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Copenhagen 2009: The Predictable Failure

22 December 2009

By IIRE Fellow Michael Löwy.

We – I mean the Marxists, the ecosocialists, the radical climate justice activists – were quite pessimistic about the so-called United Nations Conference on Climate Change: we predicted that Copenhagen would end in a failure. We argued that the capitalist system doesn’t know any criteria other than more accumulation, greater expansion and higher profits, and therefore is unable to take the minimal measures necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change. And since we knew that the vast majority of the “world leaders” present in Copenhagen are nothing but faithful servants of capitalist interests, we thought that the conference would limit itself to vague promises about a 50% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2050. In a word, we believed that the Copenhagen mountain would give birth to a mouse.


Well, I must admit that we were wrong. We were not pessimistic enough. The Copenhagen conference gave birth not to a mouse but to a cockroach. Kyoto was already a big failure, since its aims were ridiculously low – a reduction of 5% by 2012 – and the methods proposed to get there, such as the “market in pollution rights”, absolutely unable to achieve any significant progress. But Copenhagen is much, much less than Kyoto, which at least acknowledged the need for internationally agreed commitments.


What happened? China accused the US of not committing itself to any meaningful measures to reduce emissions; the US accused China of not accepting any international commitment to reduce emissions. Both insisted that they couldn’t do anything if the other didn’t move. Europe explained that they couldn’t take any initiatives without the US and China. The only thing they all agreed, and happily, was on the urgent need to do nothing.

So all we have got is an ugly cockroach, called “The Copenhagen Agreement”, concocted by the “world leaders” before hurriedly leaving the conference by the back door. It is a completely vacuous document saying that, as everybody knows, temperatures should be stopped from rising more than 2°C. Not a word about limits on gas emissions, no mention of percentage of reductions, not even as a wish expressed for the remote future. Nothing. Nix. Zero content.

So, what hope is there? The only hope is in the 100,000 people who demonstrated in the streets of Copenhagen, coming from Denmark and elsewhere in Scandinavia, Germany, Europe and the whole world, demanding radical measures, denouncing the irresponsibility of the “responsible leaders”, claiming climate justice, and proposing to “change the system, not the climate”. And in the thousands who peacefully marched up to the doors of the conference, trying to open a dialogue with the “official” representatives, only to be me by teargas and police clubs, and to see their spokespeople – like Tadzo Müller – arrested for “incitement to violence”. And in the thousands who took part in the discussions of the alternative KlimaForum, which adopted a resolution denouncing the pseudo-solutions of the system (“carbon trade”, etc.). There is also hope in political leaders like the Bolivian president Evo Morales – among the very few exceptions – who showed solidarity with the Climate Justice movement, and denounced capitalism as the system responsible for disastrous global warming.

To conclude: many years ago, the poet and singer Joe Hill, of the International Workers of the World (IWW) in the USA, said, just before he was shot by the authorities on trumped up charges: “Don’t mourn, organize.” We must return to our countries, and organize people, in the fields, in the factories, in the schools, in the streets, to build a large international movement fighting against the system, to impose radical change, to save, not “the planet” – it is not in danger, but life on this planet from destruction.

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