)

Yet the conference in Durban created a separate agreement that will allow the Kyoto Protocol to expire in 2012. The problems associated with climate change can only be addressed through mass political actions that hold the corporations and governments accountable.

The first climate change observatory is scheduled to open in 2014 in Cape Town, South Africa. The observatory will monitor and “present complex information about global climate change in a relevant, accessible and understandable manner.” (esi-africa.com, Dec. 12)

People in Africa are very concerned about climate change and are willing to take action. Nighat Amin, vice-president of the International Polar Foundation, which educates the public on polar science and research, says, “There is a willingness here to actually do something about climate change. In other parts of the world there were vested interests, but in South Africa we found that people want to get involved.”