Negotiations on climate change must include more than governments

Give the private sector the place it deserves

Ryan Janz

Another international climate change conference, another failure. The trend is holding steady, and the willingness to counteract global climate change seems to be at an ultimate standstill.

Few political pundits were surprised when the Copenhagen Conference failed last month. The left was left disillusioned and the skeptics were left to brew in their apathetic illusions. Adbusters published their self-deprecating articles, and much of the Western world’s right wing smirked and said, “I told you so.”

Despite the optimistic tone used by U.S. President Barack Obama to garner hope about the “unprecedented multilateralism” that was achieved through the deal, the result was very similar to mainstream expectations. There wasn’t enough time, there wasn’t enough planning, there wasn’t enough political will power and there was an overdose of “realism,” realpolitik having ruled again.

If substantial change is ever going to happen, new approaches must be constantly developed by the progressives of this world. The hourglass of the time humanity has to address the issue is rapidly draining.

Perhaps the first point to address is the acceptance that realism dominates almost all of the rhetoric of the international political arena. The fastest-growing nations on the planet employ this political philosophy in their strategy in nearly every aspect of their foreign policy and have been very successful in preventing a global climate deal. Industrialized nations, such as Canada and America, use realism constantly to defend their pathetic emission targets. Realism has an iron-fisted grip in international relations and is here to stay.

Realizing this, personally, I would like to see this “blind realism” turned against itself. I want Big Oil to have a seat with the major world leaders at the next Copenhagen equivalent. Since multinational oil corporations play an integral role in climate change, let’s allow them a seat at the table with the countries of the world.

As absurd as it sounds to give them that much bargaining power, the fact is that they already have it. The public needs to see the enormous influence they have over government.

Then the facts and figures on their profits can be displayed as governments negotiate how the private sector should be investing in counteracting climate change. We talk about accountability for government, but what about the most profitable corporations in the world? Do we need to limit our international negotiations to the public sector?

Exxon Mobil made a profit of $45.22 billion this year, a record year for them. The company is also responsible for nearly five per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. I want to see them defend themselves to the public. Let’s pressure our world leaders to make that happen.

The people that believe that enormous amounts of verified scientific evidence mean something are tired of seeing politicians’ quotes about the need for multilateralism and the urgency of action on climate change. Millions of caring individuals around this beautiful world want to see clear numerical targets being set for emission reductions, and legally binding international documents that enforce accountability. The future is disappearing too fast for us to only listen to inspirational quotes and chant the “Yes We Can” slogan yet again.

On Feb. 1 and 2, there are activities going on at the University of Winnipeg that address these issues. On Monday, Feb. 1, there will be a lecture by David Littlemore entitled “Who Killed Copenhagen?” at Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall. On Tuesday, Feb. 2, there will be a day-long teach-in discussion at Convocation Hall. Both are free and open to students and the public.

Since education and discussion of new ideas is central to finding new ways to address climate change, I encourage all to attend and bring their own opinions and knowledge forward.

Matt Austman is a politics student at the University of Winnipeg.

Published in Volume 64, Number 17 of The Uniter (January 28, 2010)

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