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The Durban Climate Talks Were a Disaster, Here's What We Do Next

The good news is that a new framework for global action based on the needs of people and the planet already exists.
 
 
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Accompanied by a cynical shrug, "Durban-shmurban," sums up the sentiments of those who have long given up hope that the best and brightest (or the 1% and corrupted) among this league of nations could ever unite to solve the human-induced climate crisis. After all, other than vowing to drive less and become greener consumers, the grand scale and technical scope of reducing atmospheric greenhouse gasses is beyond the rest of us to solve.

For those paying attention, including thousands of NGOs who came to South Africa to play a role in preventing the worst outcomes of the COP 17 (or to protest the process itself), it's been alliteratively billed as the "Durban Disaster," following previous UNFCCC conferences: 2010's "Catastrophe in Cancun" and 2009's "No-penhagen" in Denmark.

So why should anyone pay attention to what happened at the UN climate talks? The failure of international leaders to come to agreement in Durban South Africa sounds like business as usual, and it is--but make no mistake: officially choosing inaction now is a guaranteed death sentence for millions of people and ecosystems. If the lesson of Durban is that climate change is the symptom, and not the problem, this may be our game-changing call to action.

First, the bad news

On the final scheduled day of negotiations in Durban, the UNFCCC stunned even seasoned observers with a plan tantamount to genocide. Country emissions targets were dropped far below what science dictates; loopholes for the worst offenders to avoid their commitments, and most critically, most decisions were put off until 2020.

As environmental activist Nnimmo Bassey explained, "Delaying real action until 2020 is a crime of global proportions. An increase in global temperatures of 4 degrees Celsius, permitted under this plan, is a death sentence for Africa, Small Island States, and the poor and vulnerable worldwide. This summit has amplified climate apartheid, whereby the richest 1% of the world have decided that it is acceptable to sacrifice the 99%.

Apartheid is the Afrikaans word for "apartness," and applied to the climate and ecosystems, it begins to get at what is behind the DNA-level failure of the UN's COP process to achieve its stated goal of reducing greenhouse emissions. Climate change is merely a byproduct of treating nature as human property (and therefore apart from us), to be destroyed at will. Our global economic system is property-based and driven by a value system of "endless more."

As Pablo Solon stated at a press conference hosted by Global Exchange: "We can throw our garbage to the air and nothing happens. But we're all part of one system, and the atmosphere is part of that system. We have to respect the natural laws of this system. Because we have broken the vital cycle of carbon, its not only a matter of how big immediate reductions are, but how we change our relationship with nature."

Following news of the outcome, credentialed protesters gathered and filled the halls, stairwells and lobby of the ICC (official space). When UN Security began to remove the activists, Anne Petermann, executive director of the Global Justice Ecology Project, sat down. "If meaningful action on climate change is to happen, it will need to happen from the bottom up," she said. "The action I took today was to remind us all of the power of taking action into our own hands. With the failure of states to provide human leadership, and the corporate capture of the United Nations process, direct action by the ninety-nine percent is the only avenue we have left." 

Redefining the problem is a game changer

 
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