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Marrakesh Recess

COP 7 Climate Talks November 2001

Amsterdam, Nov 6th: 50 local activists in The Netherlands protested against the use of emissions trading in the Kyoto Protocol, by selling air to passersby on the streets of Amsterdam. While the Samba band whipped up the crowd into a hip-swinging frenzy, "carbon traders" attempted to sell people their own air, which they could then take home in jars to pollute as they please. Luckily, there were climate heroes on hand to let people know the real costs of carbon trading. Highlight of the day was a young American women asking one of the activists, "Where do you get the air from?"

Moroccan Activists Turn Out Against COP 7, Nov 7th: When a group of Moroccan activists in Marrakech for the COP 7 were refused entry into the conference (why ever not? - ed) they took their message to the street. The group Attac Rabat began distributing information about climate change and neo-liberal economics in French, Arabic and Tamazight (one of Morocco's Berber languages) and had info-stalls at Marrakesh University. (At the same time the campus was enjoying a visit from three truckloads of soldiers because of an exhibition by students from Western Sahara about their struggle against Moroccan occupation.)

Attac Rabat were in no mood to join in discussions about plans such as emissions trading which they fundamentally disagreed with, and were very critical of NGO's from the 'north' who wasted their time discussing 'least bad' ideas and were heavily biased towards issues relevant in the north. The activists job was made harder by police harassment.

'Was it a fair cop in Marrakesh?'

Perhaps it was a signal of approval from on high. The night before a deal was done at the climate negotiations in Marrakech, the heavens opened and drought-stricken Morocco got some much needed rain. But then perhaps it wasn't. The rain stopped after half an hour, and the weather system moved on to neighbouring Algeria, where over a thousand people were killed in flashfloods and mudslides.

Of course very little of these outside realities filtered through to delegates meeting in the cloistered confines of the Marrakech Palais de Congres, despite an expedition to a mountain valley nearby where 250 people were killed in a similar flash flood event in 1995. Instead, delegates were busily occupied with finalising the small print needed for implementing the Kyoto protocol, resuming the good work from the COP6 in Bonn in July.

But if the climate negotiations were complicated before, now they were almost completely unintelligible to anyone without a degree in law. Several delegates from poor countries and small island states confided that the linguistic gymnastics had made it nearly impossible for them to contribute. Their only option was to take refuge in the regional positions taken by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and the G77 and China group of developing countries.

Making resolutions for a sustainable future? Forget that - the main objective of this conference was to keep the Kyoto protocol alive and make sure Russia and Japan were still in the fold. In order for Kyoto to come into force, parties representing 55% of industrialised country greenhouse gas emissions need to have ratified - which would only happen if the EU, Japan and Russia signed up. Canada was wavering, and Australia, which had just re-elected its dark-ages Howard government, still looked certain to stay out. Of course the US is out. Russia was in a strop because it was demanding double its 'sinks' allocation - that bit of the carbon trading scam that says the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) your forests suck in counts as tradeable carbon credits, and threatened to back out unless the other countries agreed - which to keep Kyoto going they did. Russia stands to be a big winner with carbon trading because since its economic decline its fossil fuel consumption is down, and vast forests give it a lot of carbon credits (or so called 'hot air') to sell. (Don't ya love the way at these conferences it's always 'Germany says...' 'Canada agreed...' when representing whole countries are small groups of unelected delegates sitting at card tables with a namebadge saying 'Canada' on it - ed).

The phrase 'fiddling while Rome burns' comes to mind.