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Gray Not Green: a Technocratic Climate Accord in Paris


World leaders congratulated one another with the help of some professional conservationists who have agreed that the climate accords are, as President Obama put it, “the enduring framework… the mechanism, the architecture, for us to continually tackle this problem in an effective way.”

During a protest march, indigenous activists presented to the world leaders a traditional cradleboard used to carry children by the Ponca Nation (Oklahoma, USA). Ponca elder Casey Camp-Horinek declared: “We come here with a present for Paris, we know what happened on November 13. We Indigenous people know how that feels to have someone kill the innocent ones. We offer this symbol in memory of lives lost, and we thank you for hosting us on this sacred day.”

The “mechanism” of the COP21 agreement calls for an “accelerated reduction” of carbon emissions to keep global temperature rise at 1.5 degrees. To get there, it summons a list of “shoulds” rather than “musts” with no actual “mechanism” of enforcement.

In one incredible line likely difficult to swallow for many of the US’s allies and multinational corporations, the agreement states, “Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.”

The agreement surges forward with a series of “recognitions” and “acknowledgements” meant perhaps as an eye to imperialist conditions in the Global South. For example, “acknowledging the specific needs and concerns of developing country Parties arising from the impact of the implementation of response measures[.]” Acknowledgement, unfortunately, has never been lacking. Assessing the immediate needs and demands is another thing entirely, and the climate agreement takes at best a glancing notice of this mechanism failure, relegating those discussions to ad hoc subgroups and committees.

In terms of actual execution, the agreement declares: “In accounting for anthropogenic emissions and removals corresponding to their nationally determined contributions, Parties shall promote environmental integrity, transparency, accuracy, completeness, comparability and consistency, and ensure the avoidance of double counting, in accordance with guidance adopted by the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement.” Relying on the good faith of some of the most heinous violators of human and ecological rights in the world sounds great when read off of an official document signed by those perpetrators, but when one steps outside into an abject police state at permanent war with its own population and countless other groups, sects, and parties, the clarity begins to fade into an overwhelming, terrifying, and stark sense of grey.

This sense permeates the passages of the agreement that speak to “economic integration,” which includes “integral and sustained management of forests”—code words akin to those we know well in the US—“canopy reduction” and “restoration thins” and “vista enhancement.” All imbued with the meaning of unaccountable commercial logging that has deforested much of the Coastal and Interior Northwest. This is what “[p]arties are encouraged to take action to implement and support” in the COP21 agreement.

“The Paris accord is a trade agreement, nothing more,” explained Alberto Saldamando, human rights expert and attorney. “It promises to privatize, commodify and sell forested lands as carbon offsets in fraudulent schemes such as REDD+ projects. These offset schemes provide a financial laundering mechanism for developed countries to launder their carbon pollution on the backs of the global south. Case-in-point, the United States’ climate change plan includes 250 million megatons to be absorbed by oceans and forest offset markets. Essentially, those responsible for the climate crisis not only get to buy their way out of compliance but they also get to profit from it as well.”

Without mentioning anything of genetically modified organisms and the accumulation of intellectual property through regional free trade agreements, the World Trade Organization, and various agreements that have firmly rooted multinational seed corporations and monocultures in Africa, the agreement assures its readers that parties “recognize the importance of integrated, holistic and balanced non-market approaches being available to Parties to assist in the implementation of their nationally determined contributions, in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, in a coordinated and effective manner[.]” When the accumulation of land by speculators to profit off of global starvation is counted as technological problem solving, holistic approaches seem to lack perspective.

In fact, the very language of the text, its focus on “capacity-building” and economic integration, as well as its committee-oriented solutions, all rely on extreme technocracy nowhere near the level of “holistic” solution necessitated by the urgency of the problem that signatory countries claim to acknowledge.

“Our planet is hotter. The seas are rising. Our communities are facing reality that we may have to move, we have winter wildfires happening in the Arctic,” declares Dallas Goldtooth, Dakota/Dine, campaigner with the Indigenous Environmental Network. “We are out of time. Any solutions that do not talk about cutting emissions at the source, or keeping fossil fuels in the ground, are false solutions. We don’t have time to talk about carbon markets, carbon trading, REDD+ projects. We must act now.”

Among the problems with REDD++ have been the proposal to make palm oil plantations count as forests, so that companies can count as carbon credits the vast deforestation and pollution caused by the transplanting of native rainforest that have displaced Indigenous peoples and significantly imperiled the existence of orangutan and other endangered species in places like Borneo.

The main problem with the climate as a point of departure is that it is, in a sense, the point of accumulation. Rather than acknowledging the underlying bases for the climate crisis embedded within the processes of resource extraction, land seizures, monocultures, and industrial production operating through Schumpeterian “creative destruction” and planned obsolescence, returning to the land and air the waste and detritus of useless and artificial life, the agreement acts as though a technocratic approach of all world leaders can coordinate on a massive scale a top-down solution to what is really a problem grounded in everyday life. The problem of mass-scale animal agriculture is overlooked, dams and hydroelectric, mining and rare earths, endangered species, plastics in the ocean are overlooked, nuclear pollution is overlooked—all in the teeth of a militarized police state that supports global warfare on a scale that menaces the entire planet.

Alexander Reid Ross is a contributing moderator of the Earth First! Newswire. He is the editor of Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab (AK Press 2014) and a contributor to Life During Wartime (AK Press 2013). His most recent book Against the Fascist Creep is forthcoming through AK Press.

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