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Daniel Moss: How Dirty Are We Willing to Get?

May 25, 2010

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By **Daniel Moss**

At the alternative climate summit in Cochabamba, Bolivia, earlier this month, criticism was sharp and unrelenting about the false climate change solutions that imperil our commons. Rightly so. Many of the solutions proposed through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) are based on poor science (basic hydrology seems to be absent), lucrative carbon markets and only measly changes in Northern production and consumption – practices that got us into this greedy and perilous situation in the first place.

If money fuels climate change…

There is growing concern that official climate negotiations are dominated by large CO2 emitters and that market-based solutions such as carbon credits won’t lead us out of the mess that the market has gotten us into. Hats off to Bolivian President Evo Morales and the thousands of people who gathered in Cochabamba for being serious about solving climate change. The challenges we face beg for unprecedented solutions. To get to 350 parts per million (or less), our emissions-fueled economic and political systems must be turned on their heads.

So what’s the plan? Participants in the climate summit hammered out a truly visionary and inspiring long-term strategy based on a far-reaching Rights of Mother Earth declaration. Its adoption at the UN would be a giant step towards a citizen’s led sustainable economy based on ecological, human rights and commons principles. Yet we need short and medium-term steps to help us get from here to there.

Can money help repair the climate?

Climate repair is clearly going to require one hell of an expensive global public works program. Where is the money going to coming from to transform the agriculture, water and production practices accelerating climate change? Who is going to spend it where? The Cochabamba conversations scratched the surface of these practical questions. We must dig further.

I hate the dirty money. There is considerable evidence that the investment money running through so-called international development organizations — the World Bank, regional development banks, USAID, etc. — has heated up the planet through support to agro-industry, extractive industries and more. So many governments — even Evo Morales’ — are inextricably tied into the extractive industry development model.

So how can money get us out of this mess? This is part of an age-old debate about how change happens — but perhaps the fire breathing down on our communities adds new urgency to its resolution. Climate change programs such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD) are rife with pitfalls. A slippery slope, to be sure, as communities are enlisted as employees in emitters’ carbon sequestration schemes.

But is there room within these deeply flawed programs — or can we construct cleaner ones — to finance, for example, massive watershed restoration and community-led agro-forestry? Restoring our commons, whether through a climate debt pool or a payment for environmental services fund, will likely be more incremental and messier than any of us would like. Yet we must step forward — quickly — to shape these financing plans for fairness and effectiveness.

Next steps beyond Cochabamba must not only insist on long-term systemic transformations — Evo Morales suggested that we change the economic system and not the climate — but both tinker with the perverse programs set up within the UNFCC and invent new ones. A great deal of climate damage can be reversed by simply enforcing existing environmental and human rights laws and regulations. We must risk fighting over climate change mitigation programs even within deeply compromised arenas. It may be muddy and stinky, but we must wade into the warming swamp we inhabit and emerge with small but meaningful gains.

Copyright 2010 Daniel Moss

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This post originally appeared at ONTHECOMMONS.ORG

Daniel Moss is the coordinator of Our Water Commons. He recently returned from La Feria de Agua in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

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