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Cop17

Cops and Robbers

by Dave Durbach / 13.12.2011

Green is for greed – a marketing strategy, neither a colour nor a lifestyle. The COP17 talks, though salvaged at the last moment when it seemed a total collapse was imminent, have shown how the corporate interests of the few can still dictate the political interests of the many.

Outside the ICC and the negotiations proper, air-conditioned expo stands sold the business of climate change via government departments, multinationals, and most of SA’s biggest polluters, now eager to cash in on this increasingly lucrative industry.

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Eskom, in the process of completing two World Bank-funded coal power plants, is apparently “committed to move towards a cleaner energy future and is seeking to reduce its dependence on coal and diversify its energy mix”,

Sasol, SA’s other biggest polluter, showed off its “Project Everest” and asserted: “Through our cleaner production programmes, we have achieved valuable savings through improved energy and material efficiency and with reduced waste disposal and pollution management costs.”

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There were similar words from paper giant Mondi, national oil company PetroSA, AfriSam (“Recognising that the environment is one of the important areas affected by our business operations led us to adopting ‘Planet’ as one of our core values”) and plantation bosses Tongaat Hulett. Don’t forget steel giant ArcellorMittal; Actom, SA’s biggest manufacturer of electrical equipment; Hamon, an engineering company specializing in cooling towers, and General Electric (whose promotional CD not only doesn’t work, it gets jammed in my computer). AngloAmerican were proud to announce their Eco2Man (energy and CO2 management) programme – “Through Eco2Man, every site now has in place new bottom-up targets for saving energy and GHG emissions based on a business-as-usual (BAU) methodology.” Business as usual indeed.

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Outside, a few posters hinted at the reality behind these expensive displays, but with such a haphazard, juvenile scrawl that it was easy to dismiss as the musings of a child. As always, the greatest truths lie in what was not said – in the suffering and illness of the countless victims of these corporations, for example those living around the refineries in the south of the host city.

The ‘greenwash’ spin circulating the ICC served to convince most that the intention to fight global warming was universal, even from the corporate string-pullers. Yet as the expo tents were packed up and Friday night wore on, a sombre mood fell over the place, accompanied by a gloomy rainfall that put paid to the night vigil across the street. A tearful press conference announced that in all likelihood the only conclusion would be a vague statement of intent to merely consider the views brought to the table, without any binding commitments. Africa would burn while Uncle Sam sits back and laughs.

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As the conference proceeded into overtime on Saturday, it became clear that all was not lost. By Sunday morning, it was announced that a last-minute agreement, The Durban Platform, had been reached – salvaging the last two weeks of negotiations, panels discussions, press conferences, demonstrations, field trips, publicity stunts, cocktail parties, coffee breaks and photo ops. Miraculously, the Green Climate Fund is back on track, the Kyoto Protocol has a second commitment term due to kick in 2013, and the world appears to have reached some degree of consensus.

Yet those who looked on helplessly know that it could so easily have ended differently. At least now we can be grateful that the decision-makers who jetted into Durban from all over the world to talk turkey behind closed doors, slipping out occasionally for a latte or to play on their iPhones, managed to not drop the ball entirely. Whether or not their words mean action, and whether those actions spell progress, is anybody’s guess. One thing’s for sure: as long as they’re in control, green will always be the colour of money.

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*All images © Dave Durbach.

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