Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Moral high ground

It is remarkable that after last week's Climate Summit, more than ever before the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and the civil society movement that emerged around the climate negotiations have the moral high ground.

In contrast, for anyone who believes in the importance and value of civil service and public authority, it is sad and a matter of deep concern that governments are acting irresponsibly and in violation of their own legal obligation under Article 2 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, 1992). With Article 2, governments had contracted the obligation "to achieve [...] stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system", and to take action so that "such a level [...] be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner." This was written seventeen years ago in Rio...These governments increasingly smell like failed States.

The impunity enjoyed by the governments acting in violation of their own rules (until someone takes the obstructive large emitters to court?) also contrasts with the way Danish authorities and the UN have over-reacted to some of the outreach activities of NGOs and civil society organizations in Copenhagen.

It is a paradox that after behaving for several months in some ways as if they were an NGO, the UN suddenly restricted NGO access to the Summit considerably. But the most excessive example is perhaps the imprisonment of the four Greenpeace activists who displayed two banners in the hallway of the State Dinner offered by the Queen of Denmark in Copenhagen last week.

In the last 30 years Greenpeace has carried hundreds or thousands of stunts like this on numerous occasions (I've been involved in quite a number of them in my former Greenpeace life), and most of the time what you expect is a low profile from the authorities taken off guard , and even frequently off-the-record expressions of admiration to the activists ("Chapeau!") for having found another weak point in the security cordons. The Danish authorities' decision to keep the four Greenpeace activists in jail until at least 6 January, 2010 is not only excessive, it reflects the state of mind of a hopeless government.

A few hours before the Greenpeace activists (including the Director of Greenpeace-Spain) were arrested, the Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (not exactly a climate leader even if his country is a leader in renewable energy) recognized with some humility at the beginning of his Summit speech that "the NGOs had been right" all those years, thereby implying that conventional politicians had been wrong not to pay attention.

I will join tomorrow a demonstration in Madrid in front of the Danish Embassy to tell the Danes to stop being silly. But I suppose that notwithstanding his nice words last week, the Spanish Prime Minister will not join us...

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