Effectively addressing climate change will require over the coming decades a fundamental remaking of energy production, transportation and agriculture around the world — the sinews of modern life. It is simply too big a job for those who have gathered for these talks under the 1992 United Nations treaty that began this grinding process.
It is important to recognize, however, that grappling with the climate crisis isn’t simply too big a challenge for environment ministers. When the heads of state of the entire world gathered in Copenhagen in 2009, they too could not redirect the “sinews of modern life.” Although on paper the governments of the United States and other nations command the corporations that run the economy, the evidence is that the multinational corporations have, if not dominance, an equal footing on the world stage. Yet Exxon Mobil, Cargill, Koch Industries, CNOOC, JP Morgan Chase, and Deutsche Bank don’t have any direct accountability in the United Nations negotiations.
Either the nations of the world need to rein in the corporate powers that extract ungodly profit from the very future well-being of mankind, or there needs to be the formal recognition that the financiers and fossil polluters have a greater voice than the people, and thus should have the political accountability that comes from being a member of the league of nations.
Again, given the authority the delegates in Durban actually wield, the resulting agreement was a significant achievement. Given the reality of climate change, the agreement is grossly insufficient.
If the objectives of the UNFCCC treaty signed by the nations of the world to preserve civilization from the destruction of global warming are to be achieved, every local, national, and international institution must play their part, from the Major Economies Forum to the International Monetary Fund, from Davos to OPEC. That may seem to be beyond the realm of political possibility, but as Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible, until it’s done.”