Is Pablo Solon still a sign of the times?

Pablo Solon, formerly the Bolivian Ambassador to the United Nations, is not the sort of guy who goes along to get along. You may recall that he delivered a now famous, late night speech explaining why Bolivia chose to “stand alone” by not signing the Cancun climate agreement.  It was, frankly, an astonishing performance, and while I didn’t entirely agree with it, well let’s just say that it punctured a consensus that had gotten just a wee bit too cozy.

Walden Bello, the founder of Focus on the Global South, is similarly not known for timorous opinions.  Walden is plainspoken even by the standards of Asian civil society, and quick to speak of fundamental things — capitalism at the edge being one of them.  These day’s he’s also an elected representative in the Philippine  Congress, where, I’m guessing, reality is more clearly visible that it is in, say, the US Congress.

Together, Solon and Bello have just knocked out Why are climate negotiations locked in a stalemate?, a must read op-ed that ran in the Bangkok Post on September 4, just as the last round of the climate talks was nearing its conclusions.  And it’s not just interesting.  It’s surprising and instructive.  For example:

“The refusal of the North to curb high consumption and the intention of big emerging economies to reproduce the Northern consumption model lies at the root of the deadlock in the climate change negotiations. . .

In reality US and China both want a weaker climate agreement. The US because their influential politicians and corporations are not committed to deep real cuts. China’s leaders realise that the longer they can put off a legally binding agreement, the better for them. . .

The climate talks stalemate is not the result of a contradiction between the two biggest powers but of a common approach not to be obliged to change their policies of consumption, production, and gaining control of natural resources around the world. . .

The position of the delegations of the US and China and many other countries reflects more the concerns of their elites than of their people. . .

The elites of emerging economies are using the just demand of “historical responsibility” or “common but differentiated responsibility” in order to win time and have a weak binding agreement by 2020 that they will be part of. The deliberate prolonging of the stalemate means allowing business as usual. Given that this strategy has led to a dead end, it is imperative that in the UNFCCC negotiations civil society must regain its independent voice and articulate a position distinct from that of the Group of 77 and China.”

Do, please, note the word “just” that appears before the word “demand.”  This is not a rap on the UNFCCC’s equity principles.  It’s a cold-eyed view of the realpolitik of a situation in which the “big emerging economies” have “launched into high-speed, consumption-dependent, and greenhouse gases-intensive growth paths.”

The climate negotiations are getting interesting again, and not a moment too soon.   We are, all of us, in a very tight spot, and while this op-ed will strike some in the South as unhelpful, the key point, for me, is the insistence that “the elites,” and not “the North,” are the key obstacle to mobilization.  In any case, if anything is certain, it’s that “civil society” finding its “independent voice” is a very good idea.